U. S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) could become president – even if most Americans vote against him.
The U.S. Constitution requires a majority in the unelected Electoral College, not the popular vote, to become President. In fact, America has elected four presidents without a popular vote.
In 2016, for example, Hillary R. Clinton (D-New York) won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes. However, Donald J. Trump (R-New York) won the Electoral College; and the White House, by a margin of 304 to 227.
Trump won because the unelected Electoral College; not the American people, elects the president. Historically the winner of the popular majority usually wins the Electoral College, however.
You do not Need a Popular Majority to be President
Recently, there has been a lot of speculation that President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) could win while losing the popular vote in 2020.
Cook Political Report election analyst Dave Wasserman estimates Trump could lose the popular vote by five million but win reelection, Business Insider reports. However, Wasserman thinks Trump could win the Electoral College by a margin of 270 to 268.
Statistics show an Electoral College victory without a popular win is more probable in 2021, Michael Geruso estimates. Geruso thinks the probability of an Electoral College victory with a popular loss will be 32%, if the election margin is under 2% (2.6 million votes), The Guardian reports.
Furthermore, Geruso calculates the likelihood of a president without a popular majority is 45% if the margin is under 1% (1.3 million votes). Geruso is an assistant economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
Geruso made the estimates in a paper he calls Inversions in US Presidential Elections: 1836-2016. To clarify, an Inversion is a presidential election in which the winner receives no popular mandate.
Bernie Does not Need a Popular Majority to be President
The speculation the next president will lack a popular mandate focuses on Trump. However, I think the possibility of a Bernie inversion is as probable as a Trump inversion.
To explain, many observers think U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) is the probable Democratic primary winner. However, the 15 to 17 December Emerson Poll estimates former Vice President Joe Biden (D-Delaware) is leading the primary by 32%. Sanders is number two at 25%.
Conversely, Sanders is leading in many states. For instance, Emerson Poll estimates Sanders was leading in New Mexico by a margin 28% to 27% on January 3-6, 2020.
Interestingly, Sanders outperforms Biden in the Morning Consult’s 14 January 2019 hypothetical general elections. For instance, Sanders beats Trump among independents by a margin of 42% to 33%. In addition, Sanders beat Trump by a margin of 58% to 27% among voters 18 to 29.
Hence, Sanders could win the Democratic Primary. That could lead to an inverted election because Sanders does well in the same states that helped Trump win the Electoral College in 2016.
Bernie could Win the Electoral College
I think Bernie could win the Electoral College because he did well in the states that put Trump over in 2016. Those states were Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, The Nation notes.
Sanders won the 2016 Michigan Democratic Primary by a margin of 49.8%, The New York Times estimates. In addition, Sanders won the 2016 Wisconsin Primary by a margin of 56.6%, The New York Times estimates. However, Hillary R. Clinton (D-New York) won the 2016 Pennsylvania Democratic primary by a margin of 55.6%, The NY Times estimates.
Trump won because most states give all the Electoral College votes to the candidate who wins a majority in that state. Thus, you can win the Electoral College by getting a popular majority in most states, where rural whites are the majority.
Rural Whites could Elect Sanders President without a Popular Majority
Bernie’s strongest appeal is to dissatisfied rural working class whites. In particular, Sanders is popular with independents and rural people value their independence.
For instance, Sanders receives 42% of the votes of independents in a hypothetical Morning Consult General Election contest with Trump. The Morning Consult estimate Sanders could beat Trump by a margin of 42% to 33% among indictments.
Plus, The Morning Consult estimates Sanders is America’s popular U.S. Senator with an approval rating of 65% in Vermont. In fact, the US Census Bureau estimates Vermont was 94.2% white on 1 July 2019. Consequently, some observers call Vermont the “whitest state in the Union.”
Rural whites are the constituency that helped Trump win the Electoral College. Thus, Bernie could win swing states such as Wisconsin, and other rural white states including Maine, Oklahoma, Montana (89% white), Kansas (86.4% white), and Kentucky. For example, the US Census estimates Kentucky was 87.6% on 1 July 2020.
Bernie could Win the Electoral College without a Popular Majority
Hence, Bernie could win the Electoral College without a popular majority, just as Trump did.
Additionally, Trump could attract many middle and upper-class voters if those people are afraid of Bernie’s “socialism” (high taxes). In contrast, Bernie could attract many new votes in rural states where the economy sucks.
For instance, West Virginia; where the US Census Bureau estimates median per capita (individual) income was $25,479 a year, in 2018. Another place where Bernie could do well is Oklahoma where the Census Bureau calculates the median per capita income was $27,432 a year in 2018.
President Bernie without a Popular Majority Equals Impeachment and Gridlock
This scenario worries me; because the lack of a popular majority limits Trump’s effectiveness as a President.
In particular, the lack of a popular majority is driving the impeachment effort. I suspect, Republicans will try to impeach President Sanders, in retaliation for the Trump impeachment. Lack of a majority will embolden such impeachment efforts.
Furthermore, Senate Republicans could refuse to approve any of Bernie’s cabinet appointments leaving the country leaderless. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) could take such drastic action.
Remember, McConnell is the man who blocked former President Barack Obama’s (D-Illinois) Supreme Court appointments to please religious conservatives. Therefore, I think McConnell will try to block any appointments by Sanders to “protect America from socialism.”
Trump could win a Popular Majority and Lose
History shows a sitting president can win a popular majority but lose the Electoral College.
In 1888, President Grover Cleveland (D-New York) won the popular vote by 5.54 million to 5.4 million. However, Benjamin Harrison (R-Indiana) won the Electoral College by a margin of 233 to 168 votes. Interestingly, Cleveland came back to beat Harrison in the 1892 Presidential election.
A Bernie victory without a popular majority will be controversial. For instance, many Trump supporters will cry conspiracy. In addition, many Republicans will join the movement to abolish the Electoral College.
However, many of the Democrats attacking the Electoral College will fall in love with it. Tellingly, President Trump went from calling the Electoral College a “disaster for democracy” to Tweeting its praises. I think Trump will change his tune again if he loses the Electoral College in 2020.
We need to think about the possibility of President Sanders without a popular majority; because it is far more probable than most people think. The 2020 Presidential election could be far more chaotic than most people realize.