Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Test your presidential election knowledge of the popular vs. electoral vote

Who was the only presidential candidate to win the national popular vote in three and exactly three consecutive presidential elections?

The White House
The White House
REUTERS/Ken Cedeno

For today, a bit of presidential election historical trivia, followed by a little bit of Trump trivia.

Who was the only presidential candidate to win the national popular vote in three and exactly three consecutive presidential elections?

(The exactly three takes Franklin D. Roosevelt out of the running, because he won the popular and electoral votes in four consecutive elections starting in 1932.)

The answer to the trivia question is Grover Cleveland, the Democratic former governor of New York (and mayor of Buffalo) who, I suspect many you know if you know just one thing about Cleveland, was the only person ever to serve non-consecutive terms as president. He won in 1884, lost his reelection bid in in 1888, and came back to win a second term in 1892 (at the end of which, he retired).

Article continues after advertisement

The less-remembered fact about Cleveland is that he actually won the national popular vote in all three of those elections, but, in 1888, he lost the electoral vote to Republican Benjamin Harrison by a fairly solid 233-168 margin, even though Cleveland had beaten Harrison in the national popular vote by more than 100,000 votes representing about 1% of the total popular vote.

(I’ve made the case previously, and will probably do so again, that one of the worst features of our system is the ability of the popular vote loser to win the presidency.) 

Benjamin Harrison has a couple of cute facts for those who care about such things. He remains the only president who was the grandson of a previous president (William Henry Harrison, who was elected in 1840 but died just 31 days after his inauguration, thus setting the record for briefest presidency). And Benjamin Harrison is one of just five candidates to win the presidency via the electoral vote while losing the popular vote (the fifth being the recently-departed sore loser Donald Trump).

Trump lost the popular vote in both of the last two elections and may be planning a 2024 comeback that might enable him to be the only person ever to win the presidency twice without ever winning the national popular vote, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves; this is just a cute little history piece.

Based on the latest New York Times/Siena Poll, a sizeable chunk of respondents hold what you might call a mixed view, or perhaps a crazy or even dangerous view of the future of Donald Trump and Trumpism, whatever that last term might mean.

You might think, at first glance, that a disgraced and defeated former president, who is under ongoing investigation for a seemingly ever-expanding list of alleged crimes, misdemeanors and other embarrassments, would be happy to just stay out of prison, but Trump seems to be still contemplating a future in presidential politics.

To bring matters to the present, Trump continues to lead presidential preference polls among Republicans and shows no signs of departing the stage, nor any signs of gaining in popularity or approval. 

The mystery, to me at least, is now he retains the significant following and popularity that he does, especially after his disgraceful mobocratic conduct during the transition to the Biden presidency. Are his followers all in complete denial about his conduct in the aftermath of the 2020 election which amounted to attempted coup?

Perhaps some light is shed on that mystery by a piece in the Thursday New York Times, which led to a strange observation tied to a recent Times/Siena College Poll. Thus: 

Article continues after advertisement

“… Nearly 30% [of respondents] appeared to hold seemingly conflicting views about [Trump] and his actions — either by expressing a mix of sentiments or by declining to respond to one of the questions.

“For instance, 14% of respondents said they both planned to support him and believed his actions after the 2020 election went so far as to be a threat to democracy.”

The writeup of the intriguing/mysterious Times poll piece from which that excerpt is taken can be accessed by Times subscribers here.