Civics 101: how we elect, and don’t elect, Presidents

It’s rare that I have any considerable daylight’s worth of disagreement with the political analysis of frequent YNN-Partner-In-Crime Harvey Kronberg, but something he said near the end of his most recent analysis on YNN caught my eye:

With all of this, there is still the opportunity for an October surprise. The classic was the indictment of Reagan Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger for his role in the Iran Contra Affair just four days before Bill Clinton narrowly defeated the first President Bush in 1992.

First off, Clinton did not “narrowly” defeat Bush in 1992. In the only measure that counts – electoral votes – Clinton demolished Bush by earning almost 69% of them.

“AHA!,” I can almost hear Kronberg, and you, screeching. “But what about the popular vote??!”

Friends, I know we’ve all been brainwashed by countless national polling every single day which provides a daily – almost hourly – reminder of where things stand in the Presidential election. And for the sake of this civics lesson I’ll even set aside the fact that Clinton bested Bush by almost 6 million popular votes nationally (which, also, ain’t that narrow). But here’s the bottom line: measuring national popular votes for a Presidential candidate is about as useful a measure to the outcome of a Presidential campaign as counting dead squirrels killed in the Presidential race as a useful measure of outcome of a Presidential race. It just doesn’t count at all.

The candidate who gets 270 electoral votes or more is the candidate who wins a Presidential election, period. Therefore, the campaign with their focus on how best to win those electoral votes is the smart campaign. And the pundits who forget that fact are too lost in the national polling forest to see the electoral vote trees.

Don’t get me wrong – national polls are useful, and I’m glad I get to obsess on them every day, because I’m a dork that way. There’s no better measure of which candidate has the national momentum. But national polls only serve to estimate a national popular vote – and that is just simply not how we elect Presidents.

There are arguments which could be made that it shouldn’t be the process. But nobody can make a fact-based argument that it isn’t the process. And since that’s the process, arguing that Clinton only narrowly defeated Bush just isn’t accurate.

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