Counter-Point: The ‘Popular Vote’ is Relevant

The President-elect lost the popular vote. Legally, that is the way that is it. This is a disgrace for "the Greatest Democracy in the World."

ecmapI was going to write something along these lines regardless, but since James Joyner already wrote a piece on the subject, I will use it as a jumping-off point.  I will start with the areas wherein James and I agree:

My longstanding preference is that we should in fact replace the Electoral College with a national popular vote. Given that we are no longer a collection of quasi-sovereign territories bound together for trade and national defense, it really makes no sense to vote for president as though we were. And it’s not only manifestly unfair to have a voter in California have less say on who should be our next president than a voter in Montana, it’s also demoralizing to Republican voters in California to have their vote rendered irrelevant by the winner-take-all process. Alas, it’s inconceivable that we’ll amend the Constitution to fix this.

That is:  we agree that the electoral college should be replaced with a popular vote.  My personal and professional preference would be for a two-round or instant run-off system that would require a majority winner (of the type used in the majority of other places which elect presidents).  This is the democratically superior option.  We also agree that it is fundamentally problematic (if not simply morally wrong–my words, not his) that a vote in Wyoming counts more than a vote in California. I will go so far as to state that this is repugnant from a democratic point of view.  We also agree that the system is not going to change any time soon as it is inconceivable to think that there is enough support to change the constitution on this point.  Indeed, as long as only one party is suffering the brunt of this particular institutional mess there will likely be not movement on this topic whatsoever.

I will state that James is utterly correct that the popular vote is irrelevant from a legal and constitutional perspective–there is no denying this at all.  I will depart from his assessment, however, to state that a) it is not philosophically irrelevant from a basic democratic point of view, and b) I am not okay with a  system that gives the minority vote-getter the win.  This is especially true now that this appears to be becoming more commonplace. I think that the fact that we have now had two elections in the span of five wherein the popular vote winner has lost the presidency that have moved out of the realm of once-in-a-century flukes to a serious problem.  If the point of a free and fair election is for the population to express their will then a system that produces the opposite outcome on a regular basis is a flawed system.  One of the saving graces of the electoral college was that as odd a system as it was it at least mirrored the popular vote.  We could pretend the inherently undemocratic nature of the electoral college didn’t matter because it gave us the same outcome as the popular vote, so why bother thinking about it too much?

James also provides the following:

We judge baseball games by the number of runs scored, not the number of hits. We judge football games by the number of points scored, not yards gained or time of possession. While the stakes are obviously much higher in a presidential election, the same principles apply.

As far as this goes, he is correct.  Indeed, I am certain I have used similar examples in class to try and explain the EC, especially after 2000.  There is some explanatory power in the analogies.  However, they do breakdown in the since that it is pretty obvious that scoring a touchdown is the goal of the game, not time of possession.  Likewise, it is pretty obvious that getting the most votes is the goal of an election.

Of the grand ironies of 2016 is that one of the arguments I have heard for keeping the EC is that the Framers created the EC to prevent the emergence of a demagogue who could win by appealing to the raw passions of the population.  Well, so much for that theory.  Worse, we have a demagogue who will be president with minority backing.

Long time readers of OTB well know that this is not a new position for me. Indeed, here is a sample of previous writing on the subject (in no particular order):

And before anyone tries to tell me we have an electoral college because “we have a republic, not a democracy” Google my name and that topic and read up.  Or, at a minimum, tell what you think that actually means.  Note, too, contra a video I have seen in circulation, the electoral college is not a remedy against direct democracy.  Direct democracy is a system by which the citizens themselves directly govern.  By definition the election of president (indeed, any election of an office holder) is not direct democracy since it is act of selecting a representative of the people to govern.  It is nonsensical to suggest that representative democracy should favor the minority over the majority in the selection of a singular office (or that the minority should prevail in any democratic process).  It is true that any democratic system has to protect minorities from the majority through various mechanisms (that is a whole other conservation) but the denial of majority preferences in the context of selecting a singular office holder is the denial of democracy, and to cast it as a protection of some sort is a perversion of the very idea of democratic elections.  We need to come to grips with that fact (but I suspect that we will not).

The electoral college is not a system we would adopt if we were starting right now.  Part of the evidence of this is that no other presidential system currently selects their president via such a mechanism.  It is an archaic and arcane mechanism that was born not out of some grand wisdom, but out of pure political compromise.  And, as I like to stress: it does not even work like the Framers intended.  As such, please spare me such arguments.  The Framers did not think national candidates were possible beyond George Washington.  Therefore they created a system by which regional candidates could be filtered to the House.  As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 68:

It 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.

This describes a process wherein the members of the EC would deliberate upon the choices before them, not act as mere messengers of the popular vote.  This is a very different vision than what we have now (and, indeed, a very different vision than the way the process worked pretty much from the beginning).  It is worth noting, too, that the electors were not originally chosen by the popular vote.

Look, if we want to call ourselves the greatest democracy in the world, we have some self-introspection to do.  I can guarantee that this election will damage our international reputation on this count.  As a side note it is quite possible that we will find that more people voted Democratic in House races than voted Republican (as happened in 2012).  Understanding full well that we elect House members in districts and not in a national vote, it is problematic if, in fact, our major institutions are controlled by a party that actually lacks majority support.

 

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Argon says:

    I agree with the idea. Personally, I’d be happy if we made election day a national holiday. The current date was set to make it easier for the most people to vote.

    This should be hard to accomplish as we have a pre-existing holiday, Veteran’s Day, around the say time. Just set Veteran’s Day to the Tuesday after the first Monday of November and Bob’s your uncle, it’s done! What better way to honor the sacrifice of our soldiers than to sanctify the day by performing the most import civic duty of a democratic republic: Voting.

    This would be easier to enact as it wouldn’t require any amendments to the US Constitution.

  2. Tony W says:

    This is at it’s core a dream that one day every vote will matter, that the candidates must try to appeal to as broad a group of people as possible. I hope to see it in my lifetime.

  3. @Argon: Yes, election day should be a holiday.

    @Tony W: Indeed: all votes should be equal

  4. James Joyner says:

    I will depart from his assessment, however, to state that a) it is not philosophically irrelevant from a basic democratic point of view, and b) I am not okay with a system that gives the minority vote-getter the win. This is especially true now that this appears to be becoming more commonplace.

    We’re in agreement here. That’s why we ought change to a more democratic system and, while I haven’t studied it nearly to the degree you have, I’m inclined to some sort of instant-runoff voting as well.

    My point is a narrow one: We ran the 2000 and 2016 contests under a set of rules and the campaigns and voters devised strategies with those rules in mind. We simply have no way of knowing whether Clinton’s 250,000-odd margin in the popular vote represents real voter preference or is an artifact of the game. Lots of people in Texas and Alabama might have stayed home thinking their vote didn’t matter; we have no idea whether more of them preferred Trump or Clinton. Trump might have campaigned harder in California if getting turnout there mattered.

    Moreover, a significant number of people voted for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. Some of them would likely have held their nose and voted for one of the major party nominees if they thought their votes mattered. We don’t know what impact that would have had.

    Given the pre-election polls, which confirmed my own biases in the contest, I think it reasonable to think Clinton was the preferred choice of the voters. But we really don’t know.

  5. @James Joyner: It is certainly true that the rules shape behaviors.

    The odds are good, however, that 2000 and 2016 would have produced the opposite outcomes if a version of the popular vote had been employed. Indeed, all the metrics we have suggest that the country has a majority preference for the Democratic party, and yet the Republicans control the elected branches. There is something amiss here.

  6. Argon says:

    To be frank, I can’t think of any elections to Federal offices where all votes are equal. For election of the Senate, all votes definitely aren’t equal between states. Your vote in Wyoming is equivalent to about 67 votes in California. And even in the House, all votes within the state aren’t equal because of how district borders are set. Worse still, the District of Columbia has more people than either Vermont or Wyoming and they have no voting representation in Congress.

