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.
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 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”).
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:
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:
The total number of votes:
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:
(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).
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.