Then there’s the situation in the United States, where increasing ideological polarization has combined with the Constitution’s myriad counter-majoritarian norms and institutions to create a highly volatile situation in which a figure (Donald Trump) who pursues policies outside the former mainstream managed to become president while winning significantly fewer votes than his rival. In one of several potential nightmare scenarios that could unfold over the next 14 months, Trump’s campaign for a second term could culminate with him winning the election while losing the popular vote by an even larger margin than he did the last time — perhaps because of massively lopsided votes in such high population deep-blue states as California and New York.
But arguably even worse could be an outcome in which one of the more left-wing Democrats (Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders or Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren) wins the election by a wide margin while the Republicans hold the Senate, ensuring that the new president’s popular mandate comes to nothing. That would fuel even more strident left-wing agitation down the road — and even more extreme right-wing opposition to it, with the prospect of actual governance going nowhere at all.
In the latter case, the problem, once again, would be less a failure of our institutions to respond to public opinion than an incapacity of the American electorate’s political opinions to cohere into a stable consensus that can be translated into action by elected representatives.