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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Popular Vote and the Electoral College

Two of the most popular stories on our website right now aren’t about presidential nominees Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. They were written more than eight years ago in response to readers’ questions:

  • How many times was a president elected who did not win the popular vote? The answer is four, with the most recent occurring in 2000 when Al Gore received over 500,000 popular votes more than George W. Bush. But Bush won the electoral vote, 271 to 266.
  • Why does the U.S. have an Electoral College? The short answer is the framers of the Constitution didn’t trust direct democracy, and provided an extra layer to ensure, as James Madison put it, that “factions” of citizens with a common interest don’t harm the nation as a whole. However, the Electoral College has become a mere formality.

For more information, please read “Presidents Winning Without Popular Vote” and “The Reason for the Electoral College.”

Update, Dec. 23: There now have been five times in which a president was elected who didn’t win the popular vote. Trump won the electoral vote 304 to 227, but Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes. We have updated our 2008 item on the popular vote accordingly.