While he likes to point out that he won the most primary votes of any Republican in history, it's worth remembering that Donald Trump won his party's nomination with less than half of the Republican vote. He benefited from a system under which he regularly got a much larger percentage of the delegates awarded in a state than he did the percentage of votes. At the time we noted that John Kasich should be complaining about how the process was rigged against him.
There's a non-zero-and-growing chance that Hillary Clinton may have cause for a similar complaint by this time tomorrow. Which is to say: There's a pretty good chance that Hillary Clinton will win more votes than Donald Trump but see Trump win more electoral votes.
As I write, there are no ballots in from Alaska or Hawaii (according to the Associated Press). Elsewhere, Clinton's earned 50.2 million votes to Trump's 51.4 million. Between the two of them, Trump gets 50.6 percent of the national vote. If Trump's lead in each of those places holds, though, he'd earn 57.6 percent of the states' electoral votes.
The system is rigged.
But this happens regularly. It's fairly normal that the winning candidate earns a disproportionate share of the electoral votes. What's weird is if Clinton gets more votes than Trump but still loses (neither of which, as of writing, is determined).
“The Clinton coalition is really problematic as far as the electoral college goes,” FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver put it on Twitter. That's because Clinton saw big gains in a few places where the Republicans already had a big lead, while she saw smaller losses in a lot more places where the Democratic lead was narrower.
Or, in map form:
Here's the change in how America voted since 2012, as of right now. Some big D gains in places Clinton didn't need; otherwise, lots of red. pic.twitter.com/DcOLxDJfQ3
— Brad Heath (@bradheath) November 9, 2016
A closer race in Texas earns Hillary Clinton a lot of votes — but none from the electoral college. A closer race in Iowa doesn't earn Trump as many votes, but flips the state.
The New York Times' forecasting tool predicts that Clinton will surge past Trump in vote total. Why? Because there are a lot of votes outstanding still, particularly in big states like California. In California, incidentally, Clinton is doing better now than President Obama did against Mitt Romney four years ago.
Update: As of Wednesday morning, Clinton leads in the popular vote.
That's another disadvantage for her: She gets as many electoral votes if she wins every single vote in California as if she wins one more. Just as Trump wins every single elector from Pennsylvania if he wins it by a handful of last-minute ballots.
If there is a split between the winners of the actual vote and the electoral vote, look for renewed pressure to change the system. And look for that pressure to result in no change. After all, it's the Democrats who would have been disadvantaged by it twice in 16 years, after there being only one other instance in which that occurred in American history. What's more, the effort would rely on political consent from a newly dominant Republican majority.
Without that split, Trump is still, once again, the beneficiary of a system that is skewed to his advantage. For all of his complaints about how the system works, it's unlikely he'll find much fault with that.
The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2012