No Hillary Did Not Win the Popular Vote

There are any number of people and organizations claiming that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. This seems to be in part a justification for the nitwits vandalizing property because their preferred candidate didn’t win. While Clinton did (apparently) win more votes, she is not the winner of the popular vote. How can this be? Simple:

We do not have an election that measures the popular vote. We have an election to see who can get the requisite number of Electoral Votes.

Let’s look at the election as if it was a game:

Everyone who wants to play the game goes in knowing the ground rules: Each state is assigned a point value. The first candidate who assembles a group of states whose total value is or exceeds 270 points wins. The player must get tokens (let’s call them voters). Whoever gets the most voters in a state wins that state and gets that states points.

Because of various reasons that we need not go into now, the game currently only has two players having a chance to win.

<grumble, grumble>

When the game begins, each side has a certain amount of points locked in from the start (“the locked states”.) Team blue has 200 points, Team Red 133.

The Board at the Beginning of the Game

Therefore, Team Blue needs only 70* more points to win while Team Red needs 137 points. (What? That’s no fair? Too bad). Now we will add in states that, while not a lock for each team, are certainly leading towards a particular color (“tinted states”).


Add in the Leaning States

With that, Red has 198 points and Blue has 259 of the 270 points needed. Each team therefore looks at the map and then decides how to best allocate their resources (time, money and personnel) to get to 270. The locked states need no resource allocation. So each team needs to divide the resources they have between the open states and the tinted states. Team Blue needs to make sure none of the tinted states change color and then pick up 15 points. Team Red on the other hand, needs to hold of the pinkish states while picking up 78 points.

The players know this and allocate their resources accordingly. Most resources go into the open states, with a small portion to the tinted as a backstop). And that is how we ended up with this map:

Election 2016 Final Results

And that is how the game is played.

Keep in mind the deep color states are unalterable- a state that started off Deep Blue cannot be changed to Red. (the hows and whys are not relevant for this version of the game. We will deal with those items in another post.). So spending any resources on it will not change the state and simply deprive your team of money & personnel that could be used elsewhere.

Because the goal of the game is to get to 270, not to see who is the most popular nationwide, campaigns are no concerned with the total number of voters. The Electoral College is not part of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). You don’t get extra points for running up the score. So, it doesn’t matter whether you win Florida by one vote or one million votes, the value of winning Florida remains 29. Team Blue wins California regardless of the number of voters it amasses there. So if you are Team Red, you probably have supporters in California. But whether they vote or not, they cannot affect the color of California. They therefore have a dis-incentive to go out and vote because they can’t be the Hope and Change they want to be. Likewise, Team Blue will waste no resources on encouraging voters in Texas, because it will remain Red.

So saying Clinton won the popular vote nationwide is comparing apples to mangoes. The system is not set up to determine the most popular, merely to ascertain who got what number of Electoral Votes. So the numbers being bandied about claiming Clinton “won” the popular vote are misunderstanding what the numbers mean. It is simply the total of people who voted in the election, regardless of whether their individual vote counted.

Now, the closest you could get to seeing who “won the popular vote” would be to look only at the swing and leaning states. Those states are the only places where there would be a need and incentive for voters to come out and express a preference. These are the states where each team could either change the color (or solidify the hue). And this is how it turned out:

Results from Swing and Leaning States

The total number of votes:

Clinton: 26,142,767

Trump: 29,114,234

So Trump “wins” the popular vote of the swing and tinted states.

Even if you remove the leaning states that stayed loyal to their teams, you are looking at these states:

Results from Swing States


(note: I removed both Nebraska and Maine because I was having trouble finding accurate data for the districts that are used in the split electoral votes. Since the sum total of those two states do no equal the difference in the total votes to Clinton and Trump, the effect on the final numbers are negligible at best).

Clinton: 22,070,732


If you were to use those numbers (because again these are the states where the most resources would be allocated to get people to vote where the votes would really count), you could make an argument that Trump was “the most popular” candidate by 1,722,229 votes

.But I wouldn’t because that is not how the game is played. The only numbers that are important are Electoral Votes. And Trump won that game, 306-232.

Bonus Fun Fact: In the 1960 Presidential Election, the Alabama ballot did not contain the names of either Richard Nixon or John Kennedy. Instead, the citizens of Alabama were asked to elected the State’s Electoral Voters. Alabama was trying to use it Electoral muscle to ensure the President selected would not follow the lead of Eisenhower and seek the dismantling of Jim Crow. For various reasons, the Electoral Voters were not able to follow through on this. But under the mythical idea of “winner of the popular vote”, it is probable that John Kennedy’s election total should not include a decent portion of the Alabama total meaning he was elected without winning the “popular vote”.

*Update [November 15, 2016 9:30 a.m.]: The original post said Team Blue needed 60 points. Clearly it should have been 70. I had changed the map and forgot to change the corresponding numbers. Thanks to Jack Norris who caught my error.


