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Elections for President and Vice President of the United Statesmarker are indirect elections in which voters cast ballots for a slate of electors of the U.S. Electoral College, who in turn directly elect the President and Vice President. They occur quadrennially (the count beginning with the year 1792) on Election Day, the Tuesday between November 2nd and 8th. The most recent election occurred on November 4, 2008, with the next one scheduled for November 6, 2012.

The process is regulated by a combination of both federal and state laws. Each state is allocated a number of Electoral College electors equal to the number of its Senators and Representatives in the U.S. Congress. Additionally, Washington, D.C.marker is given a number of electors equal to the number held by the smallest state. U.S. territories are not represented in the Electoral College.

Under the U.S. Constitution, each state legislature is allowed to designate a method of choosing electors. Thus, the popular vote on Election Day is conducted by the various states and not directly by the federal government. Once chosen, the electors can vote for anyone, but – with rare exceptions like an unpledged elector or faithless elector – they vote for their designated candidates and their votes are certified by Congress in early January. The Congress is the final judge of the electors; the last serious dispute was in United States presidential election, 2000.

The nomination process, including the primary elections and the nominating conventions, were never specified in the Constitution, and were instead developed by the states and the political parties.


Article Two of the United States Constitution originally established the method of presidential elections, including the electoral college. This was a result of a compromise between those constitutional framers who wanted the Congress to choose the president, and those who preferred a national popular vote.

Each state is allocated a number of electors that is equal to the size of its delegation in both houses of Congress combined. With the ratification of the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution in 1961, the District of Columbiamarker is also granted a number of electors, equal to the number of those held by the least populous state. However, U.S. territories are not represented in the Electoral College.

Under the original system established by Article Two, electors could cast two votes to two different candidates for president. The candidate with the highest number of votes became the president, and the second-place candidate became the vice president. This presented a problem during the presidential election of 1800 when Aaron Burr received the same number of electoral votes as Thomas Jefferson and challenged Jefferson's election to the office. In the end, Jefferson was chosen as the president due to Alexander Hamilton's influence in the House of Representatives. This added to the deep rivalry between Burr and Hamilton which resulted in their famous 1804 duel.

In response to the 1800 election, the 12th Amendment was passed, requiring electors to cast two distinct votes: one for President and another for Vice President. The Amendment also established rules when no candidate wins a majority vote in the Electoral College. If no candidate receives a majority, the selection of President is decided by a ballot of the House of Representatives. For the purposes of electing the President, each state only has one vote. A ballot of the Senate is held to choose the Vice President. In this ballot, each senator has one vote. If the President is not chosen by Inauguration Day, the Vice President-elect acts as President. If neither are chosen by then, Congress by law determines who shall act as President, pursuant to the 20th Amendment.

In the presidential election of 1824, Andrew Jackson received a plurality, but not a majority, of electoral votes cast. The election was thrown to the House of Representatives, and John Quincy Adams was elected to the presidency. A deep rivalry was fermented between Andrew Jackson and House Speaker Henry Clay, who had also been a candidate in the election.

Constitutionally, the manner for choosing electors is determined within each state by its legislature. During the first presidential election in 1789, only 6 of the 13 original states chose electors by any form of popular vote. Gradually throughout the years, the states began conducting popular elections to help choose their slate of electors, resulting in the overall, nationwide indirect election system that it is today.

Although the nationwide popular vote does not directly determine the winner of a presidential election, it does strongly correlate with who is the victor. In 52 of the 56 total elections held so far (about 93 percent), the winner of the Electoral College vote has also carried the national popular vote.

However, candidates can fail to get the most votes in the nationwide popular vote in a Presidential election and still win that election. In the 1824 election mentioned above, Jackson won both the popular vote and the electoral vote, but it was eventually decided by the House. Then in 1876, 1888 and 2000, the winner of electoral vote actually lost the popular vote outright. Numerous constitutional amendments have been submitted seeking to replace the Electoral College with a direct popular vote, but none has ever successfully passed both Houses of Congress. Another alternate proposal is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an interstate compact whereby individual participating states agree to allocate their electors based on the winner of the national popular vote instead of just their respective statewide results.

Nominating process

The modern nominating process of U.S. presidential elections currently consists of two major parts: a series of presidential primary elections and caucuses held in each state, and the presidential nominating conventions held by each political party. This process was never included in the United States Constitution, and thus evolved over time by the political parties to clear the field of candidates.

The primary elections and caucuses are run by state and local governments. Some states only hold primary elections, some only hold caucuses, and others use a combination of both. These primaries and caucuses are staggered between January and June before the federal election, with Iowamarker and New Hampshiremarker traditionally holding the first presidential state caucus and primary, respectively.

