The Electoral College Cheer!

by Categorized: Politics Date:

My friend, fellow columnist and blogger Rick Green has posted an appeal for Connecticut to join the National Popular Vote Initiative, doing away with the electoral college in favor of a one-person, one-vote system to elect the president.

Supporters say the plan would eliminate distortions of the sort we’ve seen in recent years, in which battleground states get all the attention and the rest of us only see a presidential candidate when he or she is hunting for cash.

They point to elections in which the popular vote didn’t reflect the electoral college, notably in 2000, when Al Gore beat George W. Bush but lost. (Set aside the fact that only nine people had real votes that year and Bush won, 5-4.)

I didn’t realize until recently this was a serious cause. It’s seriously flawed. All market systems have distortions, and a national popular vote would bring on the mother of all skewed elections: No human outside of a big metro area would ever see a candidate.

Even Hartford wouldn’t make the cut.  The top 40 metro areas, from New York to New Orleans, have about 150 million people. The rest of the 361 U.S. metro areas, including Hartford at 1.2 million people  (No. 45) and Bridgeport-Stamford at 900,000 (No. 55) have a combined 100 million.

Maybe Hartford-New Haven, as a combined market, would get some love — and maybe we’ll get an NBA team, too.

Carson City Nevada, No. 361, with 55,000 souls? Plenty of attention this year, and that’s fair — Nevada is a down-the-middle state where issues matter.

Anyone who howls when a candidate wins the popular vote but loses the election must be assuming the campaigns would have the same strategy if there were no electoral college.  That would be a mistake. Bush could have easily won the popular vote in 2000 by showing up a few times in California.

The broader economic point is this: Swing states can swing over time. And the electoral college forces candidates, and presidents, to pay attention to their base in the reliable red and blue states, as well.  It’s balanced, like the House and Senate balancing big state-small state powers.

There’s nothing preventing states from splitting their electoral votes based on the popular votes in their borders, if they want more attention.

A straight national popular vote? Look at a Census list from, say, 1976. Same top 40 metro areas, more or less. That’s where the power would sit forever. And that’s not good economics.


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4 thoughts on “The Electoral College Cheer!

  1. Jack

    This op-ed is so full of flawed reasoning and vanquished arguments that I don’t know where to start. Is Haar seriously saying that Connecticut will get less attention from presidential candidates than it does now? During the 2012 campaign, there were only three (3! out of 526 campaign stops since June 2012!) visits to CT by candidates: Obama, Obama, and Biden. They were all for private fundraisers.

    Haar doesn’t seem to care about people, either. I’m serious: while seeming to complain that presidential candidates will ignore CT’s metropolitan areas, he then says that it’s “fair” that podunk Carson City, NV is lavished with attention while CT is ignored. Why is this, according to Haar? Because Nevada is a “down-the-middle state.” And with the electoral college system, that’s all that matters. What about down-the-middle counties, like Litchfield, which went blue in 2008? What about down-the-middle cities and towns and down-the-middle people? With the national popular vote, that’s what candidates will have to pay attention to — we the people, not we the states.

    Haar also seems to be under the impression that visits = votes — if Bush visited California, thousands more Californians would have voted for him and given him the popular vote! If this were true, Mitt Romney would have won Ohio, having visited 47 times to Obama’s 26. But anyone who has spent any amount of time on a campaign could tell you that that’s not how it works. While it may shock the high-minded independents, only a small percentage of voters are actually in play — between 3% and 5%. (Most of these are scattered across far-flung suburbs and rural areas; so much for candidates only visiting big cities.) Most people know who they’re going to vote for, especially the type of person who shows up at a campaign stop.

    The idea that swing states can change over time should be little consolation, especially to CT voters and even more especially to CT Republicans; it’s no exaggeration to say that most of us will die before CT flips party alignment, and hell will freeze over before CT becomes majority ideologically conservative. The electoral college is a system in which the residents of places like Carson City will continue to be lavished with attention at the expense of CT residents from Windsor to Washington.

    If you don’t have time to read this, watch this quick video on the electoral college’s problems:

  2. mvymvy

    A survey of Connecticut voters showed 74% overall support for the idea that the President should be the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states. Voters were asked:
    “How do you think we should elect the President: Should it be the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states, or the current Electoral College system?”
    Support for a national popular vote, by political affiliation, was 80% among Democrats, 67% among Republicans, and 71% among others.
    By gender, support was 81% among women and 66% among men.
    By age, support was 82% among 18-29 year olds, 69% among 30-45 year olds, 75% among 46-65 year olds, and 72% for those older than 65.

    The current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state, ensures that the candidates, after the conventions, in 2012 did not reach out to about 80% of the states and their voters. Candidates had no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they were safely ahead or hopelessly behind.

    80% of the states and people were just spectators to the presidential elections. That’s more than 85 million voters, 200 million Americans.

