In this volatile election year, with polls swinging wildly and being hyper-inflated by the media, John McCain could win the presidency but lose the popular vote by a large margin. In fact, it is likely that if he does win the presidency that he would lose the popular vote, possibly by millions, sending the Democrats into a tizzy that would last until 2050 and beyond.
It has happened before. Who could forget 2000 when Republican George Bush not only barely won Florida by a hotly disputed 537 votes, but then went on to win the presidency while losing the nationwide popular vote to Al Gore by 543,895 votes out of a total of 101.455 million cast. Bush won 271 electoral votes to Gore’s 266.
And those who watched that election night on TV remember the media calling Florida for Gore, essentially saying that Gore had won the presidency by winning crucial Florida, while Bush and his family waited in a hotel suite somewhere and protested, refusing to accept the media judgment.
The media were under suspicion for calling Florida for Gore even before many Florida polling places had closed. That happened because the media projected the state for Gore just after 8 PM when most of the polls had closed. But polling places in northwestern Florida, which is more conservative, were open for almost another hour because northwestern Florida is in the central time zone, not the eastern zone like the rest of the state. Republicans charged that the media were trying to stifle conservative votes in the more Republican Pensacola/Tallahassee part of the state by calling the election over.
Today it is possible for a candidate to receive zero votes in 39 states and still win the presidency just by winning the popular vote – and thus all the electoral college votes – in 11 of the 12 following states: California, New York, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. These are the biggest states.
A state’s electoral college vote is determined by adding their total number of US senators (2 in each state) to the number of congressional districts in each state (variable). The number of electoral votes needed to win is 270.
Some examples of electoral college votes: California has 55 votes (2 US senators and 53 congressional districts). New York has 31. Texas has 34. Montana has 3. Missouri has 11. Minnesota has 10. Ohio has 20, which is why Ohio is so important. Pennsylvania has 21.
Why do we have the Electoral College in the first place?
The Founders wanted to have the most fair system for electing a president, but they knew that a popular vote system, where all the votes of the country are put into one pot and counted, would not work. Because at that time, the country was very rugged and communication and travel were difficult. So if one candidate was well known in one region, he could win the Oval Office just by getting the most votes in that region, while not at all reflecting the wishes of the whole country.
The Founders then considered a system in which the Congress could elect the president. It would have required each congressperson to tally the voters in his district and then cast his vote accordingly. But that could lead to corruption, where an official made his own decision that did not reflect the voters.
So the Founders settled on a compromise system, with each state having its own internal election and the winner of each state taking the electoral votes of that state.
The electoral system has worked well, with only 3 incidents out of 55 elections where the popular vote contradicted the winner: Bush in 2000; Rutherford B. Hayes won one electoral vote more than his opponent Samuel Tilden in 1876, even though Tilden won 264,292 popular votes more than Hayes out of 8.3 million cast; and in 1888 Benjamin Harrison won 233 electoral votes to Grover Cleveland’s 168, although Cleveland won more than 100,000 more popular votes than Harrison out of almost 11 million cast.
In many elections, the electoral votes have been way out of kilter with the popular vote. In 1968, Republican Richard Nixon won 43.4% of the popular vote with 31.78 million to Hubert Humphrey’s 42.7% and 31.27 million. Yet Nixon won 301 electoral votes to 191 for Humphrey and 46 for American Independent candidate George Wallace, the governor of Alabama.
In 1972, Nixon got 60.7% of the popular vote and his opponent George McGovern got 37.5%, but Nixon ended up with 97% of the electoral votes. McGovern won one state – Massachusetts – and did not even win his own home state of South Dakota.
In 1984, Republican Ronald Reagan got 59% of the popular vote compared to Walter Mondale’s 40.6%, but Reagan also got 97% of the electoral votes. Mondale won only his home state of Minnesota.
In 1960, in an election in which fraud was perpetrated on behalf of Democrat John F. Kennedy giving him the win, Kennedy won by only 112,827 votes more than Nixon out of 68.895 million cast, but Kennedy won 303 electoral votes to Nixon’s 219.
Democrat Bill Clinton has a rather weak popular vote record. In his races in 1992 and 1996, independent Ross Perot siphoned off many votes, and in neither election did Bill Clinton win more than 50% of the popular vote. In 1992, Perot got 20% of the popular vote but not one single electoral vote. Clinton got 43% of the popular vote in 1992 and 49.2% in 1996.
Could McCain win the presidency with substantially fewer popular votes than Obama?
Obama could win by wide margins in big states that he expects to win like Illinois, New York and California, perhaps by millions, because they are very liberal states with lots of voters.
McCain then could win other big states listed above like Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania by just a few votes in each state. Along with electoral votes from other traditionally Republican states, McCain could win with millions fewer popular votes if he also can get a few other wins, even if narrow, in swing states like Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin and Iowa, or some combination of those.
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