More on the Electoral College v. a Popular Vote

Yes, again with the EC.

I am increasingly fascinated by reactions to suggestions that the electoral college should be replaced and said fascination was not diminished  by the response to my brief post yesterday about a new Gallup poll that showing a majority of Americans would prefer a popular vote over the electoral college system.

First, as I have noted before, the EC does not even come close to functioning as the Framers intended.  They thought that the House of Representatives would regularly choose the President under the EC’s rules.  They were quite wrong about how the institution would work.  As such, an appeal to the notion that the EC is an artifact of the Framers and therefore deserves special consideration is simply ill-founded (pun intended).

Second, the argument that certain states will have more sway (most commenters pick California) ignores two important issues:

a) The current system already privileges specific states because they are swing states, and it does so in way that only benefits one party.  Florida will, yet again, be pivotal in the 2012 election.  However, at the end of the day only the Republicans in Florida or only the Democrats in the Florida will matter as the EC is a winner-take-all system.   I am amazed that so many prefer a system of choosing the president that results in marginalizing most of the states and focusing attention on a handful of competitive states.

and

b)  A popular vote would privilege the voters in California and Texas (and New York, Florida, etc.) but because there are more voters in California and Texas, but the nice thing about a popular vote is that each voter would count the same (indeed, a voter in Wyoming or Alaska would count the exact same as a voter in California or Texas).  Also, in a popular vote the issue is not Texas or California, but it is rather the voters (“Texas” and “California” are simply lines on the map under a popular vote).  I say free the California Republicans and free the Texas Democrats to be counted in the process of electing the president, our only true national elected office.  Also: make the candidates fight for all their votes, including those on CA and TX.  As it stands, Obama can take California for granted and not worry about the the millions of non-Democrats in the state.

In other words, the reason that “California” would be important under a popular vote is because there are a lot of voters there.  Surely this should matter.  If one is going to argue for things like liberty, freedom, and the importance of the individual one has to explain why one opposes counting all citizens as equal (given that all are created such and endowed with certain unalienable rights, dontcha know).   If we are going to privilege some set of persons in an elections, it should be based on the sum of the views of equal citizens, not because as a result of arbitrary geography that some region has a close mix of Democrats and Republicans.   Heck, if the  Treaty of San Lorenzo had been negotiated differently and the panhandle of Florida had ended up part of what would become the state of Alabama, Florida would be sufficiently more Democratic that it would likely no longer be the batttleground it is.  Such historical exigencies should influence the election of the POTUS?

Third, if your argument is that, to be direct, a popular vote will help the Democrats, you need to be honest about your position:  you prefer the current system not for principled reasons, but simply because you think it helps your preferred party.  You are also saying that you are of the opinion that the Republicans are a minority party and that the only way to keep them relevant is to have institutions stacked in their favor.

Two thoughts:

a)  This is an ill-conceived notion, as clearly the Republicans are quite capable of winning a majority of the popular vote.  This is a pretty straight-forward fact.

b)  If you really do believe that the EC should be maintained to help your preferred party then you don’t believe in democracy (or, if you prefer, you don’t believe in the notion of a representative republic).

Ultimately, a popular vote would do at least two things:  1)  make all of us equal as voters in terms of selecting the president, and 2) increase competition for the office, because all voters would be relevant to the outcome.  If individuals are truly important and if competition improves those who compete (two key American values), then I would submit that if one is opposed to EC reform that one ought to give the proposition another look.

FILED UNDER: Politics 101, 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. rodney dill says:

    A popular vote would privilege the voters in California and Texas (and New York, Florida, etc.) but because there are more voters in California and Texas, but the nice thing about a popular vote is that each voter would count the same (indeed, a voter in Wyoming or Alaska would count the exact same as a voter in California or Texas).

    I agree that is would privilege the voters in these larger populated areas because there are more voters in these areas, but I believe it would disproportionately favor these voters. (more than warranted due to the greater number of voters). Because of the need of greater vote yields in these areas a lot more promises would be made in these areas, a lot more money spent (and taxpayer money promised), a lot more political favors and clout bestowed, etc… Yes, everybody’s vote would count the same but some areas would be more (i.e. a disproportionate) favor out of being a large populace areas. Of course, until we actually go that route, no one would know for sure what the outcome would be.

  2. Andre Kenji says:

    The PV would not privilege voters bigger states like California, but voters in major urban areas like Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles. Rural areas of big states would be ignored anyway. The big difference is that presidential candidates would be required to come from a Big State.

    Again, that´s what happens in Brazil, a continental country that uses the PV. Most of the candidates comes from just one Big State, most of the campaigning is done in Big cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

  3. Ben says:

    @rodney dill:

    But why is that a bad thing? Shouldn’t the area where the most voters are get the most attention? Are rural voters, voter for voter, somehow more important than an urban voter? If not, then why is it that some people think that rural voters should have a disproportionately (larger than it should be, per capita) large influence on the election? If I were in a voting block that was only a small percentage of the population (say 10%) , why should I expect to have my voice count equally to another voting block, which might make up 60% of the voters?

  4. James H says:

    I like the electoral college, on balance, though I would prefer that votes be apportioned based on a state’s popular vote.

