In the aftermath of the 2016 election, much talk has occurred on social media and elsewhere about the popular vote. The discussion has revolved around the fact that the losing candidate won the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes. How, people ask, can a candidate win that many more votes and still lose the election? The confusion is compounded by the fact that for all other elective offices, the winner is the candidate who wins the most votes, even if that is one vote.
The answer to the question above is based on the fact that the writers of the U. S. Constitution established the Electoral College(EC) as the process for electing the President and Vice-President. Each state has a certain number of electoral voters (EVs) based on two Senators plus the number of Representatives. Most states award their EV’s in a winner-take-all manner based on the winner at the state level. Two states, Nebraska and Maine, use a form of proportionality by awarding EV’s based on Congressional Districts and the statewide at-large vote. In both methods, the votes of many voters are left on the counting room floor, so to speak. When the EV’s are officially cast in the state and are added to the total national EC count, the votes cast for the losing candidate at the state level are not represented. In other words, red voters in a blue state, and vice versa, find their votes lost in the bigger picture of the Electoral College. But all the votes cast are tallied into a popular vote count which is broadly announced, and this total can become an issue, as it has this year.
During the history of the U. S. Presidential Elections and including the 2016 election, there have been five Presidential elections in which the loser won the popular vote but not the ECV. To put it differently, one out of every eleven Presidential elections (l/11) has ended with the win going to the candidate with the lower number of popular votes. This election saw the winner losing the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes, by far the largest disparity between popular and EV counts in the nation’s history. When we look at the recent trend of non-landslide elections beginning in 1988, the rate is 2 in 8 (Gore and Clinton losses). In contrast, landslide elections are unlikely to result in a winner who doesn’t win both EV and popular votes. Non-landslide elections are more likely to have end results that show the loser winning a majority popular vote count. In recent decades, as the party philosophies retreated from the center and the use of compromise between parties lessened, there has been a growing likelihood that elections will be non-landslide with more disparities between EV and popular vote counts.
Why do we have the Electoral College rather than a popular vote determining the winners of the Presidential elections? How do political parties affect the use of the Electoral College? Is it possible to change the way we currently elect the President and Vice-President? These questions will be examined in the next blog titled Popular Vote 2.