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    As is implicit in your remarks WRT “instant run-off”, neither candidate won the majority of the popular vote.

    Shouldn’t we be a bit more cautious about hanging much on .2% of the vote? That’s within the margin of error. Is it democratic when the margin of error is greater than the margin of victory?

  8. Pch101 says:

    As much as I detest the winner of this election, I have to favor the electoral college and the fact that it remains relevant to the US form of government.

    States continue to have interest in federal outcomes that are somewhat separate from popular interests. Low-population states still don’t want to be ignored. The electoral college ensures that candidates will traverse the country and hit many corners of it because focusing on the major metro areas is not enough.

    There’s also a matter of honoring the promises that you keep. The constitution would not have been ratified if these concessions had not been made to the smaller states. We made a deal, and we ought to stick with it.

    The European parliament has disproportionate representation for the same reason: The small countries would not participate if the high population members had a complete lock on everything. They borrowed this idea from us.

  9. john430 says:

    Clinton’s half-million vote margin is what percent of the 120 million vote total? Hell, that difference could be attributed to slippage, counting errors and is quite possibly statistically irrelevant.

  10. @Argon: This is true. The fact that citizens in DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, etc. do not a vote in national elections is an example of the poor quality of our democracy. The Senate is what the Senate is, and I have my criticism there, I can at least understand the logic behind a chamber that represent the sub-units in a federal system (but the disparities in the ratio of citizens to senators is hard to justify).

  11. MBunge says:

    So…democracy means nothing more than majority rule? Where has this principle been when unelected judges have time and again overturned both the results of free and fair democratic votes and the actions of freely and fairly elected democratic majorities in both the states’ and our federal legislatures?

    Here’s a brief and by no means comprehensive list of things that also obstruct majority rule in the United States.

    The filibuster.
    The U.S. Senate.
    The Presidential veto.
    The staggering of elections.
    Closed political primaries.
    Age limits on voting.
    Citizenship requirements for voting.
    Barriers that prevent the recall any elected official who doesn’t follow the wishes of his constituents.
    The federal government interfering with any and all decisions made by state legislatures.
    The courts interfering with any and all decisions made by democratically elected legislatures.
    State legislatures interfering with any and all decisions made by democratically elected municipal governments.
    Any other government action except those authorized by direct referendum voting.

    Spare me these pitiful protestations about majority rule when Hillary’s advantage in that area is 100% caused by Democratic dominance in one state, California. Remove Texas and California from the equation and Donald Trump wins the popular vote going away. Remove California and any two red states and Donald Trump wins the popular vote going away. That’s exactly the sort of regional factionalism which concerned the Founding Fathers.

    Mike

  12. @Pch101:

    States continue to have interest in federal outcomes that are somewhat separate from popular interests.

    States have interests in the sense that the people living in those states have interests. There is no reason why the interests of South Dakotans ought to be more relevant than the interests of Texans on the question of the presidency.

    Plus we have the Senate to represent states.

  13. @Dave Schuler:
    @john430:

    Yes, this was a close election, but the notion that a close election going to the minority winner is preferable to going to the majority winner, small margins or nor, is truly nonsensical to me.

    And in a run-off, the odds are that the gap would have been larger.

  14. @MBunge:

    So…democracy means nothing more than majority rule?

    You keep proving that you do not read the posts before you comment. I wrote:

    It is true that any democratic system has to protect minorities from the majority through various mechanisms (that is a whole other conservation) but the denial of majority preferences in the context of selecting a singular office holder is the denial of democracy, and to cast it as a protection of some sort is a perversion of the very idea of democratic elections.

  15. Pch101 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    As a citizen of the country and your state, you have interests in both. Those interests don’t necessarily correspond directly with each other.

    Madison in Federalist 39: The executive power will be derived from a very compound source. The immediate election of the President is to be made by the States in their political characters. The votes allotted to them are in a compound ratio, which considers them partly as distinct and coequal societies, partly as unequal members of the same society.

    I think that he had a point.

  16. Dave Schuler says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I would agree with you if there had been a majority winner. There wasn’t. There was a plurality winner.

  17. Pch101 says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Many presidents in the modern era have been elected without majorities. That aspect of this is not unusual.

  18. @Dave Schuler: I was using terms to mean simple majority.

    We have a plurality loser as president.

  19. @Pch101: Yes, the electoral college was part of a political compromise. That does not mean it is the optimal institution. Further, as I keep noting, it doesn’t even work the way the Framers thought it would, so I find appeals to their wisdom on this matter problematic.

    Further, on the topic of the presidency, I do not see a separable individual/state interest the means that Vermonters are more important than Floridians.

    Heck, if one wants to play that game, larger states should get more votes because it is more likely that massive changes will affect Texas, CA, and Florida more than they will affect Wyoming, Idaho and Maine.

  20. Pch101 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I have to admit that I would like to see a system in which the winner has to win both the popular and electoral vote.

    I suppose that instant runoff voting could theoretically address this, but I don’t see how that would be possible when the election process is left to each state.

  21. Andreas Lord says:

    The baseball analogy is a pathetic attempt to justify the EC. The game is won by who scores the most runs after 9 innings; an EC parallel would be if the game were decided by which team “won” the most innings, by scoring more runs in an individual inning. So “winning” the first inning 10 to 0, would help no more than “winning” the second inning 1-0.

    The electoral college was a lame attempt to accomplish two things: (1) remove the result from the direct control of the voters, and (2) give the smaller states (just like now!) more influence over the outcome.

  22. Andreas Lord says:

    @Pch101: Only Bush and President-elect Asshole have been “elected” without a plurality.

  23. @Andreas Lord:

    (2) give the smaller states (just like now!) more influence over the outcome.

    And it is worth noting that the ratio of largest to smaller populations in 1789 was a lot closer than it is in in 2016.

  24. @Pch101: Such a thing is called “concurrent majorities” and the closest example I can think of right now is the process to amend the constitution of Switzerland: it takes a majority of the popular vote and majority of the cantons (states).

    I would have to think as to how you would do that for an election to office as you have to have some kind of positive outcome there (while for a referendum, a straight up rejection is a legitimate outcome).

  25. Pch101 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I do not see a separable individual/state interest the means that Vermonters are more important than Floridians.

    Madison in Federalist 39 explains the difference between a national and federal government, and why the constitution was intended to serve both. The electoral college was an integral part of that; it wasn’t a fluke.

    The immediate election of the President is to be made by the States in their political characters. The votes allotted to them are in a compound ratio, which considers them partly as distinct and coequal societies, partly as unequal members of the same society. The eventual election, again, is to be made by that branch of the legislature which consists of the national representatives; but in this particular act they are to be thrown into the form of individual delegations, from so many distinct and coequal bodies politic. From this aspect of the government it appears to be of a mixed character, presenting at least as many FEDERAL as NATIONAL features…

    …If we try the Constitution by its last relation to the authority by which amendments are to be made, we find it neither wholly NATIONAL nor wholly FEDERAL. Were it wholly national, the supreme and ultimate authority would reside in the MAJORITY of the people of the Union; and this authority would be competent at all times, like that of a majority of every national society, to alter or abolish its established government. Were it wholly federal, on the other hand, the concurrence of each State in the Union would be essential to every alteration that would be binding on all. The mode provided by the plan of the convention is not founded on either of these principles. In requiring more than a majority, and principles. In requiring more than a majority, and particularly in computing the proportion by STATES, not by CITIZENS, it departs from the NATIONAL and advances towards the FEDERAL character; in rendering the concurrence of less than the whole number of States sufficient, it loses again the FEDERAL and partakes of the NATIONAL character.