    I like it for one big reason: after-election litigation. If we go with a nationwide popular vote, after-election litigation can get incredibly messy (think 2000 times about a million). Under the electoral college system, that kind of litigation can be (relatively) confined to just those precincts where some shenanigans or errors are suspected.

  5. Eric says:

    While there are problems with the popular vote, specifically that the candidates will campaign hard in large cities, there are also lots of problems with the electoral college. With the current system of electing the president, the electoral college works in favor of battleground states as noted in the article. This also creates “safe states” as well which may not get that much attention from campaigning.
    Of course, presidents have actively campaigned in large cities because most of the states’ votes do come from their large cities. We are in a democracy with the notion that the “majority rules.” Replacing the electoral college with the popular vote is a step to that certain direction.

  6. Andre Kenji says:

    “Of course, presidents have actively campaigned in large cities because most of the states’ votes do come from their large cities. ”

    In a PV candidates would do almost all of their campaigning in the larger cities. And I´m not talking about large cities like Pittsburgh or Des Moines, but REALLY large big metropolitan areas like New York and Los Angeles.

  7. MBunge says:

    “Ultimately, a popular vote would do at least two things: 1) make all of us equal as voters in terms of selecting the president, and 2) increase competition for the office, because all voters would be relevant to the outcome.”

    1. We would not all be equal in terms of selecting the President. That’s because the United States is not an undifferentiating mass of humanity. We exist and function economically, socially and politically in units. My vote would not be equal to someone else’s vote if I happen to live in Iowa and the other person happens to live in California or Texas. That’s because Iowa’s smaller population and relative closeness in partisan divide means that there’s less advantage to spending time and energy in Iowa. No matter how much you focus on Iowa, you’re not going to win the state by more than a few hundred thousand votes and possibly much, much less. Losing Iowa by 100,000 votes means nothing if you win California or Texas by 3,000,000.

    2. It would not increase competition for the Presidency. It would simply shift where the competition would occur. So called battleground stated today would become irrelevent while big population base states woule become all important.

    Mike

  8. rodney dill says:

    @Ben:

    But why is that a bad thing? Shouldn’t the area where the most voters are get the most attention? Are rural voters, voter for voter, somehow more important than an urban voter?

    I’m not sure we’re in disagreement as much as you think. Did you see the my use of the word disproportionate? If a large population area has 75% of the voters in a state then I see no problem with them getting 75% of the political favors, promised monies, attention…. I do see a problem if they get 95% of the attention. That is making the voters in the more populated more important than those in the rural areas. (Yes I know then each vote gets counted equal, but the voters in the populated areas would get more promised to them per vote than those in the rural areas). At least that is my prediction, as I also stated that the real outcome is probably unknowable until after a switch to a PV system is made.

  9. rodney dill says:

    @MBunge: Well said.

  10. @MBunge:

    My vote would not be equal to someone else’s vote if I happen to live in Iowa and the other person happens to live in California or Texas.

    This is a mathematically nonsensical assertion.

    Also: your thinking seems captured by the EC structure, as you keep talking about states as if they still capture voters under the PV the same way they do under the EC. IN other words, “winning Iowa” is an irrelevant construct under a PV.

    Losing Iowa by 100,000 votes means nothing if you win California or Texas by 3,000,000.

    Again: there is not “losing Iowa” if we are summing all the votes in one tally. And yes, 3,000,000 votes should matter more than 100,000. That’s rather the point.

  11. MBunge says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “IN other words, “winning Iowa” is an irrelevant construct under a PV.”

    THAT’S THE POINT, YOU MORON!!!!! WE DO NOT LIVE IN UNDER A UNITARY GOVERNMENT BUT A SYSTEM OF FEDERALISM! THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE IS PART OF THAT FEDERAL STRUCTURE! THAT FEDERAL STRUCTURE HAS WORKED PRETTY EFFIN’ WELL FOR OVER 200 YEARS AND IF YOU WANT TO RADICALLY ALTER IT YOU HAD DAMN WELL HAVE A BETTER REASON FOR IT THAN SOME LIMP-WRISTED HIPPIE CONCERN ABOUT “FAIRNESS”!

    I’ve tried to make you grapple with the practical implications of a popular vote system and you’ve simply refused. Let me try again. You’re running for President. You have X amount of time and money to spend during the campaign. Where do you focus your resources? Do you concentrate on a state where even if you win, it would only be by 100,000 votes? Or do you spend all your time and money in a state where you might win by 3,000,000 votes?

    Mike

  12. rodney dill says:

    @MBunge: Chill

  13. @MBunge: Woah there, friend. I am not sure if I can keep up with that level of intellectual interchange…

    Do you concentrate on a state where even if you win, it would only be by 100,000 votes? Or do you spend all your time and money in a state where you might win by 3,000,000 votes?

    Two things:

    1) Under a popular vote, you don’t win states. Continually focusing on state is pointless (and yes, I am aware that we have a federal, and not a unitary system. I am pretty sure I have encountered that fact along the way somewhere). Last I checked, btw, it is possible to have a federal system and have a popular vote for president. They are not incompatible constructs.

