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The Popular-Vote Fallacy

For those who believe the vote tally shows more Americans wanted Hillary -- it's a fallacy and here's why
A TV van with pictures of both candidates is seen outside the hall where the first presidential debate at Hofstra University's David & Mack Sport and Exhibition Complex in Hempsted, New York on September 26, 2016. The first US presidential debate, between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, is one of the high points of the campaign, six weeks from the November 8 elections. (Jewel SAMAD/AFP)
A TV van with pictures of both candidates is seen outside the hall where the first presidential debate at Hofstra University's David & Mack Sport and Exhibition Complex in Hempsted, New York on September 26, 2016. The first US presidential debate, between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, is one of the high points of the campaign, six weeks from the November 8 elections. (Jewel SAMAD/AFP)

As the election results came in on the night of November 8th, and it became clear that Donald Trump would pull off the unexpected victory, it also became more and more evident that there may be a divergent result between the electoral college and the popular vote. At that point I emailed my wife the following message: “Tomorrow’s NY Times headline: ‘Time to Rethink the Electoral College’”. While my wife and I generally communicate through more traditional means such as speech, I emailed my forecast to be sure my prediction was verifiable after the fact. Yes- I know emails can always be erased and the server wiped clean, but don’t worry I built a firewall around the whole system. (You see, you can keep reading because I made fun of both candidates).

Well, as luck would have it, my prediction came true. The New York Times, along with CNN and the rest of the liberal media, came through for me with a steady flow of articles describing our moral and ethical obligation to do away with our archaic electoral college. Even the Attorney General of the US described in an interview how the election was stolen from his party by means of the evil electoral college.

On the other side of the aisle, the electoral college was no less than the mighty warrior who went to battle for the Republicans. Once again- as in 2000- the electoral college had come through and brought victory. Hail the triumphant electoral college! There was even a Kiddush sponsored at my shul in honor of…The Electoral College!

Talk about common ground! It appears that everyone is working with one clear, indisputable single assumption: Clinton won the popular vote and Trump the Electoral college.

It then boils down to a fight about details. Should we do away with this old system? Would it not be more equitable to move to a straight popular vote winner so that every vote counts? How can someone win, but still lose? On the other hand, the Democrats had two years — from 2008 to 2010 — when they controlled the Presidency, Congress and for some of it even a filibuster proof Senate, and never changed the system at that time. Suggesting we do so now seems like a case of sore losers looking for an excuse. Additionally, many will argue that maybe if we counted the absentee ballots, we would find a different popular vote tally in the end.

Yada Yada Yada: back and forth the arguments go. But, here is the big point. A point so big and obvious that I am bewildered that I have yet to find anyone else make it. (Get ready for some of these: “!!!!”)

Hilary Clinton did not win the popular vote. Neither did Donald Trump. NO ONE won the popular vote! How can that be? Because there was no popular vote! The only election which actually took place was one working under the assumptions of an Electoral College. People decided whether to vote and for whom to vote BASED on that assumption! Every voter, really every eligible voter, made their decision based on a democratic system wherein the winner would be decided through the electoral college. How would they have voted if we used a popular vote? I have no idea and neither do you!

Would thousands of Republicans in California come out to vote if they felt like their votes may have a greater impact? Maybe.

Would fewer Republicans in Florida vote if they felt that their vote was of smaller significance than it currently is under the electoral college? Possibly.

Are there thousands of disenfranchised liberals in Arkansas who would vote for the first time if they knew their vote would be counted differently? Perhaps.

The point is that we simply do not know and cannot know unless we ran the test (election) under those testing conditions

Further, strategists on both sides have pointed out very keenly that campaigns make decisions about where to allocate time and money based on potential pay-off. Republicans simply do not waste valuable resources campaigning in California. Similarly, Democrats treat West Virginia with the same hands off approach. If we ran a contest decided by the popular vote, who knows what level of campaigning we would see in these so called Blue and Red states and what type of impact those efforts would have on the final outcome?

In a true winner take all popular election Clinton may very well have won in a landslide. Maybe Trump would have won in a similarly commanding fashion. Anything is possible. Maybe Jill Stein would have won! Again, once you change the rules of the game and how the winner is chosen all bets are off, because we simply have no idea how a different system would affect peoples’ decision making processes. When you change one variable- certainly one so fundamental as how the winner is decided- you cannot predict how it will affect countless other variables in the equation.

The bottom line is that the current popular vote tally does not in any way tell us ‘who won the popular vote’. The current tally is no better than a poorly designed poll in assessing what the actual popular vote numbers would be in an actual popular vote election….and we all know how well the pollsters did this election…

About the Author
Simi Sherman is a father, husband, teacher and long time news junkie. He lives in Beit Shemesh.
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