Like the general election, presidential caucuses or primaries are indirect elections. The major political parties officially vote for their presidential candidate at their respective nominating conventions, usually all held in the summer before the federal election. Depending on each state's law and state's political party rules, when voters cast ballots for a candidate in a presidential caucus or primary, they may actually be voting to award delegates "bound" to vote for a candidate at the presidential nominating conventions, or they may simply be expressing an opinion that the state party is not bound to follow in selecting delegates to their respective national convention.

Unlike the general election, voters in the U.S. territories can also elect delegates to the national conventions.

In addition to delegates chosen during primaries and caucuses, state delegations to both the Democratic and Republican conventions also include "unpledged" delegates who can vote for whomever they want. For Republicans, these include top party officials. Democrats have a more expansive group of unpledged delegates called "superdelegates", who are party leaders and elected officials.

Each party's presidential candidate also chooses a vice presidential nominee to run with him on the same ticket, and this choice is basically rubber-stamped by the convention.

The popular vote on Election Day

Under the constitution, the manner for choosing electors for the Electoral College is determined by each state's legislature. Today, the states and the District of Columbiamarker each conduct their own popular elections on Election Day to help determine their respective slate of electors. Thus, the presidential election is really an amalgamation of separate and simultaneous state elections instead of a single national election run by the federal government.

Like any other election in the United States, the eligibility of an individual for voting is set out in the Constitution and also regulated at state level. The Constitution states that suffrage cannot be denied on grounds of race or color, sex or age for citizens eighteen years or older. Beyond these basic qualifications, it is the responsibility of state legislatures to regulate voter eligibility.

Generally, voters are required to vote on a ballot where they select the candidate of their choice. The presidential ballot is actually voting "for the electors of a candidate" meaning that the voter is not actually voting for the candidate, but endorsing a slate of electors pledged to vote for a specific Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate.

Many voting ballots allow a voter to “blanket vote” for all candidates in a particular political party or to select individual candidates on a line by line voting system. Which candidates appear on the voting ticket is determined through a legal process known as ballot access. Usually, the size of the candidate's political party and the results of the major nomination conventions determine who is pre-listed on the presidential ballot. Thus, the presidential election ticket will not list every single candidate running for President, but only those who have secured a major party nomination or whose size of their political party warrants having been formally listed. Laws are in effect to have other candidates pre-listed on a ticket, provided that a sufficient number of voters have endorsed the candidate, usually through a signature list.

The final way to be elected for president is to have one's name written in at the time of election as a write-in candidate. This is used for candidates who did not fulfill the legal requirements to be pre-listed on the voting ticket. It is also used by voters to express a distaste for the listed candidates, by writing in an alternative candidate for president such as Mickey Mouse or comedian Stephen Colbert (whose application was voted down by the South Carolina Democratic Party). In any event, a write-in candidate has never won an election for President of the United States.

Because U.S. territories are not represented in the Electoral College, U.S. citizens in those areas do not vote in the general election for President. Guammarker has held straw polls for president since the 1980 election in order to draw attention to this fact.

Electoral college

Most state laws establish a winner-take-all system, wherein the ticket that wins a plurality of votes wins all of that state's allocated electoral votes, and thus has their slate of electors chosen to vote in the Electoral College. Mainemarker and Nebraskamarker do not use this method, opting instead to give two electoral votes to the statewide winner and one electoral vote to the winner of each Congressional district.

Each state's winning slate of electors then meets at their respective state's capital on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December to cast their electoral votes on separate ballots for President and Vice President. Although Electoral College members can technically vote for anyone under the U.S. Constitution, 24 states have laws to punish faithless electors, those who do not cast their electoral votes for the person whom they have pledged to elect.

In early January, the total Electoral College vote count is opened by the sitting Vice President, acting in his capacity as President of the Senate, and read aloud to a joint session of the incoming Congress, which was elected at the same time as the President. In the event that no candidate receives a majority of the electoral vote (currently at least 270), the President is determined by the rules outlined by the 12th Amendment.

Unless there are faithless electors, disputes, or other controversies, the events in December and January mentioned above are largely a formality in the public eye since the winner can be determined based on the state-by-state popular vote results.


A number of trends in the political experience of presidents have been observed over the years. In recent decades, the presidential nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties have been either incumbent presidents, sitting or former vice presidents, sitting or former U.S. Senators, or sitting or former state Governors. The last major nominee from either party who had not previously served in such an office was General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who won the Republican nomination and ultimately the presidency in the 1952 election. Chester A. Arthur had held no federal or statewide office, prior to becoming Vice President and then President.

