Democrats for days have been talking about a “popular vote” in the House of Representatives and the Senate. They’ve claimed it will favor Democrats, but if Democrats don’t win, then the fact that they won the popular vote will point to fundamental unfairness in our institutions.
Vox’s Ezra Klein got the ball rolling by claiming there will be a “crisis” if “Democrats win the House popular vote but not the majority.”
I don't think people are ready for the crisis that will follow if Democrats win the House popular vote but not the majority.
After Kavanaugh, Trump, Garland, Citizens United, Bush v. Gore, etc, the party is on the edge of losing faith in the system (and reasonably so).
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) November 5, 2018
The argument goes that Republicans have used gerrymandering or, in the case of Georgia Gov.-elect Brian Kemp, corruption, to garner votes and keep themselves in power despite a majority of voters wanting Democrats. These things, of course, are only ever mentioned as problems when Democrats lose, because they so believe they’re on the right side of everything that they couldn’t possibly lose, ever.
Shortly after most races were called in the midterms Tuesday night, University of Wisconsin professor of political science and public affairs Mark Copelovitch tweeted about the Senate “popular vote,” noting that Democrats received, at the time of his tweet, 40,558,262 votes, or 55.4% of the vote, while Republicans only received 31,490,026 votes, or 43%. He then pointed out that Republicans had at that time gained three Senate seats (they are now on track to pick up two more).
Senate popular vote:
Democrats: 40,558,262 (55.4%)
Republicans: 31,490,026 votes (43.0%)
Senate seats: Republicans +3
— Mark Copelovitch (@mcopelov) November 7, 2018
Both Klein and Copelovitch (who are either bad at their jobs by not knowing why their observations are wrong or willfully ignoring facts for political gain) were schooled on how the House and Senate work, but it appears far too many people think these two actually had a point. So, let’s take a look at why they’re wrong.
House Popular Vote
David French over at National Review writes how Democrats are “not entitled” to more House seats because they won more votes nationally.
“If a progressive wins 80-20 in an urban district, and a different progressives loses 60-40 in an exurban district, the Democrats are not entitled to both seats because they have more total votes,” French wrote.
Further, although gerrymandering (which both parties do when given the option) does play a role in the “popular vote,” the bigger problem for progressives, as both French and Alec MacGillis at The New York Times note, is that Democrats cluster in big cities.
“This has long been a problem for the party, but it has grown worse in recent years,” MacGillis wrote.
“Democrats just don’t want to live where they’d need to live to turn more of the map blue,” he added.
The popular vote means nothing except in individual races. The person with the most votes wins, and some races get more votes than others and some candidates live in more contested districts than others. Those are all factors. National vote totals play no role.
Senate Popular Vote
Complaining about the Senate popular vote is even more asinine in 2018. Democrats had far more senators up for re-election than Republicans, so naturally, there were going to be more Democrat votes even if Republicans gained some seats.
Aaron Blake took down this argument for The Washington Post. Senators represent states, not people, which is why every state gets two — for equal representation no matter the square mileage or population of the state. The House is designed to represent the people.
“The biggest problem with it is that not every state is up for reelection, leading to a skewed picture,” Blake wrote. “If more Democratic seats are up for reelection, it stands to reason that Democrats will do well in the popular vote. And that’s exactly what happened in 2018: Democrats were defending 26 states, and Republicans just nine.”
California also has an odd voting system that allows the top two vote-getters in the primary, regardless of party, to compete in the general election. This year, two Democrats won that honor, so no Republicans were going to get votes in our country’s most populous state.
Democrats also won most of the seats they had to defend, which, as Blake wrote, equates to 22 of the 35 seats. This means they won 63% of the seats, while only winning 55% of the “popular vote.” Unfairness? Of course not.
Presidential Popular Vote
I’m throwing this in because it was outrage over this statistic that launched intellectually lazy Democrats to whine about the House and Senate popular vote totals.
The American presidential election is designed to be a set of 51 separate elections — one in each state and the District of Columbia. Winning more votes overall — as Hillary Clinton did in 2016 — doesn’t get someone to the White House — winning more electoral votes does. Donald Trump won the popular vote in more states and received more electoral votes than Clinton, which is why he is president.
We don’t know what the outcome would have been if each candidate was trying to win by popular vote. They would have campaigned differently and ignored more states to shore up their bases in populous states like California, New York, and Texas.