Did Trump manage to run "a close race?"


Sadly, he pretty much did: On the whole, we agree with the general thrust of Matthew Yglesias' essay from the Outlook section of yesterday's Washington Post.

We disagree with one thing Yglesias said—and we think the point is important.  We were surprised when Yglesias said the race between Biden and Trump "wasn't even close:"

YGLESIAS (11/30/20): Incumbents don’t often lose, and for Trump to do so while a majority of voters told Gallup they were better off than they were four years ago is extraordinary. Despite Trump’s post-election antics, the race wasn’t even close. Biden scored a larger share of the popular vote than any challenger since Franklin D. Roosevelt facing down Herbert Hoover, and his moderation was almost certainly key to that success.

The race "wasn't even close?" Sadly, we disagree. Consider:

Liberals and Democrats have all agreed that Trump won a narrow victory over Clinton in 2016. The standard talking-point has been reasonable:

The difference was a mere 78,000 votes in three midwestern states.

That actually was pretty close. That said, the difference as Biden defeated Trump this year was a mere 44,000 votes in three scattered states:

Approximate victory margins for Biden:
Arizona: 10,500 votes
Georgia: 12,700 votes
Wisconsin: 20,600 votes

Those were narrow wins. If Trump had managed to win those states, the Electoral College vote would stand at 269-269—and under the rules of our creaking system, we'd have called that advantage Trump. 

Meanwhile, Biden won Nebraska District 2's one electoral vote by 22,000 votes. That means that Biden managed to win the election by a margin of (roughly) 66,000 votes in three states and one congressional district.

There's one major difference here, of course. On the other hand, you might call it the major difference which isn't:

At present, Biden leads the national popular vote by 6.1 million votes. On the other hand, Biden's current vote total represents just 51.1% of the national vote—and roughly five million of his six million vote margin are "wasted votes" from California.

Under our creaking election system, we don't award the presidency on the basis of the national popular vote. Given the massive number of "wasted votes" for Democrats in California and New York, Republicans may continue to win the White House in future years while losing the popular vote.

In truth, this election was scarily close. The margins were narrow in three decisive states, as was true in 2016.

Our election system creaks badly. Meanwhile, Democratic candidates will continue to pile up tons of "wasted votes" in two of our largest states. 

This helps define the mess we're in. It seems to us that we ought to be clear about the shape of that ongoing problem.

The Other 49: To his credit, Biden managed to win the popular vote in "The Other 49." As matters stand, he won California by 5.1 million votes—but his nationwide lead is 6.1 million votes.

That means that he won the popular vote in the other 49 states. But even there, it was close. He won by well less than one point.


  1. Even if we grant Somerby his massive finagling, those margins in those 3 states were despite the best efforts of Republicans to suppress the vote and prevent mail voting, in the midst of a pandemic. That makes even those slim margins seem trivial because under normal circumstances, those states would never have been that close.

    But the larger question is why Somerby wants to engage in this exercise of making it seem like the majority of people actually wanted Trump in office for 4 more years? And how on earth can any human being call 5 million votes "wasted," as if Californians are second-class citizens? There were "wasted" votes in every single state where Biden won a majority, under Somerby's criterion. But no citizen in this country is a "wasted" vote because every vote counts and every person matters in our democratic nation (note small-d for democracy, not the Democratic Party).

    Somerby's argument once again amounts to a desire to consider Republican votes as more worthy than Democratic votes. No, Trump did not almost win. At worst, he almost tied, but he didn't even manage that.

    1. anon 5:15 - TDH isn't engaging in an exercise of making it seem like the majority of people favored Trump. Can't you read. He was disputing the pundit's claim that the vote 'wasn't even close." TDh's point was that it was close. It doesn't do you or the democratic side any good to be living in a dream world, pleasant though that may be. .

    2. Except it wasn't actually close. Somerby is engaging in the same kind of thinking as other Trump supporters. His arguments are called "sophistry." I explained why it wasn't close. Did you read that part? That is why Democrats are not living in a dream world -- it is the disappointed Trumpies who inhabit that territory.

    3. Yes I read your "explanation." It was poor. I don't think you understand the meaning of 'sophistry.' It was close - facts are facts. You seem deluded if you can't see that. You have this self-pleasing hypothesis that the vote would have been greater for Biden but for efforts of Trump and the GOP to suppress the vote, but whether that is the case, all these Biden voters who would have voted but didn't is speculative at best. Even if what you say is true, seemingly because it satisfies your desire that it be so, the vote actually was close.

    4. ACMA: Biden’s wins in Pennsylvania and Michigan we’re not close. When you add their electoral votes to the blue wall electoral votes (consisting of 21 states that are solidly blue), he only need 2 more electoral votes, or one additional state, to reach/exceed 270. It wasn’t really close. He gained three additional states and the Omaha district.

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  2. And I suppose that if you subtract all of the Democratic votes, then Trump won by a landslide. What an ass Somerby is.

  3. Somerby is right. I thought our side believed in data?

  4. Biden, as Obama and Hillary, started out with a blue base of 21 states with 232 electoral votes. This means he needed 38 more electoral votes to win. He did this by winning Pennsylvania and Michigan (36 electoral votes total), with margins that were not tiny (over 150,000 votes in Michigan and over 80,000 in Pennsylvania), which means that Biden only needed one more state to win. He won two that neither Hillary nor Obama had won (Arizona and Georgia), and won back Wisconsin, which Hillary lost.

    Close? Sure, if you finagle the data.

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