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Popular vote observations

By Scott Tibbs, December 1, 2016

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote over Donald Trump by a large margin, but Trump is still the President-Elect and will be sworn in as President in January. That has generated a lot of discussion, but here is the cold reality about the popular vote: It does not matter.

Candidates play the game by the rules in place. Neither candidate was were trying to win the popular vote. They were trying to win a combination of states to get them to 270 votes in the Electoral College. If the POTUS race was decided by the popular vote, both campaigns would have ran very differently. Trump, for example, did not have any reason to put a lot of resources into California and New York, the first and third largest states in the Union. He never had a chance of winning either state.

But there are a lot of Republicans in both of those states, who could have turned out to vote (and would have been targeted by Republican get-out-the-vote efforts) if the race was decided based on the popular vote. Democrats can complain about Clinton winning the popular vote while losing the election, but if the election was actually decided by the popular vote the campaign would have looked very different.

I am not saying she would not have won the popular vote under those circumstances, and I am not saying she would have won it. I am saying it would have been a very different campaign because the two candidates would have operated under different rules and a completely different system. Ultimately the popular vote is like a side quest in a role-playing game. It is nice, but is not needed to win.