Clinton Will Probably Win The Popular Vote. What Should That Tell Us?

It is a symbolic victory, but still important

Hillary Clinton supporters, 8 November 2016

This morning I’ve kept my eye on a particular part of a particular web page: the New York Times popular voite forecast.  As I type, it is showing a narrow win for Hillary Clinton, and she is ahead in actual reported votes by 0.1%, which is about 135,000 votes out of 118 million cast.

popular vote margin
The New York Time projection of the popular vote margin, as of 9 November 2016, 13:20 UTC

Remember that there are about 241 million people of voting age in the USA, and 59 million of them voted for Donald Trump.  That means that less than a quarter of all Americans pro-actively voted for someone with insular and openly racist policies and a demonstrably sexist character.

Why bother torturing ourselves with these mathematics?  The Electoral College has given Trump the presidency and all the power that goes with it.  Minorities and poor people will be incredibly disadvantaged during his tenure.  The climate is in peril and NATO is at risk of collapse.  These things remain true regardless of the margin of victory.

Donald Trump’s victory means a certain narrative of the election will be adopted, and Americans will adopt a particular self-image of what their country has become.  Had Clinton prevailed (which she would have done if the same voters had only lived in different states), everyone would now be indulging in very different stories about the election.  We would have seen headlines about how America ‘chose’ unity over division, or how the country had rebuked a racist. The USA could have created a different and more positive portrait of itself.

But that would have been wrong.  Even if the reactionaries and white nationalists are technically a minority, there are enough of them to be of grave concern to everyone.  Knowing that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote should not change our conception of the electorate, and Donald Trump’s victory at least precludes the emergence of this collective-delusion.

Nevertheless, Clinton’s popular vote victory and the knowledge that Trump voters are only 24% of the population is important for pragmatic reasons.  Those with a different vision of America actually have an easier task of persuasion than they thought.  The figures suggest that they could almost (almost!) re-run the election next week and win.  Imagine what they could do with four years of planning.  They actually have to persuade very few people to change their minds.  Moreover, many Trump voters will die between now and 2020.  Demographic changes will favour the the Democratic coalition, and his inevitable failure to deliver on his promises will mean he has fewer supporters still.

Meanwhile, only 24% of people are shoring up the demagogue.  That may be a lot, but it means that progressives have as many as 76% of people already on their side and ready to resist and protest the worst excesses of Donald Trump.  These include public servants, people from the world of business, legal profession, the media, and also the two cultural and economic behemoths that are New York and California.  It also includes plenty of state governors with executive power of their own, and elected representative in the U.S. Congress… including many Republicans.

None of this diminishes the political earthquake that happened yesterday.  The political battle to reclaim America will of course be difficult.  But the fact that more people voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump indicates that his ideology is eminently beatable, next time.  There is a way forward.

2 thoughts on “Clinton Will Probably Win The Popular Vote. What Should That Tell Us?”

  1. She had one of the largest negative votes in history – which may well support your point. Had a more appropriate candidate been available, almost any candidate, the result could have been quite different. In short – Trump is eminently beatable.

    What is perhaps most ironic about your post, is that Clinton – a hardened technocrat campaigner – could not care less about the popular vote. She was all about the demographics.

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