31 thoughts on “No Hillary Did Not Win the Popular Vote

  1. Randy Rowell

    Furthermore, the voters know the rules too. Many voters in California or West Virginia may have decided to not waste their time voting because they can’t change their state’s electoral votes.


  2. I don't think so

    The problem is that the way the “game” is set up favors some players more than others. States like Montana have fewer people per electoral vote due to the Senate having 2 seats per state regardless of population. In California, for example, there are way more people to make up those 2 senate votes, so their vote doesn’t count for as much weight. Google it. It’s an ancient system.


    1. It’s not ancient. It is one of the few articles of the Constitution that has no historical precedent. (You could argue the overly-complex manner in which the Dodges of Venice is vaguely familiar, but they are not similar).

      The system could be altered to encourage more people to vote, but since it would necessitate altering the current system of winner take all to a proportional allocation of EVs, neither the Democrats nor Republicans would be interested.


    2. James

      Senate has nothing to do with it. That’s why we have 2 houses in Congress. California has the most international house of Representatives because that’s population based…not senate.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Eh Rice

        I looked the Electoral College, and each state is allocated 2 votes, one for each Senator, and one vote for each congressional representative. It referred back to the Federalist Papers. The founding father were scared to death of mob rule. The (pronounced with the “eee” sound as in plural) was a Republic of United States. There was the expression of why should we trade one tyrant thousands of miles away, for thousands of tyrants one mile away. There was also the fear of disenfranchising the states with smaller populations. Each state had to have a a peice of the pie (yes at that time, there were only 13 peices). Thus, the electoral college. There was also the fear that states like Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsyvania would dominiate control of thee United States. Rather than taking votes away, they gave each state one for each Senator. Remember, at this time Senators were appointed by the Governors. The winner take all was to keep one group (mob rule) from dominating another group. When we look at how each county in each state voted, you will see the city and urban areas voted blue. The non city areas voted red. The winner take all kept the non city dwellers from being dominated by the city dwellers. Likewise, it kept the liberals from dominating over conservatives. And the list goes on. And thus, mob rule was averted.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Don Neuharth

      If those California voters do not like this fact they can very well move to Montana (though many Montanans may not like that). This nation is a federation of sovereign states so the president is the president of these various sovereign states who are united together for the reasons spelled out in the Constitution. It was forged by a group of very wise individuals who, while they also had their faults, extensively studied human history and systems of governance – each with its own good and bad. This system they forged is, for imperfect human beings, the best designed to hold the worst of us in check while allowing for the best of us to rise. We tinker with it at our own peril and thus may wreak irreparable harm on generations yet to come.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Each state has 2 senators but each state has the # of representatives based on population. The electoral college is the same therefore California has 55 and Montana has 3 or 4 .


  3. juan gilberto

    Dems will try to abolish the Electoral College because they know they can always “scam up” legions of dead voters to win the popular vote.


  4. Dems are calling for the abolishment of the Electoral College, even though polls showed the EC favored Hillary in the lead up to the election. They feel confident they can always “scam up” enough votes from legions of dead voters to win the popular vote.


  5. Pingback: All Politics and No Play Will Drive You Crazy. Check CLFA November Booknado! – Fermenting Politics

  6. Dan M.

    I feel that if they abolished the electoral process the Democrats would never win another election. The millions upon millions that don’t vote in the locked states like california would actually vote then. Blue locked state population greatly outweigh reds. I think this would be devestating to the democrats. JMO


  7. John a

    All great except the argument that “in a totally red state there is less incentive for a blue to go and vote because it knows its vote doesn’t count the color will stay the same.”
    Based on the same argument, in a totally red state also a red voter might equally get lazy and say — well!, we are going to win with my vote or not, so why bother to vote??
    Now, what number is most? The discouraged blue in a red state or?…the lazy red voter?? I would like to see a statistic upon before I totally discount the fact of the “popular vote of all states”. TILL THEN, IT IS OF UPMOST IMPORTANCE FOR ALL TO VOTE.

    Finally, I have heard that during this election that in California there are roughly over 600k illegal aliens and let’s for the shake of argument it’s true.. We also know that the state allowed illegals to hold a “regular drivers license”. We know that it is illegal to vote if you are not a legal alien, BUT, you are only required to “show” a drivers license and with a “lie if your citizenship status” you can vote. I find this ease of voter fraud a most terrible betrayal of our foundation as a country, I am surprised it hasn’t dealt with powerfully.
    It is this example that proved to me the usefulness of the EC which I never liked, towards our forefathers concern of a hostile takeover. The EC is an safety voting integrity buffer.


    1. There is various statistical studies that show most peoples’ votes do not count. The folks over at Freakanomics have pointed this out any number of time. also had some pieces about as well.

      You are correct at a certain point, if vast, vast majorities of voters of one side stayed home it would negate the argument.

