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posted on 24 July 2016

Clinton Doesn't Need To Win The Popular Vote To Be Elected

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We recently pointed out that if only a total of 278,000 votes for Obama had switched to Romney in 2012 that Romney would have won. If the switches had been made in just 3 states, Florida (38,000 out of 8.474 million or 0.45%), Ohio (84,000 out of 5.581 million or 1.5%) and Pennsylvania (156,000 out of 5.754 million or 2.7%), Obama would have been a 1-term president.

Romney would now be our president even though he would have lost the popular vote by more than 4.1 million.

We have worked from the 2012 elction results to create a hypothetical electoral college win for Hillary Clinton with an equally hypothetical popular vote win for Donald Trump. First, here are the final totals for the 2012 election:


Next let's make some simplifying assumptions:

  • The total vote in 2016 will be the same. (Many expect it to be higher.)

  • Third party candidates get the same number of votes in 2016. (There are arguments that 3rd parties may get more votes.)

  • The votes for 35 of the states will be the same in 2016 as in 2012.

  • For the remaining 15 states, we suggest hypothetical results, below.

The states in this hypothetical example all are going for the same party as in 2012 with the exception of Maine, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which went to Obama, in 2016 going to Trump. That would give Clinton an electoral vote victory of 274-264.

The 15 states that are the only ones with an assumed change in the vote distributions are given in the table below. We show the 2012 votes, the hypothetical 2016 votes and the gains for either Clinton or Trump as they would occur.


So this hypothetical vote has Trump winning the popular vote margin by 2.4 million but Hillary Clinton would be inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017.

In the preceding post on presidential elections, we pointed out the futility of national opinion polls unless the popular vote difference is more than 4%. This hypothetical has a popular vote difference well below 2%. No polling result would have been able to predict this result with any certainty. If almost all polls indicated very similar results (say Trump winning the popular vote with a margin between 1% and 2%) then the uncertainty would be greatly reduced and the aggregate results would be quite accurate. However, such close agreement between polls is not that likely. See Why National Polls Mean Little In U.S. Presidential Elections. But, in this hypothetical, with an accurately predicted Trump popular vote margin, Clinton would still be elected president. Most pollsters would not offer this as probable outcome.

See also Trump Doesn't Need To Win The Popular Vote To Be Elected.

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