Trump Could Lose Popular Vote, Win White House

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Like a certain previous Republican nominee, Donald Trump could win a narrow Electoral College majority while losing the popular vote. Photo: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Along with the emergence of a plausible — if still quite difficult — path to 270 electoral votes for Donald Trump is the return of a particularly painful scenario for Democrats. That’s the possibility that, for the second time since Y2K, a Republican could be elected president while losing the popular vote.

The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman laid out the scenario at FiveThirtyEight:

[I]n the event this race does tighten to a coin flip by Nov. 8, there is an unusually high chance Donald Trump could win the Electoral College while losing the popular vote — basically, Democrats’ version of the apocalypse.
Here’s why: Several of Trump’s worst demographic groups happen to be concentrated in states, such as California, New York, Texas and Utah, that are either not competitive or that aren’t on Trump’s must-win list. Conversely, whites without a college degree — one of Trump’s strongest groups — represent a huge bloc in three blue states he would need to turn red to have the best chance of winning 270 electoral votes: Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

To put it another way, Hillary Clinton would “waste” a lot of popular votes in noncompetitive states she is either sure to win (e.g., California) or lose (Texas), while Trump’s “base” is concentrated very efficiently for winning battleground states.

Demographic categories where Trump is unusually weak but in ways that won’t cost him electoral votes extend beyond the obvious African-American and Latino voters. There are LDS folk, too. 

Trump is massively unpopular among Mormons, and it’s entirely possible he could win them by just 10 points over Clinton, with many opting for Libertarian Gary Johnson or independent Evan McMullin instead.
If that many Mormons defect from the GOP, it could effectively shift the national popular vote by 1.3 million in Democrats’ favor — more than twice Al Gore’s margin in 2000. Yet the exodus seems unlikely to net Clinton additional electoral votes. Trump is on track to win a plurality in Utah, and outside the Beehive State, the bulk of Mormon voters are concentrated in noncompetitive Idaho and California. They may only matter on the margins in Arizona and Nevada.

Supposing it all goes down this way and Trump squeaks through to 270 while losing the popular vote — perhaps by a much larger margin than Bush lost it in 2000 — there’s another factor that could make his election a shock to the system and an outrage to much of the country. Thanks to the strength of third-, fourth-, and even fifth-party candidates this year, Trump could win 270 electoral votes with significantly less than a majority of the popular vote, perhaps somewhere between 40 percent and 45 percent.

Keeping in mind the intense fear and antipathy Trump generates among his opponents, the prospect of this strange man assuming the vast powers of the presidency via a decided minority of the vote could produce a backlash far exceeding anything we saw after the Supreme Court lifted W. to the presidency. Add in the fact that Trump might have a Republican Congress elected alongside him that would be eager to instantly reverse much of the Obama administration’s legacy — some by executive order, some by one of those 5,000-page budget reconciliation bills that cannot be filibustered — and you’ve got the ultimate nightmare for liberals.