by Jay Johansen | Jul 20, 2020
After every major election, I always hear people who supported the candidate who lost saying, "How could Smith (or whatever his name is) have won the election? Everyone I know voted for Jones!" Sometimes they say this in bewilderment. Sometimes they say it in anger, certain that the only possibility is that the election was stolen somehow.
The explanation of the mystery is simple: "Your friends" are not necessarily a representative sample of the population.
If I took a poll of my friends, I'm sure that a conservative Republican would win in a landslide. But I realize that my friends are not representative. Most of my friends are middle-aged, employed, married, conservative Christians. Most of them live in the suburbs or in the country. I only know one person these days who is a homosexual, and he's a Democrat. The couple of black people I know are conservative Republicans, but they have no illusions that they are typical for their ethnicity. Etc.
In most presidential elections in the United States, the popular vote is very close to a 50/50 split. In 2016, Trump got 46% of the popular vote and Clinton got 48%. (Trump still won because of the way the Electoral College works. Subject for another time.) In 2012, Obama won with 51% to 47%. In 2008 Obama won with 53% to 46%. In 2004 Bush won with 51% to 48%. Etc.
I tell my Republican friends: Even if you suppose that there was massive voter fraud to benefit Hillary Clinton, surely you don't suppose it was tens of millions of votes. In the most extreme scenario, she was still in the high 40's. I'd say the same to any Democrat who supposes that Republicans stole an election.
The country is very nearly evenly divided politically. If your friends are overwhelmingly Democrat or overwhelming Republican, that's because you tend to associate with people who are like yourself. Think about it. If you're an atheist, how many of your friends are born-again Christians? If you're a millionaire, how many of your friends are homeless? If you're an urban professional, how many of your friends are farmers? Or vice versa to any of those, of course. Et cetera for anything else about yourself. Someone who spends most of his free time at an evengelical church is likely to have very different friends from someone who spends most of his free time at gay bars.
If you think, "No rational person would vote for so-and-so!", maybe not. But the reality is, your idea of what is rational is not shared by the entire population. And irrational people's votes count just as much as rational people's votes.
© 2020 by Jay Johansen
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