      I think there are ways to try to increase voter turnout. (Although 57% voter participation may be the norm. See this article from the National Endowment of the Humanities: It will probably be a few weeks before I get to write that piece. (I’m aiming for it to be up around the time the Electoral College meets)


    2. Shelton Brown

      Stop saying what you have heard. Most of the things you have heard are from right wing websites with no basis for their claims. They are lies from the right and they know their followers won’t fact check them so they continue to spew this nonsense!


  8. Jack Norris

    “When the game begins, each side has a certain amount of points locked in from the start (“the locked states”.) Team blue has 200 points, Team Red 133.

    Therefore, Team Blue needs only 60 more points to win…”

    200+60=260, not 270.

    Please get the math right


  9. Pingback: The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia, Day 7: In the Land of Unintended Consequences | Symptomatic Commentary

  10. rigardi

    Sorry, but I find your argument only partially compelling. Because despite the electoral college system working the way it works, millions of people in “solid red/blue” states went to cast their ballots for the candidate of the non-dominant party. Thousands of Democrats cast their vote in Kentucky, thousands of Republicans did the same in New York. Taking them completely out of the picture is imho a pretty arbitrary and incoherent thing to do.

    Since both parties play by the same rules, you can of course say, HRC won the popular vote. Because the election was held outside of swing states too – also a part of the ruleset, that you are basing your argument on.

    By the given rules she still lost the election, of course, no one is questioning that. And nobody can say how different rules (actually counting the popular vote instead of an electoral college) would have affected the election. Though my educated guess is, that the voter turnout would be a lot higher.



    In the words of Trump, the Electoral College is a disaster:

    Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump
    The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.
    8:45 PM – 6 Nov 2012
    134,713 134,713 Retweets 92,824 92,824 likes


  12. ffffffffffffffffffffff

    Well? Is that a good system? Back when it was set up, rural areas were productive, but then the industrial revolution happened and now cities are where productive endeavors occur. Its a common point made that each state is its own testbed, reward success with power, factor in GDP.


  13. Cha Maxb

    I’d put it this way: of the citizens of this country who cared enough to go to the pols and vote, the majority voted for Hillary Clinton.

    That doesn’t make her the president, but that is a fact. Why people voted and didn’t vote is a different discussion.


  14. ejj

    If you add Trump, libertarian Johnson, and conservative-independent McMullin (who was only on the ballot in 11 states), and put those numbers up against Clinton and liberal green party candidate Stein (who was on the ballot in 44 states + DC), then liberals lost the popular vote by a wide margin.

    Some liberal friends have postulated to me that disaffected Sanders voters went for Johnson. If so, then those were the lowest-information voters in history, as Johnson’s platform (abolish minimum wage, privatization of social security, govt out of health care) was about as un-Sanders as it gets.

    And if it was about the popular vote, both campaigns would have completely ignored all rural areas; it would have been a totally different campaign.

    Face it, liberals lost big time no matter how one slices it.


  15. ejj

    Also, a big misconception is that a constitutional amendment is needed to change how the electoral votes are allocated. All one needs to to write to one’s state legislature to get them to change the law in one’s state. Just because 48 of 50 states make it a winner-take-all affair doesn’t mean it needs to be that way. Nebraska & Maine already allocate by district, with the overall winner in the state getting the remaining two.

    Before the election, we heard the buzz word phrase “blue wall” (often with an added “impenetrable” adjective added) repeated ad nauseum with glee.

    I think if liberals wish to change the system, they should lead the way by changing the allocation in California and New York. New York is primarily a red state geographically, that is overwhelmed by NYC. No need to have all those red districts upstate and on Staten Island and Long Island continue to feel as if they’re shining a flashlight on the beach at noon on a sunny day. Their votes should count, yes?

    Principled liberals should lobby New York and California legislatures to do this.

    Of course, we all know that they never will. They like that Blue Wall just fine…. until they don’t. What a bunch of disingenuous whiners.


  16. ejj

    Chew on this:

    If Trump holds on in Michigan, and it appears he probably will, then he didn’t even need Florida to win. Who saw that coming?

    Certainly not the ones bleating “blue wall” incessantly.


  17. ejj

    Yet another thing to chew on:

    In 8 of the 20 states that Clinton managed to win, she didn’t even get a majority (>50%) of the votes in that state!

    In 24 of the 30 states that Trump won (or is leading in), he got a majority of the votes.

    This is quite telling, especially given what I wrote earlier about most of the 3rd party votes being taken from Trump.

    In 6 of those 8 Clinton states where no majority was won, if you add in the 3rd party votes, conservatives topped liberals and won the majority.

    In the 6 Trump states where no majority was won, conservatives got a majority of the vote.

    So conservatives won 36 of the 50 states.


  18. Pingback: Zappa,Schoolhouse Rock, and Groucho: Learning Civics Means Learning Everything is Not Political – Fermenting Politics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s