Monday, December 19, 2016

News for Your Election-Denying Friends

Standard line of "Democrat strategists: "Oh, but the Electoral College doesn't matter.  Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three million votes and she ought to be president."

You've probably heard that before, one or two million times in the last few weeks.  And I am here to give you an article that you can simply send them in reply that should quiet their poor, snowflakey, jangled nerves.  Hint: you're reading the article now.  Please do forward them this piece.

So first, let's start with the numbers, so they're not an issue of contention.

Across the entire country, fifty states and the District of Columbia, Donald Trump received 62,979,616 votes, which got him 306 electoral votes.  Hillary Clinton received 65,844,594 votes, which earned her 232 electoral votes and meant that she had to crawl back to Chappaqua, NY, moaning about the Russians.

That means that Hillary had a higher popular vote, by 2,864,978 votes, totaling the fifty states and DC. 

Here, for reference, is the vote total for one state, the state of California.  Hillary Clinton received 8,753,788 votes in California.  Donald Trump received 4,483,810 votes.  That's plot material.  Hillary won California by 4,269,978 votes.  In fact, according to the state's own board of elections, five counties in California account for Hillary Clinton's entire national margin.

Why is California relevant?  Simple.  The system in which we have operated since 1789 for electing the president is as a representative democracy.  Each state has a voice, including California.  When states are, as they say, "not in play", meaning that the people who live there are assumed to vote in a certain way, for decades the candidates have left them to themselves, and don't campaign there.

Not-in-play states are ignored in the campaign; they are not visited by the candidates and there is no advertising there.  Idaho is not going to vote for a Democrat for president any time soon, and neither is South Dakota or Texas or Alabama or South Carolina.  And California is not going to vote for a Republican for president; nor is New York or Massachusetts.

Why is this important?  Because if you are going to try to claim that "the people" voted for Hillary, and especially if you're going to claim that the campaign swayed anyone's vote, it is relevant that in one state, California, the campaign never happened.  So many of those Hillary voters lived there that in the other 49 states combined (and even including the District of Columbia), Donald Trump out-polled Hillary by almost 1.4 million votes.

California was written off by both campaigns.  It is entirely logical that, had both Trump and Clinton had only California to win, they would have campaigned there, and the results would have been markedly different.  Hillary would have won, sure, but the numbers would have changed quite a bit (if you don't think they would have, then why is there even a campaign?).

Under the rules in play, California was deemed by both candidates to be irrelevant.  Its electoral votes would be a huge block on which Hillary built her electoral base, but they weren't contested.  So it is not as if California's voters aren't relevant; they are, and their fat electoral bloc shows it -- but the margin -- and its impact on the national popular vote -- is not relevant.

In other words, if there were only a popular vote, the campaign would have been played out less in Ohio, Florida and North Carolina, and a lot more in all the urban centers.  It is the fact that the Electoral College system, which is effectively the "vote by state" system, the forces the campaign into the contested states.

So you can't look at the popular vote nationwide, because it includes millions of votes in states where the campaign never existed.  Had popular vote mattered, we would have seen a different campaign; therefore, the nationwide popular vote is an interesting sidelight but not a reflection of anything.

Bill Clinton himself, for example, said this past week that he thought that Hillary should have gone into Wisconsin in the last week to campaign.  What does that mean?  It means that campaigns are indeed relevant, and that the impact of the electoral system on the way that campaigns are run renders the nationwide popular vote an irrelevant curiosity.

So there.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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