Enough with the flagellation of the “liberal elite” – Hillary Clinton actually got the most votes!

In the wake of the US election, there’s been a lot of sneering condemnation of the “sneering metropolitan liberal elite” including under posts on this very site.

Perhaps just hold the horses on this condemnation for a second, eh?

What is the objective of a candidate in an election?

Go on.

Try it.

Ah yes, you say – to win the most votes.

Well Hillary Clinton won the most votes in the US election: 59.8 million to Trump’s 59.6 million.

The constitutional oddity of the electoral college meant that Trump won the votes in the right places to win. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin should have been Clinton’s but Trump clinched them – in the case of Michigan narrowly.

So, I say this to you commenters who are sneering about the “sneering liberal elite”:

OK, you can criticise the sneering liberal elite in America for not getting votes in the right places to satisfy the USA’s quirky electoral system. But you can’t criticise them for not getting enough votes, because Hillary Clinton won the popular vote.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Hilary Clinton lost against a cartoon candidate, there is nothing to hang onto as good news. If you insist on trying to spin it wasn’t so bad you’ll just end up like the black knight shouting I’ll bite your legs off at the electorate.Liberals and progressives in general need to re-evaluate their world view and instead of pretending everything is fine and people who are crying out for attention and change are just bigots and phobes of some sort, actually listen and address their fears and concerns.

  • Paul, ‘getting the most votes’ is a total irrelevance, in an electoral college system just as it is in a constituency-based Parliament. As a ‘consolation prize’ it is not worth the candle. Labour piled up votes in its heartland (Scotland excepted) in the last General Election. So what? Hilary racking up millions of votes in California and New York was neither use nor ornament. She received 6 million fewer votes in total than Barack Obama but, more importantly, she lost out heavily to Trump in the six key rustbelt states under/around the great lakes as the Political Betting site shows. So, she and her campaign were not competent.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Nov '16 - 12:32pm

    Yes , well said Paul ! As one of the most keen on Hillary , I am sad that she is not going to be the first woman President , and , more importantly , the next excellent President !I think the American electoral college rivals our first past the post system for sheer absurdity. I believe it was Kennedy and Bush junior who both won the election but not the vote , but only slightly . It would appear only the French system counts every vote , or makes every vote count ,but their second ballot system skews it for or against a candidate the second round !

    I am glad you , Paul point out the anomaly and the irony in the talk of a liberal elite losing .Trump , or Brexit , not big victories at all!

  • The Electoral College system needs to be scrapped. The candidate with the most votes is not guaranteed to be the winner – Al Gore in 2000 or Hillary Clinton in 2016.

    A straight-forward National Vote – with a run-off for the top two candidates is the only fair way to elect a President – such as in France, for example.

    The Electoral College system means that only those in Swing States can affect the outcome of the election. An elected based purely on Popular Vote would make everyone’s vote count.

    Hillary Clinton’s votes were “wasted” in safe areas such as California and New York, while Donald Trump with fewer votes nationally, was clearly more effective in the swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennyslvannia.

    After the 2000 fiasco, I don’t know why the Obama Administration didn’t at least seek to change the system.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Nov '16 - 12:58pm

    I don’t explicitly criticise the “liberal metropolitan elite”, because very often they are not elite and sometimes not even metropolitan. But Will Straw is right that in response to this the left needs more “listening and thinking rather than ranting and raving”.

    As an example, I think if Hillary wasn’t shown to privately support open borders with Mexico (at some point) and in general weak on mass immigration she would have done better. The result doesn’t mean we should all start copying Donald, it just means weaknesses will be ruthlessly exploited by a certain type of candidate.

    During one presidential debate Hillary opened by saying how she wanted to appoint Supreme Court Justices who believed in her agenda and I baulked because I want the court to be moderate and independent, not have a political left-leaning agenda. She had some flaws.

  • Paul, you have corrected an error in Dvid Icke’s video cast from Estonia!

    In any other country with a direct nationwide election for a President, Hillary Clinton would have won.

    Trump can thank those few thousand white racists in the suburbs of Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia who switched their votes.

  • ethicsgradient 10th Nov '16 - 1:33pm

    @John Boylan

    The American electoral college system derives from the fact that the USA is a federation of sovereign states. Federal law only derives from the constitution.