    The proposed Constitution, therefore, is, in strictness, neither a national nor a federal Constitution, but a composition of both. In its foundation it is federal, not national; in the sources from which the ordinary powers of the government are drawn, it is partly federal and partly national; in the operation of these powers, it is national, not federal; in the extent of them, again, it is federal, not national; and, finally, in the authoritative mode of introducing amendments, it is neither wholly federal nor wholly national.

    Again, I think that he had a point. We need to nominate candidates who can suit this.

  26. @Pch101: If you read Hamilton in Fed 66 and 68 you find that, yes, it was a fluke. (The election of 1800 underscores, a bit, that they didn’t think it all the way through, and hence the 12th amendment).

    Further, as much of a Madison fan as I am, he didn’t understand political parties and he really didn’t understand (nor did the other Framers) what they were creating in terms of the presidency, let alone the way the election of the presidency would work.

    I am well versed in Fed 39–and I would note that he is mostly making a political argument in placate the voters in the NY ratifying convention–he really isn’t making a theoretical argument.

  27. And really, whether Madison loved the EC or not is irrelevant (and he preferred that the House choose the president anyway, but was voted down in the convention).

  28. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Indeed, all the metrics we have suggest that the country has a majority preference for the Democratic party, and yet the Republicans control the elected branches. There is something amiss here.

    The structural constraints put in by the Founders are now working in an environment they couldn’t have fathomed. The population disparities are far greater now than then, making the Senate and EC even more problematic while state-based fealty has declined precipitously. And the sophistication of modern gerrymandering techniques is a sight to behold.

  29. @James Joyner:

    The structural constraints put in by the Founders are now working in an environment they couldn’t have fathomed.

    Absolutely. And, in many ways, this makes appeals tho the Founders to be a pointless exercise.

    Our institutions are old and our system is not easily adaptable. And I don’t mind adaption being difficult–it should be, but the system constructed is actually almost impossible to change.

    Part of this is going first and path dependency is what is.

  30. Pch101 says:

    @Andreas Lord:

    1876 and 1888 also gave the presidency to the guy who came in second.

  31. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Indeed.

    One thing missed by the “states have interests” and “promises made in 1789” arguments upthread is that the overwhelming number of states have no historical antecdent in the way that the original 13 states, Texas, and Hawaii did. Most are simple creations of the Federal government, parceling lands that we seized through warfare. There’s really no sense in which South Dakota has comparability in its relationship to the Federal Government that, say, Germany has to the EU.

  32. Kylopod says:

    And, as I like to stress: it does not even work like the Framers intended.

    I made this point in the other thread yesterday, and someone linked to an informative article that elaborated on the topic, but the point bears repeating: among the reasons the EC works nothing like the Founders envisioned goes back to two oversights on their part: (1) They totally failed to anticipate or prepare for the emergence of political parties (2) The states over time became a lot weaker than they imagined.

    We discussed the first factor yesterday, but the second is also important. When the US began, it was a lot closer than many of us realize to a loose federation of countries rather than to a single country divided into states (and it isn’t a coincidence that today the word “state” is synonymous with “country” in virtually all contexts other than federalist systems). Thomas Jefferson referred to Virginia as “my country.” The term “United States” was originally a plural. The Constitution strengthened the central government considerably from the Articles of Confederation, but the states were still much stronger and defined entities than today. Various factors helped to change this situation: the Civil War was one, and the development of the modern industrial world, with its mass mobility and communication, was another. Nowadays most people in this country think of themselves as Americans first, and Californians or Marylanders or Alabamans second, if at all. This needs to be kept in mind whenever we discuss the Founders’ attempt to protect the power of the states. They put these institutions into place in a totally different context than what the country became in the modern age.

  33. waldo trout says:

    (you really need to look up the work “irony”)

    if the election were based on the popular vote, the candidates would SOLELY concentrate on the less than a dozen highly dense (Democrat party) areas of NY, LA, San Fran, Chicago, etc and completely abandon any pretense of even NEEDING the vote of the vast (geographic) majority of the country.

    those old codgers 225+ years ago had a pretty good idea when writing the constitution.

    what’s REALLY ironic is that only a few weeks ago, the confident Dems were extolling the Virtues of the Electoral system and how it nearly guaranteed a victory for HRC. now that the desired result did not obtain, they’re suddenly seeing the “flaws” of the Electoral system.

    granted: the insane time delays from Election to actual elector voting is no longer need today when it does NOT take 4 weeks to travel to DC.

  34. Kylopod says:

    @waldo trout:

    what’s REALLY ironic is that only a few weeks ago, the confident Dems were extolling the Virtues of the Electoral system and how it nearly guaranteed a victory for HRC.

    I agree with you on this point. As a Dem myself, while I did get certain things about this election wrong, I was pretty much on the mark in warning a lot of people here (though I learned it from reading FiveThirtyEight) that the EC was in fact skewed in the GOP’s favor this year.

  35. wr says:

    @Pch101: “The constitution would not have been ratified if these concessions had not been made to the smaller states. We made a deal, and we ought to stick with it.”

    Among those promises was that slavery would be allowed to continue without interference from the free states. Are we morally bound to honor that deal as well?

  36. wr says:

    @MBunge: “Remove Texas and California from the equation and Donald Trump wins the popular vote going away.”

    Yes, and if you restrict the vote to white males, then Trump would have won big time. Hey, if we restricted the vote to you, Trump would have won.

    So what?

    Trump got fewer votes. He would have gotten a higher percentage of the total if California wasn’t a state. And since it’s California that provides the tax revenue that keeps the crappy Trump states alive, I can see why you want to discount their voters.

  37. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner: @Steven L. Taylor:

    Actually, I think we need a less democratic system. If there’s one thing I thought we needed right now it’s a queen or a king. I don’t worry about the UK going too far off-the-rails because there’s a second, final line of defense: the sovereign. Not that the queen has power, but she has moral suasion. She can in extreme cases call ‘bullshit’ on government.

    The US has become ever more small ‘d’ democratic, and everyone on both sides is constantly furious. This is not evidence that we need still more of the same. Here in California, we were just asked to pass on initiatives so obscure, so obviously the job of a competent legislator, that even sharp voters had no real idea what they were voting for or against. It’s absurd. People making sandwiches at Subway in some freeway pull-off in Analswipe, Alabama are being asked to vote on trade issues and foreign policy issues about which they know fwck-all aside from what some professional con-man on the radio told them. What’s next? Shall we start asking the public to give thumbs up or thumbs down to every addendum to maritime law?

    We need some smoke-filled rooms. We need governors to be more important than Congresspeople. We need less transparency. We need more real corruption and less legalized corruption. We need professional politicians. Despite the rantings of the Right, we actually have very few professional politicians left. But pros cannot do their jobs if the ‘people’ can be riled up to attack them constantly.

    Given what just happened in this country I have no confidence in the voters. I’d give a lot for an LBJ or two.

  38. dxq says:

    All the Muslims i work with at UN-Chapel Hill are very sad. I tell them not to be afraid. But sadly, they should be afraid. Violence is coming.

  39. wr says:

    @waldo trout: Wait — you mean if we didn’t have an electoral college candidates would have to try to get votes from the places where the majority of Americans live? The horror!

  40. Stormy Dragon says:

    My personal and professional preference would be for a two-round or instant run-off system

    Likewise, it is pretty obvious that getting the most votes is the goal of an election.

    I found these two statements ironic given that one of the problems with IRV is that it is non-monotonic (that is, it is possible under IRV to lose an election because too many people voted for you).

  41. Pch101 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    If you read Hamilton in Fed 66 and 68 you find that, yes, it was a fluke. (The election of 1800 underscores, a bit, that they didn’t think it all the way through, and hence the 12th amendment).

