Much has been made of how Donald Trump received fewer votes than Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, with some calling into question the legitimacy of his government because he didn’t receive the majority of support of voters. Specifically, he got 45.93%.
That’s an interesting argument, and especially so where I live, as the federal government in Canada has a majority of seats but received less, at 39.47% of the vote. So, according to this argument, Trudeau’s government has less legitimacy than Trump’s.
I think these sorts of post hoc arguments aren’t very persuasive. The Trudeau government campaigned in a system with specific rules which allow for parties with less than a majority vote (and sometimes not even the most votes) to form a majority government. Similarly, Trump’s strategy was based on the specific rules of the U.S.’s electoral college system. If there’s a problem, it’s at a higher level, in terms of electoral reform.
Having said that, one thing that’s interesting about the Trump-Clinton 2016 election is that Clinton didn’t get a majority, either. Rather, she received 48.02% of the vote. A majority of voters didn’t vote for her, either.
So, which candidate would the majority of voters have preferred, if they could transfer their vote with ranked choice? If you add up Trump, Johnson (Libertarians tend to be closer to Republicans than Democrats), and McMullin (closer to the Republican party than Democratic), you get 49.73%. If you add up Clinton and Stein (Greens tend to be closer to Democrats than Republicans), you get 49.08%. The remainder is various write-in ballots.
So, the right-wing bloc was larger than the left-wing bloc. If the U.S. had direct popular vote with ranked choice and instant run-off, which candidate would have won?
The answer is: we don’t know. Some of the people who voted for one of the smaller percentage candidates might not have ranked another candidate. For example, many people who voted Green might have done so because they excluded all the other options. Similarly, although McMullin was a protest candidate against Trump, it’s not clear how many people who voted for him would have supported Trump next. Similarly with Libertarians.