Friday, November 11, 2016


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.

Thursday, November 10, 2016


It’s downright undemocratic for someone to win the Presidency and lose the popular vote! Well, I guess it is, but the American government is not a democracy. The heart and soul of democracy is majority rule. Whatever the majority of the people want, that’s what the government is going to do. Athens was a democracy. Whatever the voters wanted, that’s what they got, and eventually the voters voted their country into ruin with the disastrous Sicilian Expedition, which led to catastrophic defeat in the Peloponnesian War.

America's government, on the other hand, was designed to see to it that in certain situations the majority’s will could be ignored. America started out as a group of thirteen independent states, just as Greece was a group of many independent city-states. The Greeks experimented with confederations of city-states known as the Delian League and the Peloponnesian League. It didn’t work out, and Greek unity was achieved only with the swords of Philip of Macedon and his more famous son, Alexander the Great.

The thirteen independent states in American also entered into a confederation that didn’t work. When the Articles of Confederation proved inadequate, the thirteen independent states achieved unity by the pen rather than the sword. Under the Constitution, each state surrendered some, but not all, of its sovereignty to a central Federal government which was modeled, not after the Athenian democracy, but after the Roman Republic. There was a certain amount of democracy under the Roman Republic, but it was set up so that the majority didn’t always prevail. There is a certain amount of democracy in the American Republic, but it was set up so that the majority didn’t always prevail. That’s why Wyoming (with a population of 582,658) has just as many Senators as California (with a population of 39,144,818).

Under America's republican form of government, the Senators of the 24 most populous states could vote unanimously for a bill, expressing the will of their 264,053,680 constituents, and be defeated by the unanimous vote of the Senators from the 26 least populous states, expressing the will of only 56,692,912 constituents. That’s downright undemocratic, isn’t it? It sure is, but that’s the way our government works. Each state still has a modicum of its sovereignty, and that sovereignty counts for something. It protects the citizens of the smaller states from being bullied by the larger states. Where that modicum of sovereignty is most readily apparent is in the Electoral College where we pick our presidents.

One way of looking at the election is that, as of today’s tally, Clinton is winning by 59,755,284 votes to Trump’s 59,535,522 votes, a difference of 219,762. That’s 0.18% of the vote cast—less than two-tenths of one percent. That's a difference which pollsters would say lacks statistical significance. That’s also a difference which would mandate an automatic recount in most states which require automatic recounts (most states which require an automatic recount mandate a difference of less than 0.5%, one-half of one percent). If we abolished the Electoral College, would we really want a nationwide reprise of the travesty of the Florida recount of 2000? Do you know what a popular vote margin that narrow would mean if we abolished the Electoral College? It would mean that nobody’s vote would count because nine septuagenarians wearing black dresses would decide who became President. I’d rather not have the  Supreme Court decide who was going to be President. I’ll take my chances with the Electoral College, thank you.

Another way of looking at the election is that if Trump carries Michigan, Alaska, and Arizona (in all of which he is currently leading), the electorate of 30 sovereign states will have voted for Trump, but the electorate of only 20 sovereign states voted for Clinton. If he loses all three, then the vote will be 27 sovereign states for Trump and 23 for Clinton.

We don’t elect Presidents by popular vote or by the vote of individual sovereign states. We use they hybrid system of the Electoral College. Under our Constitution, Trump won by 270+ electoral votes. End of story. 

State sovereignty has been gradually eroded since 1776 until it is a mere shadow of what it once was. We need to cling to what little state sovereignty we have remaining, and the Electoral College is one vestige of state sovereignty that should remain.

Majority rule isn’t always a good thing. It frequently slips into majority tyranny. The urban majority can and often does run roughshod over the needs and wishes of the rural minority. The Electoral College is one way of preventing the urban majority from trampling the rights of the rural minority. Look at the USA Today county-by-county map of how the vote went. Those blue states almost disappear when you color in the red counties outside the major metropolitan areas.

If we abolish the Electoral College, we abolish one of the last vestiges of state sovereignty, and we might as well change our name to the United Provinces of America.


I’ve heard a number of explanations for why Donald Trump won the presidential election—racism, sexism, bigotry, isolationism, [insert derogatory description of your choice here]. There’s an old saying that goes something like this “Never attribute to malice that which can as readily be explained by [other reasons].” The original saying had the word “stupidity” in the brackets, but I think that there are other explanations which serve better than stupidity for why Trump got elected. Here’s one of those explanations:

I had a conversation today with a blue-collar worker, a man from the demographic that purportedly helped propel Trump into the White House. I didn’t ask him how he voted, but I did mention the election. He said he didn’t follow the election news much, but he was looking forward to one thing in the Trump presidency—the repeal of Obamacare. He told me that he had a wife and three children, and that the cheapest insurance he could get under Obamacare consumed half of his weekly paycheck. After payroll deduction of the insurance premium, he took home around $250.00 per week. The copay for a doctor’s visit was $125.00, and there were some catastrophic illnesses that the insurance didn’t cover. One of his children had such an illness. Once every six months the child had to see a specialist, and the specialist didn’t come cheap. He said that he tried to get that child on Medicaid, but the child didn’t qualify because he made $5.00 a paycheck too much. He had been dreading the expected 25% jump in the cost of insurance premiums next year.* Under Trump, he now hopes that (1) the uninsured penalty will be abolished, and (2) whatever replaces Obamacare will allow for some competition among insurers and drive premiums down rather than up.

Take my acquaintance’s situation and multiply it by several million. Trump said he was going to get rid of Obamacare; Clinton promised more of the same on Obamacare. Who are these millions of people struggling with huge Obamacare insurance premiums going to vote for? Will they say “Well, Trump’s a sinner, so I’m going to vote for Saint Hillary and continue to pay exorbitant prices for near-worthless insurance”? Or will they say “Trump’s not a nice man, but I’m voting for him because he says he’s going to take this half-ton weight off my shoulders”?