    2) But yes, and this is the rather fundamental point: 3,000,000 is more than 100,000 (indeed, by a rather large factor). But shouldn’t 3,000,000 votes, therefore, be more significant than 100,000?

    3) Moving to a popular vote is hardly radical. Just ask you governor, mayor, or any number of other officeholders.

  14. (Okay, 3 things, because nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition).

  15. @MBunge:

    SOME LIMP-WRISTED HIPPIE CONCERN ABOUT “FAIRNESS”

    Yes. The horror.

  16. MSS says:

    Bravo, Steven.

    But two extensions, based on these two critical passages:

    “If one is going to argue for things like liberty, freedom, and the importance of the individual one has to explain why one opposes counting all citizens as equal”

    and

    “if your argument is that, to be direct, a popular vote will help the Democrats, you need to be honest about your position:  you prefer the current system not for principled reasons, but simply because you think it helps your preferred party.”

    These are excellent arguments for also abolishing the Senate, or radically transforming it.

    The Senate grossly distorts the value of a vote, based on lines on a map. And I don’t care that the Framers allegedly intended it that way, given that (1) the population disparity between the largest and smallest states was about 18:1 in their day against almost 70:1 today (and growing), and (2) James Madison, the so-called father of the constitution, argued long and passionately against states being equally represented in either chamber regardless of their population before finally giving in to small-state delegates who would have preferred to break up the fledgling union rather than allow voters (or, it should be said, white male voters), rather than entities on a map, to be equal.

    No Senate since at least the 1940s has been elected by a plurality of votes cast for Republicans, notwithstanding that several of these Senates have featured a majority of seats held by Republicans.

    So the Senate not only grossly distorts representation of citizens, it also is grossly biased to one political party.

  17. Ben says:

    @MBunge:

    I still don’t get why you’re breaking it down by states. States (or federalism for that matter) shouldn’t even matter in a nationwide election for 1 office. States are not represented or relevant in the executive, like they are in the legislature. Under a PV, a candidate shouldn’t even think of things in the terms of campaigning in this state vs that state, that’s irrelevant. You go wherever gives you the best chance to win a plurality of the votes. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be just the biggest cities. The populations of the 50 largest cities combined don’t even make up 40% of people that voted in the last election. A person who nailed the rural and suburban demos by a good margin could conceivable stand a very good chance of winning by the PV. But the thing that we most want to eliminate is the ridiculously disproportional power that people in a few middle-of-the-road states have under the EC. It makes no sense to defend a system that results in that.

  18. @MSS: Gracias. And yes, you are right about the Senate. Maybe we should start a campaign to, as you like to say, bring back the Virginia Plan!

    Of course, if a relatively easy and straight-forward change like going to a popular vote is going to result in all-caps vituperation, can you imagine what talk of Senate reform might bring down on my head? 🙂

  19. @Ben:

    States (or federalism for that matter) shouldn’t even matter in a nationwide election for 1 office. States are not represented or relevant in the executive, like they are in the legislature.

    Indeed.

  20. Console says:

    Defending the EC is the definition of post hoc nonsense. And the funny part is that these post hoc arguments still revolve around naivete and theory.
    Candidates don’t campaign in big cities? Tell that stupid shit to wall street. As long as there’s money, there will be politicians. So yeah, in theory, NY gets ignored by democrats, in reality NY elites exert a huge influence over the democratic party apparatus and by the same token, the president and the democratic nominee for president. Same goes for the GOP and oil money in Texas. We can talk about campaigning all we want, but the party system and campaign finance system in America supersedes any nonsense about states or federalism.

    The effect of the EC isn’t to elevate some farmer in Kansas. It doesn’t make North Dakota anymore important to the campaign process. All it really means is that presidential candidates have to pay lip service to some assholes in Columbus, Ohio.

    Hell, even if the EC worked the way the founders envisioned, it would only make political parties stronger… not states.

    A popular vote system at least has logic going for it. As compared to a bunch of BS made up after the fact to try to defend a system that’s already caused a constitutional crisis in my lifetime.

  21. Andre Kenji says:

    1-) In big countries with big population parties are inevitably defined by coalisions of states and provinces.

    2-) I think that the best solution is a proportional distribution of the votes in the electoral college. The interests of each state aren´t irrelevant in the electoral process.

  22. @Andre Kenji:

    Well, 1, the EC is not proportional, because small states have a disproportional number of EVs.

    2. States do not have interests apart from the people in those states.

  23. Fargus says:

    Popular vote: based on the will of the people.

    Electoral vote: based on the will of shapes on a map.

    There’s no two ways around it.

  24. PD Shaw says:

    I think we are currently seeing the benefits of our federalized election system. Rick Perry is being shown as a local/regional candidate without appeal in other parts of the country. He is currently running sixth in Iowa and New Hampshire. State allocataion of electoral votes, in both the generals and primaries, requires the candidate to make a national appeal beyond his/her own regional/cultural base.

  25. @PD Shaw: I don’t see a connection. If the presidency was decided by the popular vote no one would pay attention to someone like Perry until it was too late? That does not follow logically.

    And in terms of pre-candidacies, the roll-out is national is scope anyway.

    I simply do not see a connection.

  26. Trumwill says:

    But yes, and this is the rather fundamental point: 3,000,000 is more than 100,000 (indeed, by a rather large factor). But shouldn’t 3,000,000 votes, therefore, be more significant than 100,000?

    Yes, but in theory, 3,000,000 votes should be accorded 97% of value and the other about 3%. But instead, it is likely to be 100% and 0% (between the two).

    To look at this another way, the combined population of Montana and Wyoming is roughly 1.5 million people. The population of Birmingham metro is approximately 1.2m. So in theory, the value of the votes in Montana and Wyoming should be more than that of Birmingham. Except that the votes in Montana and Wyoming are dispersed over a much larger area. A presidential campaign is much more likely to make stops in Birmingham than Wyoming and Montana, despite the population of those two states exceeding that of the city.

    Do you understand why this might be cause for concern? It’s not just a matter of sparsely populated areas getting less attention, but of the people there getting less attention than the people in densely populated areas.

    There are arguments as to why this is less unfair than the alternative, but it’s being treated rather dismissively as some sort of made up thing.

  27. Console says:

    @Trumwill:

    Meanwhile, in real life, no one campaigns in Montana or Wyoming.

    Personally, I’m dismissive to these arguments for a reason.

  28. Trumwill says:

    @Console: No, but they at least spend time outside of the cities as they scour for every vote in Ohio and Florida and so on. Towns of 50,000 and 100,000. The sort that exist in Wyoming and Montana. Gore spent time in West Virginia in 2000, which shares some of Montana’s demographics. Gore’s time spent in rural areas, for instance, may have influenced his decision to back off gun control as he saw how important gun ownership was to certain walks of life outside major urban areas. Time spent in less urban areas expose candidates to more different walks of life. Now even within Ohio and Florida, they’re going to spend most of their time in the more major metropolitan areas. But at least they will get out of them every once and a while. With a national popular vote, there is the concern that candidates will spend time in major urban areas not just in proportion to their populations, but exceeding it to the point of near exclusivity.

    Personally? I support a popular vote despite all this. I was mostly taking issue with something specific Taylor was saying, which I believed only encapsulated part of the issue.

    Yes, candidates will and should spend more time in places with more people in them. That doesn’t mean, however, that the time and energy will be remotely equal amongst voters merely because their votes are equal. Certain voters will get a lot more attention than other voters. Perhaps in a way that’s fairer than our current system (I tend to think so), but one that benefits some voters more than others.

  29. @Trumwill:

    Yes, but in theory, 3,000,000 votes should be accorded 97% of value and the other about 3%. But instead, it is likely to be 100% and 0% (between the two).

    You seem to be equating the significance of campaigning with actual voting. I am far more concerned with the voting and having all votes count the same. Everyone is not going to be directly campaigned to regardless of a system.

    Under the current system, millions of voters in CA (for example) simply do not count, constitutionally in the election of the president because CA’s EV’s will go for the Democrat almost certainly in 2012 and likewise millions of Democratic voters in TX will not count. This is the fundamental problem.

  30. Trumwill says:

    Here’s another way to look at it:

    Roughly 55% of Americans live in metros of a million people or more. Under a national popular vote, I can guarantee you that presidential candidates will spend far, far more than 55% of their time trying to win over the voters in these areas. It might not be 100% because they might stop off in Scranton in between stops or make a quick trip over to Chattanooga, but the time they spend in high-density areas will likely be much greater than their portion of the population. Even larger cities that are out of the way could get the shaft. Moreso for smaller cities.

    While visiting Springfield, Ohio, might not be the same thing as visiting Billings to a resident of the latter, it at least lends a candidate exposure to people who live outside of major urban areas, their way of life, and so on. It’s better than the candidate visiting neither. A candidate visiting a mining town in West Virginia may not be the same as a mining town in Montana, but it’s better than a candidate not venturing beyond the cities.

    In city and state elections, of course, you have a mix of urban and rural in most states. In those contests, though, candidates have time to go off the beaten path and campaign in smaller areas. In a national election, I’m far less sure that’s the case. It seems to me that the smarter move would be to focus on those places where you can speak in front of as large of crowds as possible and make the local news in as large of media markets as possible.

    This doesn’t make me support the EC, but I do consider it to be a legitimate issue.

  31. superdestroyer says:

    Popular vote presidential election means that the presidential election comes down to about 25 metropolitan areas where the Democrats dominate. The Democrats would put all of their effort into voter turnout in a few metropolitan areas where they will win by a huge margin. There is no equivalent locations for the Repubublicans.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/interactives/campaign08/election/uscounties.html

    PV for the president just makes the one-party-state era arrive sooner and last longer.

  32. @Trumwill: Clearly candidates will go where the votes are (this is true under the current system). At least under a popular vote Reps will have reason to campaign hard in LA, Chicago, NYC and Dems will have reasons to campaign hard in Dallas and Birmingham.

    I really don’t see the legitimate issue here as one would expect less focus on sparsely populated areas. Of course, there is also the distinction between physical campaigning and media-based campaigning.

