Flashback: Obama Lost the Popular Vote in 2008 Primary

Zach Montanaro | November 21, 2016
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Hillary Clinton is only the fifth person in American history to lose a presidential election while winning the popular vote, joining the ranks of Andrew Jackson (1824), Samuel Tilden (1876), Grover Cleveland (1888), and Al Gore (2000). If you haven’t heard already, Democrats are furious about this. After all, how could someone possibly win an election if they lost the popular vote?

Enter the 2008 Democratic primary, where then-Senator Barack Obama surged and eventually overcame the early frontrunner to secure his party’s nomination. Except for one problem: he didn’t win the popular vote in the primary.

Yes, that’s right, Obama didn’t win the popular vote in the lead-up to his eventual victory in the election, losing it to, ironically enough, Hillary Clinton by almost 275,000 votes.

Obama, of course, went on to win the general election and become the darling hero of liberals for the next eight years.

Was there outrage followed by calls to reform the process then? No, of course not. That’s because there was a process in place that was agreed to by anyone joining in the race that allowed for something like that, however quirky, to happen.

Although the primary process is certainly different from the general election process, its delegate system isn’t too far off from what the Electoral College aims to do: give a voice to smaller, less-populated states. That’s exactly what happened in 2008:

As the map shows, despite Clinton winning in big states with larger populations like California, New York, Texas, etc., Obama was still able to win because the delegate system awarded delegates based not only on overall wins in more states, but also based on voting percentages in states. Winning big states might give someone more delegates at once, but winning more, less-populated states can easily eat into and overcome those gains, which is exactly how Obama was able to win the 2008 primary.

But because they lost to someone they don’t like this time, liberals are suddenly freaking out. A new poll shows that 66 percent of Democrats now want to abolish the Electoral College, and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) even introduced legislation that calls for just that.

As has been explained before, the Electoral College was a system designed by the framers of the Constitution as a way to make sure that people who lived in less-populated rural areas didn’t have their voices silenced by those living in the more populated cities.

It also means that candidates are forced to campaign in states that might not get any attention if the election was based purely on the popular vote. As Donald Trump himself said in a tweet, he would have campaigned in states like California and New York if elections went off of just the overall vote totals. Instead, candidates are forced to campaign in, and listen to the people of, smaller, less-populated states like New Hampshire, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Colorado, Nevada, and so on.

Both parties know this. That’s why Barack Obama won his party’s nomination in 2008, not Hillary Clinton. That’s why President Bush won the 2000 election despite losing the popular vote. And that’s why Donald Trump is going to be the next President.

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