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The US Election, and Odd Baseball Rules

November 12, 2016

Hi CL,

How wild is it that Hillary Clinton won the nationwide popular vote but lost the election, just like Al Gore did in 2000?

Adorable Deplorable


Dear Adorable,

It’s no big deal. And here’s something to get your head around: suppose the national popular vote decided the presidency. There’s no guarantee Hillary would have even won. Why? Because the campaign would have looked very different. Consider what happens when you change the rules of baseball.

We all know the MLB rules for extra innings. Turns out in other places they play it differently:

–In Europe, and country-vs-country (IFAB), from the 11th inning you start with runners on 1st and 2nd base.

–In Asia, a 12 inning game, or in Japan any game that goes 3.5 hours long, is scored a tie. Playoff games are replayed.

You might like these rules (in the 3.5-hour scenario, Sawx—Yankees would struggle to play a little league six innings) but they certainly change the game away from what we know as MLB.

Starting an inning with men on base rewards teams that can manufacture runs.

Knowing that a tie-after-12 is a tie helps the team with the less rested bull pen as they know they’ll never have to worry about the 13th.

OK, back to the election.

The current rules force both parties to play by the same strategy: compete in the “battleground” states where the race is close for winner-take-all electoral votes. If you change the rules into a nationwide popular vote contest, it’s like changing the rules of extra innings, or something more radical like disallowing base stealing: candidates could try multiple strategies, including adding to their national total in states where they are already way ahead or way behind.

California has 55 electoral votes, far more than any other state. But neither Trump nor Clinton really campaigned there, because everyone knew Clinton would win. New Hampshire only has 4 electoral votes, and both nominees spent a lot of time there because both felt they really needed them.

California’s voter turnout of 8.4 million was pretty low too (less than Florida’s 9 million turnout, when Florida was a very close state but offered only 29 electoral votes). The voters also saw the writing on the wall that Clinton would win California, so many stayed home.

Now suppose it was a national popular vote contest. At least one campaign, or maybe both, would focus on picking up an extra few hundred thousand votes in California. Neither would waste time on New Hampshire, where only 700,000 people voted total and it was always going to be roughly split.

Would Hillary have won such an election? Maybe. We’ll never know.

Would the Indians have won Game 7 of the world series if extra innings had started with men on base? We’ll never know.

Thanks for writing,



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