3 Thoughts on Hillary Clinton Winning the Popular Vote

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Democrats unhappy that Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election eagerly note that she won the popular vote over Donald Trump by almost 3 million votes. We won’t address the whole debate now raging about the fairness of using the Electoral College instead of the popular vote in choosing a president. Instead, we wonder: How did Clinton win the popular vote? Some strange stories have surfaced in recent days that Clinton’s staff and Democratic officials actually devoted precious resources late in the campaign to winning the popular vote, instead of focusing their efforts on winning the states (Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) that could have helped her become president.


3. Clinton Targeted Big Cities to Boost Popular Vote Total

Hillary Clinton speaks at a rally in Phoenix. © Gage Skidmore

Several reports have criticized Clinton’s strategy during the presidential race, especially in the final days of the campaign, The Democratic National Committee also made some questionable moves. Politico reported that Clinton’s campaign approved the transfer of millions of dollars to the DNC to help boost voter turnout in Chicago and New Orleans. Interim DNC chair Donna Brazile reportedly was concerned that, while Trump appeared set to lose the Electoral College vote, he might win the popular vote, thus causing him and others to question the legitimacy of Clinton’s election.

Of course, increasing turnout in those two cities had no effect on electoral vote totals, with Illinois solidly in the Democratic column, and Louisiana a reliably red state. This is almost the equivalent of a major college football coach running up the score on a weaker team to impress the weekly pollsters. Perhaps those millions spent in those urban areas driving up Clinton’s vote totals could have been better spent in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania where they would have mattered. Politico reports that Clinton staffers ignored Democratic campaigners in Michigan requesting support in the final days.


2. Trump Won Popular Vote in States Outside California

A U.S. county map showing counties that voted for Donald Trump (red) and Hillary Clinton (blue). Credit: University of Michigan

Clinton’s so-called “win” in the popular vote is misleading. First and foremost, the election was not being decided by the popular vote total; both candidates were — or should have been — pursuing a victory in the Electoral College. Yet how can one explain the discrepancy between Trump’s comfortable electoral victory and Clinton’s advantage in the popular vote? In a word, California. Investor’s Business Daily reporter John Merline reported that if you throw out Clinton’s whopping 4.3 million vote margin in California, Trump actually won the popular vote by 1.4 million votes in the other 49 states.

And for the most part, many Republicans in California had little incentive to go to the polls this year. As Merline points out, “There were two Democrats — and zero Republicans — running to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer. There were no Republicans on the ballot for House seats in nine of California’s congressional districts. At the state level, six districts had no Republicans running for the state senate, and 16 districts had no Republicans running for state assembly seats. Plus, since Republicans knew Clinton was going to win the state — and its entire 55 electoral votes — casting a ballot for Trump was virtually meaningless, since no matter what her margin of victory, Clinton was getting all 55 votes.” Merline notes that if you gave Clinton the same margin of victory in the popular vote in California as she had in other Democratic states, the overall popular vote would have ended in a virtual tie.


1. Electoral College May Actually Favor Democrats

Protesters march outside Trump Tower following Donald Trump’s election. © Rhododendrites

Only five times in U.S. history has a presidential candidate won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College vote. Democrats point out that scenario has happened twice to their party in the past five elections, first with Al Gore against George W. Bush in 2000, and now with Clinton. Perhaps that explains why a recent McClatchy-Marist Poll found that 78 percent of Democrats favor using the popular vote to select a president, versus only 29 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of Independents. It would take a constitutional amendment to change this system, and that’s extremely unlikely to happen.

Democrats should be careful what they wish for, because some analysts believe the Electoral College system favors Democrats. Just look at recent history — in the previous six elections before this year, Republicans had only won twice; George W. Bush won narrow electoral victories, with 271 votes in 2000, and 286 in 2004, barely clearing the 270 minimum necessary for election. Democrats won electoral landslides with totals of 370 and 379 under Bill Clinton and 365 and 332 under Barack Obama. For Democrats to advocate ending a system where they have that kind of historic success doesn’t make sense.

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