One of the arguments for Donald Trump losing the general election is that Hillary Clinton has more popular votes than Trump. This argument has some premise to it, as the popular vote does represent the will of the people and also affects the outcomes of elections. However, the argument against this is that Trump had more opponents to split the votes, resulting in a lower number. Let’s look at it using some quick and dirty math.
First, some raw numbers. Trump has 11.3 million popular votes, 41% of the Republican vote, while Clinton has 13.2 million, 55% of the Democratic vote. The difference comes out to 1.9 million, a significant number of votes that Trump is behind.
Now, let’s put some context to those numbers. Trump ran against 10 other candidates in the primaries. Of course, Trump wasn’t running against 10 others throughout the entire Republican primary election, as candidates were dropping out throughout the period. To account for this, I calculated the average number of opponents Donald Trump faced during the primaries by summing up how many opponents he had each day and dividing by the number of days from Dec. 29, 2015, when the last Republican candidate dropped out before the primaries, to May 4, 2016, when John Kasich dropped out, leaving Trump the only man standing. This comes out to 5 opponents (rounded down from 5.5). This number would include Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and Jeb Bush, all of whom have received at over 200,000 votes. Rand Paul is the next highest, coming in at almost 67,000, a mere 0.24% of all Republican votes.
On the Democratic side, Clinton ran against 2 opponents. Using the same method, Clinton has been running against an average of 1 opponent (rounded down from 1.4) in the primaries, from Nov. 2, 2015, when the last Democrat candidate dropped out before the primaries, to today. That 1 opponent is, of course, Bernie Sanders. The only other candidate was Martin O’Malley, who received 110,000 votes, a mere 0.46% of the Democratic vote.
So what’s the point of doing all this? Isn’t this proving the obvious? Well, yes, but this is a quick and dirty method to put the raw number of votes into perspective using numbers. By these numbers, we can say that, effectively, Trump had 5 opponents while Clinton had 1 in the primaries. The Republican vote was split 6 ways, while the Democratic vote was split in 2. If votes were cast randomly and every candidate had an equal chance of receiving an individual vote i.e. even distribution of votes, each Republican candidate would get one-sixth of the total votes, a little less than 17%. Trump got 41%, meaning he is doing 150% better than average. In contrast, Clinton, at 55% of the average vote, is only doing 10% better than the average of 50% on the Democrat side.
Trump performed phenomenally well against his opponents, so it’s certain Trump would have captured a significant number of his opponents’ votes if they weren’t running, meaning these votes will be there for Trump in the general election. With more Republicans voting in the primaries than Democrats, 27.5 million compared to 23.8 million, Trump has a larger pool of voters to draw from in the general. Also, Trump is going into the remaining primaries unopposed, so it’s likely he’ll close the gap and perhaps surpass Clinton before the general. If that happens, then the popular vote argument is essentially reversed. Trump will beat Clinton, just look at the popular vote.