The U.S. Secretary of State used to be a stepping-stone to the White House, with five of the six Presidents who served between 1801 and 1841 previously holding that office. However, since 1841, only one Secretary of State has gone on to be President (James Buchanan).

Fourteen Presidents have previously served as Vice President. However only John Adams (1796), Thomas Jefferson (1800), Martin Van Buren (1836), Richard Nixon (1968) and George H. W. Bush (1988) began their first term after actually winning an election. Among the remaining nine who began their first term as President as per the presidential line of succession after their respective predecessor died or resigned from office, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry S. Truman, and Lyndon B. Johnson were reelected. John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester A. Arthur, and Gerald Ford served as President but never won any presidential election.

In the most recent 2008 election, the nominees of both major parties, Barack Obama and John McCain, were sitting U.S. Senators. Before 2008, fifteen presidents previously served in the Senate, including four of the five Presidents who served between 1945 and 1974. However, only two out of those fifteen were sitting U.S. Senators at the time they were elected president (Warren G. Harding in 1920 and John F. Kennedy in 1960). Major-party candidate Senators Andrew Jackson (1824), Lewis Cass (1848), Stephen Douglas (1860), Barry Goldwater (1964), George McGovern (1972), and John Kerry (2004) all lost their elections. Only one sitting member of the House of Representatives has been elected president (James A. Garfield), although eighteen presidents have been former members of the House.

Despite the 2008 election, contemporary electoral success has clearly favored state governors. Of the last six presidents, four (Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) have been governors of a state. Geographically, these presidents were from either very large states (Californiamarker, Texasmarker) or from a state south of the Mason-Dixon Linemarker and east of Texas (Georgiamarker, Arkansasmarker). In all, sixteen presidents have been former governors, including seven who were in office as governor at the time of their election to the presidency.

After leaving office, one President, William Howard Taft, served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Only two Presidents, John Quincy Adams (serving in the House) and Andrew Johnson (serving in the Senate), have served in Congress after being President. John Quincy Adams however is the only former President to be elected to federal office; when Andrew Johnson served as a Senator state legislatures appointed the Senators.

Electoral college results

The following is a table of electoral college results:
Political party of each candidate is indicated in parentheses
* Winner received less than an [[absolute majority]] of the popular vote.'' :'' † Losing candidate received a [[Plurality (voting)|plurality]] of the popular vote.'' :'' ‡ Losing candidate received an [[absolute majority]] of the popular vote.'' :''** As the second place winner, was elected Vice President as per the rules in place prior to the Twelfth Amendment.

Order Election year Winner Other major candidates
1st 1789 George Washington (no party) – 69 electoral votes John Adams** (no party) – 34 electoral votes
John Jay (no party) – 9
Robert H.

Harrison (no party) – 6
John Rutledge (no party) – 6

2nd 1792 George Washington (no party) – 132 John Adams** (Federalist) – 77
George Clinton (Democratic-Republican) – 50
3rd 1796 John Adams (Federalist) – 71 Thomas Jefferson** (Democratic-Republican) – 68
Thomas Pinckney (Federalist) – 59
Aaron Burr (Democratic-Republican) – 30
Samuel Adams (Democratic-Republican) – 15
Oliver Ellsworth (Federalist) – 11
George Clinton (Democratic-Republican) – 7

4th 1800 Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican) – 73 Aaron Burr** (Democratic-Republican) – 73
John Adams (Federalist) – 65
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (Federalist) – 64

5th 1804 Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican) – 162 Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (Federalist) – 14
6th 1808 James Madison (Democratic-Republican) – 122 Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (Federalist) – 47
George Clinton (Democratic-Republican) – 6
James Monroe (Democratic-Republican) – 0

7th 1812 James Madison (Democratic-Republican) – 128 DeWitt Clinton (Federalist) – 89
8th 1816 James Monroe (Democratic-Republican) – 183 Rufus King (Federalist) – 34
9th 1820 James Monroe (Democratic-Republican) – 215/218 (not opposed)
10th 1824*† John Quincy Adams* (Democratic-Republican) – 84 Andrew Jackson† (Democratic-Republican) – 99
William H.

