In 2016, Republicans won the White House and lost the popular vote by 2.1 points, or almost 3 million votes. In 2018, a similar story happened: Democratic candidates won the national gubernatorial popular vote by 3.1 points, or almost 3 million votes (again), but Republicans retained control of the governor's seat in a majority of states. How did this happen?

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    Nobody fips between federal, state, and local elections. They are separate entities. It is perfectly reasonable to want a smaller federal government, which means state and local governments must grow to assume those responsibilities. Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 12:14
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    TLDR answer: Excess Democrat votes in California have no effect outside of California. Democrats won California by almost 5 million votes, meaning they were MINUS 2 million in the rest of the country.
    – Just Me
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 14:36
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    There seem to be 2 different questions here: 1) Why did "blue states" vote for Republican governors and 2) Why are there more Republican governors despite losing the total popular vote. Please focus on 1 at a time (you can ask 2 separate questions if you're interested in both)
    – divibisan
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 14:37
  • I think the person asked about the total popular vote. Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 14:45
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    Dear Andrew Gillum, Christine Hallquist, et. al...at least you won the popular vote nationally! Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 22:51

3 Answers 3


There would seem to be a pretty obvious answer. States with smaller, more rural and/or suburban populations tend to vote Republican, those with larger, more urban populations tend to vote Democratic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_governors Thus one California or New York electing a Democrat more than outweighs Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, the Dakotas...

Another perhaps unappreciated factor is that partisan voters often aren't the ones who decide elections. It's the nonpartisan voters, who may make their choice based on factors other than party.

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    Exactly. And, just to make the point a bit more explicit, those less-populous states account for a (large) majority of states. Though I might add "and/or suburban" to "rural" in the answer.
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 23:21
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    @reirab: Fair enough. I suppose my personal prejudices are showing, since I tend to consider suburban just part of urban.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 4:57

Project REDMAP and Donald John Trump, with a little help from the population of GOP-controlled states.

Project REDMAP was a Republican strategy towards political dominance by putting the vast majority of their resources towards winning governorships and state legislatures in the run up to 2011. when the redistricting maps would be drawn, allowing themselves to gerrymander these states to perpetuate Republican majorities for the next ten years. They needed both because while the state legislatures could propose the gerrymandering, the governor had veto power to block it.

The election of Donald Trump saw a record 15% of first-time voters that were motivated to go to the polls to support him. While they were there, quite a few voted for other Republicans. A record six governorships were won by members of the GOP in 2016.

Lastly, population density of the states in question. 15 of the 20 lowest-population states are majority GOP or swing states, which means that there are fewer overall votes for anything involving that state.

  • I feel like you're missing a final point here. The question talks about 2018, which this answer is 2016. Is the point that they did so well in 2016 that they retained a majority in 2018 despite getting fewer votes?
    – divibisan
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 19:51
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    I think the author's thing about the population was talking about this. They (the Democrats nationwide) won the gubernatorial popular vote by 3.1 points. That was an increase from 2016's 2.1 points. It is because the states where Republicans won governorships in 2018 are smaller states in the sense of population. Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 22:03
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    In case anyone is wondering what gerrymandering has to do with governorships, this answer is not alleging that they won governorships because of gerrymandering, but that they decided to win governorships so they can commit gerrymandering.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 2:54

Because the national total popular vote means nothing! There is not a single office, election, issue, or anything that is decided by national total popular vote.

Governors are elected by voters in their own state. Same with state legislatures and US congressional representatives for each state. Those voters also elect the designated electors for Electoral College, and that elects the President. So there is no race that tallies base on "national vote".

It is only brought up as an "issue" by media when their chosen candidate is not picked. (have you ever heard of it when a Democrat wins the presidency?)

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    Let me say what happened. Small blue states including Vermont went red, and California was able to override the decision by outvoting those states because it has more citizens and hence more voters. And, it was not one candidate. Think about it. -- I wasn't able to edit it but I reposted it. Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 22:18
  • Technically there is no national popular vote when it comes to making decisions. But, it does exist. You weren't as biased as I thought on the comment. Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 22:21
  • @NumberFile: I would argue that there is not a national vote. To have a national vote, there would need to have consistent processes and procedures, and a consistent rule who are eligible to vote. That, under our Constitution, is reserved by the states to decide and manage. You cannot have felons able to vote in some states, but not others, for example.
    – mharr
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 22:48
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    @NumberFile "But, it does exist." Really? The best thing I could think of is polling... but that's not the same thing as a vote (as elections often show). People sometimes use the presidential vote to 'calculate' a national popular vote... but this is meaningless - because it's not a national popular vote and people vote (or don't vote) accordingly.
    – NPSF3000
    Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 3:19
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    Yes. I only heard of it when a Democrat won the presidency, like Hillary Clinton did. That is because no Democrat in US history EVER lost the popular vote without losing the Electoral College as well. Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 14:54

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