    When I say that it wasn’t a fluke, I’m noting that they gave a lot of thought to the concept of the electoral college and made a point of trying to balance state and popular interests.

    Does it always work? Obviously not. But I’m not sure that a strict popular vote would ensure that the president was guaranteed to be a good one, either. Popular figures can also be bad.

    If the 12th amendment proves anything, it’s that the founders had some flexibility — they were not as necessarily as dogmatic about the constitution as the modern hard right that supposedly reveres them — and that they were willing to change some things that obviously didn’t work. You will note that the process of electing a president was not among them.

  42. @James Joyner: This is an excellent point. All/almost all of the new states are geographically larger than the original 13.

    If we wanted to mirror the structure of power the constitution created we should have created far smaller states.

  43. Stormy Dragon says:

    The real issue is that the top two candidates received 120 million votes and differed by only about 400,000 votes, with neither getting an actual majority.

    No voting system is really going to work well when you’re dealing with a .3% difference between the top two candidates and whichever one wins, 52% of the voters didn’t vote for the winner.

    No matter what you do, you’re going to end up with a lot of really pissed off voters, and even if pissed off group voters A are slightly more numerous than pissed off group of voters B, no society is really going to remains stable long term when 40+% of the people aren’t getting what they want.

    The problem isn’t the electoral college, it’s that we have a society with two equally large yet mutually incompatible voting blocks, and messing around with the voting system isn’t going to fix that until the stalemate breaks one way or the other.

  44. @Pch101:

    When I say that it wasn’t a fluke, I’m noting that they gave a lot of thought to the concept of the electoral college and made a point of trying to balance state and popular interests.

    But they didn’t. That is a major part of my point. I looked into this when I co-wrote my recent book. There is not a lot of evidence of a lot of thought going into the EC.

    You have to remember that the Federalist Papers were all post hoc reasoning for the most part–and often to defend things that Hamilton and Madison did not originally argue in favor of at the convention.

    It is worth noting in general that federalism, and features like the Senate and the EC were more the result of political compromise than serious philosophical deliberation.

  45. @Stormy Dragon:

    The problem isn’t the electoral college, it’s that we have a society with two equally large yet mutually incompatible voting blocks, and messing around with the voting system isn’t going to fix that until the stalemate breaks one way or the other.

    One of the problems with the electoral college is that is does not well manage a polarized party system.

  46. @Stormy Dragon: Fair enough, but it is unlikely.

    I am persuadable to go two round, but even the flaw you suggest is preferable to what we have now, which is a system in which a loser can win.

  47. @Kylopod:

    among the reasons the EC works nothing like the Founders envisioned goes back to two oversights on their part: (1) They totally failed to anticipate or prepare for the emergence of political parties (2) The states over time became a lot weaker than they imagined.

    Exactly.

  48. @waldo trout:

    if the election were based on the popular vote, the candidates would SOLELY concentrate on the less than a dozen highly dense (Democrat party) areas of NY, LA, San Fran, Chicago, etc and completely abandon any pretense of even NEEDING the vote of the vast (geographic) majority of the country.

    First, they concentrate now on swing states.

    Second, the notion that candidates should seek to persuade the most voters is a feature, not a bug.

    Third, but this would not necessarily be the case as a candidate who needs votes needs votes where ever they can get them.

    Fourth, right now there is no need to campaign in CA, TX or NY because the electoral outcomes are foregone. How is this a good thing?

  49. Pch101 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I wouldn’t argue that the Constitution was a philosophical exercise or theoretical triumph, one that the entire world would be wise to emulate. (Quite the contrary — this is not a form of government that most nations would be wise to copy.)

    But it was what was needed in order to get 13 governments in a then-remote corner of the world to willingly surrender power to a central authority that held more power than its predecessor. Checks this, balances that.

    It doesn’t export well and it would be silly to claim that it is the best thing ever, but it does work reasonably well for us. I’m all for improving it, but throwing it is necessary and changes are difficult by design.

  50. @waldo trout:

    what’s REALLY ironic is that only a few weeks ago, the confident Dems were extolling the Virtues of the Electoral system and how it nearly guaranteed a victory for HRC. now that the desired result did not obtain, they’re suddenly seeing the “flaws” of the Electoral system.

    Go back and look at the list of links in the piece above and tell me this is a new issue for me.

  51. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    One of the problems with the electoral college is that is does not well manage a polarized party system.

    No voting system does, as per Arrow’s impossibility theorem.

  52. Pch101 says:

    @Pch101:

    Typo correction: throwing it away isn’t necessary. Apologies.

  53. @michael reynolds: The funny thing is, however, that one could argue that the UK is more democratic than the US in that is a far more majoritarian system.

  54. Tony W says:

    @waldo trout:

    (you really need to look up the work “irony”)

    what’s REALLY ironic is that only a few weeks ago, the confident Dems were extolling the Virtues of the Electoral system

    Actually, I think you need to look up the word “Irony”. It sounds like you were trying to make a point about hypocrisy.

  55. @Pch101:

    But it was what was needed in order to get 13 governments in a then-remote corner of the world to willingly surrender power to a central authority that held more power than its predecessor.

    Agreed: it was the result of political compromise.

    But one really cannot argue that that compromise of over 200 years ago necessarily designed a perfect system for 2016. To appeal to the wisdom of the Framers it to make that argument. They simply did not know what they were creating with the EC.

  56. @Stormy Dragon: Nothing is perfect, but some systems are more imperfect than others.

    I really am not seeing a good defense of a minority winner in any of these comments.

  57. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Argon:

    For election of the Senate, all votes definitely aren’t equal between states. Your vote in Wyoming is equivalent to about 67 votes in California.

    However, the Wyoming voter is not voting for a California Senator. Just try to write to or call a senator other than your own.

    Contrast that with POTUS who should be representing (leading) every citizen regardless of residency.

  58. Pch101 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But one really cannot argue that that compromise of over 200 years ago necessarily designed a perfect system for 2016. To appeal to the wisdom of the Framers it to make that argument. They simply did not know what they were creating with the EC.

    I don’t necessarily agree that they didn’t know what they were doing. They created a system of checks and balances that was intended to make it difficult to make radical change, while having a system that ensured that there was a president at all times and that the president would be reconsidered at regular intervals.

    If we could ask Hamilton, then I suspect that he would say that the worst possible outcome would be to have no president at all. When the president is crap, then we should use other mechanisms to prevent him from doing too much damage, and then we can overthrow him in four years’ time.

    These seems to be a certain genuine naivete of the role that parties could be expected to play in the political system, but I’m not sure if it was even possible to address that. Humans are inclined to form or join factions, regardless.

  59. @Pch101:

    These seems to be a certain genuine naivete of the role that parties could be expected to play in the political system, but I’m not sure if it was even possible to address that. Humans are inclined to form or join factions, regardless.

    Madison understood that (see Fed 10). What he didn’t understand is that there could be permanently allied factions. He thought factions would be more fluid coming together for a given issue and then dissolving and re-aligning over the next issue.

  60. Pch101 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    It strikes me that Madison underestimated how large and powerful that they could be. For example:

    The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source.

    With this, he seems to think that they would either be too local to engulf the country or else too fragmented to have much impact. But they defied those expectations, which feeds this problem of permanence that you are wisely pointing out.

  61. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I really am not seeing a good defense of a minority winner in any of these comments.

    Neither got 50% of the vote. It’s going to be minority winner either way.

  62. @Pch101: He was an exceptionally smart guy and arguably the most “political science-y” of the Founders (he tends to be the favorite Founder of Political Scientists). But, like a lot of stuff in the constitution, they were guessing. They didn’t have a lot of comparative cases to look at for evidence.

    Madison based his theory of faction on studying mostly small city-states. It heavily influenced his overarching theory of a republic (or representative democracy as we understand it). I wonder what he would make a country so vast as the one we now have?

