One month before the election, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart holdover correspondent Lewis Black turned up on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah to record a fresh segment of Back in Black. He highlighted how few Americans choose to vote and urged eligible voters to overcome personal distaste for both candidates:
In the weeks and months leading up to November’s Presidential election, I was quite vocal about the electoral outcome I preferred.* But since the election ended, I’ve given in to the temptation to gloat only once — and even then, only sort of, and in passing.
*I would have linked to more articles but I ran out of words. OK, here’s one more.
The point of this post is not to gloat. The election is now last year’s news and Barack Obama has been sworn in as the 44 and 1/2th President of the United States of America, so I’m hoping people are not sensitive about the election anymore. Which is good, because that means I’m cleared to write about how Mitt Romney actually did worse against Obama than you thought: he won exactly four states.
Immediately after the election, there was a brief flurry of map-making. People compared the electoral map to other state-by-state breakdowns. Some of those parallels may have had something to them —
Election day has come and gone, and while we — thankfully — already know the outcome, I can still write about it because votes continue to be counted over two weeks later. You may have heard that Barack Obama pulled out a victory in the Presidential race, earning just over 50% of the popular vote. And in a fun bit of irony, it’s looking increasingly likely that Mitt Romney will end up with roughly 47% of the popular vote.
But as you know, the popular vote doesn’t actually count for much. In case you have trouble hearkening back to 2000, a number of pre-election articles speculated that Romney might win the popular vote but lose the electoral college. A few even explored the dreaded electoral college tie (tl;dr – President Romney, Vice President Biden). And while neither of these nightmare scenarios came to fruition, that we could even conceive of such a thing underscores the extent to which our national offices need not reflect public opinion, as reflected — for the sake of argument — in the popular vote.
And the Presidency isn’t the only race in which the results need not align with the will of the collective people.
In the Senate, that much is obvious: every state, regardless of size, gets two Senators. But this year, when the Democrats expanded their slim majority to 53-47, the margin roughly mirrored the popular vote. The House of Representatives, on the other hand, was a clear outlier — Republicans comfortably held onto their majority.
What happened? Did that many people vote for Obama and for a Democratic Senator — and also for a GOP representative?
As you probably guessed: No.
Like in the Presidency and the Senate, House Democrats received more votes overall, but still managed to lose the chamber. If you prefer a graphical representation, here’s what that looks like, courtesy of Wikipedia:
The way we vote for President is messed up. If you’re reading this, chances are good you lived through the 2000 election and I don’t need to convince you. That said, some of my favorite recent headlines that should help drive home the point that nothing’s really improved in twelve years:
Will Romney win the popular vote but lose the presidency? – Ezra Klein for the Wonk Blog
A Romney-Biden White House? It could happen – John Klotsche for the LA Times
What if neither Mitt Romney nor President Obama wins on Nov. 6? – Jeremy Mayer for the Christian Science Monitor
Those last two articles outline the possibility of an electoral college tie, which begs the obvious question of why the voting body isn’t composed of an odd number of votes. (Obvious answer: that would make too much sense.)
That introduction out of the way, I want to share two other things about the way we vote. (No, this post isn’t meant to be cohesive, mostly because I don’t have time to even try.)
The first comes from Mayer’s CSM article, and describes something I knew, and you know, but that I hadn’t heard in quite this context before: