Political Science & Politics


Popular Myths About Popular Vote-Electoral College Splits

Brian J. Gaines a1
a1 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

An official recount was required to determine the winner of a knifeedged election. A Senate candidate's untimely death resulted, surprisingly and circuitously, in the Democrats picking up an extra Senate seat. Amidst widespread allegations of fraud and irregularities, the winner of the popular vote in the presidential election failed for the first time since 1888 to win the decisive electoral-college vote. And thus was foiled the vice president's bid to emerge from the shadow of the president he had served for eight years. The year 2000? No. The year was 1960. The Democrat, John Kennedy, was the president-elect who failed to secure the plurality of the popular vote, while the Republican, Richard Nixon, was the vice president whose popular-vote majority offered him scant consolation in defeat. 1


1 The Senate candidate was not, of course, Missouri Democrat Mel Carnahan, whose death in September 2000 seems to have spurred a large sympathy vote, resulting in a posthumous victory (which, in turn, permitted the appointment of his widow to fill the seat). Keith Thompson was the Republican senator-elect from Wyoming at the time of his death in December 1960. Immediately thereafter, Democratic governor J.J. Hickey resigned to make himself eligible for appointment to the vacant seat by his own successor, Democratic Secretary of State Jack Cage.