  63. @Stormy Dragon:

    Neither got 50% of the vote. It’s going to be minority winner either way.

    Yes, but one has a larger plurality (or simple majority) than the other.

    The second place winner ought not win.

  64. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “I really am not seeing a good defense of a minority winner in any of these comments.”

    What is implied but not stated in Stormy’s argument is that it’s good because his candidate wins… The rest is window dressing.

  65. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Yes, but one has a larger plurality

    A plurality that is .3% larger. It’s not clear to me that makes one minority candidate categorically superior to the other.

    The second place winner ought not win.

    So we’re giving up on IRV now? What happens when the person who was in second place the first round wins?

  66. @Stormy Dragon:

    A plurality that is .3% larger. It’s not clear to me that makes one minority candidate categorically superior to the other.

    One got more votes than the other. This really isn’t that complicated.

    So we’re giving up on IRV now? What happens when the person who was in second place the first round wins?

    There is a difference between winning the first round and winning in later rounds. Again, this is not that complicated and I feel as if you are not arguing in good faith.

  67. Pch101 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    There is a difference between winning the first round and winning in later rounds. Again, this is not that complicated and I feel as if you are not arguing in good faith.

    I suspect that it’s a comprehension problem. It wouldn’t be the first time.

  68. Robert Prather says:

    Steven,

    I’ve been harping on this all day, but a partial fix to the popular vote differing from the electoral vote would be to vastly increase the size of the House of Representatives. If it were tripled and got back close to the population ratio of the 1920s, a lot of the population distribution problems disappear.

    For instance, even tripling the size of the House wouldn’t give Montana more than one representative (I don’t think). It would also make gerrymandering more difficult and, by fixing the distribution problems across state lines, get the percentage of seats held by each party closer to the percentage of votes cast.

    Best part? No amendment needed. What say you?

  69. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    One got more votes than the other. This really isn’t that complicated.

    No, it’s just circular. The plurality candidate is better because they’re the plurality candidate. And not just philosophically or politically better, but in your words “morally” better.

    There is a difference between winning the first round and winning in later rounds.

    You’ve already said that making Trump president when Clinton got .3% more votes in what amounts to the first round is immoral. If the second round leads to an immoral result, how can IRV be a good idea?

  70. @Robert Prather: I totally agree that the House is too small for our population and yes, while it would not solve all of our problems it would help ameliorate a number of them, including making a pop vote/electoral vote inversion less likely.

  71. @Stormy Dragon:

    No, it’s just circular. The plurality candidate is better because they’re the plurality candidate. And not just philosophically or politically better, but in your words “morally” better.

    So I guess you prefer football games in which the team that scores less points is the winner?

    The whole point of having an election is to determine a winner. This is usually done by giving the candidate with the most votes the office. Indeed, I can think of no other case in the world in which this is not the case.

    You are being pointlessly pedantic.

    You’ve already said that making Trump president when Clinton got .3% more votes in what amounts to the first round is immoral. If the second round leads to an immoral result, how can IRV be a good idea?

    Because in IRV or other run-off systems, second preferences are taken into account.

    You are both arguing for letting the second place contestant win and against a system that would account for second preferences.

    Either you really don’t understand or you are just being difficult. I am guessing the latter.

  72. @Stormy Dragon:

    No, it’s just circular.

    Yes, I suppose that saying “the one that gets the most gets the most” is circular, after a fashion.

    The tallest is also the tallest.

    The hottest is also the hottest.

    What else is there to say?

    The most is the most.

  73. Pch101 says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    By definition, there is no plurality with instant-runoff voting.

  74. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You aren’t arguing just that “the tallest is the tallest”, you’re arguing “the tallest is the best because it is the tallest” without bothering to defend the thesis that “taller is necessarily better”.

    It’s particularly weird when we’re in the political equivalent of whether the fact World Trade Center 1 was six feet taller than World Trade Center 2 makes it a better skyscraper. And not only are you arguing that indeed WTC 1 is better, but anyone who thinks WTC 2 was better is evil.

  75. Hal_10000 says:

    I think a lot of people underestimate the problems of creating a national popular vote:

    1) Under the current law and the Constitution, voting is managed by the states. You would not only need a Constitutional Amendment to ban the electoral college, you would need massive changes in law and infrastructure to create a national vote. Remember that the dispersed nature of our elections is exactly what makes the “rigging” Trump complained about almost impossible.

    2) This opens up a huge can of worms about voter eligibility. You’re creating an incentive for states to get as many votes as they can. This would doubtless end up in a bitter bruising national fight over who is eligible to vote (felons? prisoners? 16-year-olds?) and how easy to make it to vote (absentee, online voting, early voting, ID requirements) with voting rights being granted or rescinded for millions based on who controls Washington. I’d prefer we not do that. We’ve nationalized enough issues, thank you.

    3) The one advantage of the electoral college is that we get a result fairly quickly. If we had a popular vote now (or in 2000), it would be days or weeks before we knew with certainty who the President was.

    I’m not saying I”m 100% against it. I just think proponents way underestimate the problem of path dependence. You can’t just sweep aside what we’ve got now.

  76. @Tony W: You are being dense.

  77. @Hal_10000: It would be complicated, yes.

    And trust me, I am by no means underestimating the path dependency issues here.

    I do not think that change is likely.

  78. Pch101 says:

    @Hal_10000:

    You would not only need a Constitutional Amendment to ban the electoral college, you would need massive changes in law and infrastructure to create a national vote.

    No, you don’t any of those things if the states cooperate.

    Learn about the proposed EV compact. I oppose it personally, but it would be perfectly legal and the feds wouldn’t have to do anything.

  79. Hal_10000 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Yeah, I figured you would be.

    I don’t think the EV compact will ever happen. It’s not in the interests of enough states.

  80. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Robert Prather:

    Vastly increasing the size of the House would also help with the Gerrymandering problem. The smaller the congressional districts are, the harder it gets to create large biases over the entire set of districts in a state.

  81. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Pch101:

    Learn about the proposed EV compact.

    I’m not sure it would work as a practical matter because of the defection problem. e.g. suppose the EV compact had been in place in 2004. California voted overwhelmingly for Kerry, but Bush won the national popular vote. Do you really think the Democratic dominated state legislature is going to resist the pressure to drop out of the compact over the course of the month between the general election and the electors voting? How do the other states in the compact punish California for failing to live up to the terms of the compact?

  82. Hal_10000 says:

    The popular vote idea reminds me a bit of an argument in baseball. A lot of wags claim that the bases are the “perfect” distance apart because we have so many close plays. But this is nonsense. if the bases were further apart, the game would be played differently. It would simply find a different equilibrium.

    In a national popular vote, our elections would look very different and I’m not sure they would look better or less polarized. The biggest divide in this country is between urban, exurban and rural voters. I’m not sure that gets any better with a national popular vote.

  83. Guarneri says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    No, but I would suggest that other inequities and imperfections in the process (money, fraud and press coverage for example), and the potential for “round two” mischief argue for leaving the current system intact. Look at the sparkling results we get by tinkering with, say, the health insurance system. Somehow we have gotten by for an election or two.

  84. An Interested Party says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Perhaps it is time for a new Constitutional Convention? Of course, with the lack of compromise these days, such a thing would never happen, much less be successful…

  85. Terrye Cravens says:

    I read that there is a compact that is being supported by certain states that would make it unnecessary to pass an amendment to do change the EC. Here is a link to an article in The Hill about it. link

    My understanding is that is that our first presidents were not chosen by popular vote at all. The EC chose them and in many cases the voters did not directly choose the EC either. Once the popular vote was established in all states, what was the purpose of the EC? I can understand why it existed in the early years of the Republic, but I have wondered why it still exists when its original function was to choose the President.