    During the course of campaigns, candidates are educated and campaign about the local, regional, and state issues most important to the handful of battleground states they need to win. They take this knowledge and prioritization with them once they are elected. Candidates need to be educated and care about all of our states.

    Policies important to the citizens of non-battleground states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

    Since World War II, a shift of a few thousand votes in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 14 presidential elections

    The National Popular Vote bill preserves the Electoral College and state control of elections. It changes the way electoral votes are awarded in the Electoral College.

    Under National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would be included in the state counts and national count. The candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC would get the 270+ electoral votes from the enacting states. That majority of electoral votes guarantees the candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC wins the presidency.

    States have the responsibility and power to make all of their voters relevant in every presidential election and beyond.

    In 1960, presidential campaigns paid attention to 35 states.
    In 2008, Obama only campaigned in 14 states after being nominated.
    In 2012, the presidential campaigns only cared about 9 swing states.

    The number and population of battleground states is shrinking.

    States’ partisanship is hardening.

    Some states have not been been competitive for than a half-century and most states now have a degree of partisan imbalance that makes them highly unlikely to be in a swing state position.
    • 41 States Won by Same Party, 2000-2008
    • 32 States Won by Same Party, 1992-2008
    • 13 States Won Only by Republican Party, 1980-2008
    • 19 States Won Only by Democratic Party, 1992-2008
    • 9 Democratic States Not Swing State since 1988
    • 15 GOP States Not Swing State since 1988

  3. mvymvy

    The main media at the moment, TV, costs much more per impression in big cities than in smaller towns and rural area. Candidates get more bang for the buck in smaller towns and rural areas.

    With National Popular Vote, big cities would not get all of candidates’ attention, much less control the outcome.
    The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities (going as far down as Arlington, TX) is only 15% of the population of the United States.

    Suburbs and exurbs often vote Republican.

    If big cities controlled the outcome of elections, the governors and U.S. Senators would be Democratic in virtually every state with a significant city.

    A nationwide presidential campaign, with every vote equal, would be run the way presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as Ohio and Florida, under the state-by-state winner-take-all methods. The big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami do not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida.

    The itineraries of presidential candidates in battleground states (and their allocation of other campaign resources in battleground states) reflect the political reality that every gubernatorial or senatorial candidate knows. When and where every vote is equal, a campaign must be run everywhere.

    With National Popular Vote, when every vote is equal, everywhere, it makes sense for presidential candidates to try and elevate their votes where they are and aren’t so well liked. But, under the state-by-state winner-take-all laws, it makes no sense for a Democrat to try and do that in Vermont or Wyoming, or for a Republican to try it in Wyoming or Vermont.

    Even in California state-wide elections, candidates for governor or U.S. Senate don’t campaign just in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and those places don’t control the outcome (otherwise California wouldn’t have recently had Republican governors Reagan, Dukemejian, Wilson, and Schwarzenegger). A vote in rural Alpine county is just an important as a vote in Los Angeles. If Los Angeles cannot control statewide elections in California, it can hardly control a nationwide election.

    In fact, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland together cannot control a statewide election in California.

    Similarly, Republicans dominate Texas politics without carrying big cities such as Dallas and Houston.

    There are numerous other examples of Republicans who won races for governor and U.S. Senator in other states that have big cities (e.g., New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts) without ever carrying the big cities of their respective states.

    With a national popular vote, every vote everywhere will be equally important politically. There will be nothing special about a vote cast in a big city or big state. When every vote is equal, candidates of both parties will seek out voters in small, medium, and large towns throughout the states in order to win. A vote cast in a big city or state will be equal to a vote cast in a small state, town, or rural area.

    Candidates would need to build a winning coalition across demographics. Any candidate who ignored, for example, the 16% of Americans who live in rural areas in favor of a “big city” approach would not likely win the national popular vote. Candidates would have to appeal to a broad range of demographics, and perhaps even more so, because the election wouldn’t be capable of coming down to just one demographic, such as waitress mom voters in Ohio.

    With National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Wining states would not be the goal. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in the current handful of swing states.

  4. mvymvy

    An analysis by FairVote of the whole number proportional plan and congressional district systems of awarding electoral votes, evaluated the systems “on the basis of whether they promote majority rule, make elections more nationally competitive, reduce incentives for partisan machinations, and make all votes count equally. . . .

    Awarding electoral votes by a proportional or congressional district [used by Maine and Nebraska] method fails to promote majority rule, greater competitiveness or voter equality. Pursued at a state level, both reforms dramatically increase incentives for partisan machinations. If done nationally, the congressional district system has a sharp partisan tilt toward the Republican Party, while the whole number proportional system sharply increases the odds of no candidate getting the majority of electoral votes needed, leading to the selection of the president by the U.S. House of Representatives.

    For states seeking to exercise their responsibility under the U.S. Constitution to choose a method of allocating electoral votes that best serves their state’s interest and that of the national interest, both alternatives fall far short of the National Popular Vote plan . . .”

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