When it comes to U.S. presidential elections, analysts rightly focus on the Electoral College. After all, this is the system, rather than the popular vote, that determines the winner. But I think there are interesting trends in the popular vote that can be easy to miss if we just look at which states are colored red and blue in the maps we see every four years.
For a moment, let’s focus our attention on raw vote margins. In the 2016 race, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton received roughly 2.9 million more votes than Republican candidate Donald Trump. This was a smaller margin than the approximate 5 million vote lead Barack Obama achieved over Mitt Romney in 2012. So we have a 2.1 million shift in the popular vote towards the Republicans that we have to account for between 2012 and 2016. Where did these votes come from?