Crawford (Democratic-Republican) – 41
Henry Clay (Democratic-Republican) – 37

11th 1828 Andrew Jackson (Democratic) – 178 John Quincy Adams (National Republican) – 83
12th 1832 Andrew Jackson (Democratic) – 219 Henry Clay (National Republican) – 49
John Floyd (Nullifier) – 11
William Wirt (Anti-Masonic) – 7

13th 1836 Martin Van Buren (Democratic) – 170 William Henry Harrison (Whig) – 73
Hugh Lawson White (Whig) – 26
Daniel Webster (Whig) – 14
Willie Person Mangum (Whig) – 11

14th 1840 William Henry Harrison (Whig) – 234 Martin Van Buren (Democratic) – 60
15th 1844* James K. Polk* (Democratic) – 170 Henry Clay (Whig) – 105
James G.

Birney (Liberty) – 0
16th 1848 Zachary Taylor (Whig) – 163 Lewis Cass (Democratic) – 127
Martin Van Buren (Free Soil) – 0
17th 1852 Franklin Pierce (Democratic) – 254 Winfield Scott (Whig) – 42
John P.

Hale (Free Soil) – 0
18th 1856* James Buchanan* (Democratic) – 174 John C. Frémont (Republican) – 114
Millard Fillmore (American Party/Whig) – 8
19th 1860* Abraham Lincoln* (Republican) – 180 John C. Breckinridge (Southern Democratic) – 72
John Bell (Constitutional Union) – 39
Stephen A.

Douglas (Northern Democratic) – 12

20th 1864 Abraham Lincoln (National Union) – 212 George B. McClellan (Democratic) – 11
21st 1868 Ulysses S. Grant (Republican) – 214 Horatio Seymour (Democratic) – 80
22nd 1872 Ulysses S. Grant (Republican) – 286 Horace Greeley (Democratic/Liberal Republican) – 0
Thomas A.

Hendricks (Democratic) – 42

Gratz Brown (Democratic/Liberal Republican) – 18
Charles J.

Jenkins (Democratic) – 2

23rd 1876*‡ Rutherford B. Hayes* (Republican) – 185 Samuel J. Tilden‡ (Democratic) – 184
24th 1880* James A. Garfield* (Republican) – 214 Winfield Scott Hancock (Democratic) – 155
James Weaver (Greenback) – 0
25th 1884* Grover Cleveland* (Democratic) – 219 James G. Blaine (Republican) – 182
John St. John (Prohibition) – 0
Benjamin Franklin Butler (Greenback) – 0

26th 1888*† Benjamin Harrison* (Republican) – 233 Grover Cleveland† (Democratic) – 168
Clinton B.

Fisk (Prohibition) – 0
Alson Streeter (Union Labor) – 0

27th 1892* Grover Cleveland* (Democratic) – 277 Benjamin Harrison (Republican) – 145
James Weaver (Populist) – 22
John Bidwell (Prohibition) – 0

28th 1896 William McKinley (Republican) – 271 William Jennings Bryan (Democratic/Populist) – 176
29th 1900 William McKinley (Republican) – 292 William Jennings Bryan (Democratic) – 155
John Woolley (Prohibition) – 0
30th 1904 Theodore Roosevelt (Republican) – 336 Alton B. Parker (Democratic) – 140
Eugene V.

Debs (Socialist) – 0
Silas C.

Swallow (Prohibition) – 0

31st 1908 William Howard Taft (Republican) – 321 William Jennings Bryan (Democratic) – 162
Eugene V.

Debs (Socialist) – 0
Eugene W.

Chafin (Prohibition) – 0

32nd 1912* Woodrow Wilson* (Democratic) – 435 Theodore Roosevelt (Progressive) – 88
William Howard Taft (Republican) – 8
Eugene V.

Debs (Socialist) – 0
Eugene W.

Chafin (Prohibition) – 0

33rd 1916* Woodrow Wilson* (Democratic) – 277 Charles Evans Hughes (Republican) – 254
Allan L.

Benson (Socialist) – 0
James Hanly (Prohibition) – 0

34th 1920 Warren G. Harding (Republican) – 404 James M. Cox (Democratic) – 127
Eugene V.

Debs (Socialist) – 0
35th 1924 Calvin Coolidge (Republican) – 382 John W. Davis (Democratic) – 136
Robert M.

La Follette, Sr. (Progressive) – 13
36th 1928 Herbert Hoover (Republican) – 444 Al Smith (Democratic) – 87
37th 1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt (Democratic) – 472 Herbert Hoover (Republican) – 59
Norman Thomas (Socialist) – 0
38th 1936 Franklin D. Roosevelt (Democratic) – 523 Alf Landon (Republican) – 8
William Lemke (Union) – 0
39th 1940 Franklin D. Roosevelt (Democratic) – 449 Wendell Willkie (Republican) – 82
40th 1944 Franklin D. Roosevelt (Democratic) – 432 Thomas E. Dewey (Republican) – 99
41st 1948* Harry S. Truman* (Democratic) – 303 Thomas E. Dewey (Republican) – 189
Strom Thurmond (States' Rights Democratic) – 39
Henry A.

