Friday, November 11, 2016

THE MYTH OF "MAJORITY RULE" IN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS



Q: Who got a majority of the popular vote in the 2016 Presidential Election?

A: Nobody.

Q: What do you mean? Clinton got more votes than anyone else.

A: “Majority” means 50% of the votes +1. Clinton got a plurality. The only way to make sure that a person getting a plurality of the votes is the choice of a majority of the electorate is to hold a runoff election between the top two candidates. We’ve never had provisions for runoff elections on the Federal level and they are becoming less common on the state level. Florida did away with runoff elections years ago because they were too expensive. As I recall, when Florida did hold runoff elections, the winner of the plurality in the first election often failed to get a majority in the runoff.

Q: Well, the election results clearly show that Clinton was the choice of most of the voters, don’t they?

A: No, the way things stand now, the only thing we can be sure of is that (1) a majority of the voters didn’t want Clinton, and (2) a majority of the voters didn’t want Trump. (Which, by the way, puts me in the solid majority).

Q: Well, that makes this election quite an anomaly, doesn’t it?

A: Not really. In four previous elections, we have elected Presidents who didn’t get a plurality of the popular vote AND got fewer votes than the opponent they beat. Those Presidents are George W. Bush (47.87%), Benjamin Harrison (47.80%), Rutherford B. Hayes (47.92%), and John Quincy Adams (30.92%).

Besides that, in 14 previous elections we have elected Presidents whom most of the electorate voted against. They are Abraham Lincoln (1860: 30.92%), Woodrow Wilson (41.84%), Bill Clinton (1992: 43.01%; 1996: 49.23%), Richard Nixon (1968: 43.42%), James Buchanan (45.29%), Grover Cleveland (1892: 46.02%; 1884: 48.85%), Zachary Taylor (47.28%), James Garfield (48.31%), Woodrow Wilson (49.24%), James Polk (49.54%), Harry Truman (49.55%), and John F. Kennedy (49.72%). Totaling it all up, we’ve had 18 Presidencies where the elected President was voted against by a majority of the population.

We’ve even had an election where the losing candidate (Jackson) beat the pants off the winning candidate (Adams) by getting 41.4% of the popular vote to the winning candidate’s 30.92%. And to top it all off, Jackson beat Adams 99-84 in the Electoral College! The history books record no mass demonstrations, no rioting, no vandalism, and no looting in the wake of that election. Jackson simply went back to work campaigning for President and got elected in the next election by a solid majority (56% of the popular vote and 178 to 83 in the Electoral College). 

Jackson and his supporters did what people are supposed to do in our American republic—don’t act out violently, go to work to make sure that your candidate gets elected in the next election. 

Coaching point for both Democrats and Republicans: Try to field more likeable candidates next election.

NOTE: You can check my figures at the following websites: The Roper Center for Public Opinion
and Wikipedia's List of United States Presidential Elections by Popular Vote Margin.