According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, Democracy can mean rule of majority.

Is the U.S. still a democracy now that Donald Trump is leading the executive branch while he lost the popular vote (in which case it means that he does not have the support from majority)?

  • The Senate lost the popular vote by an even bigger margin than Trump. The house is gerrymandered up the ying-yang. There's a fair question in here somewhere, but not the way you asked it. The electoral college in and of itself doesn't undo the democratic process. It might not best represent it, but it doesn't make it null and void.
    – userLTK
    Commented Apr 8, 2017 at 3:18
  • @userLTK It kinda does (undo the democratic process). As faithless electors can literally do that.
    – haxor789
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 13:35

5 Answers 5


You might have seen this before, but...

America is not and never has been a pure democracy

America is a Democratic Republic, meaning that we elect representatives in various forms (congressmen, senators, governors, etc). In America's constitutional structure some of those representatives also select electoral college members who represent the will of state*. The elector college forms something similar to a pure democracy (there are some caveats, but for simplicity sake it a pure democracy).

Donald Trump won the majority of the electoral college. For that reason, Trump won the presidency.

*I know there has been a lot of debate this cycle about the role, efficacy and morality of the electoral college, but for this answer I'm just keeping it simple.

  • 3
    Downvoted . This just doesn't seem to hit the mark. Unless you are going to cite sources, it isn't clear that a republic is not a democracy. Also, the question is not asking about "pure" democracies, but about any kind. Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 17:21
  • @indigochild A republic is, by definition, not a democracy. They are not mutually exclusive, but they are by definition not the same. I'm really not sure what you are referring to here. Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 17:25
  • 1
    @indigochild - "democracy" as a term is too broad to be of any use in Q&A, per se. IMHO, the fault isn't with the answer, but with the imprecise and overly broad question.
    – user4012
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 17:29
  • 1
    @user4012 - I could agree to some of that. The question provided a definition though, if you are going to challenge the frame of the question it's best to do some legwork explaining why. In this case, why is the usage of "democracy" (or "republic") here better than the one in the question? Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 17:30
  • "A republic is, by definition, not a democracy." A republic can be democratic or non-democratic. The only thing that makes it a republic is that there's no monarch.
    – endolith
    Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 17:21

Well, from your link:

a : government by the people; especially : rule of the majority
b : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections

While that says "rule of the majority", it also says "especially". So democracy includes things other than rule of the majority. In particular, the very fact of having representatives of any type means that the US is not a direct democracy. It is instead a democratic republic.

It's also worth noting that no one received a majority of the popular vote. Hillary Clinton simply received the largest minority, what is called a plurality of the vote. Trump did win other majorities. For example, he won majorities of states, counties, and electoral college votes. Republicans in general won a majority of the House seats, which in a parliamentary system would have given their choice control anyway.

Beyond that, it's worth noting that Trump won a higher percentage of the vote (45.9%) than Bill Clinton did in 1992 (43.01%), Woodrow Wilson in 1912 (41.8%), and Abraham Lincoln in 1860 (39.8%). Yet the assumption of the question is that the US was a democracy prior to 2016. If not, then the US wasn't a democracy as early as 1824, when Andrew Jackson won a plurality of the popular vote (41.4%) but John Quincy Adams (30.9%) won the presidency.

While rare, Trump's win in the electoral college while failing to win a plurality of the popular vote was not unique. See 2000, 1888, and 1876 for other examples. Grover Cleveland won a plurality of the popular vote three elections in a row without winning a majority once.


how is it democratic that Donald Trump is leading the executive branch while he lost the popular vote (in which case it means that he does not have the support from majority)?

you are equating "majority" to "popular votes". trump won the majority of the electoral votes, the only kind that matters in our election, and continues to be so until it is changed.

so yeah, it meets the definition of "rule of the majority".

  • 2
    Not that it matters, but no, it actually doesn't meet 'rule of the majority'. It never does in the US. We rarely even have a majority of people that vote. For the most part, we're always ruled by a minority. Again, that's OK, as we're not a pure democracy.
    – user1530
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 18:13
  • @blip What is a "pure democracy"?
    – WS2
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 18:50
  • 1
    @WS2 a pure democracy is when you and two friends to to the movie theater and you each cast a vote for which show to see. Majority wins.
    – user1530
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 18:51
  • 4
    what about the two friends vote to have you pay for their tickets. Majority wins. Is it still a democracy?
    – dannyf
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 18:54
  • @dannyf I wonder the same thing. Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 18:48

It's interesting that nobody has mentioned the word federal. The electoral college, of course, exists because of concerns for the influence of less-populous states. The reason a president can win despite losing the popular vote, then, is because the US is a federal democratic republic.

It's worth noting that the US constitution does not contain the words federal or democratic, and mentions republican only in guaranteeing that form of government to the states. Any discussion, therefore, of whether these words apply to the US government will necessarily depend on the definition of the word chosen for that discussion.

Definitions of federal and republican are fairly uncontroversial, and clearly apply to the US, but the definition of democratic has changed over the centuries, and some definitions clearly do not apply to the US. Others do, especially if we recognize, as implied by David Grinberg's answer, that the US could be an "impure" democracy, or a system that has certain democratic characteristics.

  • 1
    There are several reasons as to why the electoral collage exists. Few (if any) of them are easily justified anymore.
    – user1530
    Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 16:32
  • @blip Actually, the fact that the votes of Southern California actually changed the plurality of votes from Donald Trump to Hilliary Clinton does justify the Electoral College. Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 19:16
  • 1
    @sabbahillel only to certain POVs. To others, that's a good argument to abolish it. But that's a whole other debate for a whole other time...
    – user1530
    Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 19:19
  • @blip are you saying that the electoral college was not designed to address concerns related to federalism? Do you have any source to back that up?
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 21:53
  • @phoog no, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying there were several reasons...being "fair" to lower populated states being one of them...making sure slave states had a say was another...a fear of direct democracy another...factcheck.org/2008/02/the-reason-for-the-electoral-college
    – user1530
    Commented Feb 23, 2017 at 0:38

Both major-party candidates lost the majority of popular vote. That is neither Hillary nor Trump attained more than 50% of the vote. Hillary won the plurality, but it still remains a fact that more people voted against Hillary than for her.

Most countries which use majority-of-popular-vote rule have run-off elections in such cases to eliminate the candidates with lesser vote counts and force the people to chose either one or the other candidate in order to make sure that whoever comes out a winner was actually someone who did win a majority.

US uses a different system which has its pluses and its minuses. It's done mostly for historical reasons, but any attempt to point out all the benefits and downsides of an electoral college would mean answering another very different question and it is bound to start a political discussion (rather than a discussion about politics).

  • In which case the "plurality" is what comes next and Trump neither secured that one. And having more people to vote for someone else than that candidate applies to literally any of the candidates running. That being said Hillary had almost 3 million more votes than the runner up who became president...
    – haxor789
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 13:34

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