If the Popular Vote Had Been What Mattered, Would Hillary Have Won?
People who want to abolish the electoral college, currently mostly Democrats, typically say things like this: “If the 2016 election had been decided by popular vote, then it follows that Hillary Clinton would now be president.” This assertion is blatantly false. The people who make this claim appeal to the fact that Clinton got more votes—a bigger popular vote—than Trump in 2016. But, of course, the conclusion most certainly does not follow! There’s all the difference in the world between “winning the popular vote” in a system where no one who matters gives a flying freak about the popular vote, and winning the popular vote in a system where the popular vote is the all-important decider.
If the 2016 election had been decided by popular vote, then the popular vote would not have been the same as it was in the actual election. Many people would have voted differently than they did. Many people would have been caught up in the campaign who in fact ignored it almost completely, while voters in certain counties, who in the actual election became centers of attention, would have gone unnoticed.
The campaign would have been, in some conspicuous ways, unrecognizable compared with what actually occurred: absolutely no one, for instance, would have cared who “won” Florida or Pennsylvania, a virtually meaningless concept under a popular-vote-decided system. A few thousand more or less Republican or Democratic votes in California, which would have counted for absolutely nothing in the actual 2016 election, would have been exactly as important as a few thousand more or less Republican or Democratic votes in Michigan.
Or, as an economist would put it, change the incentives and you change the outcomes.
These three paragraphs quoted above are from David Ramsay Steele, “Winning the Popular Vote,” The London Libertarian, June 30, 2019.
Another great paragraph:
This is why it’s misleading to talk about “winning” or “losing” the popular vote under a system of rules where everyone trying to win views the popular vote as irrelevant to the capture of power. It’s like saying that someone who lost a game of chess by being checkmated “won” the piece-taking score because he captured more pieces than his opponent. This is just not the way chess games are scored. And if it were the way chess games were scored, then both players would have played very differently, and very likely the same player would have won (because skill in one game is transferable to skill in a somewhat similar game).
This paragraph surprised me:
Before the election, many conventional experts scoffed at Trump’s decision to campaign so heavily in the rust belt. Couldn’t this amateur, this dolt, see that he had no chance in those states? But Trump had superior intel (Cambridge Analytica) and superior strategic vision. He had been pondering, developing, and honing his working-class, protectionist, America-first electoral strategy for over thirty years. Trump did not win because Hillary was “a bad candidate,” as so many people now like to intone. Her “badness” corresponds with the conventional wisdom of all the accredited cognoscenti before the election, who all confidently expected her to win. Trump won because he was an extraordinarily capable candidate. He out-generaled the highly competent yet conventionally-minded staff of Hillary Clinton. Trump beat Clinton by better science and deeper thought.
There’s something to that. I’m not totally convinced. I said during the election that both Hillary and Donald had the ideal candidate to run against. I’m less sure of that now, and David Ramsay Steele’s paragraph above is making me less sure.
The whole thing is well worth reading.
HT2 Mark Brady.