How Unpopular Can a Candidate Who Wins the Popular Vote Be?

“HILLARY CLINTON WON THE POPULAR VOTE! The MAJORITY of our fellow Americans preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Period. Fact. If you woke up this morning thinking you live in an effed-up country, you don’t. The majority of your fellow Americans wanted Hillary, not Trump. The only reason he’s president is because of an arcane, insane 18th-century idea called the Electoral College.”—Michael Moore

1dw1f3So, at the end of the day in this election, it looks like Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College (Trump: 59,690,923 vs. Clinton: 59,916,416). The last time this happened was in 2000, when Al Gore lost to W. And before that? 1888. Please tell me, all chattering classes, how this is good for democracy? And please tell me, as well, how the overriding narrative of this election is supposed to be about Hillary not being to ‘rally’ women / minorities / millennials / (insert other category here)—perhaps because she’s a ‘nasty woman’—rather than the historically unprecedented interference on the part of James Comey, Russian hacking of the Democratic party’s emails and timed Wikileaks releases of selected batches of emails in order to, in Assange’s words, influence the U.S. election (not to mention the polls that indicated she was strongly favored before election day, thus possibly affecting both turnout and protest/third part voting). Or tell me how the narrative is supposed to be about Trump somehow pulling off unprecedented / new voting blocks and turnout for Republican votes when, in fact, the numbers were comparable / the same as in the past several elections. So, the upshot is that Republicans turned in comparable numbers to previous years, but Democrats turned in far lower numbers—a depressed Democratic turnout—which, of course, members of both parties decried as the most likely and problematic consequence of Comey’s unprecedented move on October 28th.

Of course, I’m sure this was because Hillary was just not likable enough to win, right? Oh, but wait, she is winning and is clearly forecast to win the popular vote, meaning that more people in the country on election day will have voted for her over Donald Trump, even with a depressed (by a substantial margin) Democratic turnout. Anything you or I would like to presume to know, in this election, is not what we expected. What haunts me most right now, however, is the thought that if the tables were turned—that is, if Donald Trump won the popular vote but lost the election in the electoral college, or if his party’s emails had been hacked and details of his activities / correspondence / emails been leaked by someone who clearly said that they were doing so to keep him out of office (as just one example)—would he have accepted the results? Would he have called for unity, as HRC did? Or would he have talked about it as evidence that the system was rigged against him and all the more reason to tear that system down? But please, let’s all just talk about how this election was a referendum on elitism in American politics, which resulted in the revolutionary election of a billionaire elite insider to the White House.

The idea that Trump somehow won the White House based on the fact that people just don’t ‘like’ Hillary Clinton, and Trump is upending all politics and conventions because he won the Presidency, is manifestly problematic because she won more votes overall from the people who voted in the election. Like it or not, more people who registered and showed up to vote in the U.S. voted for her. In 2000 (Gore/Bush), this was ‘unprecedented’ in recent history (1888 was the last time it happened). All kinds of calls for electoral reform ensued, largely because people fundamentally thought it strange / unfair and a function of an antiquated system (for all kinds of reasons) to render the office of the Presidency to someone who won less votes; ultimately Florida overshadowed all of this. But it is interesting to consider that everyone who is saying that ‘democracy has spoken’ or that these results are emblematic of some fundamental statement about Trump’s worthiness and, correspondingly, Hillary’s failure, would perhaps be articulating very different positions if Trump won the popular vote. I daresay we would be having a conversation about democratic reform. Why? Because isn’t the value that the person who stands for election and wins the most votes should win the election? And yes, I get the whole logic of the electoral system and the ‘fairness’ of it even though it has become increasingly unfair in actually representing the democratic vote because of internal migration. Let’s just pause for a moment in all of this to appreciate the fact that people voted for the President yesterday and, even though most who went to the polls voted for Hillary Clinton, Trump will be our next President. Let’s dwell, for a minute, on what that says about our democracy. And let’s be clear about what we call rigged when speaking about democracy.

—Anna-Liisa Aunio

About AL Aunio

Born in Boston and raised in working-class New Jersey, Anna-Liisa Aunio was awarded the Jon Bon Jovi “Dare to Dream” scholarship in 1992. She was 18. She had big hair. And it was the high point of her life. Been downhill ever since. But seriously, Anna-Liisa restlessly fled the lawns and picket fences of her youth first chance she got. Initially to New York City, where she traded on Wall Street (by day), whilst living like Carrie Bradshaw (by night); then to Baltimore, where she managed a national drop-out prevention program (by day), whilst living like Rick James (by night); and, most recently, to Montreal, where she teaches sociology at Dawson College (by day), whilst living like Claire Dunphy (by night). Along the way, she's picked up a few degrees—a BA from Rutgers, an MA from Johns Hopkins, a PhD from McGill—and a husband. But she'd prefer to talk about her kids.

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