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Gloria asked, "Does the popular vote not count if it's a landslide with the electoral college? How does that work?"

Gloria is asking about the presidential elections. We often talk about how much a candidate is "up" in the polls, and that's a measure of the popular vote. For example, as I write this, Secretary Clinton is, according to most polls, up by 5 to 10 percentage points. This means that 5% to 10% more voters are likely to vote for Secretary Clinton than vote for Mr. Trump.  

The definition of "landslide" is pretty nebulous; one source said that if one candidate earns 60%, that's considered a landslide. Of course, with the relative unpopularity of the current candidates, that's certainly not likely. However, with Clinton leading significantly over Trump at this point, many are referring to this as a possible landslide.

But even if that's true, does it guarantee a win for Secretary Clinton? No, it does not. Because it is not the popular vote that determines the result of the election. It's the electoral college. Every state is assigned a certain number of delegates who will cast an "electoral vote" on behalf of the people in their state. For example, California, because it is such a populous state, has 55 electoral votes, but Wyoming, because it has a much lower population, only gets 3 electoral votes.

So what does the popular vote decide? It decides who each state's electors must cast their vote for. In other words, if Secretary Clinton wins California, then all 55 Californian electors cast their ballot for her. If Mr. Trump wins Wyoming, then Wyoming's 3 electors vote for him.

It's an all-or-nothing deal in all but two of the states. Maine and Nebraska have rules that allow the electors to have a split between the candidates.

So, doesn't that mean that a landslide in the popular vote would result in a landslide in the electoral college? Not necessarily. To see why, let's break it down into a simple example. Let's pretend that the United States of America consists of only two states. Semi-random selection off a map: Michigan, and its neighbor, Ohio.

Ohio has a slightly larger population than Michigan, and therefore a slightly larger number of electoral college delegates. Ohio has 18, and Michigan has 16. We'll use 2012 statistics and say that 4.9 million people in Michigan will vote in the upcoming election, and 5.6 million Ohioans will vote.

Now, to make our example clear, we're going to depart from what's likely to happen and imagine an extreme scenario for these two states deciding the election. Let's say that Michigan votes overwhelmingly for Secretary Clinton:

Michigan votes for Clinton: 4.0 million
Michigan votes for Trump: 0.7 million
Michigan 3rd party votes: 0.2 million

Let's further suppose that Mr. Trump wins Ohio, but it's a much closer race than Michigan:

Ohio votes for Clinton: 2.7 million
Ohio votes for Trump: 2.8 million
Ohio 3rd party votes: 0.1 million

Who wins this election? Well, Secretary Clinton gets Michigan's 16 electoral votes, because she won the popular vote there, and Mr. Trump gets Ohio's 18 electoral votes, which means Trump wins the election.

But who won the popular vote? Was it a landslide? Let's find out:

Total votes cast: 10.5 million

Total votes for Clinton: 6.7 million, or 63.8%
Total votes for Trump: 3.5 million, or 33.3%
Total 3rd party votes: 0.3 million, or 2.85%

Is this a landslide? I think any reasonable definition of landslide would agree that in this extreme scenario, Secretary Clinton's win in the popular vote was a landslide. But even so, Mr. Trump wins the electoral college vote, 18 to 16, and becomes the next president.

So what happened? What happened is that in the state that supported Clinton, she trounced Trump, but in the state where Trump won, it was a much closer battle. Since it's an all-or-nothing battle in both states, how much she won by is irrelevant to which direction the electors cast their vote.

Now add 48 more states into the mix, and imagine this sort of scenario playing itself out over and over again. Some states are close, some are a blowout, but the electoral votes are (with the Maine/Nebraska exceptions) assigned all-or-nothing regardless of how big the margin was.

Chris, from Maine, points out that this is not just a theoretical exercise: " A president has lost the popular vote but won the electoral college four times, with the most recent being only 16 years ago!"

Finally we get to the issue that a candidate is required to get a majority of the electoral votes (270). What happens if no one hits that magic number is a question for another day.

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