The 2020 Map

The map shows the flaws of the Electoral College

The 2016 EV results

Defenders of the Electoral College rely on a couple of key arguments. One is that the Framers, in their wisdom, created a system wherein candidates would have to concentrate on all states, large and small, to cobble together support. As such, this notion supposedly promotes better representation.

A key problem, although far from the only one, with that argument is that the Framers never conceived of candidates engaging in campaigns, let alone national ones. They certainly could not have foresee anything like what developed in the early 19th Century, let alone today’s media-driven, almost two-year-long spectacles.

In short: it is hard to argue that tried to design a system for a process that could not have envisioned.

Regardless, even if we come to the conclusion that they stumbled into a system that would allow for a righteous balance of attention between the large and the small by aspirants to the highest office in the land, well, reality tells us otherwise.

A piece in WaPo discusses what any of us who pay attention to these things already knows, that 2020 (like previous presidential elections) will end up being primarily about a handful of competitive states, with all the others (large and small) being largely ignored.

Just four states are likely to determine the outcome in 2020. Each flipped to the Republicans in 2016, but President Trump won each by only a percentage point or less. The four are Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida. Many analysts point to Wisconsin as the single state upon which the election could turn.

Source: WaPo, The 2020 electoral map could be the smallest in years. Here’s why.

These states are all in the larger category. Indeed, FL and PA are top-five* but, of course, CA, TX, and NY are on not on this list (nor is IL–see previous note).**

So, as usual, the claims of EC defenders about how the institution promotes broad-based representations it going to smack right into the empirical reality of what the EC actually incentivizes.

Further evidence from the 2016 election, via the NPV project:

Two-thirds (273 of 399) of the general-election campaign events in the 2016 presidential race were in just 6 states(Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, and Michigan).   

94% of the 2016 events (375 of the 399) were in 12 states (the 11 states identified in early 2016 as “battleground” states by Politico and The Hill plus Arizona).This fact validates the statement by former presidential candidate and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin on September 2, 2015, that “The nation as a whole is not going to elect the next president.  Twelve states are.” 

Source: Two-thirds of Presidential Campaign Is in Just 6 States

See the linked piece for a full run-down.

Note that 25 of the 51 districts that have EVs (50 states plus DC) received zero visits by the candidates for president (or their running mates) in the 2016 general election campaign. Another 13 was visited by only one major party candidate/running mate.

One does not have to known the distribution of EVs by heart to look at that map and see that the EC in 2016 did not create a balance between large and small states. The key variable, obviously, is competitiveness.

Critics of a popular vote often state, not entirely incorrectly (although usually with great exaggeration),*** that under a popular vote candidates would direct their attention to population centers. But, what is more desirable: for candidates to focus on where the voters are or to focus only on where geographic exigencies have created competitive states?


*PA was actually 6th after the last census, but was tied with IL with 20 EVs. After the next census PA is likely to be 5th ahead of IL.

**There are Democratic fantasies of TX going purple, but the likelihood is that it will not be sufficiently competitive in 2020 to warrant lots of spending or campaign stops. If it does even up garnering attention, the main reason will not be, however, because of the large number of voters in the state, but rather because it will be considered competitive.

***The exaggerated claim is that candidates will spend all their time in places like LA and NYC and ignore everyone else. But, of course, that is not the case for a number of reasons. First, there aren’t enough votes in just those areas to win the presidency (especially if we required an absolute majority of the vote to win), and second urban centers contain both Rs and Ds (and third party voters). We get brainwashed into thinking that places are Red or Blue as if they are monoliths. There are even liberal Democrats in Mississippi and conservative Republicans in San Francisco. Candidates should be incentivized to seek them all out.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. 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. Mikey says:

    We get brainwashed into thinking that places are Red or Blue as if they are monoliths. There are even liberal Democrats in Mississippi and conservative Republicans in San Francisco.

    Absolutely. But the Electoral College renders them so irrelevant that we can quite safely act as though they don’t even exist.

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  2. Teve says:

    Dan Crenshaw’s incredibly idiotic attempted defense of the electoral college is what made me muse on a recent Open Thread about how either he is really stupid or really dishonest or both.

