Focus On Swing States Caused Discrepancy Between Popular And Electoral Votes

By Dick Morris on November 21, 2016

It now appears that Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in the popular vote by more than 1.5 million ballots. And, with almost 3 million left to be counted — largely in liberal California — her margin may swell further. No matter how high it goes, it will have no effect, of course, on the election results. Trump’s lead in the Electoral College is safe. But we have never had this wide a disparity between the electoral and the popular vote. In 2000, Gore got one-half of one percent more votes than Bush nationally but lost the Electoral College. But this outcome is dwarfed by Hillary’s current lead of more than one percentage point, a lead that is likely to expand.

Why has the Electoral College stopped mirroring the popular vote all of a sudden?

Prior to the 2000 presidential race, campaign strategists kept their focus largely on the national campaign, paying only secondary attention to the specific swing states. Most paid advertising was bought on national shows and network programming that reached all U.S. households. But the 2000 results, in which everything hinged on Florida, led to an obsessive concentration on a handful of swing states that absorbed most of the paid advertising and field operations, leaving the rest of the country out in the cold.

This focus on swing states has created a virtual blackout in the non-swing states that means that voters there are not subject to the same influences as those who live in swing states. Hence the dichotomy.

(In fact, it now appears that the national polls were right, after all, and that Hillary did, indeed, win the popular vote by between one and two percent, about what the average of major polls predicted she’d do).

Of course, had the election been determined by popular vote, not by the Electoral College, political strategists on both sides would have adjusted. As it was, Republicans saw no point in maximizing their turnout in red states and Democrats did not focus much on major cities like New York because they were located in states whose outcome was clear. Only if the major cities were in swing states, did they receive much attention.

We have politically become two nations: The privileged swing states that elect the president and the other forty or so states that are disenfranchised by their own predictability.

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