The argument is that the United States should do away with the Electoral College and award the Presidency to the winner of the popular vote. The argument suggests that it fairly puts every state in play. Yes, but to conclude that Hillary Clinton would be the next U.S. President is an incredible leap of faith.
The conduct of both candidates and their strategies would change with every state in play.
The key to understanding this is the success of the Trump campaign in incrementally improving his vote (compared to Republican candidate Romney in 2012) in the battleground states, and more importantly, suppressing the Clinton Democratic vote compared to Obama of 2012.
Divide the states into four categories:
- Democratic states -New York, California, Massachusetts, Oregon, etc.
- Republican states - Mississippi, Kansas, Texas, Idaho
- Swing states Clinton needed for a big win, mostly southern states -, North Carolina, Florida
- Swing states Clinton needed to win, mostly northern states - Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania
When we compare the votes both in terms of years (2012 and 2016) and how they split (Democrat and Republican) it becomes clear that wherever Trump campaigned, he marginally improved over Romney and significantly suppressed the Democratic vote, resulting in a much weaker performance for Clinton compared to Obama in 2012.
What this means is this: if the candidates had to appear with regularity from coast to coast, Trump, not Clinton, would have done better in the popular vote. Clinton's large pluralities in California and New York would have been suppressed as they were in North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida, and to a larger degree in Wisconsin and Michigan.
Clinton vote in bold
Wisconsin: Trump campaigned modestly and matched the Romney vote. The Clinton vote failed from the combination of her absence and the strong Trump suppression effort. Clinton does her best in areas where Bernie Sanders prevailed in the primary.
Michigan and Pennsylvania: Strong Trump effort, modest Clinton effort results in falling behind Obama by 300,000 in Michigan and 150,000 in Pennsylvania votes; Trump exceeding Romney vote by 160,000 in Michigan, 220,000 in Pennsylvania votes. Clinton loses Michigan by 12,000 votes, Pennsylvania by 56,000.
California: Neither candidate campaigns, Clinton avoids Trump suppression effort and adds 167,000 votes to Obama totals; in the meantime Trump lags behind Romney by 630,000 votes. The point being, a competitive race in California would have significantly cut into the Clinton popular vote and increased the Trump vote.
New York: both candidates were well known and given the 'local' news coverage, played a little but more like a swing state. Democratic (Clinton) vote deceases over 2012, Republican (Trump) increases.
In most states where the vote total increased over 2012, Trump won. In states that Clinton won and the vote total increased, it was modest.
An election based on winning the popular vote provides a very different campaign and a very different popular vote. In 2016, the more the candidates campaign, the closer the popular vote by driving down the Clinton vote significantly and modestly increasing the Trump vote.
It appears where the Clinton vote was not suppressed, it was impacted by the presence of a stronger Democratic U.S. Senate race.
Bonus answer: Clinton focuses on Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, and ignores Florida and North Carolina she probably wins the popular vote AND the electoral college.
Double bonus answer:
Being a candidate who relates to working Americans of all races and genders also helps the Democrat.