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  3. michael reynolds says:

    The electoral college weighs states against states. Problem: states are anachronistic and silly. States don’t make sense geographically, they don’t make sense economically, they don’t make sense demographically. The entire idea is obsolete. We are one country, we should have one law administered in districts and regions, redrawn as population shifts. One election for POTUS, a people’s house elected by district, a second chamber elected by region, one person one vote.

    Never happen of course. Because after all with their 575k humans and their 31 billion GDP, Wyoming deserves as much representation as 40 million Californians producing 2.5 trillion dollars.

    We are paralyzed by this stupid system, which is so hobbled by the concept of states that we can’t even hope to extricate ourselves.

    The Founders’ flaws are becoming more evident, thanks to the debasement of the presidency and the cravenness of Congress. The emoluments clause, presidential pardon, the 25th amendment, the electoral college, the 2d amendment as interpreted by extremist justices. . . We are driving a rusted old Cadillac when we really need a nice, new Audi. And there’s not a damned thing we can do about it but drive on into obsolescence and engine failure.

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  4. DrDaveT says:

    But, what is more desirable: for candidates to focus on where the voters are or to focus only on where geographic exigencies have created competitive states?

    The answer to this question question is tied into a moral narrative that claims that rural and small-town voters deserve disproportionate representation. This is often tied to a characterization of rural and small-town voters as ‘farmers’ or “food producers”, despite the fact that the vast majority of rural and small-town inhabitants have nothing to do with producing food for the rest of us (or for themselves).

    I’m reminded of an ad campaign that made fun of a brand of salsa “made in New York City”. (I suspect that the parent company is headquartered in NYC, and the salsa produced elsewhere, but I digress.) It would never occur to most viewers that there are more than half as many authentic Mexican-Americans in NYC as there are in New Mexico*, the most Hispanic state in the US.

    *Roughly half a million in NYC vs. ~900,000 in New Mexico.

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  5. michael reynolds says:

    @DrDaveT:
    One thing to come out of the Trump era is the death of the notion of rustics as salt of the earth. Pre-Trump it was a City Mouse vs. Country Mouse thing, some sneering from both sides, mild condescension. Now City Mice see those Country Mice not as bumpkins but as hypocritical, racist, opioid chewing, gun-toting creeps.

    It’s going to be all but impossible to get both mice back into anything like a shared reality.

    On the plus side I can only applaud the efforts of Trump’s white evangelicals to utterly destroy their own brand. Twenty years ago we were seeing articles about the death of mainline protestantism and the robust growth of the evangelicals. No more. They’ve alienated their own children with their moral surrender, and their abandonment of Jesus in favor of Trump and #Cult45.

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  6. Scott F. says:

    Thank you for your diligence covering the shortcomings of the Electoral College, though I admit being demoralized when faced with the seeming futility of seeking any reform of voting practice in the US. Surely removing or reforming the Electoral College will require a bipartisan effort, but you didn’t note in the OP that the defenders and opposers to the EC are firmly partisan.

    I’ve been able to find that 17 of the Democratic candidates favor eliminating it and that includes all but Biden among the most viable. But, I can’t find even even one Republican on record in favor of elimination who might work with them. What’s the argument that might bring Republicans onboard? I can’t think of one.

  7. @Scott F.: You are correct: change will require a bipartisan effort and currently the GOP fully support the EC. It is hard to get a party to give up an advantage.

    So, yes, prospects for change are dim.

    I figure change requires understanding, so I write about it. But I know it will only have marginal effects.

  8. Scott F. says:

    @michael reynolds:

    We are paralyzed by this stupid system, which is so hobbled by the concept of states that we can’t even hope to extricate ourselves.

    Is there no hope to extricate ourselves or are the odds just extremely long?

    These same electoral rules gave us Obama and a fully Democratic Congress within the last 10 years (albeit by a razor thin margin for a vanishingly brief period of time). During this decade, undivided Republican control only lasted 2 years as well. A reasonable partisan could be open to the argument that EC mechanics won’t always work in their party’s favor.

    Far be it from me to suggest that today’s Republicans are open to reason, but if there’s a Trump backlash drubbing in 2020, maybe some will see the light.

  9. de stijl says:

    American geography was for decades essentially defined by media markets. If you lived in NW Wisconsin, you were basically influenced by the Twin Cities, for example.