Wallace (Progressive/Labor) – 0

42nd 1952 Dwight D. Eisenhower (Republican) – 442 Adlai Stevenson (Democratic) – 89
43rd 1956 Dwight D. Eisenhower (Republican) – 457 Adlai Stevenson (Democratic) – 73
44th 1960* John F. Kennedy* (Democratic) – 303 Richard Nixon (Republican) – 219
Harry F.

Byrd (Democratic) – 15
45th 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson (Democratic) – 486 Barry Goldwater (Republican) – 52
46th 1968* Richard Nixon* (Republican) – 301 Hubert Humphrey (Democratic) – 191
George Wallace (American Independent) – 46
47th 1972 Richard Nixon (Republican) – 520 George McGovern (Democratic) – 17
John G.

Schmitz (American) – 0
48th 1976 Jimmy Carter (Democratic) – 297 Gerald Ford (Republican) – 240
49th 1980 Ronald Reagan (Republican) – 489 Jimmy Carter (Democratic) – 49
John B.

Anderson (no party) – 0
Ed Clark (Libertarian) – 0

50th 1984 Ronald Reagan (Republican) – 525 Walter Mondale (Democratic) – 13
51st 1988 George H. W. Bush (Republican) – 426 Michael Dukakis (Democratic) – 111
52nd 1992* Bill Clinton* (Democratic) – 370 George H. W. Bush (Republican) – 168
Ross Perot (no party) – 0
53rd 1996* Bill Clinton* (Democratic) – 379 Bob Dole (Republican) – 159
Ross Perot (Reform) – 0
54th 2000*† George W. Bush* (Republican) – 271 Al Gore† (Democratic) – 266
Ralph Nader (Green) – 0
55th 2004 George W. Bush (Republican) – 286 John Kerry (Democratic) – 251
56th 2008 Barack Obama (Democratic) – 365 John McCain (Republican) – 173

Voter turnout

Voter turnout in the 2004 and 2008 elections showed a noticeable increase over the turnout in 1996 and 2000. Prior to 2004, voter turnout in presidential elections had been decreasing while voter registration, measured in terms of voting age population (VAP) by the U.S. Census, has been increasing. The VAP figure, however, includes persons ineligible to vote — mainly non-citizens and ineligible felons — and excludes overseas eligible voters. Opinion is mixed on whether this decline was due to voter apathy [761637] or an increase in ineligible voters on the rolls.The difference between these two measures are illustrated by analysis of turnout in the 2004 and 2008 elections. Voter turnout from the 2004 and 2008 election was "not statistically different," based on the voting age population used by a November 2008 U.S. Census survey of 50,000 households [761638]. If expressed in terms of vote eligible population (VEP), the 2008 national turnout rate was 61.7% from 131.3 million ballots cast for president, an increase over of 1.6 percentage points over the 60.1% turnout rate of 2004, and the highest since 1968.

Statistical forecasts

See also


  1. Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution
  2. Twenty-third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
  3. Out of the 13 original states during the 1789 election, 6 states chose electors by any form of popular vote, 4 states chose electors by another method, North Carolina and Rhode Island were ineligible to participate since they had not yet ratified the U.S. Constitution, and New York failed to appoint their allotment of electors in time because of a deadlock in their state legislature.
  5. Here a “major candidate” is defined as a candidate receiving at least 1% of the total popular vote or more than one electoral vote for elections including and after 1824, or greater than 5 electoral votes for elections including and before 1820.
  6. Both Burr and Jefferson received the same number of electoral votes. The tie was broken by the House of Representatives, sparking a series of events that led to the passing of the Twelfth Amendment
  7. There was a dispute as to whether Missouri's electoral votes in 1820 were valid, due to the timing of its assumption of statehood. The first figure excludes Missouri's votes and the second figure includes them.
  8. None of the four presidential candidates in 1824 received a majority of the electoral vote, so the presidential election was decided by the House of Representatives
  9. Due to the American Civil War, all of the states in rebellion did not participate
  10. Greeley came in second in the popular vote but died before electoral votes were cast. Most of his electors cast votes for Hendricks, Brown, and Jenkins; while another three electoral votes to Greeley were disqualified.
  11. Byrd was not directly on the 1960 ballot. Instead, his electoral votes came from several unpledged electors and a faithless elector
  • Presidents John Tyler, Franklin Pierce, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson all lost their party's nomination for a second or third term while in office.
  • Fillmore was a major candidate, but not as an incumbent.

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