[Gonbidatua] opinion USA
2016/11/28 08:35:00 GMT+1
Guest post by Stephen Ansolabehere, the Frank G. Thompson Professor of Government at Harvard University.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote for President of the United States by more than 2 million votes, but Donald Trump won the presidency. That outcome reflects an unusual feature of elections in the US, called the Electoral College, which is hard-wired in the nation’s constitution. The United States constitution is a compact among the states. As part of that compact each state has equal representation in the US Senate, and the Electoral College, which chooses the president, apportions delegates to states on the basis of each state’s representation in Congress (2 Senate seats + the number of House seats). In order to win the presidency, a candidate must win a majority of votes in the Electoral College.

Five times in US history, the Electoral College outcome has reversed the result of the popular vote. In 1824, John Quincy Adams won more electoral votes than Andrew Jackson, though it was Jackson who won the popular vote. Jackson was eventually elected president in 1828, beginning a new era in American politics. In 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes was elected with a majority of electoral votes in a deal that ended the era of Reconstruction and the occupation of the Southern states following the Civil War. In 1888, Benjamin Harrison lost the popular vote to incumbent Grover Cleveland, but won the Electoral College vote. Cleveland won back his seat in 1892. In 2000, George W. Bush won the majority of electoral votes but narrowly lost the popular vote to Albert Gore. And, now, in 2016, Donald Trump has won the Electoral College (with 306 electoral votes to 238 for Clinton), but lost the popular vote by a substantial margin.

How has history viewed the presidents who won the Electoral College but not the popular vote? The American Political Science Association has surveyed historians and political scientists evaluating the performance of all presidents. John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, and George W. Bush were all rated as Average or Below Average presidents – neither great successes, nor dismal failures.

The challenge each of these presidents faced was governing from the beginnings of their times in power without the support of a majority of voters. Governing without the support of a majority is like tacking into a strong headwind. It takes much more maneuvering and skill to accomplish what a sailor with the wind at his back can do with ease. The history of presidents who ascended to power without winning the popular vote is one of mediocre accomplishments and failure. It is hard to predict what President Trump will do, but he the lessons of the past indicate that he faces a political situation in which it is difficult to succeed.


Stephen Ansolabehere is Professor of Government at Harvard University. He is an expert in public opinion and elections, and has published extensively on elections, mass media, and representation, political economy, and public opinion, especially concerning energy and the environment. He is author of four books: The Media Game, Going Negative, American Government, and The End of Inequality. He is a Carnegie Scholar (2000), a Hoover National Fellow (1994), and Truman Scholar (1982) and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007. He directed the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project from its founding in 2000 through 2004; is a member of the Board of Overseers of the American National Election Study and the Reuters Institute of Journalism at Oxford University; and consults for CBS News Election Decision Desk. He is the principal investigator of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, a collaborative effort of over 60 universities and colleges in the United States.