The 7 Most Shocking Election Upsets In Presidential History

Published January 7, 2016
Updated February 7, 2018

3. Florida, Florida, Florida: Bush v. Gore

2001 Presidential Inaugural

George W. Bush takes the oath of office in 2001. Source: National Defense Archives

By one important count – the popular vote – George W. Bush lost the 2000 presidential election against incumbent Vice President Al Gore. But the U.S. selects presidents based on the Electoral College, in which each state is allotted a certain number of votes based on their Congressional delegation. Though Gore received half a million more votes than Bush nationwide, he lost the Electoral College tally.

The final results came down to Florida. Early on election night, every major news station predicted a Florida victory for Gore, but they later reversed the prediction and put Florida in Bush’s column. Despite legal controversies that reached the level of the U.S. Supreme Court, Bush was declared the winner of the Sunshine State by only 537 votes. On December 12, more than a month after the election, the Supreme Court closed the matter, ending bids for further recounts of the Florida ballots and sealing Bush’s electoral win.

4. The “Corrupt Bargain” of John Quincy Adams

Electoral Upsets Quincy Adams

A daguerreotype of President John Quincy Adams. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the presidential election of 1824, another son of a former president had lost the popular vote. In this contest, John Quincy Adams, son of President John Adams, received only 31 percent of the popular vote, while 41 percent of voters had backed his main challenger, Andrew Jackson, with two other candidates splitting the remainder. Though he won the most popular support, Jackson did not have enough Electoral College votes to claim office.

In such cases, the Constitution gives the House of Representatives the power to vote on who should become president out of the top three candidates. The Speaker of the House, Henry Clay, who had come in fourth place as a presidential candidate, rallied support for Adams, and was later appointed by Adams as his Secretary of State. Due to Clay’s backing and his subsequent promotion, the House voting for Adams became known as the “Corrupt Bargain.” Four years later, Andrew Jackson would defeat Adams soundly and become the country’s seventh president.

John has been writing for All That Is Interesting since 2014 and now lives in Madrid, Spain, where he writes and consults on international development projects in East Africa.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
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Schellhase, John. "The 7 Most Shocking Election Upsets In Presidential History.", January 7, 2016, Accessed May 25, 2024.