Hillary Clinton widens lead in popular vote – but does it matter?

The Democratic candidate conceded the election, but will her widening lead in the popular vote change things for her campaign?

Otto Kitsinger/AP
A voter fills out his ballot at the Wilson School House in unincorporated Wilson, Idaho, on Election Day.

Donald Trump won the presidency of the United States on Tuesday, after a long, hard battle against the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton. Yet although Mr. Trump’s victory is signed, sealed, and delivered following Mrs. Clinton’s concession speech on Wednesday, votes are still being counted, giving her a substantial and growing lead in the popular vote.

Now winning by more than half a million votes nationwide, Clinton is in a position shared by only four other presidential candidates in American history. Critics of the Electoral College system say that this is just one way in which that system fails the American people, but as supporters of both candidates begin to pick themselves up and move on, does the popular vote count really matter?

"This is not the outcome we wanted or we worked so hard for, and I'm sorry that we did not win this election for the values we shared and the vision we hold for our country," said Clinton in her concession speech midweek, as she urged Americans to come together and remember what unites rather than divides them.

Official vote tallies currently show that although the president-elect won the electoral college vote, Clinton is ahead by almost 600,000 votes, with more ballots still to be counted in deep-blue states such as California and Washington.

This is the second time in two decades that the presidential candidate who won the majority of the popular vote lost the election, an occurrence that has led some critics to question the efficacy of the Electoral College.

"The way the US picks its presidents tends to create a disconnect between the outcome in the Electoral College and the popular vote,” reports the Pew Research Center. “Even in the vast majority of US elections, in which the same candidate won both the popular and the electoral vote, the system usually makes the winner’s victory margin in the former a lot wider than in the latter.”

The electoral college was created in 1787, with a dual purpose, The Christian Science Monitor’s Henry Gass reports: ensuring that smaller states still had a voice in the election, and creating a buffer between the “unwashed masses” and the selection of the nation’s leader.

Yet although Americans may like to believe that the selection of president reflects the public’s opinions on its candidates, four other elections have seen the popular vote go one way, and the election results go another.

Although the best-known example of this occurred in 2000, when Al Gore won over half a million more votes than the man who actually became president, George W. Bush, it also happened in 1824, 1876, and 1888, when John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison all became president after losing the popular vote to better-liked candidates.

Today, some critics of the Electoral College say that the United States should transition to a popular vote system to give presidents more legitimacy. When a candidate wins the presidency without winning the majority of the votes, it can have a delegitimizing effect on the nation’s highest office, they argue.

Days before the election, the Monitor’s David Iaconangelo reported on the American people’s feelings towards the presidency and election.

“I think we’re going through a crisis of presidential legitimacy,”  Stanford University professor Jack Rakove told The Christian Science Monitor. “I happen to think that it would be healthy to the body politic, having one national constituency as opposed to being divided between red and blue states.”

As the ballots were counted on Tuesday night, Clinton supporters reacted in shock to the news of Trump’s victory. Since Wednesday, thousands have taken to the streets to protest the outcome of the election, indicating a powerful disconnect in certain areas between public opinion and the election results.

Trump supporters say that protesters are just exhibiting “sour grapes” after losing the election, but others say that it points to a growing belief that the democratic system is broken.

But does it matter that votes are still rolling in for Clinton, pushing her share of the popular vote ever higher? Not really, for this election at least. 

Clinton has conceded the election, and both she and President Obama have made impassioned pleas for solidarity and unity regarding the results of the election and respect for the democratic process, indicating the Democrats' decision to accept defeat and move forward. 

"Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power and we don’t just respect that – we cherish it," said Clinton in her concession speech.

"We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought. But I still believe in America and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead."

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