Paul Herman

Hillary's popular vote win would not have been enough

2016-11-17 08:06

A lot of people are up in arms over Donald Trump's shock presidential victory over Hillary Clinton in last week's 2016 US elections.

Rightly so. His divisive campaign and racist, sexist and xenophobic rhetoric is a cause for major concern for America's future relations with both its own people, but also the world.

One of the biggest reasons though for the furore is the seeming contradiction that Trump somehow swept the US's electoral college voting system, yet Hillary received more individual votes.

"How can that be fair?" many ask. It seems counter-intuitive that the candidate who received more votes, however marginal, could still end up losing an election.

Many have thus called foul with the antiquated electoral college system, expressing a desire for a change in procedure.

The problem though with Hillary's lead in the popular vote is that, were that the system, it still would not have been enough to claim a legitimate mandate from the electorate.

The reason, is that both candidates received below the 50%+1 threshold needed to claim an absolute majority.

As of Tuesday, Clinton had received approximately 61,781,982 votes to Trump's 60,834,398 votes, or 47.9% to 47.2% of the total votes respectively, the New York Times reports.

Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and the Green Party's Jill Stein received the other 4.9% between them.

Contrastingly, outgoing US President Barack Obama received more than 50% of the popular vote in both 2012 and 2008.

It's mighty close, and yes, Hillary got more votes, but sadly, she fell as short as Trump did from being able to say, "I represent the majority". She doesn't. Neither does he.

In that scenario, the popular vote could have gone to a runoff, and would then have been anybody's game.

A possible coalition would not have helped either, as the Libertarians, the bigger of the minority parties, have traditionally sided with the Republicans.

What can we draw from the distribution of the popular vote? 

Only what we already know: that America is divided right down its middle, and that the electorate didn't trust either candidate enough to give them an outright majority.

Counting continues. Hillary's lead will grow a little more. It just won't be enough.

States swing towards Trump

The electoral college system however, the one that actually matters, tells a different story.

The US is a Constitutional Republic; a union of 50 self-governing states. Those states ultimately decide who becomes the president, as expressed by the US Constitution.

Trump surpassed the 270 electoral college seats needed for a majority quite comfortably with 290 seats, and will likely finish on 306 once the state of Michigan is declared. 

Hillary on the other hand won 232.

But it's not so much the big difference in their distribution that should be the focus here (although that tells its own story).

It's the very clear change in mandate from the 2012 elections to the 2016 elections that is the message.

President Obama received 332 electoral college votes in 2012. He received even more in 2008: 365.

Yet in 2016, there were huge swings in the industrial "rust belt" states of Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania towards Trump's Republican party.

These are voters who aren't necessarily loyal Republicans. Many of them voted for the democrats in the 2012 election due to the party's close ties with labour unions.

The sad truth is, this time around, Hillary just couldn't keep these states on her party's side.

They just wanted someone to "bring their jobs back", and stop the exodus of industrial work to China and Mexico. 

And they got that promise from Donald Trump.

That, ultimately, is the message from the electorate in this election.

Whether Trump will achieve, fail or renege on all of his pre-election promises is now the question. Time will tell.

One can only hope America can wade through this uncomfortably dark period through to 2020 without irreparable damage having been done.

* Paul Herman is a journalist at News24. He covers Parliament and politics.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    donald trump  |  hillary clinton  |  us 2016 elections

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