Archive for November 4th, 2008

How Unpopular Can the President Be?

November 4, 2008

United States flagOn today, Election Day in the United States of America, it seems fitting to post about the Presidential Election. Because of how our Electoral System works, it is possible for the president to be elected with less than half the popular vote; indeed, it is possible for a president to be elected even if another candidate received more of the popular vote. This has happened several times:

  • In 1876 Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won the presidency (in a complicated procedure) although his Democratic opponent, Samuel J. Tilden, received more than half of the popular vote. (51.0% to 47.9%)
  • In 1888 Republican Benjamin Harrison won 20 states, but only barely, while the Democrat Grover Cleveland won the remaining 18 states, several by a landslide; Harrison won the presidency even though Cleveland had more popular votes (48.6% to 47.8%)
  • As recently as 2000, Democrat Al Gore received more of the popular vote but Republican George W. Bush received most of the electoral vote (50,996,582 people voted for Gore and 50,456,062 people for Bush, making it 48.4% to 47.9%; however Bush received 271 electoral votes while Gore only received 266).

So that leads to the question: if there were only two candidates running, and every eligible voter voted for one of them, what is the smallest percentage of a popular vote that a candidate could receive and yet still be elected to the Presidency? The answer is after the jump.