With all the partisan frothiness and rabid political grabassery that permeates both mass media and everyday convo in America every four years, I’d like to take this moment to remind you of something you learned quietly in your high school civics class: Your “popular vote” amounts to jack shit.
There. Shots fired.
Now this type of politics ain’t exactly my lane. But analyzing military, government, social, and political systems (mainly to find and exploit weak links, if not just to be better at crossword puzzles) damn sure is. Pattern recognition is in the wheelhouse of anyone who claims sentience.
All right, I’m not saying you shouldn’t vote. You should. In every election from your local alderman all the way up to your congressmen. Your right to vote (it’s also a responsibility, as with every other right you have in this country) should be practiced at every turn. It’s one of the most significant ways you, as a citizen, can exert any real control.
But all this rhetorical bullshit that everyone tosses at each other when the POTUS show rolls into town is really not much more relevant than playing Fantasy Football with a bar full of has-been D&D jocks. Your opinion on who should be POTUS—and who shouldn’t—is just that, an opinion.
Most people, when/if this convo ever comes up, are quick to drop that electoral college bomb on the group. Good call. The EC is the primary entity responsible for choosing your commander-in-chief. And they are unobliged to cast their individual vote based on anything counted anywhere in the popular voting system. But the EC is not the only entity that has the power to choose our fearless leader.
On the off chance that you’re not tracking here and calling this all bullshit, let me give you four granite examples from United States history that explicitly illustrate the overturning of the popular vote by other elements of the USG. In order of appearance:
The first example was way back in 1824. John Quincy Adams vs. Andrew Jackson. In this election, Jackson was actually the “winner” in both popular and electoral votes. This clear victory mattered so much to this whole president-choosing business, the House of Representatives went on ahead and gave the office of the POTUS to J.Q. Adams.
Despite Jackson having more than 38,000 popular votes over Adams, and having a 99-84 EC vote tally, neither candidate had enough EC votes to qualify them as victor (someone needed 131 EC votes to win). So, without getting too far into spelling out the obvious for you here, there was no qualification for victory that even had anything to do with people voting. Bottom line was that 131 EC votes. Votes we know only have a consequential relationship with the popular vote. When all that fell to shit, the HoR just put in whoever they wanted, based off of zero other Democratic methodology.
One example so far. No biggie. Nothing to sweat with only one example. Could be a fluke.
Numero Zwei in this reiteration of your personal political powerlessness takes us up a few years to 1876. America’s a cool century old. People are doing stuff that will later become immortalized in Westerns. Samuel J. Tilden vs. Rutherford B. Hayes. This train wreck involved Tilden gaining an easy quarter million popular votes over Hayes. There also happened to be 20 “contested” EC votes. After a congressional commission awarded Hayes those votes (he won by one EC vote after these were added, and you’re right; it does seem fishy), he ascended to POTUS stature. This led to the Compromise of 1877, which gave precisely two shits about how 250,000 Americans preferred Tilden over Hayes. What it did give a shit about was Hayes ceasing all U.S. military meddling in Southern politics. (This is also one of those small deets you can bring up the next time anyone wants to wax fantastic about how the North really did care about what was happening in the South after the Reconstruction.)
So that’s two. I might start paying attention to this topic by this point. We’re one shy of a pattern here. (And exactly halfway through.)
Third. 1888. Grover Cleveland vs. Benjamin Harrison. (Cleveland is famous for serving two non-consecutive terms. But this wasn’t one of them. So, although Obama is the 44th POTUS, we’ve only really ever had 43.) Harrison received 65 more EC votes than Cleveland, though Cleveland owned Harrison in the pop polls by more than 90,000. Given that EC vote count, Harrison walked into the White House while 90,000 citizens were reminded how important their vote was.
Okay, that was three. Pattern set. But I’ll add this last one since most of us should remember it, and I love driving points home with shit like numbers and statistics and facts and stuff. It puts the anal in analysis.
Most recent example: 2000. George W. Bush vs. Al Gore. We were all glued to the TV like ’80s-era teenage boys trying to decipher Skinamax G-rated porn through barely legible static. (Full disclosure here: In both cases, my focus was on Bush.)
Raw numbers gave Gore more than half a million pop votes over Bush (543,895, if it really mattered). And after some really shady shit involving both the Florida and Federal Supreme Courts extending and then vacating the counting deadline, EC votes panned out in Bush’s favor (271 – 266).
That’s four bedrock-solid examples of how your popular vote means precisely dick. And it ain’t just the electoral college that controls your political future, it’s Congress and the Supreme Court as well. So three federal entities can and have chosen your POTUS regardless of what the populace had chosen. Period.
But seriously, you go on ahead and keep yammering about third parties and shit. Spend as much time as possible getting all worked up over who’s a liar and who’s a creep. Lose FBBFFs. It’s all totally gonna pay off for you in the ballot box this time.
While you’re all oohing and ahhing at the big holographic head, I’m Toto over here pulling back the fucking curtain.