MONDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2020
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 votesWisconsin: 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.