The Math: Trump 2016 Would’ve Beaten Obama 2012
It’s easy to glance at Tuesday’s popular vote — which, with 92 percent of all precincts reporting, shows Hillary Clinton with six million fewer votes than Barack Obama won in 2012 – and reach the conclusion that Clinton lost the White House because she failed to turn out the Democratic base. But the truth is much more complicated.
While she underperformed relative to Obama’s 2012 totals in several Midwestern states — Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin — Clinton ran virtually even with Obama in the battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada, and New Hampshire. What’s more, she far surpassed Obama’s 2012 vote total in Florida, the country’s biggest swing state. Yet somehow, while Obama carried Florida, Clinton lost it.
Which brings us to an important question: Was Donald Trump just good enough to beat a bad Democratic opponent on Tuesday, or does he deserve far more credit? Could he, for instance, have competed with the vaunted Obama machine? The answer, somewhat shockingly, is yes. A review of vote totals in the past two elections reveals that Trump 2016 would have defeated Obama 2012 in the electoral college.
(Disclaimer: This obviously is an apples-to-oranges exercise because no two elections are the same, nor are any two electorates. Still, unlike debating whether the 2016 Cubs would defeat the 1927 Yankees, this is not an entirely abstract argument; a comparison of their respective performances in the country’s most competitive states shows Trump edging Obama in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup.)
The math might seem impossible. After all, Obama won nearly 66 million votes in 2012; Trump is currently at 59.5 million and should finish around 60 million, which will actually be one million fewer votes than Mitt Romney won. How, then, could Trump have topped Obama in the electoral college? The answer: Republican turnout lagged in certain parts of the country but shot through the roof in the nation’s most critical battleground states.