The Electoral College was created 229 years ago as a check and balance against popular sovereignty. And, with its formal endorsement of Donald Trump for the presidency, this absurd anachronism has once again completed its mission of desecrating democracy.
As of Monday afternoon, the actual vote count in the race for the presidency was: Democrat Hillary Clinton 65,844,594, Republican Donald Trump 62,979,616. That’s a 2,864,978 popular-vote victory. Yet, when the last of the electors from the 50 states and the District of Columbia had completed their quadrennial mission early Monday evening, the Electoral College vote was: Trump 304, Clinton 227.
So-called “faithless” electors split from Trump and Clinton, casting votes for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former secretary of state Colin Powell, Ohio Governor John Kasich, former congressman Ron Paul, and Native American elder (and Dakota Access Pipeline critic) Faith Spotted Eagle.
The Electoral College’a voting for Trump was accompanied by shouts of “Shame!” in states across the country. “These unprecedented protests made clear that Donald Trump lost the popular vote and has no real mandate,” explained the Progressive Change Campaign Committee’s Adam Green. “Today’s show of resistance reminded the political world that Trump does not represent the will of the people—and it will embolden Democrats to fight Trump as he sides with big international corporations at the expense of American workers.”
By most reasonable electoral measures, Clinton’s clear popular-vote victory should have made her president. But the Electoral College guards against reasonable measures. Because of decisions made more than two centuries ago by a small group of white men who were not enthusiastic about democracy, Trump’s Electoral College advantage trumps Clinton’s popular-vote win.
It does not work that way in other countries. It does not work that way in contests in states across the United States, where the candidates who secure the most votes win governorships and mayoralties, seats in the US Senate and House of Representatives, and positions on city councils, county boards, village boards, town boards, school boards, and drainage commissions.
But it does work this way for president. As a result, American presidents can be “elected” without winning the most votes—or anything akin to a mandate.
Such is the case with Donald Trump.
Consider the numbers:
- 53.9 percent of Americans who cast ballots chose not to elect Donald Trump as their president. The vast majority of the anti-Trump votes went to Clinton, with the remainder going to candidates (such as Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Jill Stein and independent Evan McMullin) who were harshly critical of Trump.
- 48.2 percent of Americans who cast ballots voted for Clinton for president, while just 46.1 percent voted for Trump. Clinton’s winning by a wider margin than John Kennedy in 1960, than Richard Nixon in 1968, than Jimmy Carter in 1976 or, of course, George W. Bush, the loser of the 2000 election who was awarded the presidency by the Electoral College.
- Trump’s 46.1 percent of the popular vote is a full percentage point below the support attained by Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. It is also less than the popular-vote percentages for Gerald Ford in 1976, for Al Gore in 2000, or for John Kerry in 2004. In other words, this year’s “winner” suffered a bigger popular-vote defeat than a good many losers in recent presidential elections.
- Trump won enough Electoral College votes to claim the presidency. But he fell far short of what might credibly be referred to the convincing victory he likes to suggest he has attained. In fact, as Nate Silver notes, Trump’s Electoral College advantage is “decidedly below-average.” “There have been 54 presidential elections since the ratification of the 12th Amendment in 1804,” explained Silver in November. “Of those 54 cases, Trump’s share of the electoral vote…ranks 44th.”
The point of going over the numbers is not to make Trump’s critics feel good. The “billionaire populist” is now, formally and certainly, the president-elect. But the numbers should strengthen the spines of those who intend to oppose a Trump presidency. They can reject his appointments, policies, and pronouncements with confidence that he lacks the popular support of most Americans.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has argued, correctly, that “Republicans are taking over Congress. They are taking over the White House. But Republicans do not have majority support in this country. The majority of voters supported Democratic Senate candidates over Republican ones, and the majority supported a Democratic presidential candidate over a Republican one.”
Warren is reminding her fellow Democrats that voters “didn’t send us here to whimper, whine, or grovel. They sent us here to say ‘no’ to efforts to sell Congress to the highest bidder. They sent us here to stand up for what’s right.”
The numbers support that argument. While Trump gained an Electoral College majority on Monday, that does not change the fact that most voters preferred someone else for the presidency.
Trump may be the president-elect. But he has no mandate.