  33. @superdestroyer:

    1) Republicans live in cities, too.

    2) The non-urban voters still count. There are a lot of people who don’t live in cities.

    1+2=why are you assuming that cities are like the Democratic Borg?

    3) ” If you really do believe that the EC should be maintained to help your preferred party then you don’t believe in democracy (or, if you prefer, you don’t believe in the notion of a representative republic).”

  34. Console says:

    I’m sorry but the needs of people of Springfield, Ohio in no way come close to correlating with the needs of someone in say, Plainview, Texas in anything beyond the general sense.

    In a country this size, the idea of rural vs. urban is insanely myopic… and the EC doesn’t even serve to the purpose of even making things more rural. It really only causes money to be spent in large competitive states. A purpose that doesn’t really make any sense.

  35. Trumwill says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You seem to be equating the significance of campaigning with actual voting. I am far more concerned with the voting and having all votes count the same. Everyone is not going to be directly campaigned to regardless of a system.

    No, but those to whom candidates gear their campaigns do matter. Not just in terms of physical face-time, but in terms of the kinds of voters that candidates are exposed to and tailor their campaigns to. That’s why it does ultimately matter that presidential candidates spend so much time in Florida, Ohio (and Iowa and New Hampshire in the primaries), and so on. It’s actually one of the reasons why I come down in favor of a popular vote.

    But there are two sides to it. We can’t say that it matters in one context and not in another. Unless you’re saying that it doesn’t matter that candidates spend lots and lots of time in very few states. But when you’re the one more likely to be ignored in future campaigns under a proposal, it matters to you a lot.

  36. @Console:

    In a country this size, the idea of rural vs. urban is insanely myopic… and the EC doesn’t even serve to the purpose of even making things more rural. It really only causes money to be spent in large competitive states. A purpose that doesn’t really make any sense.

  37. @Trumwill: And therefore we should prefer a system that creates the largest incentive for candidates to pay attention to the largest number of voters, i.e., a popular vote system.

  38. Trumwill says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Clearly candidates will go where the votes are (this is true under the current system). At least under a popular vote Reps will have reason to campaign hard in LA, Chicago, NYC and Dems will have reasons to campaign hard in Dallas and Birmingham.

    Right now candidates go where the votes that matter are. I consider that to be a significant distinction. The argument is that under the current system they campaign in different types and places in Ohio that they would never campaign in if it were a national campaign. Instead, they would limit their campaigning to cities of similar type and size to just two or three cities in that state.

    I don’t disagree that it would be a good thing if candidates did not have such incentive to dismiss large swaths of the electorate (“We can’t win Texas, so we might as well portray Texas as a third-world hellhole as an example of Republican leaderships!”). Another one of the reasons I support a popular vote. I nonetheless see something… unhealthy… about candidates rarely venturing beyond the city. Dallas and Los Angeles have quite a bit in common with one another that Dallas and Abilene do not. You can tailor your messages and appearances to those two and forget about the latter.

    I really don’t see the legitimate issue here as one would expect less focus on sparsely populated areas. Of course, there is also the distinction between physical campaigning and media-based campaigning.

    Sending an ad to a TV network in a smaller town is not the same thing as actually spending time in smaller cities. Or giving them real consideration when developing policies. So long as we have the senate, I am not all that worried about the latter part. But, of course, you want to change that, too. 🙂

  39. Trumwill says:

    @Console:

    In a country this size, the idea of rural vs. urban is insanely myopic

    In the last five years, I’ve lived in two cities, a small city, and a small town (all four in different states). It’s not myopic at all.

  40. superdestroyer says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Popular election of the president just means that the real election for president will be the first few Democratic primaries/caucuse states where the winner of the nomination is decided.

    the EC gives a conservative party a chance to being relevant but demographic changes of the U.S. will eventually eliminate any conservative party. Changing to PV for president just like California changing to top two primary is meant to eliminate any conservative party and make the U.S. a one-party-state.

    Soon elections in the U.S. will be ethnic groups and power blocks fighting over the spoils of government spending while trying to stick as small a group as possible with the costs.

    And yes, urban over are the most liberal voters in the U.S. and support Democrats in overwhelming numbers. Chicago and Los Angeles produce a million net votes for Democrats and that is when the states are not in play. Image the get out the vote efforts in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia when those urban areas will provide more votes than the 30 smallest states.

  41. Trumwill says:

    In response to 20:33 and 20:34

    The focus on but a couple of handful of states is a very, very strong argument for a national popular vote. I do not take issue with this. I take issue with the notion that concerns about all of the campaigning going on in the cities are illegitimate.

  42. @Trumwill: It would seem that we fundamentally agree on the basics.

    Still, I think you are assuming that all campaigning in a national vote system would only be in large cities. I am not sure that there is any particular reason to assume this is true.

    You also seem to be assuming that most people get their contact with a campaign via a live campaign event. This is not the case.

  43. @superdestroyer:

    Popular election of the president just means that the real election for president will be the first few Democratic primaries/caucuse states where the winner of the nomination is decided.

    A) Nomination and election are two different processes. I am not addressing nomination in this post.

