Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Popular Vote Means......Nothing

OK, I am totally breaking format here with a post about the election and its aftermath.  I will get back to my surgery saga soon (I hope). But as mentioned in my last quickie post, I have been somewhat consumed by the election.  And an issue has come up about which I have something to say and I very rarely see the point I am going to make made.

So I hope you’ll indulge me.  If you have no interest in the election (or can’t bear to read anything about it because you’re too upset with the result), come back next time.

By the time I went to bed Tuesday night (really, Wednesday morning) after Trump gave his acceptance speech, I was already hearing that Hillary was likely to win the popular vote.  And I wondered if there would be a big to do about that.

Initially I didn’t see much, and I was relieved.  But more and more I’m seeing this referred to.  “Clinton won the popular vote.”   “Clinton got more votes than Trump.”  In some cases, this fact is being used as an argument to get rid of the Electoral College.  But more than that, I’m seeing this used to prove that the election was somehow “unfair.”  Much worse, however, I’m now seeing on social media and elsewhere this being used as an argument to try to persuade electors (from the Electoral College) to switch their votes from Trump to Hillary.  After all, she got more votes, shouldn’t she be our next President?


Here’s what the fact that she won the popular vote means:


Absolutely nothing.

Now, I don’t mean this just because our constitution clearly states that the winner of the Presidency is decided by the Electoral College.

What I mean is that the neither campaign attempted to win the popular vote.  The campaigns knew it was irrelevant.  They both spent all their time trying to find a path to the 270 electoral votes that would insure them the Presidency, and based their campaign strategies on that.

If they had, instead, being trying to win the popular vote, they would have each had very different campaign strategies. 

Let’s say for the sake of argument that the Electoral College didn’t exist.  Do you think Trump or Hillary would have been campaigning so much in tiny New Hampshire?  Or Iowa?  Or Nevada? Or Colorado? Or in that one little congressional district in Maine?

Of course not.  They would have mapped out totally different strategies.  Neither campaign set foot in California or Texas or New York (except to raise money) but if they were trying to win the popular vote, they would have spent all their time in those states, along with Florida and Illinois and Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Even in deep blue California, there are plenty of Republican areas for the GOP to mine for votes.  Same thing in Texas for the Democrats.

Campaigns matter.  At least, with all the money they spend on them, you sure hope they do.  Not just the rallies, or the advertising, but the ground games, the get-out-the-vote efforts.  The GOP didn’t invest any money in getting out the vote in California.  You can be sure they would have invested plenty in California—perhaps their biggest effort—if the popular vote mattered.

Now, as it happens, since we’ve never elected a President by popular vote, no one really knows how to run a campaign to win it.  It’s unchartered territory.  So if we abolished the Electoral College between now and 2020, both parties would kind of be running by the seat of their pants, trying to figure out how best to do it on the fly. It would be interesting to see.  The winner of that election could very well be the campaign that figured it out first.  Actually, there would no doubt be somewhat different blueprints for each party.

But that’s just idle day dreaming.  For this past election, we did indeed have the Electoral College and each side tried damn hard to win it.  Trump did.  He’s the President-Elect.  That’s the way it works.

The fact is, that since neither side tried to win the popular vote—and would have had a massively different strategy had they tried—the winner of the popular vote is nothing more than a footnote.  It can be used to make no point whatsoever.  Period.

Am I saying that, if we didn’t have the Electoral College, Trump would have won the popular vote?  Not at all.  I have no idea what would have happened (except that I likely could have attended Trump and Hillary rallies without leaving my home county, Los Angeles county).  Neither do you.  Because all that time the candidates spent in New Hampshire and Nevada would have been spent in CA or NY or TX or IL.  And that would have made a big difference.

Look, you can’t change the rules after the game is over.  Trying to use the argument that Hillary won the popular vote to convince “faithless electors” who are committed to Trump to switch to her is ridiculous.

