Today marks the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s acute defeat in the popular voting for president of the United States.
Fifty-four percent of Americans rejected Trump's Republican candidacy on Nov. 8, 2016. Most of those who could not accept the idea of making Trump their president chose to vote for his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Clinton’s 2,868,691-vote victory over Trump was one of the largest in American political history. Her advantage over Trump was larger than Democrat John Kennedy’s over Republican Richard Nixon in 1960, larger than Republican Nixon’s over Democrat Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and larger than Democrat Jimmy Carter's over Republican Gerald Ford in 1976.
Clinton’s advantage was significantly larger than Democrat Al Gore’s 540,000 popular-vote victory over Republican George W. Bush in 2000. And it was roughly parallel to that of Republican Bush's win over Democrat John Kerry in 2004.
Trump received a lower percentage of the vote than Republican loser Mitt Romney in 2012 and roughly the same percentage of the vote as Republican loser John McCain in 2008.
The only way that Trump made it to the presidency was because the United States allows an Electoral College, which was created more than 230 years ago to limit popular democracy, to overrule the popular vote.
Trump claimed that his 2016 victory was “the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.” Actually, it was one of the smallest: Barack Obama (twice), Bill Clinton (twice) and George H.W. Bush all did better.
But that was not the only thing that made Trump’s election by the Electoral College unimpressive. The 45th president secured 304 electoral votes to 227 for Clinton, while eight protest votes went to others.
The states generally seen as having given Trump his Electoral College advantage were a trio that have in recent decades backed Democrats for the presidency: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But in all three of those states, the majority of voters rejected Trump.
Trump ran weakest in Wisconsin, collecting just 47 percent of the vote. That compares with 53 percent for Democrat Barack Obama in 2012 and 56 percent for Obama in 2008. Among the winners of Wisconsin’s electoral votes, Trump received a lower percentage of the state’s popular vote than John Kerry in 2004, Al Gore in 2000, Bill Clinton in 1996, Michael Dukakis in 1988, Ronald Reagan in 1984 and 1980, Jimmy Carter in 1976, Richard Nixon in 1972 and 1968, Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Richard Nixon in 1960, Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 and 1952, and Harry Truman in 1948.
In only one other state — conservative Utah, where a strong run by independent Evan McMullin divided the traditional Republican vote — did Trump finish with a weaker win than in Wisconsin.
That’s important for Wisconsinites to recognize going into the 2018 and 2020 elections. Trump has never been particularly popular in Wisconsin, where he lost the 2016 Republican presidential primary and where his approval rating is now well below where it stood last Nov. 8.
After NBC polled states across the country in August, the television network reported: “In Michigan, 36 percent of voters approve of Trump’s job performance (including 19 percent who strongly approve), while 55 percent disapprove (including 40 percent who strongly do). In Pennsylvania, 35 percent give the president’s job a thumbs up (17 percent strongly), versus 54 percent who disapprove (41 percent strongly). And in Wisconsin, 34 percent of voters approve of Trump (17 percent strongly), compared with 56 percent who disapprove (42 percent strongly).”
Poll numbers shift. varying from week to week, from month to month. But as the headline on a late-summer analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of the president’s poll numbers explained: “Donald Trump has squandered chance to broaden base, increase popularity …”
In fact, Trump’s weak numbers of a year ago were the high-water mark for this president.
Trump’s approval rating is now well below the percentage of the vote he received a year ago — down by as much as 12 points in Wisconsin and by comparable numbers in Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Trump has since last year frequently claimed that he was elected with a “massive landslide.”
That was always false. Trump lost the national popular vote. He prevailed in the Electoral College by a relatively narrow margin, and that success was built on victories in three key states where most voters did not back his candidacy.
On the morning after the 2016 election, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, declared that Trump had “earned a mandate.”
Ryan got that wrong.
Trump did not gain a mandate on Nov. 8, 2016.
And he has less support now than he had a year ago.
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and @NicholsUprising
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