Presidential elections in the U.S. are an ever longer, outrageously expensive, politically complicated proposition. And on top of the ordinary level of complexity, this election cycle was, well, a little weird on both sides of the aisle. Books are already being written to document one of the most heated elections in recent memory. But today, we’re just concerned with three numbers that offer clues about the nature of Election 2016.
The Clinton campaign (not counting super PACs and other outside spending) outspent the Trump campaign by just over DOUBLE. That’s an extreme spending gap of $250 million between the campaigns. Outside spending was even more one-sided. But despite the huge spending disparity, voters responded with a (slim) victory for the underdog Trump campaign.
Just over half of eligible voters actually showed up to cast their ballots, the lowest turnout since Bob Dole ran against Bill Clinton. The president was thus elected by about 26% of eligible voters. Mitt Romney pulled in 28.3% of the vote in 2012 and lost.
Though vote counting will not actually end until the middle of December, the current numbers have the candidates separated by 0.2% of the vote. Strangely, Clinton took 26.5% of total votes cast, while Trump won the election with 26.3%. By a quirk of the electoral college (as far as we know now), Trump is the second president in the previous five elections to win the electoral college while losing the popular vote.
Taken together, what do these numbers mean? That is a question for political scientists and historians. There are a few obvious points to call out. First, the most elusive ingredient in a political campaign is enthusiasm. Millions of media dollars can show us any manner of enthusiastic, emotionally grabbing calls to action. But on Election Day, it doesn’t seem to matter nearly as much as we thought. And second, the electoral system is incomprehensible to everyone on Earth, no matter what they say.
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