Imagine an NBA game where the Warriors beat the Spurs, 99-95.  And then the league decided, you know what?  We don’t think it’s fair that some baskets count for three points instead of two.  So we are going to re-score the game and every field goal only counts two points, no matter where the shot was taken from.  Spurs win 87-85.

Obviously, if the teams knew before the game started that all field goals were worth two points, they would have designed their offenses (and their defenses, for that matter) much differently.

If you’re gonna change the rules, you better do it before the game takes place, not after the fact.

I hope I’ve made my point clearly and you get it.  Because there’s another point I want to make, which will help explain how there could be such a (relatively) large discrepancy between the popular and electoral votes.

It has to do with my home state of California and the idiotic rules it has adopted for its own elections.

Most of those votes that keep adding on to Hillary’s total at this point are coming from California.  California in recent years has become the bluest of the blue states.  It’s been quite a few election cycles since the GOP candidate for President has even thought about trying to win in California.  With one notable exception (I’ll get to that), the GOP hasn’t won a statewide office in CA in nearly 20 years.  There are local GOP office holders—congress, legislature, etc.  But statewide, forget it.

So that in and of itself would mean that the California results are going to skew the national result.  Because CA is by far the most popular state in the union.

But you might not be aware of the way California holds its elections these days, and it affects the Presidential election results.  The last “Republican” to hold state-wide office was Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Before he left office, he somehow managed to convince Californians to change the primaries (for state offices, not the Presidential primary).  I believe it is called the “Top Two” primary.

All candidates that qualify to run enter a single primary and the top two vote getters, regardless of party affiliation, are on the ballot in the general.  Voters get to vote for one person.  So for Governor, you could have four Democrats, three Republicans, two Libertarians, a Green party candidate and a bunch of independents all on that ballot in June competing for the top two slots.  The end result could be two Democrats running against each other in November.  Or two Republicans.  Or a Democrat vs a Libertarian.  You get the idea.

As California is turning bluer and bluer by the hour, more and more often it turns out that, on the statewide level at least, it is two Democrats running against each other.  Note, locally, there are more likely to be different parties running against each other.  There are lots of congressional and legislative districts that are competitive, and swing from one party to another every so often.

Personally, I think this kind of primary is the worst idea since the dawn of time.  Yes, it is actually dumber than the Designated Hitter rule in baseball, and I didn’t think that was possible.

Anyway, to tie this up…..this year, on our CA ballot, there were only two statewide races.  The Presidential race of course and a Senate race.  Note:  Governor and all other statewide offices take place in the off year elections.  So 2018 there will be a bunch of statewide offices on the ballot.  But in a Presidential year, there may not be even a Senate race, but if there is, that is the only other statewide race.

This year’s senate race, as predicted, was a contest between two Democrats.  There were virtually no differences in their policies or their ideology.  They were both female too.  So if you wanted to vote for a woman, it still didn’t matter who you voted for. And if you were a sexist and wanted to vote against a female candidate, you were out of luck. Only if you were totally invested in identity politics did it matter.  One was half black and half Indian.  The other was Hispanic.  Man, if you wanted a woman who was half Hispanic and half Indian, it was quite a dilemma. 

(Note:  I make fun of identity politics because I hate it.  If someone says, “Vote for me because I’m a woman, or black, or Hispanic, or gay, or Jewish” that is the surest way to lose my vote.  Instead, you better tell me you have good character and why your policies are right for the state or the nation).

Now as we know, this year we were presented with a particularly unpleasant choice at the Presidential level.  The two most unpopular candidates of all-time.

And in California, to make it even more unappealing to vote, the second biggest “draw” on the ballot was a Senate race between Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. 

Perhaps if you were a Democrat, you could find enough of a distinction to choose one of the Senate candidates.  But if you were a Republican, it was hard to find motivation to go to the polls to select between Democrat A or Democrat B.

