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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

So Who Won the Popular Vote?

I’m not terribly inclined to weigh in on the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s non-concession-speech last night, for the simple reason that we won’t understand what it portended until she announces her next steps, which might well include precisely the kind of gracious concession she withheld at Baruch College.
To be sure, some of HRC’s supporters don’t seem interested in folding the tent, including those who chanted “Denver! Denver!” when she alluded to her future course of action.
And then there’s the always-hard-to-over-the-top Terry McAuliffe (per Michael Crowley):

When asked about the reality outside the bunker—that Obama supporters were in a minor rage over Hillary’s speech– McAuliffe looked at me incredulously. “Tonight was Hillary’s night!” he exclaimed. “We won tonight! We won in South Dakota! We keep winning!”

But aside from what she left unsaid, the only thing HRC actually said last night that needs to be questioned at this point is her final, triumphant claim that she won the total popular vote during the nominating process.
The short answer is “Nobody knows,” followed by a quick “It really doesn’t matter.” Nobody knows because four states did not report popular votes, and because one primary–Michigan–was set up in a way that obscured candidate preferences, and also disallowed a significant number of write-in votes for Obama. It really doesn’t matter because the nominating process was set up to choose delegates by a pretty close approximation of popular votes, but according to an allocation system that is not perfectly efficient. Had it been set up as a popular vote contest, then it’s reasonable to assume that the Obama campaign might have followed a different strategy.
But for those who insist on an answer to an essentially unanswerable and irrelevant question, there are some estimates out there. One last night by Chris Bowers concluded that Obama had narrowly won the popular vote based on a very inclusive definition of “popular votes.” One today by the site FiveThirtyEight reviewed eight different ways of answering the question, and concluded that Obama was the winner in seven of those eight scenarios. And pretty much everyone agrees that the only kind of count that gives Clinton the nod is one that either denies Obama any votes in Michigan, or refuses to use estimates for the four non-popular-vote-tabulating Caucus States.
Even if you accept the narrowest pro-Clinton perspective, the total popular vote was, in reality, about as close as you can get to a tie this side of a Florida 2000 situation. So for either prospective or historical reasons, the Clinton camp really should stop talking about the popular vote “victory.” All that can do at this point is to stir up pointless and destructive grievances.

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