by Nathan Stolpman | November 10, 2016
After a decisive victory for Donald Trump in the electoral college, at the moment he is trailing Hillary Clinton in the nationwide popular vote by 0.2%, or 200,000 votes of the 120 million cast. Democrats and other Never Trump-ers have seized on this information to suggest that, in a fair world, Sec. Clinton would be our next president-elect, as the final tally indicates more support for Clinton from the American electorate as a whole. Some have gone so far as to suggest – as others in the same position have suggested before – that the electoral college itself was responsible for Sec. Clinton’s epic defeat at the hands of a reality show star.
Liberals need to stop whining.
Here’s why: put simply, according to the rules in place at the start of this competition (or exhibition, some would allege), the popular vote doesn’t count. Sec. Clinton could have won by 10% in the popular vote and there would still be no legal avenue to challenge the results after losing the electoral college. The rules are the rules.
In fact, the rules themselves ensure that in 2016 the popular vote does not accurately reflect the preference of the American electorate. That sounds like an absurd claim on its face, but I’ll explain further. The rules of the competition for president of the United States say that the winner of the electoral college wins the presidency. Since campaigns are limited by resources and time, those resources will be focused on winning over the voters that have the most impact on the electoral college rather than the nationwide popular vote. For example, we can assume in 2016 that both campaigns spent more time and money winning voters over in swing states like New Hampshire and Iowa than they did in the massively more populous states of California, New York and Texas. To illustrate the difference in attention given by candidates to swing states vs. non-swing states, this analysis of the 2012 Obama-Romney race shows that out of 253 campaign events, exactly zero were held in 38 states plus the District of Columbia. 100% of campaign events during the period measured were held in just 12 swing states. Plugging those numbers back into the example, we get 40 visits to the approximately 4.5 million combined voters of New Hampshire and Iowa and zero visits to the 86 million voters of California, New York and Texas. It’s almost as if the candidates don’t care who wins the popular vote (hint: they don’t).
Donald Trump wasn’t trying to win the popular vote. If he had been, he probably would have.
The voters that heard the candidates’ arguments the most, the voters that mattered, clearly chose Donald Trump’s message over Hillary Clinton’s. There is good reason then to believe that, had Mr. Trump spent his time and energy campaigning for the votes needed to win the popular vote, he would also have prevailed – just as he did in the electoral college when playing by the current rules.