There are a number of reasons for why Clinton was so conclusively obliterated by Trump in electoral votes. They will no doubt be dissected for years and years to come. But one big question – especially for those who aren’t intimately familiar with the batshit way the US electoral system works – remains: how is Clinton winning more votes but still lost to Trump?
Cast your eyes onto the current vote count, as per CNN:
This could change, obviously, but right now it’s pretty likely Clinton will scrape ahead in the popular vote. This also happened in 2000 – George W. Bush won the presidency but lost the popular vote to Al Gore. How can that happen? Seems plainly undemocratic, right?
Well, there are people who agree with you on that. It comes down to an institution as old as America itself: the Electoral College. Basically, the 350 million odd citizens of the US do not directly elect the president. They select 538 ‘electors’ who make up the Electoral College, and those electors in turn pledge their vote for the candidate.
These electors aren’t actually compelled by federal law to vote in line with their pledge. This is why you might have seen articles floating around saying Clinton could still be president if enough electors rebelled against their mandate and voted for her instead. In short: no. That’s not going to happen and there would be enormous repercussions if it did. Not to mention the fact 24 states have laws on the books to punish these so-called ‘faithless electors’.
Each state picks a certain number of electors based on their population. California, as the most populous state, gets a mammoth 55 – which have been a shoe-in for the Democrat candidate since at least 1992.
The reason why the Electoral College exists is that the Founding Fathers believed it would be a fortress against certain undemocratic outcomes. For example, if it was just a popular vote, a third-party candidate who was popular in a certain region could cleave the popular vote for the other candidates and become president without a true national mandate.
But, as we’ve seen, its possible to get less than a majority of the national vote and still win. This happens when a candidate nails slim majorities in a configuration of important states, while copping big losses in other states. This is what happened with Trump – and it was his surprise (but narrow-ish) victory in the Rust Belt (Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania) that gave him such a comprehensive electoral victory without the popular vote.
Many people oppose the Electoral College as an institution, including Trump himself as recently as 2012 – even though Mitt Romney lost the popular vote that year too:
The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2012
I assume he likes it now.
But dry your tears. Yes, a reformed or abolished Electoral College could well have resulted in a Clinton victory. But maybe not! In the absence of that mechanism, Trump might have refocused his campaigning efforts elsewhere.
But quite frankly, that shouldn’t be what the Democrats are too caught up with right now. Trump won, but he didn’t start a revolution. In fact, 2 million less people showed up to vote for him than did Mitt Romney. But even less showed up for Hillary.
Clinton underperformed Obama in key counties with heavy black population. Was whole margin in Wisconsin and Michigan pic.twitter.com/hpC8ZcaLe9
— Domenico Montanaro (@DomenicoNPR) November 9, 2016
That’s the Democrats problem going forward.
Racism, Islamophobia and misogyny are always going to get Republicans to the polls – but that’s not what pushed Trump over the line. What pushed Trump over the line was the fact that enough people who voted for Obama didn’t think Hillary Clinton was worth voting for. They didn’t vote Trump – they just didn’t show up at all.
That’s an existential fucking problem, and one the Democrats need to sort out immediately if they want even the slimmest chance in 2020.
Photo: Getty Images / Brooks Kraft.