So, knowing that your vote for President didn’t matter because there was not a chance in hell that Hillary wasn’t going to win CA’s electoral votes, and with no down ballot office worth voting for, it is likely that GOP turnout in CA was really low (I tried to confirm this but I don’t see that the numbers are in yet).

But imagine if there was no Electoral College?  Knowing their votes would actually count, California Republicans would have been much more likely to go to the polls.  Admittedly, California Democrats would be more motivated to vote too.  But psychologically, I think it is more likely that Republicans (who know they are going to lose in CA) stay home than Democrats (who know they are going to win).

So you see that popular vote is really inflated for Hillary because in the most popular state, Republicans had no motivation to vote.  If it mattered (if popular vote determined the winner), you can bet every Republican in CA would have been called a dozen times to get them to the polls, and Trump would have lost the state by less than the 28% he did.

Anecdotally, I know several California Republicans who registered their disgust with the choices by not voting for President, leaving it blank.  From my conversations, they were taking the easy way out, knowing that it didn’t matter.  But I’ll bet most of them would have voted for Trump if they felt their voted counted.

As for me personally, I had every reason not to vote.  I was just barely out of the hospital after my triple bypass.  I was uninspired by either Presidential candidate.  There was no real choice for Senate.  Yeah, there were a few propositions on the ballot I wanted to vote on, but nothing earth-shattering.

In the end, though, I felt it was my duty to vote, and I figured out a way to do it. It wasn’t easy, but it was the right thing to do. And now I am very glad I did.

Anyway, I hope you can see how totally irrelevant the popular vote is.  It proves nothing under our current system. It’s not even worth talking about.  As long as candidates are running to win the Electoral College, the popular vote is meaningless.

And needless to say, I would be saying the exact same thing if Hillary won the Electoral College and Trump won the popular vote.

By the way, if you want to see a short video explaining the benefits of the Electoral College, see here.


  1. Excellent explanation. All the wailing and whining about the popular vote is meaningless. The candidates were both focused on what mattered. Good job.

  2. I hate the designated hitter too. But it did help the Cubs win the World Series! The other rule I that's stupid is letting you advance ball to 3/4 court in last 2 minutes of NBA GAME if you call timeout. You need bucket at end of game? Go 90 feet and earn it. The fact you're ranting indicates you're feeling better.

    1. Yes, the DH really helped the National League Cubs this time, but I still loathe it.

      I actually disagree on the NBA rule....I like being able to advance the ball after a time out. Instead of a desperation heave you can set up a decent shot. Still have to make it, tho.

      I'm getting better, but it is a really slow process., Thanks, Norm.

  3. Rob, I will not disagree with you that the popular vote in today's system is irrelevant. For me personally, I'd like to see the system go to the popular vote. I'd like to feel equal to every voting citizen in America. When we all are invested nationally, more of us will vote. Why would a person go vote for president when many states have been won 7 consecutive times by a Republican or a Democrat.

    1. I didn't want to use this post to debate the merits of the Electoral College--just its impact on the popular vote. But I do want to keep. Many of the reasons for that are in that link I had at the end of the post.

  4. Great post Rob I learned some things....(I voted for Pedro)..and decided me and mine would keep moving regardless who got elected....let's hope the tantrums wane.... and as for Trump.. he appeared Gobsmacked and awed when meeting with Obama hopefully the job will humble him

    1. Thanks, geezer. Yeah, it will be an interesting four years. Let's hope Trump can grow into the job.

  5. The uproar about the electoral college is most humorous from protestors that DID NOT vote and also those who DID VOTE but voted for Bernie. If HRC would have won the electoral college and the Donald won the popular vote the libs would be praising the merits of the electoral college.

    1. Absolutely, both sides would have flipped positions if it worked out in the reverse way. Hypocrisy on all sides.

  6. PS: South Park nailed the 2016 presidential election by presenting it as a choice between a giant douche and a turd sandwich.

    1. They usually get it right.....Team America World Police is still the greatest movie ever made.