Friday, November 9, 2018

DANIEL VAUGHAN: There’s no such thing as a national popular vote for the Senate or House

Although the current news cycle makes it feel like Election Day was two months ago, it’s only been days since the midterms — and the media is already capitalizing on their latest creation to undermine victories from the GOP: a so-called “popular vote” for the House and Senate.

I’ve seen the term used by everyone from Vox to my liberal Facebook friends, who have said that the Democrats deserve more seats in the House and Senate because they “won the popular vote.”

That’s a ludicrous contention — and one not based on any real measurement.

In a presidential election year, we can discuss the popular vote because there’s one common election that everyone votes in: the presidential race. In a midterm election year, however, each campaign is focused solely on a small part of the country, whether a state, congressional district, or locality.

In other words, the citizens of each state, district, and locality are voting for something different — and because of varying populations and district lines, each vote is weighted differently.

That’s why each major political party focuses their largest efforts at increasing voter turnout in battleground states. And because states that reliably vote blue (or red) are often overlooked by get-out-and-vote campaigns, those states typically see lower voter turnout than swing states.

All of this caused what Dems and the media are calling a “Senate popular vote” to be skewed heavily toward the left this year. Of the 33 Senate seats up for grabs, Democrats held 24 of them — but Republicans only had to defend 8 states, plus 2 special elections in Mississippi and Minnesota.

The only state the GOP struggled to defend was Nevada; outside of that, Republicans were able to stay on the offensive across the map.

Why does that matter? Because many of this year’s Senate races were in blue or purple states, where the “popular vote” included far more Democratic voters. They took place across the northeast, in parts of the Midwest, in California, and in Oregon.

Democrats held most of these states, while most other red states weren’t voting in a Senate race.

In other words, adding up all the votes in this year’s Senate races doesn’t tell you anything meaningful.

Some of those races weren’t challenged at all.

And these problems don’t even account for states like Washington and California, which use a top-two system, otherwise referred to as a jungle primary. In this system, during the primaries, everyone running for every party (and every write-in) gets tossed into the same race. The two candidates who receive the highest number of votes move on to the general election, where no third parties and no write-ins are allowed.

That leads to races like the California Senate race, where incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein faced off against fellow Democrat Kevin de León. (She faced no opposition from any Republican, third-party candidate, or write-in candidate.) We’re still waiting on results from this year’s races in California, but in 2016, Peter Gemma at the Daily Caller noted:

In 2016, as a result from an open/top two primary system, seven of California’s 53 U.S. House contests offered voters a one party choice; five of 20 state Senate contests and 15 of 80 state Assembly races had two members of the same party running against each other.

That means in California, a state where around 40 percent of the population is Republican — and where the Republican gubernatorial candidate received nearly 3 million votes — the Democrats effectively shut out the opposition in the Senate race.

And, of course, Republican votes didn’t get counted by the so-called “Senate popular vote” counters — because no Republican was running.

Democrats have also claimed that they won the House “popular vote” and deserve more seats in that chamber — but the same problems affecting the Senate “popular vote” count apply here, too, and the issue of lopsided turnout is compounded by the each state’s population and voters’ varying levels of interest in the various elections.

Presidential elections typically receive more turnout than midterms. Senate races come in second. But this year, some districts with House races didn’t have any statewide federal race to increase voter turnout.

A ballot that only includes House and state- or even local-level races is destined to see lower turnout, which means that data on a so-called “popular vote” is virtually meaningless.

Here’s what is meaningful about this year’s turnout: the 2018 midterms were the first election since the direct election of U.S. senators began in 1914 that the party that won the House didn’t also gain Senate seats. And 2018 is the first year since 1960 that one party gained House seats while the other party gained Senate seats.

Democrats are trying to claim a more substantial victory by inventing popular vote tallies, but the reality is: we’re just as divided a nation as ever.

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