    B) This statement doesn’t even make sense. If to win the presidency under a national vote system a candidate would need in the 60 million range. It takes more than a handful of states to amass that many votes.

  44. @Trumwill:

    Dallas and Los Angeles have quite a bit in common with one another that Dallas and Abilene do not. You can tailor your messages and appearances to those two and forget about the latter.

    The thing is, I see no logically compelling reason that a candidate stumping in Dallas wouldn’t also stop in places like Abilene (or maybe Waco).

    When one runs for governor or senator one does not campaign solely in the highest population areas.

  45. “Well, 1, the EC is not proportional, because small states have a disproportional number of EVs.”

    That´s because the Congressional Districts are too large. In fact, that´s a bigger problem than the EC.

    “2. States do not have interests apart from the people in those states. ”

    Yes, that the point. These people aren´t disconnected from their states, and there is the point that not everyone votes in the US. The fact is that is fair easier to vote in the US(One of the only countries that I know that holds major elections in the middle of the week) if you don´t work, and that gives seniors disproportional political clout. Under PV that would increase even further.

  46. Trumwill says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think you are assuming that all campaigning in a national vote system would only be in large cities. I am not sure that there is any particular reason to assume this is true.

    That’s where the voters are. If you can change one of ever 10,000 minds in Seattle, that’s like changing one of every 1,500 in Spokane or one of every 500 in Coeur d’Alene. Now, maybe it is the case that it’s easier to change a larger percentage of minds in Spokane with a quick trip over, but I wouldn’t count on it. At all. And of course there are lots of places there are no quick trips to.

    You also seem to be assuming that most people get their contact with a campaign via a live campaign event. This is not the case.

    Not exactly. I do think that the combination of campaign stops and the news coverage of campaign stops matters. But I’m looking at it more from the other way: the campaign stops affect the campaign. I wish I could go into it more… but it opens up a truckload of tangential avenues of conversation that I (and I am sure you) do not have time to really explore.

  47. Trumwill says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I mentioned somewhere before… a governor or senatorial candidate has plenty more time to visit places that are not major metropolitan areas. That’s less the case for someone running for the votes of 100,000 candidates in one of the largest countries in the world.

    It takes less time to fly to St. Louis than to drive to Abilene. And if you’re going to get on a plane, you might as well fly to St. Louis than Abilene.

    And, of course, some smaller cities aren’t a 4-hour drive away.

    I could be wrong about this, but it is a concern. It’s definitely something I see as a bad side-effect if we ever did go with a popular vote.

  48. Trumwill says:

    @André Kenji de Sousa: The EC’s inequities are not due to house size. It’s because senate seats are included in electoral votes, so Wyoming and California both get two. Montana, which is underrepresented in the US House, is still overrepresented in the EC.

    I’m not sure what the senior vote has to do with anything.

  49. Brazilian politics have their particularities, so, it´s hard to argue anything using that as a example. But I can say that I live a few dozen miles from São Paulo, the biggest city in the country. I don´t live in a small city – there is 80 thousand people here, 300 thousand people in the city that I work.

    I would only see presidential campaigning when I traveled to São Paulo. I´m not talking about campaign events, but campaign posters and things of the genre.

    Besides that, there is something missing here: the greatest challenge of the political system in a particular continental country (Like Brazil, United States, India or Mexico) is precisely to balance the interests of people living in rural areas, people living in large urban areas, and so on. One can argue, and I do agree, that´s today´s EC is lousy way to do that.

    But creating another problem of the same genre by simply adopting the PV would´nt be better.

  50. Trumwill says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: You and SuperDestroyer are talking past one another. Here is what he is saying:

    In the future, there will only be one viable party. Therefore, presidential elections will be decided in the primary, as it (generally) is in one-party states within the US. A national popular vote, which would favor Democrats, would make this day come sooner.

    (I do not agree with him on almost any of this, but that is what he is saying.)

  51. Dan Nexon says:

    @Andre Kenji: State-based proportional allocation of EVs would be a nightmare. Colorado considered moving to this system in the recent past, until it realized that the result would be that no more than a single EV would ever be in play. This is essentially what we would see across the country in close elections.

  52. “I’m not sure what the senior vote has to do with anything.”

    Seniors vote in larger numbers than the rest of the population. Under the EC the EV are distributed by the population of each state. Under PV their vote would be counted as the total.

  53. superdestroyer says:

    @Trumwill:

    I guess it makes sense that someone who writes that he does not care if his plan turns the U.S. into a one party state faster than demographic changes will does not understand the implications of the U.S. being a one party state.

    I suggest everyone look at elections such as the mayoral election in DC where the winner of the Democratic primary starts the transition without waiting for the general election.

    In a one party state where demographics dominates politics, the primaries are important. If one wants PV so that Los Angeles and SF is more important than Ohio should realize that in a one party state Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina will be the only states that decide who is the president.

  54. @superdestroyer:

    I misunderstood your point about primaries, so point taken (in a theoretical sense).

    The problem with your logic is that it assumes, for no reason, that the country would become dominated by one party.

