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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

About that popular vote ... (more on the 2016 election)

I recently wrote about the pre-election polling for this year's Presidential election. Now it's time to comment on post-election posturing.

This is the second time in my life that the Electoral College winner was not the popular vote winner. It's no surprise that many, especially on the losing side, are calling for the elimination of the Electoral College. I'm not going to get into that debate. There are plenty of opinion pieces out there.

Instead I want to address the data implications. Nearly everyone seems to assume that without the Electoral College we would have had President Gore and would now have President-Elect Clinton. A thought provoking column by Aaron Blake points out that we can't make that assumption.

I strongly encourage you to read it but I'll summarize some major points here. Presidential campaign strategies are based on the existence of the Electoral College. Whether it's advertising, candidate appearances, or the "ground game", everything is done in order to win the College, not the popular vote.

Strategies would be very different if candidates were trying to win the popular vote. In particular, non-swing state would get a lot more attention. States like California (blue) or Texas (red) are ignored because 100% of their Electoral votes (55 & 34) consistently go to the same party (Democrat, Republican). These non-swing states tend to have lower voter turnout than swing states.

Under a popular vote campaign strategy, states like these would get a lot more attention. The Democrats would almost certainly still win California but not 100% of California. Would voter turnout increase? If so, how much? Instead of 60/40 vote in favor of Democrats, would it be 55/45? Would small changes in high population states be enough to swing the national popular vote? Keep in mind that while Republicans were trying to shift the California vote, Democrats would be doing the same thing in Texas.

I'm not saying that Trump (or Bush II) would have won the popular vote. I'm saying that we don't know. When the popular vote under an Electoral College system is won by just a couple percent, we simply have no idea what the outcome would be without an Electoral College.  

This brings me back to my previous post. The 13 Keys model predicts only the popular vote but it was developed using historical popular vote outcomes under an Electoral College system. That makes we wonder whether or not elimination of the College would change the predictive power of those Keys.

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