HOW A MINORITY AND A PROPAGANDA BLITZ ELECTED A PRESIDENT

The 2016 presidential election witnessed 137 million votes cast with 66 million and 63 million cast respectively for the Democratic and Republican candidates. Under our constitutional structure reflected in the Electoral College system, the popular votes translated into 302 electoral votes for Donald Trump and 232 for Hillary Clinton, constituting the 538 electoral votes among the states. Subsequently, these results have come under scrutiny due to information that has called into question foreign propaganda in the 2016 election in favor of the Republican winner and critical of the Democratic loser.

Notwithstanding this allegation, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stated in a radio interview reported in Politico on 10/26/17: “I don’t think they’d [voters] be influenced by ads posted by foreign governments.” It’s noteworthy that Rosenstein is supervising a major investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into the relationship between the Trump campaign and Russia. Separately, there are congressional investigations into Russian “meddling” in the 2016 campaign.

From one perspective, Rosenstein’s opinion may be seen to have merit, since 3 million more popular votes were cast for the Democratic candidate than for the electoral vote victor. Whether voters were “influenced” to cast a vote for one candidate over another by “ads” placed by foreign governments must be considered in light of recent congressional testimony by executives of Facebook, Twitter, and Google, revealing, in part, the extent of the messaging to achieve as yet unknown political objectives.

That the candidate who won the most popular votes and lost the election is one consideration and a factor also predicated upon our own constitutional structure which, notably in the 2000 presidential election, presented a similar anomaly of a popular vote majority contravened by the Electoral College system. In order to appreciate the thesis that a minority of voters elected the president in 2016 and that voting was influenced by Russia, it is necessary to examine election results and consider them in light of other data concerning propaganda generated by Russia.  The proportions of the data present a view that leads to questions about the nation’s Electoral College system as well as a need to protect our democratic voting process from foreign influences.

The table below relates the total population of the United States, the relative population value of the 538 electors, and the 2016 Democratic and Republican popular votes. While 8 million voted for candidates other than those of the two major parties, the focus is on the relationship between popular voting and electoral results of the two major party candidates.

Electors/

     

Population

Electors Population Democrat Republican

Margin

325,110,000       538          604,294 65,853,516 62,984,324

2,869,192

In the 2016 presidential election, the Republican garnered 306 electoral votes and the Democratic candidate 232, despite a popular vote margin of 3 million for the Democrat. The table below reflects a cohort of states that contributed 75 electoral votes, the margin of difference, to the Republican candidate.

Electors/

State

Population

Electors

Population

Democrat Republican

Margin

WI

5,771,337

10

         577,134 1,382,536 1,405,284      22,748

MI

9,922,576

16

          620,161

2,268,839

2,279,543

10,704

FL

20,271,272

29

          699,009

4,504,975

4,617,886

112,911

PA

12,802,503

20

          640,125

2,926,441

2,970,733

 44,292

Totals 48,767,688 75 650,236 11,082,791 11,273,446

    190,655

The popular vote margin in favor of the Republican candidate in these four states is 0.85% of the total popular votes [22,356,237] cast for the two major political parties, and 0.14% of total votes cast for president in the 2016 election. The margin of victory to secure these 75 electoral votes stands in stark relief to the 3 million popular vote margin for the loser across all 50 states. It should be noted that the proportion of Electors/Population for these four states compares favorably with that for all 50 states—604,294 versus 650,236.

The table below contrasts the Electors/Population dramatically with that of these four states as well as that of the national data highlighting the Electoral College distortion in favor of lesser populated states.

Electors/

     

State

Population

Electors Population Democrat Republican

Margin

WY

  586,107

    3         195,369  55,973 174,419

118,446

SD

  858,469

    3         286,156 117,458 227,721

110,263

ND

  756,927

    3         252,309  93,758 216,794

123,036

MT

1,032,949

    3         344,316 174,521 274,120

 99,599

AK

  741,894

    3         247,298 116,454 163,287

 46,833

Totals

3,976,346    15         265,090 558,164 1,056,341

498,177

The first comparison that stands out for these five states is the proportion of Electors/Population —265,090 versus 650,236 for the four larger states and 604,294 nationally–affording each elector and voting cohort in the lesser populated states a weight 2.3 times that of most other states. In this regard, the new president has commented on at least two occasions that the Electoral College favors the Democratic Party. However, the 2016 electoral results and popular vote results as highlighted in these two cohorts belie that position.

