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Despite coming up 2.86 million votes short, President-elect Donald Trump was awarded 306 Electoral College votes on Monday — more than enough to become the next president of the United States.
But while Trump and his top aides have described his Electoral College margin as a “landslide” and a “blowout,” these claims are simply not true. When compared to the previous 57 elections, Trump barely eked out a win, securing 57 percent of the Electoral College vote.
Trump repeated the landslide claim on Monday after the Electoral College voted to put him over the 270-vote threshold needed to secure the White House.
In fact, Trump ranks 46th out of 58 in terms of winning the electoral vote — a spot far down on the list, sandwiched between Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy’s narrow 1960 win.
Ronald Reagan’s 1984 victory marked the most recent electoral landslide. He won 97.6 percent of the electoral votes after carrying every state in the nation except for Minnesota. Bill Clinton won 70 percent of the electoral vote in 1966. President Obama’s electoral margins rank 32nd (in 2008), and 37th (in 2012).
Even Abraham Lincoln won a greater percentage of electoral votes (with 59.4 percent) than Trump in the 1860 election, when the country was on the brink of the Civil War.
George W. Bush’s 50.4 percent electoral vote total in 2000 ranks 56 out of 58. (The only two elections that produced smaller margins are 1824 and 1876; both ended in an Electoral College tie and were decided by the House).
In the lead up to yesterday’s Electoral College vote, critics revived the long-running debate over a system designed by Alexander Hamilton more than two centuries ago.
Hamilton made his case for the Electoral College in Federalist No. 68, writing that the system would protect the country from electing a president with “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity.”
Under the constitution, states are awarded electors based on their number of U.S. senators and House members, with one elector for each member of a state’s congressional delegation.
The system was designed to compensate for less-populous slave-holding states. Although slaves were not considered citizens by law, they were counted towards a state’s population under the Three-Fifths Compromise. Ever since then, critics have argued that voters in less populous states have an outsized voice in elections.
More than two centuries later, there’s no justification for keeping the system around, said George Edwards III, an author of a book about the Electoral College and political science professor at Texas A&M.
“The Electoral College opposes the fundamental principles of democracy,” Edwards said. “That each vote counts equally, and whoever wins the most votes, wins.”
Following Trump’s victory, movements like the Hamilton Electors sought to sway electors to vote for someone other than Trump. Ultimately, only four so-called “faithless electors” on the Republican side switched their votes. (Four Democratic electors backed someone other than Hillary Clinton).
“These types of campaigns have happened in the past,” said Robert Alexander, a political science professor at Ohio Northern University. “It’s not something that’s wholly new, [it’s] just more public and visible” this year than usual.
The American Civil Liberties Union has opposed the Electoral College since 1969, arguing that the system gives disproportionate power to states with small populations.
“A voter in Wyoming thus has over three times as much influence on the presidential election as a voter in more densely populated California,” ACLU President Susan Herman wrote in a column on Monday.
Currently, 29 states require their electors to vote for the candidate who won the popular vote. But Alexander predicted that more states would follow suit and pass laws to deter “faithless electors” in the future.
Since the election, multiple Democrats in Congress have introduced legislation to abolish the system. But a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College is a longshot at best: there have been more than 700 proposals in the past two centuries to change or end the Electoral College system, and all have failed.
A change in response to the 2016 election isn’t likely, several experts said. It helps that Trump and his supporters have backed the system since his Nov. 8 win.
But Trump’s claims of a landslide are a far cry from his previous position on the Electoral College. During the campaign, the president-elect repeatedly said that the system was “rigged.” And that wasn’t the first time Trump slammed the system.
After the 2012 election, Trump took to Twitter to question the system that would ultimately propel him to the Oval Office. “The electoral college,” Trump wrote, “is a disaster for democracy.”
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