Some defeats never lose their sting. In Washington this week, Hillary Clinton summed up her bid for the White House in 2016.
“You can run the best campaign. You can have the best plans. You can get the nomination. You can win the popular vote. And you can lose the electoral college and therefore the election.”
Clinton beat Donald Trump in the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots yet lost the electoral college – the body of people who represent states and actually get to choose the president – by 304 votes to 227. A black swan event never to be repeated? No. In 2020, it could easily happen again.
A study from the University of Texas at Austin found that the electoral college is much more likely than previously thought to elect the candidate who loses the popular vote. In close elections, researchers argues, such “inversions” are normal, not exceptional.
In a race decided by less than 2% (2.6m votes), the study found, the probability of an inversion is 32%. In a race decided by less than 1% (1.3m votes), the probability is 45%.
“It’s almost a coin flip,” said Michael Geruso, an assistant economics professor.