Together, the Republican margin in the nine states with 90 electoral votes totaled 688,832—less than 25% of the 2,869,192 Democratic popular vote margin across the entire electorate. This distortion—as it did in 2000—exacerbates the partisan divide and detracts from the authority of the nation’s leadership to determine policy and exercise leadership. As a result, the new president continues to reference his electoral victory, even stating that he actually won the popular vote, all the while continuing to attend campaign rallies for a second term.

Congressional testimony and media reports of the scope of the Russian propaganda campaign launched in the 2016 election have revealed a broad and pervasive political messaging effort. That effort is of even more concern in light of the conclusion of national intelligence agencies that the Russian objectives were to bolster the Republican candidate and denigrate the Democratic candidate.

Facebook concluded that Russian-sponsored messages reached 126 million by way of more than 80,000 posts to its platform and another 24 million when Instagram is included. That figure is greater than the total votes cast in the election. In addition, Twitter reported some 30,000 Russian accounts with 189 million election-related messages creating 288 million impressions from more than 36,000 Russian accounts. The voter research has not yet been completed to determine how many voters may have been influenced to one candidate or the other by this propaganda but the sheer proportion of the messaging compared to the voting population leads to the inescapable conclusion that some measure of choices were influenced. Thus, whether or not the American voter, as Rosenstein believes, was actually “influenced by ads posted by foreign governments,” the inference is powerful and the intelligence agencies’ findings absolutely persuasive with respect to some effect and the need for developing defense mechanisms. Rosenstein’s opinion translates to a conclusion that advertising has no impact upon voter choice, or commercial products for that matter. It has been estimated that the Democratic and Republican parties spent more than $80 million on Facebook advertising, indicating that the seasoned and experience political parties believe in advertising on such platforms.

Politico reported in October 2017 statements by President Trump to a Fox News interviewer: “I doubt I would be here if it weren’t for social media.” At the time, the president had 113 million followers. On March 6, 2018, AXIOS quoted the president as concluding that “the Russians had no impact on the vote.” While the nation’s intelligence community has not reached a conclusion on the effect of Russian influence upon the 2016 vote, the president is clearly of two minds on the effect of social media on voting. Given the extent of advertising investment by both campaigns in social media and the millions of social media messages generated by the Russians, the very modest margins of the popular vote victories in nine states can be questioned.

During the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, vigorous debate was engaged in concerning fears that the new national government could be taken over by a motivated minority or, on the other hand, be subjected to a tyranny of the majority. Alexander Hamilton proposed the Electoral College system so “…that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” Structurally, the founders also guaranteed geographically smaller and lesser populated states minimum representation in the Electoral College system, notwithstanding actual population count as set forth in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution defining state proportions for taxation and representation. This structural disproportion is reflected in the data for the five states each having three electoral votes, compared with the electoral profile of more populous states.

The Founding Fathers did, in fact, envision the potential for foreign governments to seek leverage in the new national government by prohibiting, without consent of Congress, any person “…holding any Office of Profit or Trust”…in the United States cannot from accepting…” any present, Emolument, Office or Title, of any kind whatever from…any foreign state.” It is clear that these same authors could not envision the expansion of thirteen colonies with less than 4 million inhabitants to one of 325 million and fifty states. Amending the Constitution to correct for the Electoral College distortion of voting, i.e. to move closer toward “one person, one vote,” is likely a long and unwieldy path. A more modest and perhaps elegant solution is the National Popular Vote Initiative, which would award the office of President to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the 50 states and D.C.

The 2016 popular and Electoral College voting, together with the information developed about the propaganda blitz by the Russians, certainly puts to rest the idea that American voters were free from influence by ads placed by foreign governments as a naïve, if not incredible, conclusion. The new president’s Electoral College margin of 75 votes arising from a popular vote margin of 190,655 on over 136 million cast in total does not inspire confidence in either the constitutional structure or the nation’s capacity to protect itself from foreign government influence in regard to the electoral process. Since 1964, over 50 years ago, in Reynolds v. Sims, the Supreme Court has consistently applied a principle of political equality and equity to the phrase one person, one vote. Although gerrymandering plagues that principle within the states, it is clear that the Electoral College system, too, violates the standard as a national gerrymander. Now, the potential to surrender autonomy over the nation’s electoral integrity to foreign influence exacerbates the already contentious civic culture that undergirds political discourse and the dynamics of that process.   Without repair and defensive safeguards, political chaos may ensue.



Categories: Issues, National, Voting

Tags: , , ,

Join the discussion!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: