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Love the Tracking? Hate the College

If, as I am sure is the case for many, one has found oneself excited about the recent narrowing of the gap in the daily tracking polls (or, for that matter, if one spends a lot of time looking at such numbers in an obsessive political junkie kind of way*) I would submit that now is a good time to re-evaluate one’s position on the electoral college (assuming that one even has a position on said institution).

This is not, by the way, a simple “you do know that the popular vote doesn’t elect the president, don’t you?” kind of post (although there is a little of that at the end).  No, this is a “consider how differently the campaign would run if we actually elected the president via the popular vote” post.

In the wake of the debate last, we have seen a substantial narrowing of the national head-to-head tracking polls (to the point, and to my amusement, that friends on Facebook who had been questioning the polls when Romney was down are now posting links to polls in their timelines).  The RCP average as of this morning is Obama +0.5 with Romney ahead +4 in the Pew poll (the same poll that had Obama up +8 a few weeks ago).

Consider if that gap, an average of half a percent, was the number that directly mattered to the electoral outcome.    The candidates would be in a position to have to get every vote necessary, including even paying attention to those enclaves of voters that they can currently take for granted (turnout and enthusiasm matters if every vote counts).   In a system in which the popular vote mattered, candidates would need to pay heed to voters in places like Los Angeles and Houston, not to mention even Birmingham and Lexington.  However, the doubling-down at the moment is going to be in swing states and swing states alone.  The only reason to pay attention to the settled states is to fund raise.

So, going forward, the campaigns will continue to do what they have been doing:  focusing on a handful of states.  The turnout in Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, to name three sates, is far more important than the turnout in California, New York, and Texas.  The former states are in play, the latter are not and, therefore, the candidates are targeting and campaigning to the citizens in the first set of states, and not the second.

Why we want a system that encourages, indeed requires in a practical sense, to ignore huge swath of the population is beyond me.

Now, as I recall from people who know more about polling than do I, state-level polls tend to lag changes at the national level.  As such, shifts in the tracking polls do not show up in the state level polling at the same time.  So, if there is a permanent shift in the national numbers, we should not expect to see these immediately reflected at the state level.

Having said all of the above, the basics of this contest appear to me to remain roughly the same place it has been for months:  with Governor Romney facing some very daunting electoral math.  The following is from Real Clear Politics:

image

Consider that if this is accurate, Obama needs to find only 19 of the 106 toss-up electoral votes (i.e., 17.8% of the take) while Romney needs  89 (84.0%).   This means if, starting with the base of 251, Obama only needs one of the following combinations (and I am not giving all of them):  Florida alone, Ohio+any other state, Virginia+Iowa, Virginia+NV, VA+CO, or several others.  Romney, on the other hand, has to almost sweep the swing states.  Is this possible?  Sure, but the probabilities don’t look all that great at the moment.

According to the RCP averages, Obamas leads in almost all of the swing states (of the gray states on the map, Romney only leads in North Carolina (+ 0.8) and Missouri (+5.2) and Florida is currently a tie.

Taking just one scenario:  Obama has a +3.2 average lead in Iowa (6 evs) and a +3.0 lead in Ohio (18 evs).  Take the 251 base +6 +18 and one gets  275, and we are done.

Wouldn’t it be better if the candidates had to fight for every vote (as is the case in every other country with elected presidents)?   As it stands, the election is currently outsourced to swing-state voters and hinges heavily on who turns out to vote in those states.

I will conclude by pointing out, as I often do in these discussions, that the electoral college does not function, at all, the way that the Framers thought that it would (so if one’s fidelity to the institution is based in one’s high esteem for the Framers, then one needs another reason for one’s position).  See my post:  Looking to the Design of the Electoral College.

*Not that I have any direct experience with such.

Related Posts:

About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Mikey says:

    Interesting post. Isn’t it true, though, that the principles underlying a federalist system are better-served with the Electoral College, which means the candidates must win states rather than just the majority of the vote?

    It seems to me eliminating the Electoral College would be just another step toward making the individual states little more than administrative divisions of the federal government.

    On the other hand, I agree with you that it’s not a good thing for so few states to actually be “in play,” and it would be preferable if the candidates did need to fight for every vote.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. @Mikey:

    . Isn’t it true, though, that the principles underlying a federalist system are better-served with the Electoral College, which means the candidates must win states rather than just the majority of the vote

    Actually, I would argue no. The president is a national office. There is no particular reason to weigh the vote based on states. The institution that is needed for federalism to function is the bicameral legislature with some specific representation in one chamber.

    We have to remember that the Framers thought that the electoral college would be a temporary deliberative body that would likely be unable to reach a majority vote and that the House would regularly choose the president.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  3. Also, in re: federalism. the other three cases of federal and presidential systems are Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. The first two elect their presidents via a majority run-off system (winner must get 50%+1) and the third does it via plurality (i.e., most votes wins).

    Canada and Germany, both federal (and Canada gives its provinces more autonomy in some was than the US does its states) have parliamentary systems (i,.e., a PM not a president).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. Tsar Nicholas says:

    A national popular vote would be the greatest thing since sliced bread, right up until the moment (e.g., a 1960 redux) at which we’d go through the flaming toxic disaster of a train wreck of a 50-state recount. Think about it. Take Florida 2000, or Ohio 2004, or Ohio 1976, or Illinois and Texas 1960, and then multiply by 50! Yikes.

    The other screaming elephant in the room is what happens if Obama loses the popular vote but ekes out a win in the Electoral College? We don’t need a divining rod. In a shift nearly as predictable as high poverty rates and low student test scores in big liberal cities the left instantly and irrevocably (at least until the next election cycle, depending upon the prospects) will fall madly in love with the Electoral College. C’est la vie.

    Separately, how can we discuss national election reforms without discussing the largest elephant in the room: the minimum voting age for federal elections is waaaaay too low. That Sparky von Space Cadet, living at home with his parents, never having worked a day in his life, has a say in who holds the presidency, not only is surreal its downright absurd. Hopefully that mistake won’t be the death of us.

    That all said, I like the Electoral College, in that it forces candidates actually to win major states to win the election, but I don’t mind the idea of a national popular vote. Although it’s always dangerous to give Zombieland too much power (Hamilton was right, Jefferson was wrong) the other side of that coin is that Zombieland, like juries in large part, with its combined levels of life’s experiences, usually makes the right call. Not always, of course. But most of the time they pick the right guy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 11

  5. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    I don’t agree with your map; I’ve heard New Hampshire is in play. So let’s use NH as an example.

    NH has 4 electoral votes, and 1.3 million people. That means that 0.23% of the people hold 0.74% of the electoral sway.

    Iowa makes a similar point — 6 votes, 3 million people. 0.9% people, 1.1% of the votes.

    And then there’s California. 12.5% of the people, 10% of the votes.

    The effect of the college is to dilute the power of high-population areas and increase the clout of lesser-populated areas.

    A pure popular vote would force candidates to campaign only in high-population areas, and totally ignore the rurals. The College isn’t a perfect system, but it gives the rurals — at least some of them — at least a chance of having some sway.

    The EC system isn’t perfect, but it’s preferable to a pure popular vote.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5

  6. @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I don’t agree with your map; I’ve heard New Hampshire is in play. So let’s use NH as an example.

    It’s not “my” map: it is from RCP based on the polling.

    And, as I keep noting, one should not base one’s analysis on what one “hears” but, rather, on actual information.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  7. @Jenos Idanian #13:

    The effect of the college is to dilute the power of high-population areas and increase the clout of lesser-populated areas.

    True.

    And there is not justification for it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  8. @Steven L. Taylor:

    A pure popular vote would force candidates to campaign only in high-population areas, and totally ignore the rurals

    Because, of course, candidates spend all their time in the countryside now?

    Beyond that: why should one voter count more than another?

    Each vote should be of equal consequence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  9. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “Your” map, as in the one you cited. That’s why I also mentioned Iowa, the state that it says is the smallest (in population) that’s a tossup. It still makes my point, just not as dramatically.

    Let’s go even further. 5 states have 3 votes — that’s about 0.55% of the total votes. But as percentages of the population? They each have between 0.18% to 0.3% of the total.

    I see it like Congress. The House is purely population-based, the Senate by state. The Senate protects the smaller states from being steamrolled. Likewise, the EC gives the rural areas a chance to have a bit more say.

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  10. Vast Variety says:

    Well at least without the electorical colledge Iowa wouldn’t ever have to worry about getting a visit from a Presidential canidate ever again.

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  11. Geek, Esq. says:

    Let’s see where Obama’s swing state numbers are at the end of this week. Romney’s been within the margin of error in PENNSYLVANIA in all October polling. That state could be slipping away.

    And, Obama’s lead in Ohio was very soft–it was based on the cartoon version of Mitt Romney they tried to put out there. The debate erased all of those efforts, and elevated Romney over Obama in terms of who looked like they were ready to handle the job.

    The fundamentals of the race should favor Obama, but in a rather shocking turn of events Romney has now emerged as the superior candidate with the better sales pitch of where he wants to take the country. Obama is offering “I’m not perfect” combined with promises to fight while simultaneously refusing to fight.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  12. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Because, of course, candidates spend all their time in the countryside now?

    Now that’s just a stupid misrepresentation of what I said, and beneath you. I expect wr to spin “they shouldn’t spend all their time in the cities” into “they should spend no time in the cities,” not you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  13. Vast Variety says:

    Also doing away with the electorical colledge would give Democrats a serious advantage since most large population centers tend to vote democratic. Calfornia is a good example. LA, SF, and the the coastal cities all run heavily democatric while the rural areas are GOP centric. Please remind me again when was the last time California went red?

    New York is another state where a geograpichly small but highly populated area, New York City, constanlty out wieghs the larger but less populated rural areas of the state.

    Even here in Iowa, large areas of the start are generrally GOP centric but the population centers of Des Moines, Iowa City, and Davanport almost always decide where the state lies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: And there is not justification for it.

    Protection of the minority from tyranny of the majority.

    It’s kind of a big thing in US history.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I haven’t really thought through why I think this is so, but I am uneasy over the idea of abandoning the EC within a Presidential system. I think that maybe it is because I think that given the size to which our country has grown, a Parliamentary system would provide greater accountability to local electorates than a Presidential one, and it feels like the EC helps to counter that. But I’m not sure if that’s it, either. Hmm.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Now that’s just a stupid misrepresentation of what I said,

    No, it isn’t.

    The argument you are making is that somehow, at the moment, presidential candidates pay more attention to rural voters than they otherwise would. I submit that this is not the case. There is nothing about the current structure that lends itself to attention to rural voters. Rather, it is a system that encourages attention to swing state voters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  17. Mikey says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: @Steven L. Taylor:

    We have to remember that the Framers thought that the electoral college would be a temporary deliberative body that would likely be unable to reach a majority vote and that the House would regularly choose the president.

    Yes, I had forgotten about that.

    I find your argument that the Electoral College is not working as the Framers intended persuasive. Do you think that’s due in large part to the rise of the de facto two-party system we have today, which the Framers also did not anticipate?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I see it like Congress. The House is purely population-based, the Senate by state. The Senate protects the smaller states from being steamrolled. Likewise, the EC gives the rural areas a chance to have a bit more say.

    This is an assertion, not an argument.

    Yo have to explain why two voters should be treated differently because of their place of residence in voting for the president, our only national office.

    You also have to come to grips with the fact that the EC does not work as designed. You are creating an ex post facto argument for the system (although, in fairness, that is what almost everyone does).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  19. @Vast Variety:

    Also doing away with the electorical colledge would give Democrats a serious advantage since most large population centers tend to vote democratic

    So, you are saying that a popular vote would be more reflect of popular opinion?

    Think about what you are saying here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  20. @Mikey:

    I find your argument that the Electoral College is not working as the Framers intended persuasive. Do you think that’s due in large part to the rise of the de facto two-party system we have today, which the Framers also did not anticipate?

    The emergence of party politics is very much part of the equation.

    Another part is simply that we went first in terms of an elected head of state and didn’t have any models to use. The Framers did not understand, or fully conceive of, mass democracy (partially because they in the process of inventing it).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. Mikey says:

    @Vast Variety:

    Also doing away with the electorical colledge would give Democrats a serious advantage since most large population centers tend to vote democratic. Calfornia is a good example. LA, SF, and the the coastal cities all run heavily democatric while the rural areas are GOP centric. Please remind me again when was the last time California went red?

    That’s one way to look at it. On the other hand, your concluding question would suggest that the way things are today, California’s Republican votes count far less than they would it the President were elected by the direct popular vote. Republican voters in California could basically vote for anyone, write in Donald Duck, leave the “For President” spot blank, whatever…because the state will go to the Democrat no matter what.

    If we changed to a direct popular vote system, a Republican vote in California would count the same as one in Texas, and a Democrat vote in Texas the same as one in California. As it stands now, neither of those votes will make a scintilla of difference.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. @Gromitt Gunn:

    I haven’t really thought through why I think this is so, but I am uneasy over the idea of abandoning the EC within a Presidential system.

    I am going to say, and I do not mean this in a disrespectful way at all (because I used to have the same feeling): I think this is grounded in the fact that we are all socialized to think that the Framers were demi-gods and the constitution as near to perfect as is possible. As a result, we have tendency to assume that its idiosyncrasies are actually the stuff of genius that we just don’t understand and therefore find a way to make ex post facto justifications.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. As with anything requiring a Constitutional Amendment, the odds of fundamental change in the manner in which a President is elected strike me as standing as somewhere between slim and none or the foreseeable future.

    I also have to wonder how important this issue is to voters. Polls frequently tell us that voters don’t necessarily like the Electoral College, but there’s never been a serious effort to change the system. Not even after the 2000 Election, the point at which I would have thought popular sentiment against the EC would have been at its highest. If the 2000 Election didn’t create the momentum necessary to get this done, I have to wonder what would.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  24. Geek, Esq. says:

    There’s currently a mismatch between the electoral college and federal spending.

    As someone from a Northeastern liberal state whose federal tax dollars go to places like Mississippi, I think if we’re going to take this state sovereignty seriously in elections, we should also make sure that one sovereign state isn’t subsidizing another (e.g. New York subsidizing Misssissippi).

    Maybe a constitutional amendment–the Fiscal College. Should play well with both the Democratic base in urban centers and the Republican base in rural America.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. @Mikey:

    If we changed to a direct popular vote system, a Republican vote in California would count the same as one in Texas, and a Democrat vote in Texas the same as one in California. As it stands now, neither of those votes will make a scintilla of difference.

    Exactly. And it seems to me that to win an argument in favor of the EC, one has to explain why this should not be the case. People don’t make that argument, however, they make the “what about the rural voters?” argument instead, which really does not hold water.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. @Doug Mataconis:

    As with anything requiring a Constitutional Amendment, the odds of fundamental change in the manner in which a President is elected strike me as standing as somewhere between slim and none or the foreseeable future.

    Yes, but that is a different argument than saying whether it is a good idea or not.

    Further, in my own small way I am attempting to change these views, even if only in my very small corner of the universe.

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  27. Vast Variety says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’m saying that I don’t want a one party nation which is what we would end up having with out the EC.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. Mikey says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    People don’t make that argument, however, they make the “what about the rural voters?” argument instead, which really does not hold water.

    It seems like they are doing a kind of transferring of the rationale for how Congress was set up to balance the influence of the populous and rural states. There’s an unspoken assumption that because Congress was set up that way, the EC must have been as well (in fact I made that assumption myself earlier). But that’s not necessarily true, and if it’s not, then there’s no reason to maintain the EC because of it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. @Vast Variety: You are saying you don’t want an electoral system that would reflect public preferences.

    That, to me, is an unvarnished indictment of the electoral college in its defense: that it functions as a means of inflating the role of a minority.

    (BTW, what would really happen is not a one party state, but two parties that actually had to compete for all the votes.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. @Mikey: The EC was, as were a lot of things, part of a political bargain made by politicians.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. Vast Variety says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: It also goes well with the saying “A person is smart, people are dumb”. Public opinion can be wrong. The majority can be wrong. If you don’t think so I’d like to point out the vote on Prop 8 in California. Without the EC the big urban population centers will always decide the election. At that point us rural voters might as well not exist. We would be the epitome of Romney’s 47%. Without the EC a vote in Iowa wouldn’t have the same value as one from LA or NYC. You could have all 3 million Iowa’s people vote for Romeny and it wouldn’t matter becuase the 8 million people voting in NYC would always out vote us. Over time the nation would cease to be representative of the melting pot of values that it’s supposed to be.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. rodney dill says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    As with anything requiring a Constitutional Amendment, the odds of fundamental change in the manner in which a President is elected strike me as standing as somewhere between slim and none or the foreseeable future.

    I thought there was a way to get there without a constitutional amendment, if states totalling 270 or more electoral votes agreed to allocate their electoral votes based on the national popular vote, then you would be there as well. I’m not sure that that will be any easier to achieve.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. Jen says:

    We have to remember that the Framers thought that the electoral college would be a temporary deliberative body that would likely be unable to reach a majority vote and that the House would regularly choose the president.

    I was a poli sci major, and this is not ringing a bell…can you point to a document that shows the founders outlining this? I honestly would like to refresh my memory.

    Also: by moving to a popular vote rather than electoral college, it isn’t just ignoring the rural votes that is an issue–it is ignoring the interests of states that are predominantly rural. Urban and rural areas have very different interests. The electoral college, while not perfect, does have the effect of balancing the interests of the two. I honestly believe that eliminating the electoral college would end up causing more problems than it would solve.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. Vast Variety says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: No what would end up with is the same thing you see in New York State. The city dominating the state. The GOP as a party would not survive without the EC.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  35. Rodney,

    Ah yes, the National Popular Vote movement. Its advocates have yet to explain to me how they get around the requirement in Article I, Section 10, Clause 3 that bars a state from entering into any interstate compact without approval from Congress.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. @Vast Variety:

    Public opinion can be wrong

    First question: by what standard? You seem to be saying that because the result you do not like might take place that public opinion is wrong.

    Second question: how are you fixing the public opinion problem that you have identified by empowering one segment of the public over the other?

    Without the EC the big urban population centers will always decide the election.

    No, the majority of the voters will decide the election and yes, many voters live in big cities,

    But all votes would count the same. You have to explain to me why all votes shouldn’t count the same. This is the fundamental issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. SKI says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Likewise, the EC gives the rural areas a chance to have a bit more say.

    Why is that a good thing? Why should we prefer rural area to non-rural ones?

    @Doug Mataconis:

    As with anything requiring a Constitutional Amendment, the odds of fundamental change in the manner in which a President is elected strike me as standing as somewhere between slim and none or the foreseeable future.

    Except that this may not require a Constitutional Amendment to effectuate in practice. National Popular Vote bills have been enacted in 9 states representing 132 electoral votes. If a few more big states with 138 electoral votes between them also pass such a bill (and none of them repeals it), we move to a national popular vote system immediately. From there, with it already being in place for a cycle or two, a Constitutional Amendment to formalize then-existing practice may not be such a major stretch.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  38. @Vast Variety:

    The GOP as a party would not survive without the EC.

    The GOP would have to adapt.

    Watching the GOP of late I am thinking this would be a good thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  39. Andre Kenji says:

    @Vast Variety:

    Also doing away with the electorical colledge would give Democrats a serious advantage since most large population centers tend to vote democratic. Calfornia is a good example. LA, SF, and the the coastal cities all run heavily democatric while the rural areas are GOP centric.

    Well, it´s something difficult to say. I think that in a Popular Vote Scenario the most plausible solution would be that both parties would try to increase turnout among their established bases(The Republican Party would be more dominated by Evangelicals and the Democratic Party would be more dominated by the MSNBC crowd) and that candidates would spend all their time only in California and in the Norteastern Corridor.

    But I´m not a fan of the popular vote in large countries like the US because I think that the Popular vote gives too much power to the major cities in the larger states here in Brazil. I live less than 35 miles from São Paulo, but I only see presidential campaigns when I go to the city of São Paulo.

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  40. @Andre Kenji:

    the Popular vote gives too much power to the major cities in the larger states

    The problem with this formulation is that cities and states don’t have power. Voters have power. More voters live in large population states and cities.

    The focus ought to be on individuals.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  41. @Jen:

    I was a poli sci major, and this is not ringing a bell…can you point to a document that shows the founders outlining this?

    Honestly, this is because it often isn’t taught. We all, even those nefarious liberal professors out there (/sarcasm, I would note) usually venerate the Framers and engage in ex post justification of our institutions, especially those who exclusively studied American politics.

    I would point to my post linked above: click.

    I would also note Hamilton’s description of the EC in Fed 68:

    t was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.

    I would note: the EC never functioned like this.

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  42. Geek, Esq. says:

    @Vast Variety:

    Without the EC the big urban population centers will always decide the election. At that point us rural voters might as well not exist.

    Right now, it’s urban centers that Presidential elections ignore. Urban poverty, urban infrastructure, all things urban get ignored in Presidential races. Democrats because they’re able to take our votes for granted, and Republicans because they have an inherently anti-urban ideology to begin with.

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  43. rodney dill says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I certainly don’t know all the specifics, but it did/does seem to be a way to skirt having a constitutional amendment. Is Congress against this then? Conceiveably it should be easier for the states to get Congress approval for the National Popular Vote movement than to get a constitution change.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  44. Geek, Esq. says:

    @Vast Variety:

    Which is why Republicans have held the state Senate for the better part of two decades, with one very tenuous two-year break.

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  45. Latino_in_Boston says:

    Random tidbit on this issue.

    The only country that I know of which included an Electoral College in their design–Argentina–dropped it after a few decades.

    You know why? Because even the Argentines realize what a terrible design it is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  46. @Latino_in_Boston: Yup, ’tis true.

    The Fins used to use it as well (and for a weaker president in a semi-presidential system).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  47. @rodney dill:

    I would think you’ll find that Congressmen and Senators from smaller states are likely to oppose this.

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  48. @SKI:

    As I already noted in a comment to Rodney, the NPV is likely unconstitutional unless such a pact were approved by Congress

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  49. @Doug Mataconis: Except that states like Vermont and Hawaii have passed the idea into law and it has made it through both house of the RI legislature.

    It has passed one house in Montana and Alaska, for that matter.

    http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/map.php

    I am not sanguine about the process, but I think that the notion that small states are automatically opposed is incorrect.

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  50. Just Dropping By says:

    Why would the interstate compact be unconstitutional, Doug? Does the constitution not say that a state can give their electoral college votes to whoever they want to? They can do what Nebraska does, or what Maine does, dividing it by congressional districts. Why not do by national popular vote?

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  51. @Doug Mataconis:

    As I already noted in a comment to Rodney, the NPV is likely unconstitutional unless such a pact were approved by Congress

    Two thoughts:

    1. To enact an NPV-like strucutre, the states don’t actually have to have a formal interstate compact, since the constitution explicitly gives the states to power to determine ev allocation.

    2. If enough state legislatures passed the NPV compact, I think that would put significant pressure on Congress.

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  52. Just Dropping By,

    Article I, Section 10, Clause 3 makes any interstate compact unconstitutional unless it is approved by Congress

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  53. Steven,

    Given Vermont’s politics, that’s not surprising. And it would require universal opposition from smaller states, just sufficient opposition. This is an issue that comes up once every four years and then gets ignored, I really don’t see it going anywhere.

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  54. Jen says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Thank you–will read give it some thought. I’ll admit I remain positively predisposed to the EC, not because of some strange Founding Father worship, but because I like the certainty of outcome it usually provides (Florida debacle in 2000, notwithstanding).

    Our population is so polarized already. I can only think that several close elections where there is only the popular vote would make it more divided. I also think it would make the current practically non-existent “problem” of voter fraud more attractive. As a Northeasterner, I also would be concerned that the shift of attention would go South (literally and figuratively).

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  55. @Jen:

    I can only think that several close elections where there is only the popular vote would make it more divided.

    I would argue that if we elected via popular vote it would incentivize the candidates to work harder for those median voters. They would have to compete for the moderates across the country, rather than trying real hard to win Florida and Ohio.

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  56. @Jen:

    I like the certainty of outcome it usually provides

    Also: I would suggest that if you look comparatively, you will find the popuar vote systems, especially those that require a majority winner (which is what I would propose) do a very good job of producing clear outcomes.

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  57. Barry says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “The other screaming elephant in the room is what happens if Obama loses the popular vote but ekes out a win in the Electoral College? We don’t need a divining rod. In a shift nearly as predictable as high poverty rates and low student test scores in big liberal cities the left instantly and irrevocably (at least until the next election cycle, depending upon the prospects) will fall madly in love with the Electoral College. C’est la vie.”

    Tough sh*t. You had no problem with that split last go-around; karma is a [rhymes with 'witch'].

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  58. Barry says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: “Protection of the minority from tyranny of the majority.”

    Yes, and the right has been working to persecute minorities since long before this country was founded.

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  59. @Tsar Nicholas:

    what happens if Obama loses the popular vote but ekes out a win in the Electoral College?

    It would be my hope that it would generate enough outrrage from Republicans that a coalition of the reform-minded and the outraged would emerge.

    Also: if does happen again, only 12 years after the last time, that should clue us in to a problem (although I think the chances of it happening are quite small).

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  60. @Barry: The grandest of ironies here is that Jenos is concerned about the Republicans as a minority.

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  61. Console says:

    @Jen (and for Tsar’s first post too):

    The chances of the popular vote being close enough to cause the country to freak out are WAY less than the chances of them being close in one swing state. It’s also less than the chances of an electoral tie. 2000 isn’t the only time the EC caused an electoral crisis.

    That’s not to mention the other BS that comes with the electoral college like the electors themselves, who have no obligation to vote the way their state does.

    And God forbid we get a regionally powerful 3rd party that’s big enough to prevent anyone from getting 270 votes.

    There is no certainty, all of this is one giant cluster waiting to happen… All in the purpose of making the median voter a middle-class white guy in the Cleveland/Cincinnati suburbs

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  62. @Console:

    The chances of the popular vote being close enough to cause the country to freak out are WAY less than the chances of them being close in one swing state.

    Indeed.

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  63. wr says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “That Sparky von Space Cadet, living at home with his parents, never having worked a day in his life, has a say in who holds the presidency, not only is surreal its downright absurd. Hopefully that mistake won’t be the death of us. ”

    Here’s the problem, Tsar: I’d much rather have Sparky von Space Cadet vote than a pompous know-nothing who fancies himself a political sage while knowing nothing more than cliches or a self-styled lawyer specializing in oil issues who has never heard of OPEC. So if we’re going to start taking away the franchise from people, there’s going to be strong disagreements over who exactly should lose out. That’s why it’s not going to change, despite your confidence that the country would be better off if only those of whom you approved were allowed to vote.

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  64. @wr: What I find problematic is that the conservative/Republican position is allegedly markets and competition in all things, but when we start talking about elections and democracy, then the crowds don’t seem so wise.

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  65. Facebones says:

    I’d really like to see the electoral college replaced. It has the unintentional effect of writing off the votes of 80% of the country and increasing partisan rancor. If the candidate has no shot in a state, why waste the money? But then you let your opponent’s assertions go unchallenged.

    Obama’s not going to win in Texas so why campaign there? If we had a national vote, though, he might visit to increase his share of the vote. In the EC it doesn’t matter if Obama loses Texas 65-35 or 60-40, but in a national vote that extra 5% could be the difference.

    As a New Yorker, I (selfishly) don’t mind the EC because I don’t have to watch campaign ads. NYC is so democratic (and expensive for ad buys) that we’re spared just about all national advertising.

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  66. Andre Kenji says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The problem with this formulation is that cities and states don’t have power. Voters have power. More voters live in large population states and cities.

    1-) The elites of the states and cities have power. Political disparities always affects the power of these elites. Take a look at Ohio in a Presidential year, there is even a book about how the small state bias of the Senate helps small states.

    2-) Democracy in large countries is dealing with the difference of interests of people lives in very different regions and have very different regional interests. It´s more than simply counting votes.

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  67. Mikey says:

    Take a look at the image at the link, which shows the number of visits to each state and the amount of money spent for ad buys for the last five weeks of the 2004 campaign.

    A hand icon indicates a visit from a Presidential or VP candidate. A dollar sign indicates a million dollars in ad buys.

    Note how huge chunks of the country have no hands or dollar signs, and then notice which states have damn near all of both.

    2004 Campaign Attention

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  68. grumpy realist says:

    I’m in Illinois and don’t have a TV or a land-line, which makes life perfectly peaceful. About the only politicking I get is the stuffing of cardboard flyers into my mailbox from the local Congresscritters.

    My sincere sympathies to anyone living in a swing state this election.

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  69. Mikey says:

    @grumpy realist:

    My sincere sympathies to anyone living in a swing state this election.

    Here in Virginia we’ll see two or three political ads in a row sometimes. It’s wearing pretty thin.

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  70. bains says:

    The RCP average as of this morning is Obama +0.5

    Using the RCP average is akin to polling 15th century folks whether or not the earth is flat.

    When you are including crap into your data, you can only expect crap as an output.

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  71. Mikey says:

    @bains: 15th century folks were well-aware the Earth is round, as this had been figured out a couple thousand years earlier.

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  72. A says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Well we could reform the EC. Moving towards a CD allocation, like Nebraska and Maine, would be a step in the right direction.

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  73. @A: The problem is that does not solve the competition issue. Consider how many CDs are drawn to be safe for one party of the other.

    Further, it has the same faults as the EC: voters voting for the losing candidate within the district don’t count.

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  74. Miguel Madeira says:

    Perhaps a less bad solution was an EC with the state delegations distributed by proportional vote (instead of WTA)?

    The small states continue to have a special protection (because they will continued to be overrepresented in the EC), but all states will be relevant to the outcome (some more R votes in California or D votes in Texas could mean some more delegate for the R or D, even if California and Texas remain overwelming D and R)

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  75. Andrew says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    “The institution that is needed for federalism to function is the bicameral legislature with some specific representation in one chamber.”

    You’re actually forgetting an important component of that setup. It’s not the balance of proportional and equal representation in the bicameral legislature that was the crucial design feature for promoting a federalist system, but rather the balance of direct representation of the people with direct representation of the state governments in the bicameral legislature.

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  76. @Andrew: That was the eventual compromise, yes.

    However, if you look at modern federal systems, this is not the case. In other words, I would argue you should not confuse a specific political compromise with a constituent element of the definition of federalism.

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