"Gore would have beat Bush if the popular vote had been used" - A fallacy?

While it is undeniably true that Gore won the overall popular vote in 2000, he still lost the election because of the electoral college system. I have seen people use this as justification for the elimination of the system. This seems fallacious to me. Both candidates’ strategies would have been different if their goal were to win the popular vote. Particularly, Bush could have campaigned more heavily in Texas, which was considered a safe state for him. Gore would have done the same in California.

Given that, what fallacy (if any) is the title of the OP? Please remember that this is GQ and not a debate of the 2000 election.

As you acknowledge, Gore did in fact get more votes than Bush. I’m not sure why you think it’s “fallacious” to argue from this that the electoral college should be eliminated. Sure, if the electoral system were different both candidates would have campaigned differently and, although you don’t point it out, voters would likely have approached the question of voting differently. In that alternative universe, Bush might have got more votes than Gore. Or the other way around. We can’t say.

But, in that alternative universe, if Bush had got more vote than Gore he would have been elected. If Gore had got more votes, he would have been elected.

Whereas in the real universe, Gore got more votes but Bush was elected.

I don’t think it’s “fallacious” to prefer the alternative universe. You don’t have to prefer it on the basis that Gore would inevitably have been elected; you can prefer it on the basis that, if Gore had got more votes, he would have been elected.

So, no fallacy.

But the OP does not say, “I prefer the alternate universe of a Gore victory,” nor does he say, “I prefer the alternate universe of direct popular vote for presidential elections.” I certainly agree neither is logically fallacious.

He says - or more accurately questions - the if-then premise: IF direct popular vote elected Presidents, THEN Gore would have won. But of course if direct popular vote were the method of electing presidents, then presidential election campaigning would change dramatically, and it’s virtually certain that the popular vote totals that happened in 2000 would be different. The unstated assumption in the argument is that even though the alternate universe country used direct popular vote instead of the electoral college, the candidates would have campaigned the same way and gained the same number of popular votes – an untenable assumption and an example of the fallacy of retrospective determinism.

UDS, you are arguing a strawman. Nobody is discussing a position where *if *Gore had got more votes, he would have been elected. We are discussing the situation, clearly described in the OP, where Gore lost the election *because *of the electoral college system.

That’s certainly an erroneous argument. The argument is that Gore lost the election because of the electoral college, and thus a popular vote would have produced a different result. As already noted, there is no reason to believe the result *would *have been different, thus the argument is erroneous.

As far as the logical fallacy goes, it isn’t clearly any formal logical fallacy. It’s just a flawed argument.

It has elements of multiple fallacies, but it doesn’t squarely fall in any of them. In fact I imagine that different proponents are applying multiple fallacies at the same time, with different emphasis on each.

Begging the Question: Gore would have won if the system was popular vote, therefore we need a popular vote. The premise that Gore would have won is at least as spurious as the claim that a popular vote is required.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc: Gore lost following a collegiate vote, therefore Gore lost because of the collegiate vote. Just because Gore lost following a collegiate vote doesn’t indicate that the collegiate vote caused the loss. It may just indicate that the Gore campaign platform was impossible to sell over the Bush platform given the resources of each campaign. In 1991 Toyota Corollas outsold Volvos, and Toyota had a bigger advertising budget. But even with advertising I doubt Volvo could have outsold Corolla. With a popular vote maybe you still couldn’t have convinced most Americans to buy Gore over Bush. You could only do that because under a collegiate system Bush spent less effort campaigning in some populous states.

Affirming the Consequent: In the election where Gore and Bush campaigned for electoral college votes, if the outcome had been decided by popular vote then Gore would have won. Therefore if the outcome of all elections were determined by popular vote, Gore would have won. Nope. If the election had been popular vote then both Gore and Bush would have campaigned differently and the outcome is unknowable.

I am taking the liberty to rephrase and generalize the original question:

Theoretically, there are two alternative ways in which the US President could be elected:

(a) electoral college
(b) popular vote

(a) is prescribed by the US constitution and therefore is the way it is done in reality. (b) would be an alternative way which is deemed to be preferable by some.

Question: Would election campaign strategies be different if system (b), rather than system (a) was in place, and if so, how?


The populations of smaller or less populous states would be ignored even more than they are now. Candidates would pander to the population centers almost exclusively. And the president would be chosen by Texas, California and New York and the legitimate interests of everyone else would be irrelevant.

That’s not even remotely like the question.

The question is, what logical fallacies are involved in the argument “Gore lost because of the electoral college system, therefore this justifies the elimination of the electoral college system”.

What you just posted isn’t even remotely the same question and seems like a blatant hijack.

Presumably yes. For example, under a) there’s no advantage to winning a state by more than one vote. You get the same number of EC votes whether you scrape in an inch ahead of your rival or wipe the floor with them(to mix sporting metaphors). In a popular vote contest, each extra vote increases your chances of success equally.

So whereas now candidates do enough to ensure they win their most favourable states but campaign hardest in the marginal ones that could go either way, under a popular vote system they would have every incentive to pile up the votes in their strongest states because a 65/35 win is worth much more than a 52/48 win. This would tend to lead to a greater focus on more populous states at the expense of smaller ones.

That’s why it’s wrong to say that the Gore/Bush election - held under a) - shows that Gore would have won under b). If that one thing were different, everything would have been different.
This site suggests the correct term for the fallacy is “hypothesis contrary to fact” but I think a bit more work is needed to separate vague counterfactuals for more reasonable ones (e.g. “If I’d hit that putt just a little harder it would have gone in” where the circumstances are simpler, there are fewer variables to consider and there’s a much greater, but not absolute, certainty about the effects of changing one factor.)

Gore won the popular vote but did not become president. That in itself is a reason to change the system, of course it’s the same reason that’s been available from the beginning but hasn’t been sufficient to change the system. It does not mean Gore would have won simply because the popular vote was used that year because we have no way of knowing how the election would have turned out under different rules.

I’m interested in an important premise the OP is making:

I’m under the impression that this premise is correct and IMHO is important for the discussion but the OP goes further than this, that’s true. But it is not a “blatant hijack”.

The popular vote in 2000 is next to worthless in my opinion. Each side know how important it is to get the votes out. In 2000 we had the election as good as called for Gore then later called for Bush. Such media interference must have effected the popular vote to some degree. Enough to weaken the numbers for Bush in relation to Gore by 500,000? I don’t know, but I believe those final numbers are tainted as a free & impartial account of the popular vote.

OP…Would you have an issue if the opposite happened ? Bush wins the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College to Gore.

Yes or No ?


Writ large, the electoral college system is the equivalent of our Congressional system. In the Senate, each state gets one vote. In the House of Representatives, the number of representatives is selected based on population (with fungible accuracy). As mentioned up-thread, certain states like NY, CA, and TX could (in terms of population) kick the sh^t out of half the country if we used the popular vote (FL is also important).

The Constitutional Electoral system is designed specifically to prevent this. Also, The popular vote is essentially a polling system. We essentially vote for electors who will vote the way we want them to. They aren’t (to my knowledge) legally obligated to do so.

Heck, John Quincy Adams beat Andrew Jackson despite losing in both (in 1824).

While there may be a specific factual answer to this, much of the discussion is inevitably going to be about both whether the premise itself is fallacious, and also about the US electoral system. I think this thread is better suited to GD.

General Questions Moderator

Another thing about the electorial process. And I don’t know if was intentional (those founding father geniuses strike again!) or just a byproduct from other considerations for having an electorial system as mentioned both other posters all ready.

Let’s face it, MOST elections are pretty darn close when it comes to whether one guy got more total votes than the other. So you got something like 48 to 52 percent say. Or even worse, something like 48, 46, and 6 percent for the third wackadoodle.

So, now lets imagine. We go by popuplar vote. Everybody remembers the guy just barely won. Or even worse, yeah HE won, but still wasn’t EVEN a majority. With that kind of lame win, it’s kinda hard to get behind him as the WINNER with a capital W.

On the other hand, when you use the popular vote in each state to decide who gets what state more often you get one guy getting way more states than the other guy, even though by popular vote overall its almost statistical social noise rather than a well informed electorate that is making the choice.

So, one guy barely wins by popular vote. Or maybe even does not. But man, he got MOST of states. It’s a landslide BABY. Now he looks like the clear winner.

Whether that is actually by intent or accident or even a major factor…to me that sure looks like a method to make it easier to get behind the new guy and minimize the “we barely lost / he barely won” sour political grapes that would probably not be good for a democracy.

Glad to see that.

Blake named some of the possible fallacies, I think *post hoc ergo propter hoc *fits best. I’ll explain it this way:

**“Gore would have beat Bush if the popular vote had been used” **

(a) Things would be different (b) if things were different. - Rational but pointless

(a) Gore would have beat Bush (b) if things were different. - Rationalish, but non-specific about the necessary difference.

(a) Gore would have beat Bush (b) if the popular vote had been used - Fallacious, the result is not guaranteed by the specified conditions.

ETA: semi-ninja’d by **Tripolar **just above.

If the OP means “fallacy” in the strict formal logic / formal rhetoric sense then “hypothesis contrary to fact” is the best IMO.

If the OP means “fallacy” in the general informal sense, it’s more like “Assuming ‘all else equal’, when ‘all else equal’ is all but precluded by the changes you’re assuming in your counterfactual.”

If I was being fancy I’d call that “paradoxical ceteris paribus” but that’s a term I just made up.

The reason IMO that can’t be a formal logical fallacy is there’s no way to prove in the formal sense that altering the premises (popular vote wins) would alter the antecedent conditions (campaigns use different tactics & priorities in response).

Decent common sense thinking. But recall that even the biggest presidential popular vote winners of living memory were voted for by well less than 50% of the citizens. Because of pitifully low turnout.

Winning the electoral college by 90%/10% when the popular vote was 51% popular winner / 48% other major party guy / 1% wackadoodles when the actual citizenry’s decision was 63% abstain, 20% for declared winner, 16% for other major party guy, and 1% for the assorted wackadoodles makes a mockery of the actual popular will.

It’s how so many folks have been able to say “So-and-so isn’t *My *President: he didn’t even get 25% of the citizens to back him!!!”