Amid all the diagnoses of how Donald Trump won—all the campaign postmortems and think-pieces and conservative crowing and liberal soul-searching—a salient fact seems to have passed underappreciated.
More Americans appear to have voted for Hillary Clinton than voted for Trump.
True, a few ballots remain to be counted. But even as the electoral map turned red on election night, the models consistently projected a Clinton edge in the popular vote. As of 1 p.m. on Wednesday, she held a slim lead of 47.7 percent to 47.5 percent, according to CNN. That’s a margin of about 230,000 votes with 92 percent of the vote tallied. The precincts that remain are likely to widen that gap, according to the New York Times’ live forecast.
No, the result of the popular vote does not affect who won the election, which falls to the results of the Electoral College. It does not detract from Trump’s authority to run the country. It doesn’t make his victory illegitimate. The rules of the contest were clear to both candidates, and Trump won.
Still, it does matter that Clinton received more votes than Trump in the U.S. presidential election. It means that the majority of Americans are not Trump supporters—not even a plurality of Americans are Trump supporters. And it punctures the argument that Trump "has been given a mandate," as his campaign manager claimed Wednesday.
That Trump won with fewer votes is largely an accident of geography and our electoral system, as I explained in an election-night post. The primary reason for the discrepancy is that Clinton’s votes were more heavily concentrated in a few big states, especially California and New York, which she won by 28 percentage points and 21 percentage points, respectively. Trump won the largest red state, Texas, by a more modest 9-point margin, while carrying several swing states by slim margins.
There is a case to be made that the electoral system is flawed and should be reformed or scrapped. But this case has been made before, and there’s no reason to believe it will prevail this time—or that a party that has now benefited twice in the past five elections from this particular flaw would allow for its fixing anytime soon.
That Clinton won the popular vote is not cause for Democrats to celebrate, nor is it cause for outrage. It’s simply an important reminder that this country remains deeply divided; that the election was far closer than the electoral map makes it look; and that we should all be wary of post-election arguments that make too much of Trump’s victory.