These are the closest presidential elections in history - as Biden vs Trump election goes to the wire

Wednesday, 4th November 2020, 3:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 4th November 2020, 3:49 pm

With the final result of the 2020 US presidential race still in the balance, it’s already clear that this was not quite the landslide that either side had predicted.

As a result of a major surge in early voting and complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the result of this election may not be entirely clear for some time.

But while the exact circumstances surrounding the Biden vs Trump election are fairly unique, this isn’t the first time that a US presidential election has come down to the wire.

Here are the closest elections in history explained.

John Quincy Adams vs Andrew Jackson

The 1824 US presidential race would have been almost unrecognisable to most voters today, with five main candidates all in contention who had been selected due to regional popularity rather than their affiliation to a certain party.

The candidates were John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, John C Calhoun, William H Crawford and Henry Clay, though Calhoun dropped out midway through in hopes of winning the vice-presidency instead.

With so many candidates in play, none were able to amass enough votes in the electoral college, so the decision was eventually taken by lawmakers in the House of Representatives.

Adams eventually won by a single vote, after Clay dropped out and his supporters backed him over Jackson.

Rutherford Hayes vs Samuel Tilden

Republican Rutherford Hayes and Democractic New York governor Samuel Tilden fought an incredibly tight-run election in 1876.

Both were vying to replace the unpopular Republican president, Ulysses S Grant, whose presidency had been racked with scandal.

During a long and tough election campaign, which was reportedly marred by issues with vote counting and extreme hostility, Tilden amassed more votes but Hayes won the electoral college by a single vote.

The conflict this controversial result gave rise to ended with the famous Compromise of 1877, which saw the Democrats accept the election result in return for troops being withdrawn from the South.

George W Bush vs. Al Gore

Among the closest and almost certainly the most contentious in living memory, George W Bush won the 2000 election by the narrowest of margins.

Bush lost the popular vote by around 500,000, but pipped his Democratic rival to the post in electoral college votes, with 271 to Gore’s 266.

The deciding state was Florida, which Bush won by a miniscule 537 votes after a controversial recount, while Gore’s requests for a further recount were eventually rejected by the US Supreme Court.

John Adams vs Thomas Jefferson

The 1796 election came about after founding father George Washington refused the opportunity of a third term.

It would be the first election in the country to factor in political parties, and the only US election in history to elect a president and vice president from separate political parties.

Representing the Federalist party, John Adams, who had served as vice president to Washington narrowly eked out a victory by three votes in the electoral college.

His opponent Thomas Jefferson, who has arguably become a much more famous historical figure, represented what was known at the time as the Democratic-Republican party, and became vice-president under his rival.

Woodrow Wilson vs Charles Evans Hughes

The 1916 election took place against a chaotic backdrop, with World War 1 raging across the Atlantic and the Mexican revolution underway south of the US border.

A bitter election campaign was fought between incumbent Democratic president, Woodrow Wilson, and Republican challenger Charles Evans Hughes.

While Wilson went hard on the slogan “he kept us out of the war” referring to the conflict in Europe, his challenger criticised the president’s failure to prepare for the conflict.

Wilson won, carrying the popular vote and the electoral college, due to an extremely narrow win in the crucial battleground state of California.

A month after Wilson began his second term, the US entered World War 1.