Clinton takes popular vote, but Trump says he could have won it if he tried

Although President-elect Trump is losing the popular vote by a significant margin, he says that if he had had a different campaign strategy, he could have won. 

Charles Krupa/AP
Supporters hold signs and a copy of the Bible during a rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Manchester, N.H., on Nov. 7, 2016.

One week after the election was called in favor of President-elect Donald Trump, the business mogul is still trailing his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, in the popular vote. Now, he says he could have won it if he tried.

Throughout the election, Mr. Trump reiterated that the Electoral College was an unfair system that took the election out of the hands of the people. Now, Trump has reversed his opinion on the institution, saying that it is a brilliant way to give smaller states a voice.

Previously, Trump had exhibited strong support for abolishing the Electoral College. Even after he won the election on the strength of the Electoral College vote, he made it clear that he would have preferred a popular vote system.

“I’m not going to change my mind just because I won. But I would rather see it where you went with simple votes,” Trump said in an interview with "60 Minutes" that aired on Sunday. In 2012, he called the Electoral College a “disaster for democracy.”

The president-elect’s detractors were quick to remind him that he would have lost under such a system, and he has since reversed his position. Mrs. Clinton is currently leading in the popular vote by a margin of more than 1 million votes

Many of these votes come from areas in which Democrats traditionally prevail – urban areas and deep blue states such as California and Washington. 

Votes in Montgomery County, Md., pushed Clinton over the 1 million vote figure, widening her lead substantially. The counting isn’t even over yet – votes in at least three states, including Washington and California, are still being tallied. Clinton’s lead could widen even more by the time every vote is tabulated.

Elections in which the prevailing candidate wins the popular vote but not the Electoral College are rare – this year’s election marks the fifth time in the history of the United States in which election results do not match the popular vote. The fourth time famously occurred in 2000, while the other three took place in the 19th century. 

Now, Democrats such as California’s Sen. Barbara Boxer are leading the charge to abolish the Electoral College.

“The Electoral College is an outdated, undemocratic system that does not reflect our modern society, and it needs to change immediately. Every American should be guaranteed that their vote counts,” said Senator Boxer in a statement on Tuesday.

Yet regardless of the debate over the Electoral College, or Clinton’s current, widening lead in the popular vote tallies, Trump says that he would have won the popular vote if he’d had to.

"If the election were based on total popular vote I would have campaigned in N.Y. Florida and California and won even bigger and more easily," he said via Twitter. 

Clinton supporters might chafe at such claims, but Trump’s assertions could have some merit, suggests the Washington Post's Aaron Blake.

Campaigning for a popular vote election is very different than campaigning for an election determined by the Electoral College. In fact, one of the primary criticisms of the Electoral College is that candidates who find success through its process must only campaign to win a handful of states with heavy weight in the Electoral College.

To win the popular vote, a candidate must advertise and appeal to a wider populace. In this election, Trump spent little on advertising in Massachusetts, California, and Washington State, as those states were highly likely to go for Clinton in the Electoral College.

Still, given the support for Clinton in highly populated urban areas, it is unlikely that Trump would have, as he claims, won the popular vote if he had tried.

Some estimates say that by the time all votes are tallied, Clinton could lead by up to two points. 

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