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A mathematical demonstration of the insanity of the Electoral College


How close was the 2020 presidential election? Not very, according to the FAKE NEWS:

What’s gotten lost in all of the focus on President Trump’s lawsuits, his baseless accusations of voter fraud and his administration’s unwillingness so far to begin the transition is a simple fact.

The 2020 presidential election wasn’t really that close.

Right now, Joe Biden’s popular-vote lead over Trump stands at 4 percentage points, 51 percent to 47 percent — and it’s only going to grow once more of New York’s votes (finally) get counted.

That would give Biden the second-largest popular vote margin out of the 21st century’s six presidential elections, with only Barack Obama’s 7-point win in 2008 being greater.

When it comes to the Electoral College, the tally stands at Biden 306, Trump 232 – which happens to be the exact same split as Trump’s 2016 win versus Hillary Clinton (but in reverse). And Trump referred to that as a “massive landslide victory.”

Biden’s ahead by 154,000 votes in Michigan (greater than Trump’s 10,000-vote winning margin there in 2016).

He’s ahead by 81,000 votes in Pennsylvania (nearly twice Trump’s 44,000-vote win there four years ago).

And he’s ahead by more than 20,000 votes in Wisconsin (almost the same as Trump’s 23,000-vote victory there in 2016).

On top of those leads, Biden also narrowly flipped the traditionally GOP-leanings states of Arizona and Georgia.

The 2020 presidential race looked close the 12 hours after the first polling places closed on Election Night.

But nearly three weeks later — with almost all the votes counted — it’s now safe to say the Biden-vs.-Trump contest wasn’t that close.

Well . . . let’s do a little math.

There are apparently about 1.3 million votes still left to count in New York (How does this happen by the way? Imagine if the election hinged on the count in that state). If we extrapolate the current margins there to the remaining vote, we get something roughly like this:

Total Biden vote: 80.6 million votes

ETA: Biden’s vote total ended up being 81.3 million

Total Trump vote: 74.4 million votes

ETA: Trump’s vote total ended up being 74.2 million

Total minor party vote: 3 million votes

Total national vote: 158 million votes

ETA: The Total national vote ended up being 158.4 million.

So yeah that doesn’t seem particularly close, although the fact that 74 and a half million people voted for Trump — basically the same percentage of the voting eligible population that voted for Obama in his landslideish 2008 victory! — is pretty sobering.

But wait: As we all learned from an early age, the national popular vote is meaningless (Actually you only learned this at an early age if you were a child during the 21st century, since prior to 2000 it was considered self-evident that a candidate losing the popular vote but winning the election would be a terrible thing. How that piece of common knowledge changed into We’re a Republic Not a Democracy is a story for another day).

What counts is the Electoral College. How close was the election in those terms? Even more one-sided, right? Biden won 57% of the electoral college vote! Exactly the same landslide, to the vote, that Donald Trump crowed about four years ago.

Except we all know the 2016 election was actually very close: Trump won the three decisive swing states (Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania) by only 77,000 votes, out of 138 million votes cast nationally. He drew an inside straight, it was said again and again, winning the Electoral College in a three-state squeaker, while losing the popular vote by nearly three million ballots.

2020 wasn’t nearly as close, right? Biden won those three states by more than a quarter million votes this time, while holding all the other Clinton states. The only reason it seemed really touch and go on election night was because of the slowness of vote by mail count in those three states, which in turn was generated by the GOP legislatures in them for precisely that reason (this latter claim is certainly true).

It turns out this analysis is quite wrong, although very few people have noticed it. (A couple of LGM commenters have however, which provided the genesis for this post. I can’t remember exactly who, so feel free to step forward in the comments).

Biden won Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin by a combined total of 43,735 votes. If Trump had won those states, the Electoral College vote would have been a 269-269 tie. The Wisdom of the Framers then would have dictated that the election would be decided by the House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Democrats (because of the whole “getting more votes despite massive GOP gerrymandering” thing). Except that Wisdom also stipulates that the House vote by one ballot for each state delegation, which means that since the flyover states with a handful of old white people outnumber the Centers of Urban Corruption, Trump would have been elected president!

Let’s look at what that means via this handy statistical model:

Assume a medium-sized arena, of the type suitable for mid-major conference college basketball teams and B-level 1970s rock groups still on tour 45 years later. This arena holds 7,226 people, and all the seats are filled by voters who, statistically speaking, precisely reflect the 2020 presidential vote.

Here’s who they would have voted for:

Biden: 3,685

Trump: 3,396

Minor candidates: 145

You know there’s a punch line, and here it is: How many of those 3,685 Biden voters would have had to vote for Trump to flip the election?

The answer is one (1). One voter, representing the 21,868 collective Biden voters in Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin that, if they had voted for Trump instead, would have given the election to him, despite losing the popular vote by about 6.2 million ballots, out of 158 million total cast.

One vote out of 7,226. That’s how close it was, again because of that 230-year-old Wisdom, that we can’t seem to quit (because the same Wisdom has made it impossible to amend the Constitution in this regard.)

And that’s all before they tried to steal it anyway!

As is so often the case in American politics, the scandal is what’s legal (h/t Mike Kinsley). Well in the age of Trump it’s really both, but this is one legal scandal that’s still subject to quite a bit of denial.

As for what to do about it, I’ve tried nothing and am all out of ideas.

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