What happens if Obama wins popular vote, but not election?

Conservative talk show host Michael Medved has an interesting column in The Daily Beast in which he offers the scenario that Mitt Romney could get the 270 electoral votes needed to be elected president while losing the popular vote to President Obama by possibly several million votes. (Read) Medved cites the possibility of Obama winning huge majorities in states that Romney is weak in and ignores (California, New York) coupled with narrow Romney wins in swing states such as Ohio and Florida.

I think it’s a longshot for any popular vote loser to win the electoral college. I know it happened in 2ooo with George W. Bush and Al Gore, but it’s so rare. And the 2000 result was primarily due to three real-time factors: an embarrassing late revelation that candidate Bush had been arrested for drunken driving; a late get-out-the-vote surge for Gore’s base of voters; and finally, an inexplicable campaign mistake by the overconfident Bush camp, which went into neutral a few days before the finish and missed a chance to contain the Gore surge.

Nevertheless, Medved points out that fewer than 700,000 added votes to McCain’s 2008 total  could provide an electoral win for Romney.  Medved writes: “In order to accomplish this feat, Romney needs to add as few as 650,000 votes to McCain’s totals in just six decisive states to get an Electoral College victory with the bare minimum of 270 votes, even though Obama won in 2008 with a near-landslide margin of nearly 9 million votes in the popular total—18 times Al Gore’s popular-vote advantage over Bush.”

Our Constitution dictates that the winner of the electoral college wins the presidency. Having said that, if Obama outpolls Romney by a few million votes chaos will likely result -unless President Obama concedes the election immediately. Yet, if any candidate loses the presidency after polling more than million more votes than the “winner,” it’s hard to blame supporters for feeling cheated. If Romney wins that way, it will never be allowed to happen again.

Medved writes: “It’s easy to imagine the national levels of rage, and impossible not to envision the president of the United States lending his voice to the angry chorus. In the five weeks before Dec. 17, the day when electors formally assemble in their respective state capitals, the president could push electors to shift support to him—even if they defied state legislation requiring winner-take-all distribution of electoral votes to the victor in that state and ignored laws of 24 states threatening punishment to “faithless electors.” The arguments would be fiery and, most likely, somewhat effective: insisting that basic fairness and democratic principle should trump any concern over the creaky, 19th-century relic known as the Electoral College.”

I remain skeptical the results will be so disparate as to create such a controversy. Presidential elections are won via a national mood, and/or very motivated supporters. A “technicality” win, where Romney attracts a smidgen more electoral support than McCain but loses the popular vote to an only marginally popular Obama, is a very negative result. For that to occur would require a quiet, disinterested electorate. I don’t think voter apathy will occur  this year.

Share
This entry was posted in The Political Surf and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to What happens if Obama wins popular vote, but not election?

  1. Jim W says:

    What do you call the loser of the popular vote but winner of the electoral college?

    Mr. President.

    I could see calls (yet again) for reforming/trashing the electoral college ‘to ensure this travesty doesn’t recur’, but it would not impact the 2012 results. Complaints about the EC go back decades, but no suggested alternative has gained traction, for a reason.

    • Doug Gibson says:

      A scenario that Medved proposes would effectively end the electoral college as top dog. As I mention, I can’t see that big a disparity emerging. It hasn’t happened in the past. Elections surprise many too. In 2004, most media observers likely shared Paul Krugman’s optimism that he was voting for the candidate whose supporters were more eager to vote. That wasn’t the case; there were more GOP base voters more eager to get out and re-elect President Bush.

      • toto says:

        The precariousness of the current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes is highlighted by the fact that a shift of a few thousand voters in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 13 presidential elections since World War II. Near misses are now frequently common. There have been 6 consecutive non-landslide presidential elections (1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008). 537 popular votes won Florida and the White House for Bush in 2000 despite Gore’s lead of 537,179 (1,000 times more) popular votes nationwide. A shift of 60,000 voters in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated President Bush despite his nationwide lead of over 3 million votes.

      • Jim W says:

        All the conservative feedback I’ve seen to Medved’s column have been dismissive of the scenario he lays out. I don’t know anyone taking it seriously.

        • Neil says:

          When the states, have a winner take all, is what happens is that we as a state has a one party state. This happens because people don’t care to vote, when they fell that their vote doesn’t matter. Congratulations to achieving a one party state.

      • Bob Becker says:

        Something very like this happened in Bush vs Gore election, didn’t it? And the Electoral College survived, though it did saddle the nation with Bush for four years. Why do you think it would be different this time around?

        Then there’s the question of why anyone would turn to film critic Michael Medved for constitutional prognostication in any case.

  2. Dave Thomas says:

    A constitutional amendment can be proposed by a 2/3 majority of both houses of Congress or by 2/3 of the state legislatures. It then must be ratified by 3/4 of the state legislatures (38 of 50 states).

    The party which benefited from the above scenario would be unlikely to vote to do away with the Electoral College which produced it, so a proposed constitutional amendment would only be likely if both houses of Congress were of the party opposite to the new president.

