Thursday, November 10, 2016

The popular vote doesn't matter

It doesn't matter that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, just as it didn't matter that Al Gore won the popular vote.

In both cases, I would have preferred the Democrat over the Republican. But I lost, and I can only accept the results of the election — just as so many people were urging Donald Trump to do if he lost. The same people would have been outraged if Trump had refused to accept the results after winning the popular vote but losing the Electoral College.

If you want to switch from the Electoral College to a popular-vote system, put your money where your mouth is. Do the hard work of lobbying for a constitutional amendment. This would take a long time, and you'd have no assurance that it would end up favoring candidates you happen to like. But it would be more effective than ad hoc complaints about the results of a particular election.

There is no such thing as "winning" the popular vote, because you can only "win" under existing rules. If we play chess and you capture my king, you win the whole game — end of story. If I capture more of your pieces in total, I don't "win" the plurality of pieces; I don't win anything. If I had wanted to be able to claim that as a win, I would have needed to reach an agreement with you before starting the game that our goal would be capturing as many pieces as possible — in which case, it's anyone's guess who would have won.

If we had switched to a popular-vote system right before this presidential race started, Trump and Clinton could have changed their get-out-the-vote strategies; Trump could have appealed to large numbers of conservatives and independents in places like California and New York; and Clinton could have appealed to liberals and independents in places like Austin and New Orleans. The candidates might have taken different positions on the issues, or emphasized different issues. And the unpredictability goes beyond that: we don't even know who would have been nominated if primary voters had been trying to choose a candidate who'd receive a plurality of individual votes. For that matter, we don't know if Trump and Clinton would have run for president, or if additional candidates like Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden would have resisted the outpouring of pleas for them to run.

Any discussion of a candidate receiving a "win" or "victory" in the 2016 popular vote exists only in the realm of hypothetical alternative history, and has no bearing on the rightful winner in the real world. The only thing the candidates were trying to do was to win the Electoral College, so that's the only fair basis for judging their results.


Dave said...

Nice post.

guiowen said...

Actually, suppose you have a decision to make. You notice there are 2 methods for making this decision. Call them A and B. Someone tells you that A is clearly better. You ask, "what is it that you don't like about B?" His reply: "I don't like B because it's not the same as A"
Not a very good argument, is it?

Hal Duston said...

With about 8-10 million ballots uncounted, (1 million in Orange County/San Diego County), CNN is projecting that when all ballots are completely counted, Trump will have won the popular vote count as well as the electoral college.

Hal Duston said...

Reversing my earlier, the CNN graphic is in error. CNN is NOT projecting Trump to have won the PV. Henry Olsen says that when all ballots are counted that Clinton will have bested Trump by 1.5-2.2 million vots.

Anonymous said...

I want to suggest that it's a benefit of the electoral college that it does not encourage vote fraud, as national popular would. If the Dem margin in Chicago was important I am suspicious that Chicago would arrange a very large Dem margin. Maybe the same for the Reep margin in Indiana? I do think that a useful reform would be the Nebraska-Maine route, awarding an electoral vote for each CD won. Reeps in Kern County could then think their votes could matter, as could Dems in Salt Lake City. Dave Schutz