  55. superdestroyer says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    California, Maryland, Mass, NY, Conn. Washington, Oregon are all dominated by one party. In California, there is not one Republican office holder who was elected in a state wide election. The Democratic primary in California, Maryland, etc is the dfacto general election and the general election is the Democratic primary.

    As whites make up a smaller percentage of the voters and especially white males shrink as a percentage of the population, there is no hope for any conservative party.

    So the question for all of the political scientist is what happens when all of the former Republican voters move over and start voting in the Democratic primary and will the far left progressives be willing to walk away from the automatic Democratic Party voting blacks, Hispanics, and public sector employees so start a new “Green” party?

  56. rodney dill says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The problem with your logic is that it assumes, for no reason, that the country would become dominated by one party.

    I agree that the country would not necessarily become dominated by one party. The parties are not static, or at least the don’t have to be. They can recreate themselves to represent slightly more than half of the voters. (At least that is presumably the goal, though they both try to represent themselves as center). A change to PV would dictate the direction of some of the changes. The Republican stance would need to move somewhat more liberal to make gains in Democrat strongholds, since they can pick up significant votes there without a need to win to make gains.
    Consequently, the Democrats stance would move somewhat more conservative to make gains in the Republican stronghold areas.

    I’m pretty sure no one can predict what all the unforeseen consequences of a move to PV would be.

  57. @superdestroyer: But the point would be that those votes would no longer be constrained by geographical boundaries. Under a popular vote the Reps in heavily Dem states would actually count towards electing the president (likewise Dems in Reps states).

    The measure you need for your hypothesis is the national vote historically, which show a two-party competitive system.

  58. @rodney dill:

    The “stronghold areas” makes no sense in a PV system: it is one big pot of votes.

    And if to win a national vote the Reps would have to be a bit more liberal to appeal to the majority, well then that’s what happens in democracy. If you arguing that the current system helps prop up one party over the other based not on the majority preference, but instead because of the exigencies of geography and an institutional structure that doesn’t even work as designed or intended, then you are making my argument.

    I’m pretty sure no one can predict what all the unforeseen consequences of a move to PV would be.

    Exact predictions? No. Proximate understanding? Absolutely. This is very moderate change, but it is one that would be more commensurate with very fundamental democratic principles. To quote myself from above:

    Ultimately, a popular vote would do at least two things: 1) make all of us equal as voters in terms of selecting the president, and 2) increase competition for the office, because all voters would be relevant to the outcome. If individuals are truly important and if competition improves those who compete (two key American values), then I would submit that if one is opposed to EC reform that one ought to give the proposition another look.

    I think one has to directly address those claims in order to defend the EC.

  59. rodney dill says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I think I was pretty much agreeing with you (and opposed to superdestroyer’s stance) that the country would not necessarily gravitate to one party.

    I also am not defending the EC, at least not recently, and I’ve covered that in some other comments here and in the other recent post on PV vs. EC.

    If you arguing that the current system helps prop up one party over the other based not on the majority preference, but instead because of the exigencies of geography and an institutional structure that doesn’t even work as designed or intended, then you are making my argument.

    I pretty much agree with that. It (the EC) at least allows a party with a certain belief system to exist and be sometimes successful without more compromises that would be needed in the PV system. (I’m not making a judgement on whether such compromises are good or bad)

    Not all responses I make to your comments mean I’m necessarily trying to be contrary to them. 😉

  60. Fargus says:

    So many people seem to be saying that rural votes will count less, but they seem to mean that rural areas will get less money and attention lavished on them. Perhaps this is true and perhaps it isn’t. The Electoral College isn’t the only institution in the country that amplifies the interests of less populated areas over more populated ones. The Senate and the primary system do quite a nice job of that. Shifting from the EC to a PV wouldn’t mean that rural areas don’t have influence disproportionate to their population. It would just lessen that disproportionate influence a bit.

  61. Andre Kenji says:

    There are some points that are worth looking here:

    1-) In Brazil it´s not that rural do not count. It´s that a single state and a single metropolitan area have too much power to choose the president.

    2-) The Mexican Election of 2006 was a bigger Constitutional Crisis than Florida in 2000.

  62. physics geek says:

    As interesting as I find this conversation – as I’ve found similar conversations over the last few decades- the question is effectively moot. There’s no getting around the Electoral College barring a constitutional amendment, passed by Congress and approved by 3/4 of the states. Tell me the truth: does anyone in this thread think that the smaller states would ever approve of such a measure? I don’t even see the National Popular Vote getting any traction for the same reason, because smaller states would change from mostly unimportant to completely irrelevant.

    If anyone can give me a path where a popular vote/direct democracy becomes the law of the land, great. If not, well, this is all just noise. Spirited debates are entertaining. A pointless debate, which this one appears to be, not so much. Actually, I did enjoy a lot of the talking past each other, because nothing says I understand my opponent as much as blithe disregard of their position. To be able to argue well in favor of your position, you should be able to argue equally well for that of your opponent. If you cannot do so, I would submit that you haven’t thought the issue through enough. Simply stating “your reply is meaningless” is not helpful.

