There have been five United States presidential elections in which the successful presidential candidate did not receive a plurality of the popular vote, including the 1824 election, which was the first U.S. presidential election where the popular vote was recorded. In these cases the successful candidate secured less of the national popular vote than another candidate who received more votes, either a majority, more than half the vote, or a plurality of the vote.
In the U.S. presidential election system, instead of the nationwide popular vote determining the outcome of the election, the president of the United States is determined by votes cast by electors of the Electoral College. Alternatively, if no candidate receives an absolute majority of electoral votes, the election is determined by the House of Representatives. These procedures are governed by the Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It is important to note that the U.S. Constitution does not require states to even hold a popular vote.
The legislature of a state could assign electors without regard to the popular vote or if no popular vote was conducted. When American voters cast ballots in a general presidential election, they are choosing electors and telling them which candidate they think their state’s electors should support. The “national popular vote” is the sum of all the votes cast in the general election, nationwide.
In 1824, there were six states in which electors were legislatively appointed rather than popularly elected, leaving the actual national popular vote uncertain. When no candidate received a majority of electoral votes in 1824, the election was decided by the House of Representatives. These circumstances distinguish the 1824 election from the latter four elections, which were all held after all states had instituted the popular selection of electors, and in which a single candidate won an outright majority of electoral votes.
Here are the US presidential elections in which the winner lost the popular vote.
Popular vote margin
John Quincy Adams
Rutherford B. Hayes
George W. Bush