    To get two thirds of the states to vote to amend would not necessarily follow party lines. The larger states, who get more attention from the presidential candidates because they deliver more electoral votes would not be likely to give up that power. Small states, like our Utah, might oppose it because it would encourage the loyal opposition (Democrats) to vote because their votes would actually count.

    It seems at times to be a popular idea, but I doubt if it will ever happen because too much power would be lost by those who would have to vote for it.

    • toto says:

      The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC), without needing to amend the Constitution.

      The National Popular Vote bill would change existing state winner-take-all laws that award all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who get the most popular votes in each separate state (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), to a system guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes for, and the Presidency to, the candidate getting the most popular votes in the entire United States.

      The National Popular Vote bill preserves the constitutionally mandated Electoral College and state control of elections. It ensures that every vote is equal, every voter will matter, in every state, in every presidential election, and the candidate with the most votes wins, as in virtually every other election in the country.

      Under National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would be included in the state counts and national count. The candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC would get the 270+ electoral votes from the enacting states. That majority of electoral votes guarantees the candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC wins the presidency.

      National Popular Vote would give a voice to the minority party voters in each state. Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don’t matter to their candidate.

      And now votes, beyond the one needed to get the most votes in the state, for winning in a state are wasted and don’t matter to candidates. Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 “wasted” votes for Bush in 2004. 8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659).

      With National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere would be counted equally for, and directly assist, the candidate for whom it was cast.

      Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states. The political reality would be that when every vote is equal, the campaign must be run in every part of the country.

    • toto says:

      The presidential election system that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers but, instead, is the product of decades of evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

      States have the responsibility and power to make their voters relevant in every presidential election. The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. It does not abolish the Electoral College. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

      In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%,, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: AZ – 67%, CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

      The National Popular Vote bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 states, and been enacted by 9 jurisdictions possessing 132 electoral votes – 49% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

      NationalPopularVote
      Follow National Popular Vote on Facebook via NationalPopularVoteInc

  3. Myth Buster says:

    Natural Born Citizen: Person born in the US (Jus Solis) to parents who are US citizens (Jus Sanguinis). It doesn’t matter; neither men are eligible to run, much less be Commander in Chief of the US Military.

  4. Owen Stockton says:

    If it was only the popular vote that counted, then states like California and New York would have too much political influence. Proper representation must be maintained: A set number of senators, representatives, and, yes, electoral congress. It is exactly for that purpose that our founding fathers put it in.

    • Dean Moriarty says:

      If the electoral college for determining the president is such a great idea why hasn’t Utah instituted a similar system for electing the governor?

    • toto says:

      With the current state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes, winning a bare plurality of the popular vote in the 11 most populous states, containing 56% of the population, could win the Presidency with a mere 26% of the nation’s votes!

      But the political reality is that the 11 largest states rarely agree on any political question. In terms of recent presidential elections, the 11 largest states include five “red states (Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia) and six “blue” states (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey). The fact is that the big states are just about as closely divided as the rest of the country. For example, among the four largest states, the two largest Republican states (Texas and Florida) generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Bush, while the two largest Democratic states generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Kerry.

      Among the 11 most populous states in 2004, the highest levels of popular support, hardly overwhelming, were found in the following seven non-battleground states:
      * Texas (62% Republican),
      * New York (59% Democratic),
      * Georgia (58% Republican),
      * North Carolina (56% Republican),
      * Illinois (55% Democratic),
      * California (55% Democratic), and
      * New Jersey (53% Democratic).

      In addition, the margins generated by the nation’s largest states are hardly overwhelming in relation to the 122,000,000 votes cast nationally. Among the 11 most populous states, the highest margins were the following seven non-battleground states:
      * Texas — 1,691,267 Republican
      * New York — 1,192,436 Democratic
      * Georgia — 544,634 Republican
      * North Carolina — 426,778 Republican
      * Illinois — 513,342 Democratic
      * California — 1,023,560 Democratic
      * New Jersey — 211,826 Democratic

      To put these numbers in perspective, Oklahoma (7 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 455,000 “wasted” votes for Bush in 2004 — larger than the margin generated by the 9th and 10th largest states, namely New Jersey and North Carolina (each with 15 electoral votes). Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 “wasted” votes for Bush in 2004. 8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659).

  5. Box of Turtles says:

    Although rare, the winner of the popular vote has lost 3 times in US history: 1876, 1888, and 2000. That may not seem like a lot when you take into account the entire history of the US, but presidents are only elected every 4 years. That means about one time in every 20 elections (5% of the time) the winner actually loses.

  6. toto says:

    A shift of a few thousand voters in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 13 presidential elections since World War II. Near misses are now frequently common. There have been 6 consecutive non-landslide presidential elections (1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008). A shift of 60,000 voters in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated President Bush despite his nationwide lead of over 3 million votes.

  7. Rep. Hansen says:

    I ran that bill here in Utah two years in a row, and the republicans keep killing because they like to oppress the voters. Prove me wrong.

  8. Dean Moriarty says:

    The more interesting question is what if the opposite happened. Romney wins popular vote but Obama wins the electoral vote. Would the GOP still defend the electoral college vote?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>