  63. Trumwill says:

    @Fargus: It is quite true that rural states are vastly overrepresented in the Senate. At the same time, a lot of the people most adamant against the EC also want to do away with the Senate. Fortunately, getting rid of the senate is nigh-impossible. So I think the rural argument for the presidency is not sufficiently strong to preserve the EC.

  64. Fargus says:

    @Trumwill: See, but this is what I don’t get. Why should we favor a system that preserves disproportionate influence for rural voters? It doesn’t make sense. Kenji’s nightmare scenario, where a single state has a lot of power to choose the president, forgets that that state has that power because it has a lot of people in it. I don’t understand arguments that people shouldn’t be the primary focus here. I haven’t heard it convincingly argued otherwise, except to note, as you have, that people from less populous areas may receive fewer campaign appearances and dollars.

  65. Trumwill says:

    @Fargus:

    If one group has 60% of the population, and another group has 40% of the population, the group with 60% will get their way 100% of the time. Do you see why this might seem unfair to the 40% group?

    The issue is not that places with more people get more consideration in proportion to their population, but the fear that they will get consideration out of proportion to their segment of the population. That per-capita spending in smaller states will be far outstripped by per-capita spending in larger states.

    Now, we can say “but the larger states have more people!” but then the question becomes “What does that entitle them to?” Should each person in these states have more money spent on them than each person in a smaller state, simply because there is power in numbers?

    As it stands, of course, it’s the smaller states that have more spending per-person than the larger states. It’s a more complicated picture than many make it out to be, but to the extent that more per-person is spent in rural areas, it’s because they have outsized representation in the Senate. That is perhaps to suggest that senate representation goes a step too far (there are some counterarguments, but I’ll let that go for now), but if you got rid of the senate altogether, the states could be made completely irrelevant even in proportion to the number of people that live there.

    If three million people live in Nevada and another three million people combined live in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, it’s going to be far easier for the people of Nevada to coordinate their political action and vote together than the same number of representatives spanning three rather large states with mountains and forests and parks separating everybody and only one urban area of note.

  66. Fargus says:

    If we’re talking Presidential campaigning, then like Dr. Taylor has noted, it’s nonsensical to talk about PV in terms of states. And if your argument boils down to “if a vote is 60-40 and the 60% win, then the 40% don’t get any say,” then I’m afraid we’re not going to have very much to agree on, because there’s going to be no satisfactory way to ever make a decision.

  67. Trumwill says:

    @Fargus: My apologies. I thought our conversation turned to the senate. As far as the EC goes, I don’t think it should necessarily favor rural areas because I believe rural areas get their due in the senate. There are others that see the senate as being insufficient. The EC forces candidates go to out beyond major areas, which I think makes a difference. As a candidate and a campaign, where you go and who you talk to both matter. I see a potential hazard with candidates that don’t venture beyond major urban areas. Taylor doesn’t think this will happen. Perhaps he is right. But I’m not so sure. I think it would be less unhealthy than the EC, but I do see an unhealthiness there. I’m not sure what the best way around it is.

    there’s going to be no satisfactory way to ever make a decision.

    There isn’t a way that’s satisfactory to everybody. Which is why we debate the way that decisions are (or should be) made: Electoral college, the senate, proportional representation, the filibuster, etc. Questions of the best form of democracy and the limitations of democracy.

  68. Fargus says:

    What is inherently unhealthy about a candidate campaigning to people and not to states as abstract entities?

  69. Trumwill says:

    The unhealthy part is candidates spending all of their time and energy in major urban areas.

  70. superdestroyer says:

    @Trumwill:

    Only the Democratic party candidate would spend all of there time in urban areas. That is where the lowest hanging fruit is for the Democratic Party candidates. The Democratic Party candidate would could campaign 100% of the time in about the 25 large counties in the U.S. and win in a rout.

    In a national election, there is no hanging fruit for the Republicans. Republicans candidate wins by a small margin in a large number of counties. Thus, there is little that the Republicans can do to match the huge advantage that the Democrats would get by just increasing voter turnout a few percent in Los Angeles.

  71. rodney dill says:

    @superdestroyer:I’m contrary to that position superdestroyer. The Republicans don’t campaign in some urban areas, high population states.,. as they can’t win the EC swing there, but they may be able to pick up a much larger part of the minority vote (which would still be a loser in the EC scenario, but give them a big jump in votes in a NPV scenario.)

    (e.g. With a Nation Popular vote, It would be much better to campaign in New York and California and get 49% of the votes in those states, than not campaign there and get only 30% of the votes)

  72. mannning says:

    My thanks to all for an illuminating discussion of EC and PV issues. For me, it also highlights the need for a most thoroughgoing comparative analysis of each system, with particular emphasis on the unintended side effects that might be encountered were we to switch in each area of the nation.

    We currently have a two-party system that may be seriously affected by such a change, which may well hide some impacts of unknown depth and breadth for the status quo. I am not in favor of making high impact changes until they are thoroughly and honestly evaluated for their impacts given change and no change, and even tested in some microcosmic manner, regardless of the presumed benefits of the change as seen from the prior state of play. After all, this suggested change does affect 300 million people in some real manner, and not necessarily all to the good in all parts of the country.