A Brief History of US Elections

1789 George Washington won an election that was, in effect, uncontested. John Adams, who won the second highest number of votes, became his vice-president.

1792 George Washington (uncontested).

1796 John Adams defeated Thomas Jefferson by 71 votes to 68 (despite two of the electors pledged to Adams’s party voting for Jefferson in the Electoral College).

1800 Thomas Jefferson defeated Aaron Burr. (No one had a majority, and the election was turned over to the House of Representatives, which deliberated, and voted 36 times, between 11 and 17 February 1801).

1804 Thomas Jefferson won easily. This was the first election in which there was a nominating caucus for President.

1808 James Madison defeated Charles Pinckney.

1812 The first wartime election. Madison re-elected.

1816 Easy victory for James Monroe.

1820 Monroe re-elected unopposed.

1824 A close contest between General Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams, with William Crawford and Henry Clay also running. No candidate received more than 50 per cent of the votes, and the election was decided (in Adams’s favour) in the House of Representatives.

1828 Jackson defeated Adams. The first election to be decided by popular vote.

1832 Jackson re-elected, defeating Henry Clay. The first election in which the candidates were nominated by national nominating conventions.

1836 Martin Van Buren defeated William Harrison.

1840 Harrison defeated Van Buren. This was the first election in which modern gimmicks such as songs and slogans were extensively used in campaigning.

1844 James Polk, a last-minute "dark horse" candidate for the Democrats, defeated Henry Clay after a dirty campaign in which both candidates were viciously abused in the press.

1848 Zachary Taylor, a slave-owner, defeated Lewis Cass, partly because Van Buren, who also stood, took many of Cass’s votes.

1852 Another vicious campaign, in which each candidate accused the other of drunkenness. Franklin Pierce defeated Winfield Scott.

1856 James Buchanan - a conservative on the issue of slavery - defeated the more radical John Fremont (of the newly created Republican party) and Millard Fillmore, of the Know-Nothing party.

1860 Abraham Lincoln defeated Stephen Douglas, John Breckinridge and John Bell - despite Douglas becoming the first presidential candidate to go on a nationwide speaking tour.

1864 Abraham Lincoln defeated General George McClellan.

1868 General Ulysses Grant beat Horatio Seymour.

1872 President Grant beat Horace Greeley.

1876 Rutherford Hayes defeated Samuel Tilden by one state. Returns were disputed in South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana, and Congress appointed a committee to investigate. All the disputed votes were awarded to Hayes.

1880 James Garfield defeated Winfield Hancock. (Garfield’s candidature prevented Grant from running for a third term.)

1884 Grover Cleveland defeated James Blaine in a close vote, each candidate having attacked the other’s morality. General Sherman ended speculation that he might run for the Republicans with the famous words: "If nominated, I will not accept, and if elected I will not serve."

1888 Benjamin Harrison defeated President Cleveland in a close race which saw Cleveland win the popular vote, whilst Harrison won the electoral vote.

1892 Cleveland defeated Harrison. Neither candidate campaigned: Harrison because his wife was dying and Cleveland out of respect. A third candidate, James Weaver won 22 electoral votes.

1896 William McKinley defeated William Jennings Bryan.

1900 McKinley defeated Bryan again, by an increased margin.

1904 Theodore Roosevelt beat Alton Parker easily.

1908 William Howard Taft beat William Jennings Bryan.

1912 Woodrow Wilson defeated President Taft and former president Theodore Roosevelt, who had split the Republican vote. During campaigning, Roosevelt was wounded by a gunman on his way to a rally.

1916 President Wilson defeated Charles Evans Hughes in a close contest: some New York papers initially reported that Hughes had won.

1920 Warren Harding defeated James Cox, who opposed Prohibition.

1924 Calvin Coolidge overwhelmingly defeated John Davis.

1928 Herbert Hoover, associated with the slogan "A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage" (although he never used the words himself), defeated Alfred Smith the first Roman Catholic to run for the presidency. This was the first election in which radio coverage was significant.

1932 Franklin Roosevelt defeated Hoover against the background of the Great Depression.

1936 Roosevelt beat Alf Landon.

1940 Roosevelt defeated Wendell Willkie.

1944 Roosevelt narrowly defeated Thomas Dewey (who had attacked him as a "tired old man").

1948 Harry Truman, who replaced Roosevelt as president on his death in 1945, defeated Thomas Dewey. Truman travelled 22,000 miles on his "whistle-stop campaign".

1952 General Dwight Eisenhower (who was also courted as a candidate by the Democrats) won an easy victory for the Republicans, overwhelmingly defeating Adlai Stevenson. Richard Nixon was his Vice President.

1956 Eisenhower defeated Adlai Stevenson with a landslide.

1960 John F Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon. The campaign included the first televised presidential debates.

1964 Lyndon Johnson, who replaced Kennedy after his assassination in 1963, defeated Barry Goldwater.

1968 Richard Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey. Robert Kennedy had been ahead of Humphrey in the race for the Democratic nomination, until his assassination.

1972 President Nixon easily defeated George McGovern, following Henry Kissinger’s announcement that "peace was at hand" in Vietnam.

1976 Gerald Ford, who had taken over from Nixon after Watergate, was defeated by Jimmy Carter. Carter began the campaign with a 30-point lead in the polls but ended up winning only narrowly.

1980 Ronald Reagan defeated President Carter, despite a gaffe-prone campaign.

1984 Ronald Reagan defeated Walter Mondale with an 18 point margin. Mondale’s running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, was the first woman to be nominated for presidential office by a major party.

1988 George Bush senior defeated Michael Dukakis, who had begun the campaign in the lead. Dukakis described Bush’s tactics (which included pillorying him for his soft line on crime) as "outrageous".

1992 Bill Clinton defeated George Bush senior. Ross Perot, campaigning on the issue of deficit-reduction, made significant early impact as an independent candidate.

1996 President Clinton defeated Bob Dole. It was the first time since Franklin Roosevelt that a Democrat had been elected for a second full term in office.

2000 George Bush Junior defeated Al Gore in one of the most controversial elections ever. Neither candidate was declared the winner on election night. Gore emerged as the winner of the popular vote. Bush won the electoral vote – but alleged irregularities in Florida led to calls for recounts and six weeks of legal wrangling. Gore eventually conceded on 13 December, after the Supreme Court forbade any further recounts.

2004 President Bush defeated John Kerry in a relatively lacklustre contest.

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