The national popular vote has no determining factor in the national election. It determines the election insofar as the state electors are duty bound (legally, depending on the state) to choose by the popular vote of their constituents inside the state.
Citizens vote for a "ticket" of candidates that includes a candidate for president and a candidate for vice president. The outcome of the vote in each state determines a slate of electors who then, in turn, make the actual choice of president and vice president.
The electoral college ultimately decides the winner, regardless of the final national popular vote count...The media keeps track of the popular vote because people enjoy the horse-race aspect. It has no effective function.
The confusion may stem fromː
- The role of the popular vote the regional versus national
- The conflation of indication and influence(incorrectly construed as the latter)
- The correlation between the outcome of the national popular vote and the electoral college.
- The additional methods in which the DNC and RNC endorses a presidential candidate.
...the candidate who receives the most votes nationwide does not necessarily become president. There is no national election for president, only separate state elections.