Did Clinton win more votes than any white man in history?

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton steps down a staircase after making a concession speech.Image source, Getty Images
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Mrs Clinton has won more votes than any other white US presidential candidate in history

As mail-in and absentee voter ballots continue to trickle in and the country braces for President-elect Donald Trump to step into power, Hillary Clinton quietly marked a milestone.

The latest election totals showed that Mrs Clinton, who lost to outsider Mr Trump last month, has received more votes than Mr Obama did in his 2012 victory, according to data from the National Archives and a running total by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

She has overtaken Mr Trump by nearly 2.8 million votes (48% to Mr Trump's 46%).

Mrs Clinton's lead is the largest of the five times when a US presidential candidate won the popular vote but failed to win the election.

In fact, aside from Mr Obama's 2008 win, Mrs Clinton has received more votes than any other US presidential candidate in history.

Yes, but the US has more voters, right?

The US has seen a dramatic rise in population over the last century, which would partly explain why Mrs Clinton received more votes than previous candidates.

This year the US had 200 million registered voters for the first time in history.

So the proportion of Clinton votes might be more illuminating than simply how many votes she earned.

Her popular vote margin of 2.5 million falls short of the 3 million votes of George W Bush victory over John Kerry in 2004.

And it's a long way behind the 18% margin of victory Ronald Reagan earned in 1984.

But these were both winning margins.

The last time a candidate won the popular vote but lost the election was in 2000, when President Bush received 500,000 fewer votes than Al Gore and still took the White House.

So, allowing for population growth, how does Clinton's total compare?

The 2004 election had a higher turnout than the 2016 election by about 1.7% of the voting age population, Stanford University political scientist David Brady points out.

If the 2016 election had the same percentage of voting age population, about 2 million more voters would have gone to the polls.

Does it matter?

Mr Trump is well over the 270 Electoral College threshold with his insurmountable lead of 306 votes to Mrs Clinton's 232, which means former Green Party nominee Jill Stein's recount campaign in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania is unlikely to change the electoral math.

Mr Brady likens it to the 1960 World Series, when the New York Yankees scored 55 runs while the Pittsburgh Pirates earned only 24 runs. But the Pirates still won the series 4-3.

"She loses the World Series because she didn't win the right amount of states," he said.

The disproportionate effect of her vote is focused in Democratic-dependent states like California, New York, Illinois and Massachusetts, said Bill Whalen, a senior research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institute.

"It reflects where the population shift is in America and that the population has become very coastal," Mr Whalen said.

But though metric of the popular vote does not change the outcome, it undercuts the argument that Mrs Clinton failed to mobilise Democrats, giving her supporters some sense of vindication.

In fact, Mr Trump's margin of victory in some key swing states was smaller than the number of votes Ms Stein, a third party candidate, received in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania - three states that helped hand him the presidency.

However, Mr Brady's analysis of voter data in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin as well as Minnesota, found that districts in which Mrs Clinton won by more than 70% showed that though the population had increased, turnout was down.

Conversely, the districts that Mr Trump carried in those states by more than 70% showed that population had declined, but turnout had increased, signaling Mrs Clinton was unable to energise voters in those key states the way her Democratic predecessor did in 2008 and 2012.

Does Trump have a mandate?

Mrs Clinton's popular vote win has left a bitter taste in the mouths of some Democrats, who contend Mr Trump is ignoring her support and governing with a mandate he does not have.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence and former Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, Mr Trump's chief of staff, have boasted about Mr Trump's "landslide" victory.

"Trump can't claim a mandate in the purist sense," Mr Whalen contended, noting that President Obama did not claim a mandate in 2008 despite taking the popular vote as well as 365 electoral votes.

He can, however, claim a mandate in an intellectual and emotional sense, according to Mr Whalen, noting that the narrative of people rejecting the political system and the status quo was reflected in Mr Trump's candidacy.

Despite that political narrative, a plurality of Americans still cast their vote for Mrs Clinton.

"The problem with winning the popular vote is it just adds to the already hard feelings about this election," Mr Whalen said.

Reporting by Courtney Subramanian