Nobody ever said that a democracy required a majority, and this has been proven several times in the USA. The US government does not make things easy to understand. Here is how it is possible to win an election to lead the most powerful country on the planet with less than 50% of the votes:
When running for president, in order to win a plurality, a candidate must receive a greater number of votes than anyone running against him. If he receives 50 votes, for example, and two other candidates receive 49 and 2, he will have a plurality of one vote over his closest opponent. However, a candidate does not have a majority unless he receives more than 50% of the total votes cast. In the example above, the candidate does not have a majority, because his 50 votes are 50% or less than the 101 votes cast. If you followed this, then you are ready to run for office yourself.
Fifteen candidates (three of them twice) have become president of the United States with a popular vote less than 50% of the total cast (full list here). It should be noted, however, that in elections before 1872, presidential electors were not chosen by popular vote in all states. Adams’s election in 1824 was by the House of Representatives, which chose him over Jackson, who had a plurality of both electoral and popular votes, but not a majority in the electoral college.
Besides Jackson in 1824, only three other candidates receiving the largest popular vote have failed to gain a majority in the electoral college: Samuel J. Tilden (D) in 1876, Grover Cleveland (D) in 1888, and Al Gore (D) in 2000.
10. Grover Cleveland, 1892 � 48.8% of the popular vote
Cleveland won the race for the� 22nd President with a minority of the popular vote, and won again in 1893, making him the 22nd President (1885-1889) and the 24th President (1893-1897). When he returned to defeat incumbent President Benjamin Harrison in 1885, he became the only president in US history to be elected to non-consecutive presidential terms. Cleveland, who had won the popular vote against Harrison in 1888, won both the popular and electoral vote in the rematch.
9. Benjamin Harrison, 1888 – 47.9% of the popular vote
The United States Presidential Election of 1888 was held on November 6, 1888. Incumbent President Grover Cleveland received the greatest number of popular votes, but Republican challenger Benjamin Harrison�s 233 electoral votes topped Cleveland�s 168 to win the election. Just 12 years earlier, in the election of 1876, the same thing had happened where the President-elect had failed to win the popular vote. It would not happen again until the election of 2000, 112 years later.
8. George W. Bush, 2000 – 47.8% of the popular vote
The United States presidential election of 2000 was a contest between Democratic candidate Al Gore, then-Vice President, and Republican candidate George W. Bush, then-governor of Texas). Bush narrowly won the November 7 election, with 271 electoral votes to Gore�s 266. The election featured a controversy over who won Florida�s 25 electoral votes (and thus the presidency), the recount process in that state, and the unusual event that the losing candidate had received 543,816 more popular votes than the winner.
7. Zachary Taylor, 1848 – 47.3% of the popular vote
With the exception of South Carolina, which left the selection of electors to its legislature, the election of 1848 marked the first time in which every state in the union voted for President and Vice President on the same day: November 7, 1848. Zachary Taylor won election over Lewis Cass, capturing 163 of the 290 electoral votes cast. However, Taylor won barely more than 47% of the popular vote.
6. James Buchanan, 1856 – 45.3% of the popular vote
The incumbent President, Franklin Pierce, was defeated in his effort to be renominated by the Democrats, who instead selected James Buchanan of Pennsylvania; this was thanks in part to the fact that the Kansas-Nebraska Act divided Democrats. The Whig Party had disintegrated over the issue of slavery, and new organizations such as the Republican Party and the American Party competed to replace them. The Republicans nominated John Fr mont of California as their first standard bearer and the Know-Nothings nominated former President Millard Fillmore of New York. Perennial candidate Daniel Pratt also ran. Nationwide, Buchanan won 174 electoral votes, a majority, and was thus elected.
5. Richard Nixon, 1968 – 43.4% of the popular vote
Nixon won the popular vote with a plurality of 512,000 votes, or a victory margin of about one percentage point. In the electoral college Nixon�s victory was larger, as he carried 32 states with 301 electoral votes, to Humphrey�s 13 states and 191 electoral votes and Wallace�s five states and 46 electoral votes.
4. William Clinton, 1992 – 43.0% of the popular vote
On November 3, Bill Clinton won election as the 42nd President of the United States by a wide margin in the U.S. Electoral College, receiving 43 percent of the popular vote in the three man race against Bush�s 37 percent. It was the first time since 1968 that a candidate won the White House with under 50 percent of the popular vote. The state of Arkansas was the only state in the entire country that gave the majority of its vote to a single candidate; the rest were won by pluralities of the vote.
3. Woodrow Wilson, 1912 – 41.8% of the popular vote
Woodrow Wilson defeated both Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft in the general election, winning a huge majority in the Electoral College despite only winning 42% of the popular vote, and initiating the only period between 1892 and 1932 when a Democrat was elected President. Wilson was the second of only two Democrats to be elected President between 1860 and 1932. This was also the last election in which a third party candidate came in second in the Electoral College.
2. Abraham Lincoln, 1860 – 39.9% of the popular vote
The United States presidential election of 1860 set the stage for the American Civil War. The nation had been divided throughout most of the 1850s on questions of states� rights and slavery in the territories. In 1860 this issue finally came to a head, fracturing the formerly dominant Democratic Party into Southern and Northern factions and bringing Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party to power without the support of a single Southern state.
1. John Quincy Adams, 1824 – 29.8% of the popular vote
This election is notable for being the only time since the passage of the Twelfth Amendment in which the presidential election was decided by the House of Representatives, as no candidate received a majority of the electoral vote. This presidential election was also the only one in which the candidate receiving the most electoral votes did not become president (because a majority, not just a plurality, is required to win). It is also often said to be the first election in which the president did not win the popular vote, although the popular vote was not measured nationwide. At that time, several states did not conduct a popular vote, allowing their state legislature to choose their electors.
Portions were sourced from Wikipedia.