How Trump's Electoral College Victory May Not Be a Mandate

Clinton's lead in the popular vote prevents GOP from claiming a referendum.

ByABC News
November 10, 2016, 11:17 AM

— -- For the sixth time in the last seven presidential elections, it appears that the Democratic candidate for president may be the winner of the popular vote. But for the second time in the previous five elections, the Democratic candidate will not win the presidency due to the Electoral College.

Ballots are still being tallied, but as of Thursday morning, Hillary Clinton led the popular vote count by over 200,000, with 92 percent of the expected vote in. Both candidates received more than 59 million votes each.

If Trump does not win the popular vote, it may limit the extent to which Republicans can claim his election as a referendum on the state of the nation. Both candidates garnered less than 50 percent of the vote.

Before the 2000 election -- when President George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore -- the scenario was relatively rare, occurring in 1824, 1876 and 1888. The result appears to indicate a growing split in the U.S. population in which politically like-minded citizens are clustering together geographically.

In areas where Hillary Clinton performed best, like the liberal northeast and West Coast states, she won large margins in heavily-populated cities where she ran up her popular vote total without the benefit of garnering additional electoral votes.

The former secretary of state won in the three largest cities in the country, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, by a combined 3 million votes, enough to swing more than 10 lesser-populated states -- including important battlegrounds like Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida -- were their populations more-evenly distributed.

While Trump’s election comes as a surprise to many observers -- an upset the level of which the country has not experienced since President Harry S. Truman defended the Oval Office from New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey against long odds in 1948 -- to call the outcome indicative of the country’s ideological preferences as a whole may not be accurate.

In fact, the idea that the candidate who receives the most votes is not necessarily the winner was considered foreign to the president-elect himself as recently as four years ago.

“The electoral college is a disaster for democracy,” tweeted Trump on Election Night in 2012 after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was defeated by President Barack Obama.

In additional Twitter posts that evening which have since been deleted, Trump -- apparently under the false belief that Romney was on track to win the popular vote -- decried Obama’s claim to the presidency, saying, “He lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country!”

Trump added, “More votes equals a loss...revolution!"

But the New York real estate mogul is not the only Republican who will have to reconcile statements standing in contradiction to the current electoral reality -- GOP senators now face a dilemma over their position on the current Supreme Court vacancy.

Following the death of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia in February and President Obama’s nomination of U.S. Court of Appeals judge Merrick Garland to fill the ninth seat, Republican senators refused to hold confirmation hearings. Instead, led by Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, and supported by the Republican National Committee, the senators made clear their intention to wait for a nominee selected by the next president, under the guise that the American people themselves would choose whom they wish to make the nomination.

“The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue, so let's give them a voice,” said McConnell in March. “Let's let the American people decide.”

Critics of the Republicans’ plan pointed out that Obama was reelected in 2012 to make such a decision as ascribed to him by Article II of the U.S. Constitution. Now, they will also be able to note that the American people did decide, and -- by that popular vote margin -- a greater number selected Hillary Clinton to appoint the next justice than any other presidential candidate, including the president-elect.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday in the aftermath of Trump's victory, McConnell only addressed the popular vote total in broad terms and not in connection to the court.

"The election is over, we know who won, and we're going to move on from there and do the best we can for the American people," McConnell said.

ABC News' Ali Rogin contributed to this report.

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