    It would be up to each state to decide if they wanted to change the system and then to effectively all agree. It would have to be a bottom up, rather than a top down system change. So it would not be something a president could effect.

    Ironically federations and electoral colleges are very liberal ideas.

  • I agree that the US would be better off with a one person one vote election for their President (as eleven states have already petitioned for), not least because changing your vote would then actually mean something in the whole swathe of safe states whether California or Kentucky.

    But the narrow margin in popular vote cannot disguise the Democratic Party’s irresponsibility in putting up such a poor candidate against Trump. In saying that I do recognise that Clinton is well qualified and mostly reasonable person who would probably have made a decent President, except that she would have changed very little. But being a good candidate is not the same as being good in office. Clinton has already been defeated, within her own party, once in 2008, and it took a lot of behind-stage fixing to secure her the nomination in 2016 against someone who was hardly the most credible opponent.

    As with Gordon Brown, when parties try to lever into a top job someone who is deemed to have ‘earned’ it from past service, rather than because they are the best person for the role, the story rarely ends well.

  • Matt (Bristol) 10th Nov '16 - 1:49pm

    Can I point out that – if I were a US citizen, which I’m not – although the French two-round system would be attractive to me, some kind of proportional allotment of the electoral college votes in every state (as happens already in Maine), rather than winner-takes-all, would be easier to do (for a given sense of ‘easy’), and a significant step forward without the USA having to majorly restructure their system.

    You could further move from this system on to having the ‘electoral college’ as always being purely notional points rather than the semi-defunct delegates concept.

    Obviously they don’t have to take my advice.

  • Richard Underhill 10th Nov '16 - 1:50pm

    Chatting to some Democrats at the LI in Finland they did want to reform the electoral college but thought it was too difficult to abolish it. John Major had persuaded the Prime Minister to enter the Exchange Rate Mechanism and Paddy Ashdown MP had to fax his comments to Cowley Street.
    Since then there has been limited and patchy progress in that primary elections in some states are proportional, but this is because they are under the control of political parties and not the state or federal governments.
    If reform happened and equality were achieved the candidates would campaign differently.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Nov '16 - 2:50pm

    Very good point from Matt (Bristol), an easy reform would be to make the distribution of points more proportional, like in Maine and Nebraska.

  • Paul Murray 10th Nov '16 - 4:00pm

    I would have said that the objective of the candidates in an election is to win the election. In a system where that is not the same as winning the most votes then the candidates and their agents should understand that distinction.

    Let me return (as I apologize for having done a number of times recently on this forum) to the case of Flint, MI. In 2012 Obama got 57,000 more votes in Genesee County (the county in which Flint is located) than Romney. In 2016 Clinton still won Genesee but with a much reduced majority resulting in 19,000 more votes than Trump. The Democrats lost the state of Michigan by a mere 12,000 votes.

    Had the Democrats managed to reduce the swing in Flint by 50% then they would have picked up more than enough votes (even if every other county voted exactly as it did this year) to win the state and its 16 college votes.

    More generally I disagree with the idea of a simple vote for President. The USA is a Federal Republic and the electoral college system reflects that. However I think there is much merit in the idea of changing from a winner takes all approach per state. Those of us who sat up all night watching events unfolding will recall that the result from the Nebraska 2nd Congressional District briefly became a subject of intense debate (at least on CNN) at about 4am.

  • Ethicsgradient wrote:

    “Ironically federations and electoral colleges are very liberal ideas.”

    I am not so sure. Decentralisation is a double-edged sword. If, for instance, it means that, say, Guildford Borough Council can do things differently from Waverley Borough Council, that might be a good thing. It might suit people in those areas and be a force for good. But that is not what decentralisation means in the US context. In the US, decentralisation is a tool of the hard right. It was decentralisation that maintained slavery and segregation for so long, and to this today it is decentralisation that allows states like Mississippi and Kentucky to do almost nothing to alleviate the conditions of the poor. Detroit looks like Hiroshima. 25% of the lots are vacant, and a quarter of the buildings that remain are derelict. That would not be tolerated in this country. But in America it is considered a matter for the State of Michigan alone. The Federal Government providing more than the occasional crumb of funding would be greeted with outrage y the wider populace. When Trump rails against the “liberal elite”, he means two things. Firstly, white liberals telling states that they cannot be racist, misogynist and homophobic. Secondly, he is complaining about an elite of rich people of Anglo-Saxon origin treating non- Anglo-Saxon whites a second-class citizens. Look at the map and see how Trump’s vote ballooned in the German counties of Pennsylvania, the Mid-West and the Plains. A lot of these undercurrents are invisible to us British.