  86. @Guarneri:

    and the potential for “round two” mischief argue for leaving the current system intact.

    I am guessing if the Colombians can do it, even during a period of serious internal political violence and during the height of the drug war, we could manage. Like the French, the Peruvians, the Brazilians, etc.

  87. @Guarneri: But you are correct: our politics are too contentious for reform (and, sadly, they will have to get worse for reform to be on the table).

  88. @An Interested Party: In the abstract, yes. But in practical terms: impossible.

    Really, one of the easier things we could do is, as Robert Prather suggested, expand the size of the House, but no one is going to go for that, either.

  89. @Terrye Cravens: There is an attempt to create an interstate compact wherein the states would agree that their EVs would go to the winner of the popular vote.

    And yes: initially the voters did not choose the electors.

  90. Terrye Cravens says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: It has always seemed curious to me that the EC continued once the popular vote was established. It seems redundant.

  91. Rob Prather says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: what are the principled arguments against expanding the House. I know the power arguments. Can’t think of a single principled argument.

  92. @Rob Prather: The only one I can think of is cost: more buildings, more staff, more travel. There is a fiscal argument that can be made against.

  93. Rob Prather says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: that’s all I could come up with and it’s lame. It would barely be a rounding error in the federal budget.

  94. I used to be a little sympathetic to the Electoral College because I think that PR creates political imbalances in my home country(Any politician from the two largest States, São Paulo and Minas Gerais, have YUUGE advantage over politcians from the other states, and PR in the United States would probably mean endless elections with politicians from New York and Texas).

    On the other hand, putting TWO Losers of the Popular Vote in the White House in 16 years is too much for my head.

  95. @Rob Prather: Well, yeah, but that was the best I could do. 🙂

    I suppose “it would mean more politicians!” is also a “principled” argument, since the argument would be: who wants more of those?

    But, of course, the power arguments win the day in any event.

  96. @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    On the other hand, putting TWO Losers of the Popular Vote in the White House in 16 years is too much for my head.

    No joke.

  97. An Interested Party says:

    It looks like the presidential elections of 2000 and 2016 have a lot in common…

    It’s impossible to know how an election could have gone under hypothetical scenarios, but the Johnson campaign regularly said they thought they were pulling support equally from would-be Trump supporters and would-be Clinton voters. Stein’s campaign, meanwhile, made a constant, explicit appeal to disenchanted Democrats and former supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

    If Johnson and Stein weren’t in the race, it’s also possible many of their supporters may have stayed home. But if about half of Johnson’s supporters would have voted for Clinton over Trump, and if most of Stein’s supporters broke for the Democrats, the electoral map would have been decidedly different.

  98. David M says:

    It’s worth noting that Clinton now leads the popular vote by more than Gore, and her final margin over Trump is expected to be over 1% and over 1 million votes.

  99. Mike McConeghey says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Not at all difficult to justify if one knows the history behind the composition of the United STATES. The federal government has grown beyond its founding, limiting document and has warped the perception of citizens to forget that we are part of a Federation of STATES.

  100. Stormy Dragon says:

    @An Interested Party:

    But if about half of Johnson’s supporters would have voted for Clinton over Trump, and if most of Stein’s supporters broke for the Democrats, the electoral map would have been decidedly different.

    Based on the exit polling, Johnson’s voters would have been far more likely to go for Trump:

    Exit polls: Johnson drew 2% of Republicans, 1% of Democrats, and 6% of independents. Independents split 48-42 for Trump. If we imagine Johnson away and send all those voters home (taking into account the different sizes of the three party ID groups) the final result is +.4% to Trump. Put another way, even at the end Johnson held Trump’s vote down by .4%. Not enough. But that was the direction of the effect.

    It also points out that the CNN article you’re quoting weirdly gives half of Johnson’s votes to Clinton, but then assumes the other half keeps voting for Johnson rather than voting for Trump, which makes no sense.

  101. PJ says:

    @Robert Prather:

    Steven,

    I’ve been harping on this all day, but a partial fix to the popular vote differing from the electoral vote would be to vastly increase the size of the House of Representatives. If it were tripled and got back close to the population ratio of the 1920s, a lot of the population distribution problems disappear.

    For instance, even tripling the size of the House wouldn’t give Montana more than one representative (I don’t think). It would also make gerrymandering more difficult and, by fixing the distribution problems across state lines, get the percentage of seats held by each party closer to the percentage of votes cast.

    Best part? No amendment needed. What say you?

    Increasing the number of seats in the House would not have changed the outcome of this election, you could multiply them by 1000 and Trump would still have won.

    (Also, if you tripled the number of seats, Montana would have four instead of one representative.)

    (I used the 2010 census numbers, the Huntington–Hill method to calculate seats, with the restriction that Washington DC can’t get more electoral votes than any state.)

  102. Andy says:

    Steven,

    We all have our fantasies. Personally, I like parliamentary systems the best. As a life-long independent I would love to have the opportunity for representation by a party that was actually consistent with my interests, even if it was a minority party.

    As for change, yes, a Constitutional change would be pretty much impossible and also potentially quite dangerous. The state-level popular vote movement is making progress but in our modern politics state-level action is unfashionable and doesn’t get much play. An alternative is that states could do what Maine and Nebraska do, which is award electors proportionally. There’s nothing stopping states from doing that except partisanship.

    As for this:

    As a side note it is quite possible that we will find that more people voted Democratic in House races than voted Republican (as happened in 2012). Understanding full well that we elect House members in districts and not in a national vote, it is problematic if, in fact, our major institutions are controlled by a party that actually lacks majority support.

    That’s a strange argument if I’m understanding it correctly. I don’t see how aggregate partisan “control” (to use the term loosely) matters in comparison to individual political units, nor what a potential fix might be.

    Indeed, all the metrics we have suggest that the country has a majority preference for the Democratic party, and yet the Republicans control the elected branches.

    What metrics are those? Everything I’ve seen indicates that partisan affiliation for Democrats hovers near 30%.

    The only one I can think of is cost: more buildings, more staff, more travel. There is a fiscal argument that can be made against.

    The fiscal arguments are the weakest. The actual issues have more to do with large group dynamics and management, particularly in a 2 party system. It would make the leadership and committees more powerful than they already are. Then there are a host of practical issues like giving everyone time for floor debates.

    India has almost 4 times our population yet their parliament has only 110 more seats than the house. In short committee and group decisionmaking doesn’t scale very well.

  103. PJ says:

    To add, if the House had had three times as many seats in 2000, Gore would have won. Just a third more would have been enough.

  104. An Interested Party says:

    It also points out that the CNN article you’re quoting weirdly gives half of Johnson’s votes to Clinton, but then assumes the other half keeps voting for Johnson rather than voting for Trump, which makes no sense.

    On the contrary, perhaps it does make sense

    This will need to be confirmed by more data and analysis, but one major reason Mr. Trump’s ceiling could have ended up higher than projected was that the potential Trump voters parked with Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, left to vote for Mr. Trump. But potential Clinton targets, especially the younger Johnson voters, stuck with him. Mr. Johnson’s support declined over time, but not equally — those who were potential Clinton voters were stickier than the Trump targets. Mr. Johnson won 8 percent of voters under 45, but only 2 percent of those over 65.

  105. Anonne says:

    I figured Johnson was getting Trump voters more than anything else. Not having Johnson in the race would have sent more votes to Trump. He was not a Democratic alternative in the least; that was Stein and the Green Party or the “none of the above” ballots that left the top slot empty. There were 90k of the latter in Michigan alone from what I heard.

    As was observed in the polling, pretty much anyone could have beaten Clinton if they’d been reasonably sane. Kasich was the probably the most dangerous in the general election, the margin would have been wider.

  106. Terrye Cravens says:

    @Stormy Dragon: My husband and I voted Libertarian this year….and neither of us would have voted for Trump. But we live in Indiana, so thanks to the EV it did not really matter if we even showed up for the election. If it had been a different kind of system I would have voted for Clinton and just not told my husband. {We had a deal…he did not vote for the orange loon and I did not vote for Clinton}. This is why turn out was at a 20 year low.

  107. @Andy:

    An alternative is that states could do what Maine and Nebraska do, which is award electors proportionally.

    But they don’t award them proportionally (despite the fact that that press often calls it that). Allocating by districts would be worse because then the electoral college would be affected by gerrymandering and other problematic aspects of single seat districts.

  108. @Andy: And yes, parliamentarism is a good fantasy.

    As a side note, the House of Commons has 650 members, so larger is not out of the question. But yes, there are group dynamic issues that are relevant. But I do not think they are insurmountable.

  109. @PJ: Interesting. I would have to look further into the EC’s connection to House size, but favor increasing the size of the House apart from this issue.

  110. @Andy:

    That’s a strange argument if I’m understanding it correctly. I don’t see how aggregate partisan “control” (to use the term loosely) matters in comparison to individual political units, nor what a potential fix might be.

    I am referring to what is called a “spurious majority: wherein the legislature is controlled by the party that gets less votes. Yes, you are correct that the unit level is the level at which the members are elected, but a main function of a legislature in a democracy in to represent. If the institutional design produces a system wherein minority preferences lead to control of the institution, this is considered problematic from a democratic theory point of view.

    Granted, if one doesn’t care about such things then a decision rule is a decision rule. But when you consider that a) the American people are not satisfied with their government, it might be because b) their actual preferences are not well represented by those in government.

    If the House in 2012 was controlled by Party A but the aggregate of voters voted for Party B, that is a problem in terms of democratic feedback and responsiveness.

    This is why I hold the view I do about the EC v. the popular vote.

    Democratic governance is supposed to create a working feedback loop in which the preferences of voters lead to certain people governing and then, in turn, to the chance for the voters to reward or punish those in government at regular intervals. If the process that translates votes into seats does not adequately reflect popular preferences, then the feedback loop breaks.

    We have a lot of non-competitive House seats (most of them): this is a feedback problem.

    We elect the House in a way that can lead to a spurious majority: this is a feedback problem.

    We elect the President in a way that lead to the person with the most vote losing: this is a feedback problem.

    etc.

    (I think that the smallness of the House relative to the population is relevant as well, among other things).

  111. @Andy:

    What metrics are those? Everything I’ve seen indicates that partisan affiliation for Democrats hovers near 30%.

    Actual votes–the only metric that matters in this conversation.

    And if you look at the polling deeply, the bottom line is that while yes, people split into Rs, Ds, and Others, the bottom line is that most of the “Others” are either reliable Rs or Ds at the polling place. This is well established in the literature. The media likes to talk out the “Others” because it makes the horse race story sound better.

  112. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Spurious majority, as you describe, is strictly a partisan problem, not a problem with democracy. Democrats and Republicans are different in every state such that a Democrat in one state could be considered a Republican in another. Some states are dominated by one party or another to such an extent that the other can’t really compete (which results in unopposed elections where the winner is decided in the primary). There are also a substantial number of independents who only choose the partisan candidate because that is the only choice they have – or they choose not to vote in that elections. A similar group switches parties for non-partisan reasons which is why swing voters are so important in many elections, particularly at the national level. In other cases people vote for divided government, voting for Party A for one office and Party B for another. Some independents and third party candidates win elections, etc.

    For these reasons and more the mere fact more people voted for Party A in aggregate over all Congressional districts (or for governorships, or Senators, or any geographically distince office) is not very useful and doesn’t tell us much about what Americans really want. It’s also, IMO, the wrong way to look at it since it’s strictly about partisan preference. A change to our system which seeks somehow match perceived partisan national partisan preferences to local outcomes is one I would oppose vigorously as it would be the antithesis of democracy.

    Actual votes–the only metric that matters in this conversation.

    And if you look at the polling deeply, the bottom line is that while yes, people split into Rs, Ds, and Others, the bottom line is that most of the “Others” are either reliable Rs or Ds at the polling place. This is well established in the literature.

    The data isn’t in yet, but it appears probable that a decisive number of people who voted for Obama in 2012 voted for Trump this year, enough to deny Clinton the Presidency. Also, almost 19 million fewer people voted this year than in 2008 thanks largely to two lousy candidates and a lousy campaign. So the reliability established in the literature is subject to some major caveats that often turn out to be decisive factors in actual elections.

  113. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Yes, those two award by district. However, there is nothing preventing states from awarding EV’s proportionally except for partisanship and, in a few states, the preservation of that state’s influence as a swing state. Those are substantial obstacles, but probably less substantial than the amendment process.

  114. Eric Florack says:
  115. Andy says:

    @Andy:

    Just to correct myself, the difference between 2008 and 2016 is likely to be much small that 19 million – I didn’t realize that millions of votes haven’t been officially counted yet. The difference will be closer to 9 million.

  116. Pch101 says:

    @wr:

    Do you seriously want to argue that slavery and the electoral college are equivalent?

  117. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    A much larger legislature would be possible with modern telecommunications as well, because they really don’t all need to be in the same room at the same time anymore.

  118. Jack the Cold Warrior says:

    @Argon: agree with the overall idea. Don’t agree with involving Veterans Day. That should remain November 11th due to its historical connection to Armistice Day and the end of combat in WWI. Veterans Day may be a federal holiday, but most states do not require the day off.

  119. wr says:

    @Pch101: “Do you seriously want to argue that slavery and the electoral college are equivalent?”

    No, but it we are mindlessly carrying on the EC simply because this was a bargain struck by the founders then the same logic demands we carry on with slavery. .Either we are morally obligated to stick to all the deals forged 250 years ago for whatever reason or that is a specious argument for doing anything.

  120. Pch101 says:

    @wr:

    The logic of small states not wishing to be overwhelmed by large states is just as relevant now as it was 200+ years ago. No comparison to slavery whatsoever.

  121. stonetools says:

    My guess is that if one more election within the next 20 years in which a minority popular vote winner becomes President, there will be change. It’s just too alienating to too many people to allow this thing to become a regular occurrence. Heck, I’m ready for change now. There will be even more impetus for change if Trump fails as much or more than GWB, which is likely.

  122. grumpy realist says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: What’s interesting is that we have actual political parties in the US, as opposed to what shows up in places like Japan, where each political party is more of a collection of vaguely associated factions. If the head of a faction dies, all his followers are more likely to break away and form a new political party rather than stick with the old political party, because under the present operating system they have to join other factions and start all over from the bottom of the pecking order.

    Humans have an immense number of ways of organizing themselves, and they’re all different.

  123. grumpy realist says:

    @Mike McConeghey: Well, you can blame that on two facts: first, the Civil War, and second, the fact that we have these things called paved roads and the Federal Highway System.

    Get rid of the latter, go back to dirt roads, and I suspect we’ll see a dwindling of the power of the Fed and an increase of the power (and people self-identifying) with individual states. Of course, you’re going to be limited to eating what your neighbor can grow in his vegetable garden and he yours, but some people are willing to pay that price.

    (Similarly one can look how the culture of England changed when paved roads and the motor car made their appearance. Everything got attracted to London as the center.)

  124. wr says:

    @Pch101: “The logic of small states not wishing to be overwhelmed by large states is just as relevant now as it was 200+ years ago.”

    But that’s not the argument you were making.

    And by the way, there is a counter-argument that the large states are getting pretty sick of having their will ignored in favor of the smaller states.

  125. Pch101 says:

    @wr:

    We should generally honor agreements that are not unethical or illegal.

