I keep seeing a series of claims about the supposedly unbelievable fact that Joe Biden has surpassed 80 million popular votes. It is, in some quarters, seeming proof of fraud (the most votes, evah? How could this be?). But, of course, it is hardly surprising as such a number is simply the result of basic math.
First, population growth means that in each election it is almost certain that more votes will be cast than in the previous election. After all, there are more people in the US in 2020 than in 2016. More people translates into more voters.
After all, the top 10 votes won by presidential candidates all come from the last five elections:
- Biden 2020, 80.0 million (and counting)
- Trump 2020, 73.9 (and counting)
- Obama 2008, 69.5 million
- Obama 2012, 65.9 million
- Clinton 2016, 65.8 million
- Trump 2016, 62.9 million
- Bush 2004, 62.0 million
- Romney 2012, 60.9 million
- McCain 2008, 60.0 million
- Kerry 2004, 59.0 million
The pattern is pretty clear. 2008 stands out because it was a higher turnout than 2012 and 2016 and Obama’s victory in 2008 was more decisive (7.2 percentage points in 2008 versus 3.9 in 2012).
Second, turnout matters. While we do not yet know the final tallies, it is clear that this is going to be, as predicted, a high turnout election. For example, turnout in 2008 was higher than in 2012.
The United States Elections Project estimates the voting-eligible population (VEP, i.e., citizens 18 or older who are not felons sans voting rights) this cycle at 239,247,182. To date, according to CNN, 153,917,016 votes have been tabulated. That would be a VEP turnout of 64.33% (and this is not the final number).
It should be noted that VEP turnout in 2016 was 59.2%. This is important to note because the basic math tells us that even if the population had not grown from 2016 to 2020, the candidates would get higher numbers of votes in 2020 because ~65% of something is more than ~59% of something. And so, more voters and a higher percentage of participants equals more votes overall.
In other words, if you are taking a higher percentage of a higher number, the totals will be even larger in an absolute sense!
I know this won’t convince the doubts in trumpland, but it is pretty darn straightforward.
And given that Trump lost the popular vote last time and has consistently had an underwater approval rating essentially his entire presidency, it is no shock at all that his opponent would win more votes than he would. Ergo, even as Trump’s absolute total would grow, it always stood to reason that his opponent’s number would be even higher.
Remember: Trump’s chances of winning were about the Electoral College. He was never seen as having any serious chance of winning the popular votes.
And yet, I have seen a lot of stuff like this (and I do not know who this guy is, but he has over 200,000 followers–I use this simply as an example):
And, I would note, no incumbent president originally came to office by losing the popular vote by almost 3,000,000 votes. And no incumbent president has ever had the kind of consistent disapproval as this one has had. Also: since incumbent presidents tend to win, the universe we are discussing here is quite small–in the 20th Century there have only been four who have lost up and until now: Taft, Hoover, Carter, and Bush–and only nine total since the Founding. These are not the kind of numbers about which significant patterns can be ascertained.
But let me underscore again: any attempt to place Trump in a broader historical pattern (such as it is) like this is problematic because he is an outlier to start with due to the size of the popular vote/electoral vote inversion that brought him to office in the first place.
(Side note correction on the tweet above: to my knowledge, there has been no fighting against audits or recounts).
Or, one could just accept this kind of galaxy brain reasoning:
And FWIW, 5.8 million have viewed Biden’s tweet as of this morning, not that those numbers tell us anything about vote totals.
But, of course, people who think boat parades can tell us something about national political support aren’t likely to want to listen to basic math discussions.
There is also the rather bizarre notion that they are willing to believe Trump’s numbers, but not Biden’s. The theory seems to be that the massive fraud that was perpetrated only had time to fill in fake ballots for Biden, which is also supposed to explain why there was not fraud for the Senate and House.
So, we are supposed to believe this was both the most signifant and widespread fraud ever perpetrated, but also one of the lamest because the fraudsters couldn’t be bothered to fill in Senate races, too.