  • Peter Watson 10th Nov '16 - 5:02pm

    I am struck by the superficial contrast between the American response to losing an incredibly close contest (“God bless the USA and rally round the new president!”) and the British (English?) response to losing a less close contest (“The UK is weak/divided/doomed, let’s block implementing the result, let’s have another referendum when some old people have died, etc.”).

  • That Hillary got the most votes is not telling of anything at all. We DO NOT have a popular vote system in America. If we did, MILLIONS MORE PEOPLE WOULD VOTE, if we did candidates would campaign (pander?) and spend much more time and money in states that, due to the electoral system, are not in play for them, but could none the less garner them hundreds of thousands or more votes. But if whining about a popular vote, that in reality is indicative of nothing, helps you liberals sleep at night…

  • Peter,

    Really, not seen #notmypresident then, I think your seeing what you want to see rather than the reality. Like the UK, the USA is a deeply divided state.

  • Just to note that there is 7% still uncounted – in California they appear to have knocked off counting and will be sunbathing until Monday – late arriving postal votes are eligible to be added in, as are votes from people not on the list who can later prove that they filled in the registration forms.

    And on latest figures Trump is closing on Clinton and as I post, is within 200.000.

    This thread might be a bit premature! (Although with a lot of uncounted votes in Cali, probably not)

  • John Boylan 10th Nov '16 - 7:24pm


    Actually, it would require a two-thirds majority in Congress. That is a high hurdle and as the Republicans control both Houses and benefited from the system in 2000 and 2016, it won’t happen anytime soon. http://heavy.com/news/2016/11/how-could-the-electoral-college-system-be-repealed-replaced-removed-changed-popular-vote-margin-hillary-clinton-donald-trump-constitutional-amendment/

    It looks like Hillary Clinton wasn’t quite ad popular with White Women or Hispanics as the polls suggested. The Democrats it would seem didn’t have an attractive enough message for its traditional supporters.

  • Stevan Rose 10th Nov '16 - 8:25pm

    “The Electoral College system needs to be scrapped.”

    It’s none of our business. There are a number of factors why it was designed this way and it has worked and been accepted by candidates for nearly 230 years. It balances states and citizens, something critical to the US federal form of government.

  • Hilary may have got the most votes but Trump got fewer than McCain and Romney and still won.

  • Peter Watson 11th Nov '16 - 12:17am

    @frankie “not seen #notmypresident then”
    I suspect that this will be full of sound and fury for a few days but signifying nothing (apart from, perhaps, a film or a book from Michael Moore). I’m quite impressed by the way that the US political and establishment figures are keen to present this as a triumph for American values and democracy and are prepared to move forward in a relatively dignified way towards a future that probably fills them (and us) with all sorts of fear!
    In contrast, the reaction of many Lib Dems to the “will of the people” as expressed in the EU referendum seems far less dignified and has dragged on for months with little sign of changing. This risks undermining the party’s official position which seems quite sound: the vote to leave should be respected; the party should influence negotiations to ensure that Brexit is as soft as possible; and the electorate should have a say on the final terms of Brexit. I’m not entirely convinced by this position, but in theory it allows time and space to present a case for EU membership in a way that learns from the failed Remain campaign.

  • I think some people are missing the point here.

    This is not a critique of the US electoral college system nor of Hillary Clinton as a candidate.

    It is merely pointing out that the death of liberalism is rather exaggerated when the anti-liberal candidate gets fewer votes. A better candidate or better campaign would have defeated Trump, as could a better-led Referendum campaign have defeated Brexit.

    These two votes have been massive defeats for liberalism, and we should not try to pretend otherwise, but the idea that either of them was by a crushing margin is patently untrue. Trump’s victory no more means that the USA is permanently “Trumpist” than Obama’s two terms meant that racism in the USA was dead.

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