The popular vote in the U.S. presidential election refers to the cumulative number of votes from all the states of the world (Johnson & Hoyo, 2012; Smith, 2008). The presidential candidate earning the greatest number of votes nationally is deemed to have received the popular vote (Engstrom & Engstrom, 2008; Smith, 2008). However, because of the electoral college voting element, the candidate who wins the popular vote might not win the race (Johnson & Hoyo, 2012; Smith, 2008). That is because, despite the American Constitution allowing all Americans to vote directly for their best preferred presidential candidates after every four years, it is the electoral college vote that determines who wins a presidential election (Johnson & Hoyo, 2012; Smith, 2008). This paper gives an explanation of the difference between the electoral college vote and the Popular vote as used in the United States’ presidential election.
The difference between the electoral college vote and the popular vote is what shows why the vote of an individual American citizen matters in the country’s presidential election (Engstrom & Engstrom, 2008; Johnson & Hoyo, 2012). Understanding how the popular vote works in American presidential election is quite simple. For the popular vote, eligible and registered American citizen voters cast their votes in the polling stations or even send in absentee ballots to cast votes for their most preferred presidential candidates (Johnson & Hoyo, 2012; Smith, 2008). The presidential contestant who gets the highest number of votes gets considered to have won the popular vote (Engstrom & Engstrom, 2008; Smith, 2008). For example, in the year 2012, the immediate former American President, President Obama, won the popular vote by over 65 million votes while Mitt Romney, the then Republican candidate, garnered about 60 million votes (Johnson & Hoyo, 2012).
On the other hand, the electoral vote is not as straightforward as the popular vote. The electoral vote gets determined by the electoral college, which is more of an amorphous entity that only becomes important or relevant after every four years during presidential elections (Johnson & Hoyo, 2012; Smith, 2008). In essence, the electoral college consists of 538 electors, one elector for every member of the Congress, and three other electors for the District of Columbia (Johnson & Hoyo, 2012; Engstrom & Engstrom, 2008). Additionally, the amount of representation in Congress of any state determines the number of electoral votes a given state has in the U.S presidential elections, except Washington D.C. (Engstrom & Engstrom, 2008; Johnson & Hoyo, 2012; Smith, 2008).
The electors of a state vote, basically, depending on the popular vote of the state (Engstrom & Engstrom, 2008; Johnson & Hoyo, 2012; Smith, 2008). In forty-eight (48) states, the electoral votes follow the model of winner-take-all, with the presidential candidate who gets the highest number of the state’s popular vote receiving or earning all the electoral votes in that particular state (Johnson & Hoyo, 2012; Smith, 2008). However, in Maine and Nebraska, the electoral votes get allocated depending on the proportion of the popular vote received by a candidate in the state (Johnson & Hoyo, 2012; Smith, 2008). In other words, if a given candidate gets two-fifth of the popular vote in Nebraska, then it means that two of the five electoral votes in Nebraska go to that particular candidate. After the whole tallying process is complete, a presidential candidate has to win a majority of the electoral votes, at least 270 electoral votes, to get declared as the winner of the White House race, otherwise, the Congress would have the final decision (Johnson & Hoyo, 2012; Smith, 2008).
The clear difference between the electoral college vote and the popular vote use of representatives, or electors for every state, in the electoral college (Engstrom & Engstrom, 2008). The use of electoral college is the same as the use of delegates in a primary voting situation (Johnson & Hoyo; Smith, 2008). However, a more meaningful difference between the popular vote and the electoral college vote is what it means, on a step-by-step level, to the American voters. If an individual casts a vote for a presidential candidate in Virginia, for example, the vote is not just a single vote of all the millions of votes that may get cast on the eighth of November (Engstrom & Engstrom, 2008; Smith, 2008). Rather, the vote is one vote out of the millions of votes in Virginia which could get cast on the day of the election (Engstrom & Engstrom, 2008; Smith, 2008). In 2012, for instance, about 1.8 million people voted for Romney in Virginia while approximately 1.9 million voters voted for Obama (Johnson & Hoyo, 2012). Despite one out of about four million votes in Virginia not seeming very impactful, the fact remains that every vote in Virginia plays a critical role in determining the allocation of Virginia’s 13 electoral votes.
In most cases in the United States’ presidential elections, the electoral vote follows the popular vote outcomes, with the contestant who wins the popular vote winning the electoral vote as well (Johnson & Hoyo, 2012). That is exactly the voting pattern that took place in the presidential elections of the year 2004, 2008, 2012, and several other American presidential elections within the electoral college history (Johnson & Hoyo, 2012; Smith, 2008). However, it is also possible different vote outcomes. For example, George W. Bush won the 2000 presidential election even after failing to earn a majority of the popular vote (Engstrom & Engstrom, 2008). Since Bush garnered 271 electoral votes against Al Gore’s 267, he got declared the winner (Engstrom & Engstrom, 2008). Another example is the 2016 presidential election when Donald Trump won the presidential elections with 304 electoral votes against Hillary Clinton’s 227 despite Clinton winning the popular vote with about 65.8 million votes against Trumps 63 million votes. The examples of 2000 and 2016 presidential elections serve as clear reminders that each state matters and plays a vital role in deciding the outcome of presidential elections since even a difference of one electoral vote can determine who wins the presidency.
In overall, the major difference between the electoral college vote and the popular vote is that the electoral vote represents the votes cast by a state while the popular vote represents the actual votes cast by individual voters. However, the popular vote has a direct influence on how a given state casts its electoral votes. Additionally, the allocation of the electoral votes to any given state depends on the state’s population, a state with a higher population receives more electoral votes. Since the number of electoral votes gets awarded depending on the state’s population, a candidate can win the overall popular vote but fails to win the popular vote. Besides a presidential candidate has to win at least 270 electoral college votes to win an election.
In my opinion, the U.S Constitution affected the outcomes of both the electoral and popular votes in 2016 presidential elections in two different ways. In the 2016 presidential elections, Donald Trump won the electoral college vote after garnering 304 electoral votes against Hillary Clinton’s 227 votes. At the same time, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote after receiving about 65.8 million votes (48.25 percent) against Donald Trump’s 63 million votes (46.15 percent). Since the Constitution requires the winner of the presidential election to win at least 270 electoral college votes, Donald Trump got declared the winner as he earned more than 270 electoral votes. In that case, it is the U.S Constitution that dictated Donald Trump’s win even after he failed to receive a majority support from the individual American voters. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but failed to win the presidency since she got less than 270 electoral votes, the minimum required by the U.S Constitution for a candidate to win the presidency. Again, in that case, it is the U.S constitution that dictated Hillary Clinton’s loss even after she received a majority support from the individual American voters. Therefore, Hillary Clinton would have won the 2016 presidential elections by simple majority votes since she won the popular vote. However, the U.S constitution prevented her using the electoral college vote laws. On the other hand, Donald Trump would have lost the elections since he failed to win the popular vote, which represents the individual voters, but the U.S Constitution made him win due to the provision of the electoral college vote laws.
Engstrom, R., & Engstrom, R. (2008). The majority vote rule and runoff primaries in the United States. Electoral Studies, 27(3), 407-416. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2008.04.009
Johnson, J., & Hoyo, V. (2012). Beyond personal vote incentives: Dividing the vote in preferential electoral systems. Electoral Studies, 31(1), 131-142. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2011.09.004
Smith, B. (2008). Vanity of Vanities: National Popular Vote and the Electoral College. Election Law Journal, 7(3), 196-217. http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/elj.2008.7305