Presidential Elections

Disputes, Anomalies, and Close-Calls

Which are the closest elections?

The two closest elections, if measured by popular-vote totals, were in 1796 and 1800. In both cases, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson won the election with a few hundred popular votes. However, at that time in America’s history, the electorate was composed solely of property-owning white males. With only one electoral vote separating the two candidates, the election of 1876 was the closest electoral-vote election in all of history. The following election, of 1880, was also close, as Republican James A. Garfield received just ten thousand more popular votes than Democrat Winfield Hancock. The election of 1884 was another close election, as Democrat Grover Cleveland broke his party’s almost-thirty-year hiatus when he won the election by twenty-nine thousand popular votes. In 1888, Cleveland won the popular vote by a narrow 1 percent, but his opponent, Benjamin Harrison, picked up more electoral votes and eventually claimed the election. Cleveland returned victorious in 1892, and thus became the only president to win two nonconsecutive terms.


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