Did Hillary Clinton Win the Popular Vote? – Why Hillary Clinton Won the Popular Vote, but Lost the Election Anyway
Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but lost the 2016 election to Donald Trump anyway due to the way the electoral college works. In the United States of America the President is elected by the electoral college, not the popular vote, and the popular vote in the general election is an advisory vote (the U.S. is a Republic and not a direct democracy). Although specific dates change every 4 years, nothing is official in terms of Presidential elections until the electors’ votes are cast and counted.
- Electoral vote: Clinton 232 vs. Trump 306 (270 to win)
- Popular Vote: Clinton 65,788,583 votes vs. Trump
As you can see, Clinton lost the election even though she won the national popular vote by almost 3 million votes. The Electoral College is meant to give extra weight to the less populous states. In America, the less populous states tend to be Republican. As you can imagine, after yet another win by electoral vote where they lost majority, the chances of them wanting to change the system are zero-to-none.
DID TRUMP WIN THE POPULAR VOTE?: Donald Trump did not win the popular vote, he lost by nearly 3 million votes. However, these votes come mostly from California and New York… which is why Republicans will never agree to follow a national majority. The College was meant to protect minorities, but in America 2016 we didn’t get a minority candidate, just two candidates of whom neither got 50% of the vote. This is why people suggest things like run-off voting and no confidence voting! See: Snopes Final Vote Count 2016 if need be, of course any source that tallies the election can show you a clear lead for Clinton.
FACT: If California’s votes didn’t count, then Trump would have won the popular vote. While this is an interesting factoid, it is not relevant in the United States. We are a Union of 50 states in the U.S., without the States there is nothing to Unite. Without the states, the electoral college is no longer a justifiable system. It may sound good on paper to point out that progressive California swung the popular vote to Clinton… but it also insinuates that California’s 38.8 million (1/10th of the entire country) is somehow not relevant in a conversation about voting on the direction of the country. The bottom line is Clinton won the popular, Trump won the EC, and the race was generally close like it was in the 2000 election (where Gore won the popular and Bush won the EC).
How Does the Electoral College Work?
To clarify, our Republican, not Democratic, electoral system works like this (dates subject to change, dates below use 2016 as an example):
- The people vote on November 8th as an advisory vote.
- On December 19th electors meet in their state and vote for the President and Vice President on separate ballots. This is a direct vote. At this step it is theoretically possible for “faithless electors” to upset the popular vote by voting against the state majority in states that don’t ban this completely.
- Lastly, on January 6th, Congress meets to count the votes.
- Whoever gets a 270 vote majority out of the 538 electoral votes on January 6th, not November 8th, wins. If there is no 270-vote majority, the House of Representatives decides the next President.
Since the popular vote is an advisory vote, nothing was set in stone until the electors cast their vote until December 19th, 2016 and then the Senate and President signed off on it. State-based electors could have changed their pledged votes in 29 states per state-based rules, and technically all could have changed their vote per the Constitution (as the Constitution doesn’t say how electors should vote).
These odd truisms of our Republic could have resulted in a win for Clinton or even a third party candidate via the House. However, to be clear, the chances of the electors going “faithless” and not voting with the winner-takes-all system is unlikely from a historic standpoint in any election. What is likely is that electors will follow tradition and custom and officially elect the winner of the winner-take-all system, putting aside the technicalities of Constitutional provisions or the sentiment of the popular vote.
TIP: There have been two compromises in American history which completely changed politics. Both were called “corrupt bargains“, in both cases the person who lost the electoral vote one. In both cases a nativist populist who had strong support in the south ended up not becoming President. I don’t want to get too off topic, but if you know history, you know how many parallels we are drawing to 1824 and 1877 here.
TIP: Dates are subject to change each election, for example electors vote “On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December” which in 2016 is December 19th. Likewise, the general election is statutorily set as “the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November” where the earliest possible date is November 2, and the latest possible date is November 8 (as it was for the 2016 election). See a timeline of the 2016 election for 2016’s dates. See Presidential Election Laws and The 2016 Presidential Election for more details.
Could Hillary Clinton Still Win the Electoral College? Faithless Electors Explained.
TIP: There are multiple movements underway to change the electoral college (including a petition on MoveOn.Org to abolish it) or to lobby the electors to change their votes before December 19th (including a petition on Change.Org). Learn how to change the electoral college, and why we should or should not.
TIP: Our founders purposely set up this Republican form of government. They wanted to protect against special interests and majority interest and provide a few extra lines of defense ready in case the public was about to vote in a despot or tyrant. Literally, this is what the Federalist #10 is about, it isn’t just about special interest factions… its about safeguarding the Republic from any sort of political faction be it minority, monied, or majority interest. To be clear, this doesn’t suggest what the right thing to do in 2016 would be, but that is what we have electors for, they make the final call, as the founders intended… The founder’s thinking was not flawed, but the system as it stands today is questionable given recent close-call elections and the very divisive two party system we have.
FACT: The majority of Americans voted for a candidate who didn’t win. The race was very close. The results, if anything show that the country remains divided by left-right politics politically, despite being United on a deeper level.
Past Elections in Which a Presidential Candidate Won the Popular Vote, but Lost the Election
There have been four other times in U.S. history where the candidate who won the popular vote didn’t win the election.
- In 1824, during the election between Democratic-Republican and future Whig John Quincy Adams and Democratic-Republican and future Democratic Party father Andrew Jackson, Jackson won the popular but lost the election. The vote went to the House and Adams won in the first “corrupt bargain” only to be beaten by Jackson four years later.
- In 1876 Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won by one electoral vote, while losing the popular vote to Samuel J. Tilden. With that said, he didn’t really even win the electoral! Instead, things were so crazy post-Civil War that a few southern states reported both Hayes and Tilden winners. A deal was struck to ensure the south didn’t gain power and the result was the compromise of 1877 (the second “corrupt bargain”) that ended Reconstruction (which was actually not a good thing for ending segragation politics, just for ending the occupation of the south by the North).
- In 1888 Republican Benjamin Harrison won by a large majority of electoral votes, while losing the popular vote to Grover Cleveland a “reformed” Bourbon liberal. There was no bargain struck.
- In 2000 George W. Bush Vs. Al Gore, Gore won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote during “the Florida recount”. There was no bargain struck.
Hillary Clinton may have lost, but she will go down in history for winning the popular vote and being the first female Presidential nominee of a major U.S. party… that is if Democrats don’t use one of many parts of the Constitution available to them to find “compromise” (which is historically a real possibility in such a close election; see 270 to win, most elections are won by larger margins, this one is hardly comparable to any… accept 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000).