    Slavery is now illegal and it was always unethical. In contrast, the electoral college is just one of many legitimate options for selecting an executive.

    The agreement that the founders made to maintain slavery does not give you carte blanche to ignore every other aspect of the constitution.

  126. Kylopod says:

    @Pch101:

    The logic of small states not wishing to be overwhelmed by large states is just as relevant now as it was 200+ years ago.

    Actually it isn’t, for the reasons I laid out earlier in this thread.

  127. Pch101 says:

    @Kylopod:

    You act as if political history would have been exactly the same even if a critical aspect of it had been radically different. Bad assumption.

  128. Kylopod says:

    @Pch101:

    You act as if political history would have been exactly the same even if a critical aspect of it had been radically different.

    No, I didn’t “act” that way at all. Can you stick to the argument for once?

  129. Pch101 says:

    @Kylopod:

    The formation of states and urban development could have been fundamentally different if those who were influencing these changes were considering their ability to influence what happened in the White House, a situation that would have been markedly different if we did not have an electoral vote system.

    If you knew anything about game theory, you might appreciate the possibilities. But you don’t.

  130. Kylopod says:

    @Pch101: I commented in passing on a couple of the factors that contributed to the weakening of states in the last 200 years, but that’s neither here nor there. Whatever the reasons (and there are many more than I listed), the fact is that the states are much weaker entities than they were at the time of the country’s founding. That isn’t even debatable. Therefore, what the Founders believed about the importance of protecting the power of small states is not as relevant today as it was back then.

    Now, are you going to address this argument? Or are you going to go on another rant designed to show how smart you are that doesn’t actually address anything I wrote?

  131. An Interested Party says:

    Humph, speaking of counter-points

    The white Americans who made up a vast majority of Trump’s supporters were reacting to much more than the economy (which has been steadily strengthening), or Washington gridlock (which Trump has no specific plan or power to change), or fear of terrorism (which his unconstitutional plan of extreme vetting shows no evidence of combating). What some fear most is the changing shade of skin color of America. As the Latino, Asian and black population rises, the white majority will soon disappear. Between 2000 and 2010, whites dropped from 75.1 percent of the population to 63.7 percent. By 2050, whites will be in the minority at 47 percent. Trump represents the last wisp of the rich white plantation owner holding on to the glories of the past.

    His history of racism, from Justice Department lawsuits for housing discrimination to claim that Mexican heritage disqualified a federal judge, has already been well-documented. But his disconnect from black people and black culture was especially evident the weekend before the election, when he complained about the musical performances of Jay Z and Beyoncé at a Hillary Clinton rally. (Never mind that Ted Nugent, who had repeatedly threatened to kill President Obama and Hillary Clinton, was performing at his rally by using profanity and grabbing his crotch.) “Did you hear the other night?” Trump asked his audience. “So many people were insulted, they left. … They hear the worst words, the worst language ever.” What Trump fails to appreciate is that the rawness of the musicians’ language is part of the message. It is the urban-charged patois of anger, frustration and empowerment. Similar to the Trumpites’ chanting “Lock her up!” but with less violence.

  132. Pch101 says:

    @Kylopod:

    If the presidency is more important than it was before, than states should feel even more compelled to play a role in selecting the winner.

    For an example of what this can look like, go figure out why New Hampshire makes a point of having the first primaries.

    You manage to get some of this stuff completely backward.

  133. Kylopod says:

    @Pch101:

    If the presidency is more important than it was before, than states should feel even more compelled to play a role in selecting the winner.

    For an example of what this can look like, go figure out why New Hampshire makes a point of having the first primaries.

    All you’re describing is the fact that people tend to do what they can to maximize their own power. It says nothing about justification. The fact is that nobody would have designed a system like the one we have today from scratch, and nobody has. No other presidential system in the world elects its president this way, not even federalist countries like Mexico or Brazil. Or just imagine implementing a smaller-scale version of this system within a US state, where the governor would be selected by winning electoral votes from individual cities, so that a town of 500 would have disproportionate power compared with the state’s largest metropolis. If such a system did exist, the small towns would probably oppose getting rid of it–but that doesn’t mean the system makes the least bit of sense.

    Similarly, voters in New Hampshire may enjoy the fact that their vote matters more than if they happened to live in California, but that doesn’t change the fact that the concept of being an NH resident is far more of an abstraction than it was in the late 18th century.

  134. As I pointed out, an Electoral College COULD be used to correct regional imbalances. I think that Presidential Elections in my home country, Brazil, are regionally unbalanced. On the other hand, handing the White House to the loser of the Popular Vote TWO times in 16 years is too much. It´s a solution that creates a MUCH bigger problem.

  135. wr says:

    @Pch101: So… we must stick to the electoral college because of a bargain made between politicians who have been dead for two centuries, because that is the only moral course, except when we don’t.

    I have no problem with you arguing for the continuance of the EC. But this argument that we “owe” it to dead people because other dead people made a political bargain is simply ludicrous. Stop digging.

  136. Pch101 says:

    @wr:

    There wouldn’t have been a constitution without it.

    There are many reasons to have the electoral college, not just one. If you scroll up, you will note that I identified more than one of them. Stop building strawmen.

  137. Pch101 says:

    @Kylopod:

    The folks in New Hampshire apparently reject your belief that their identity isn’t particularly irrelevant. I’m sure that they’re not alone.

    The fact that the electoral college is unusual is not an argument against it.

  138. States are made of people. Apart from those people states have no interests. The notion that the people in NH should have a propotionately higher say in election a president than the people of Texas is hard to defend.

    This is especially true when we have other institutions specifically designed to deal with local representation.

  139. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    States are made of people. Apart from those people states have no interests.

    All political communities are made of people and they all have collective interests to include the political communities called states. States do not have the strong collective identities they used to, but they are still there and are likely to endure.

    The notion that the people in NH should have a propotionately higher say in election a president than the people of Texas is hard to defend.

    Sure, that is true as a sterile, academic argument. Getting from here to actual parity between the people of NH and Texas is a lot more complicated. To get there the current political compromise that’s existed for over two centuries would need to be dismantled. The centrality of the state as the primary political unit in this country would be replaced with…what exactly? How do you convince all the little states to destroy their relevance? Then, once the existing order is destroyed can anyone guarantee what will emerge on the other side?

    All the arguments about bringing parity in state representation die on that hill.

  140. Kylopod says:

    @Pch101:

    The folks in New Hampshire apparently reject your belief that their identity isn’t particularly irrelevant.

    Many NH residents cling to the belief that their state identity is relevant because it serves their interests to do so, but that doesn’t change the fact that state identity in general is a far more nebulous concept than it was at the country’s founding. As I mentioned earlier, Thomas Jefferson described Virginia as “my country”; John Adams used the same phrase for Massachusetts. Imagine someone using such language today when talking about their home state. It’s almost unthinkable. (Well, okay, Texans occasionally talk that way.) People may enjoy the benefits they receive from living in a state with disproportionate power, but that doesn’t mean they have a conception of state identity even remotely approaching that of two centuries ago.

    It’s kind of like the issue of farm subsidies: just because there are groups whose interests are served by keeping an outmoded program or institution alive doesn’t mean there’s a good rationale for it.

  141. @Andy: to note that a particular position lacks the needed political power to realize it is not a refutation of that position.

    One can be right about something and also lack the power to turn one’s position into reality.

  142. wr says:

    @Pch101: “There wouldn’t have been a constitution without it.”

    And again — there wouldn’t have been a constitution without slavery. And as you freely admit, that does not obligate us to continue that practice. Therefore this argument is ridiculous.

    You can approve of the EC without all this silliness, you know. There are reasons people think it’s a useful thing.

    But to say “we’ve got to keep it because 250 years ago it was a necessary part of a political compromise” is the least convincing argument ever made here by anyone other than Jenos.