For the fourth time (and second in the last two decades), the person who won the electoral vote majority didn't win the popular vote. There's an analogy that has come up a lot over the last few weeks, comparing his unexpected electoral college victory to the results of an NFL game. Hillary Clinton may have earned more offensive yards, the argument goes, noting her victory in the popular vote — but that doesn't matter when she lost the most points.
The broader point of that is accurate: All that counts is the number of electoral votes the two candidates received, and Donald Trump received more. He won. But a better analogy would be if the Super Bowl, unlike all of the regular season games, used offensive yardage to determine its winner, not points. So Clinton won the most points — but unlike in most football contests, that's not how you win the Super Bowl. Offensive yardage and points usually correlate! But they don't always and didn't this year. And so Trump will be the next president of the United States.
Clinton supporters will point to the allegations that Russia's apparent hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta swung the election to Trump unfairly. Podesta himself declined to call the results “free and fair” as a result, saying that he thought the race “was distorted by the Russian intervention.”
The reason Trump won came down to 77,774 votes in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — 0.6 percent of the ballots cast in the three states. With a margin that narrow, any number of things might have been the difference maker, including a robust turnout effort in the states. For personal and professional reasons, it makes sense for Podesta to point the finger at Russia. But you know what they say: Three fingers point back at you.
Clinton won the popular vote by about 2.9 million ballots, or 2.1 percent.
Another common argument lately has been that Hillary Clinton may have won the popular vote, but that's only because of California. For example, here's former congressman Joe Walsh:
This is true. If you remove one-eighth of the American population, Trump actually won.
Unless you remove another one-eighth of the population, of course. Exclude the Deep South, for example — a region that encompasses one-seventh of the country (if you loop in Florida) — and Clinton's margin of victory swells by 1.8 million.
Or, a better example, in the phrasing of Mr. Walsh: “I know Texas is a state & we have to count it, but if you flip TX, Clinton won the electoral vote by 2.”
Unfortunately for Clinton, that's not how it works.
Texas is interesting, though. It ended up being closer than Iowa, once all the votes were counted. Georgia ended up being closer than Virginia. Arizona was closer than North Carolina. One reason (besides California) that Clinton won the popular vote is that she did better in traditionally red states than past Democrats. But she still lost those states, earning no electoral votes. Trump narrowly won the three states mentioned above — and got all of their electors.
Trump's electoral vote percentage was the 46th largest out of 58 contests. His popular vote margin was 47th of 49.
The New York Times compared each of the 58 presidential elections over the weekend and came up with the tallies above.
We've looked at this, too, and can report that those numbers are actually somewhat optimistic, in a way. No winning candidate has ever lost the popular vote so badly, in terms of actual votes. This is a function of there being more votes cast these days than in the past, certainly, but it mirrors what happened in the primary: Trump won even though there was a record in terms of number of votes cast for candidates other than the winner.
Trump is also the first candidate in the modern era of presidential primaries to get under 50 percent of the vote in both the primary and general elections.
In fact, the percentage of the vote that Trump received was lower than 12 losing presidential candidates. The losing candidates in 1868, 1876, 1880, 1884, 1888, 1896, 1916, 1960, 1976, 2000, 2004 and 2012 all got higher percentages of the popular vote than Trump. The losing candidates in 1844, 1880, 1884, 1888, 1960, 1968, 1976 and 2000 all ran closer races, too.
National polling was less wrong than it seemed.
For all of the hand-wringing over the state of polling, national polling that showed Clinton with the edge coming into Election Day wasn't far off. The RealClearPolitics average had Clinton with a 3.2-percentage-point lead nationally. She won nationally by 2.1.
The polling in Wisconsin and Michigan, though, was off by a lot more. RCP had Clinton up 3.4 in Michigan, 1.9 in Pennsylvania and 6.5 in Wisconsin, the biggest and probably most consequential miss. But nationally, polling did better than in 2012, for example, when the RCP underestimated President Obama's win by 3.2 points.
But to return to the analogy above: That was a prediction of the final score of the Super Bowl. Donald Trump ran up more offensive yardage, and so he'll be the next president. And, shoot, take away those three touchdowns from California intercepting and running the ball back and Trump won more points, too.