    But since the viewership of traditional TV/cable is dropping off a cliff and everyone is streaming, I don’t know what portends.

    I have not watched a local news broadcast for probably a decade. Local newspapers are either dead or dying.

  10. michael reynolds says:

    @Scott F.:
    It takes just 13 state legislatures to kill any constitutional amendment. WY, VT, AK, ND, SD, DE, RI, MT, ME, NH, HI, ID and WV are thirteen. Now add in NE, NM, KS, MS, AK, NV, IA an UT that each have just enough population to justify somewhere between a fraction of a Senator and one Senator and thus lose power. And that’s not even getting into partisan considerations.,

    Short of George Washington, I don’t think I know of a case of any politician or political entity that has ever volunteered to lose power.

  11. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You are correct: change will require a bipartisan effort and currently the GOP fully support the EC. It is hard to get a party to give up an advantage.

    Even if the GOP was split on changing it, the Amendment process is so arduous that it’s unlikely that this would go anywhere.

    As you’ve pointed out, the reality is our present system is, in many ways, optimized for the minority to put the brakes on reforms such as these.

  12. @michael reynolds:

    And that’s not even getting into partisan considerations.,

    I do think that a small state that is deep Blue would likely give up the EC advantage since the dominant political party in that state would be advantaged.

    In other words, I don’t think, despite the dominant narrative framing, that the issue is really large state v. small state. I think it is overwhelmingly partisan.

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  13. Teve says:

    @michael reynolds:

    On the plus side I can only applaud the efforts of Trump’s white evangelicals to utterly destroy their own brand.

    I don’t know if you’ve been following the story of moralizing self-righteous asshole Jerry Falwell Jr, but remember that sketchy story where he wound up maneuvering hundreds of thousands of dollars to a former young hot pool boy? Well that’s old news, the new news is his maneuvering of hundreds of thousands of Liberty University dollars to a young hot personal trainer.

    Stupid people with shitty values.

  14. Teve says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Short of George Washington, I don’t think I know of a case of any politician or political entity that has ever volunteered to lose power.

    Kathy will be by shortly to fill you in on Cincinnatus. 😀

  15. de stijl says:

    @Teve:

    In the US context perhaps Eisenhower with the “military-industrial complex” speech.

    LBJ knew that the Civil Rights Act would bollox up the D’s in the the southeast.

    Other than that, I really can’t think of much. Maybe Nixon and the EPA?

  16. michael reynolds says:

    @Teve:
    Hah! Cincinnatus – such an outlier in human events that 2500 years later we’re still marveling.

    Perhaps the one Washington decision that had the best and longest-lasting effect on US history. King? Me? Nah. More time? No, I’m cool. I’m going home.

  17. michael reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Let’s pretend that 45 of the 50 states are of the same party, totally dominant. The odds of a small state of that party agreeing to give up its senators? Not nil, but pretty close.

    I would suggest that the state system helps create and reinforce the partisanship. The state system preceded the formation of true political parties, so at very least you’d have to think they co-evolved and have a degree of co-dependence. To be a Republican in North Dakota is to have access to the power of the state of Nebraska. That incentivizes partisanship by offering a real power reward. Absent the kinds of tangible rewards states can offer loyal partisans, would a less profitable partisanship still be as strong?

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  18. Kylopod says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I do think that a small state that is deep Blue would likely give up the EC advantage since the dominant political party in that state would be advantaged.

    That’s already been tested recently. Nevada’s Democratic governor vetoed the move to enter the NPV compact, and Maine’s legislature reversed itself after the compact initially passed a procedural vote. Small states with Democratic state governments are clearly torn by conflicting incentives–or at least enough Dems in those states see it that way.

  19. Scott F. says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Yeah, I’m not pinning my hopes on a magnanimous politician. But, since the US is ostensibly a democracy, I’ve still got to believe there’s some way for The People to take the matter into our own hands.

    The will of the majority will only bow to the institutional powers of the minority for so long before there is significant unrest. People being pissed off at Congress is a bipartisan affair, so the status quo clearly isn’t popular. No politician is going to give up power, but I can imagine how a political party could get out in front of the revolt that is coming and ride the wave to some reform. Americans are too fat and happy currently to take to the streets Hong Kong style, but gun violence, kids in cages, healthcare inequities and the rise of white nationalism is getting more people off their couches.

    There’s a tipping point we haven’t reached. The only question for me is will we reach it before or after true political chaos occurs.

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  20. JKB says:

    Seems unlikely that states or Congressional delegations would support moving the country to populist government (I know, it’s no populism if the majority favor what the elites tell them to favor). But with only 10 states with voting populations more than Los Angeles County, that’s 40 states that lose out.

    And this site, reveals why moves to just alter EC elector allocations is a none starter for Democrats. Trump would have won under all the previously proposed allocations (although one proportional state vote) would have had to go to the House.

    But far more troubling, presumably, is that Obama would have lost in 2012 under a congressional district winner allocations, similar to what Maine and Nebraska have adopted, or in one-third of the EC scenarios.

    Seems clear that no abolition of the EC will happen short of forcing a majority of states out of the union in a civil war, in the manner in which the abolition of slavery during the Civil War.

  21. @michael reynolds:

    The odds of a small state of that party agreeing to give up its senators?

    But that wasn’t the issue–the issue is the EC. While related, they are different calculations.

    I agree that small states giving up equal representation would be a tough sell (although if the power calculus was that the way Democrats could get universal health care, small state voters might actually support the trade).

    But that is a side issue. I think that the EC is very about about party and partisan advantage in the current moment’s debate.

    In regards to the rest of the comment, I am not sure I fully follow.

  22. @Kylopod: Sure, it is complicated (and Maine, for example, shouldn’t be a surprise when the partisan variable is taken into account, also NV).

    But, Oregon (7 evs), VT (3), CT (7), RI (4), and DE (3) all have approved the NVP. All small states, all pretty blue.

  23. @JKB:

    populist government

    You aren’t using that term correctly.

  24. @JKB:

    a congressional district winner allocations, similar to what Maine and Nebraska

    What you are, no doubt accidentally, demonstrating is that congressional districts are so gerrymandered that that they tilt GOP even when a majority of votes prefer Dems.

    The rules that dominate our politics largely favor the numerical minority. That is what you are defending.

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  25. @Steven L. Taylor: Also: the link and the alternative rules still use the EV allocations that favor small state populations. Each scenario has the same problems baked in.

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  26. Gustopher says:

    A constitutional amendment isn’t going to happen. The system is designed to be hard to amend.

    Increasing the size of the House of Representatives can be done by law, however, and will change the number of electors as well. Wyoming would retain 3 electoral votes, while populous states would get more. If the Democrats ever get the Senate, House and Presidency, they should jam it through, and set the total size of the House to fluctuate with population while they’re at it. The country is a lot larger than it was in 1911.

    It doesn’t fix the Senate, but it makes the Electoral College less problematic.

    Dr. Taylor has harped on this before (in an angelic harp way, rather than a harpy way), as part of his general harping on making our republic more democratic.

  27. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: His preferred elites are in Wyoming.

  28. Kylopod says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’ve mentioned it before, but the idea that the district-allocation method could invite gerrymandering into presidential elections isn’t just hypothetical. After Obama’s 2008 win of NE-2, the Nebraska legislature redrew the district to make it harder for Dems to win. I’m not sure how to determine this, but I’ve wondered for a while if Hillary would have won the district under its 2008 boundaries; she lost it pretty narrowly.

  29. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    What you are, no doubt accidentally, demonstrating is that congressional districts are so gerrymandered that that they tilt GOP even when a majority of votes prefer Dems.

    I was thinking the same thing — which also gets back to the artificial cap on House Membership. Which is another component of valuing a minority of voters rather than attempting to create a level playing field for representation.

    The sad part, of course, is that there’s even less political will for revising that particular limit.

  30. @Gustopher: Increasing the size of the House would greatly improve the situation, and may be the only truly viable option that we have.

    (It is a good idea for other reasons as well, as it pertains to overall representativeness).

  31. @Kylopod: It is a real problem with that method. It would be a disaster.

  32. mike shupp says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I’m expecting a number of states to adopt proportional EC delegation systems in the next year. Imagine Ohio going 49 percent for a Democratic presidential candidate and 51 percent for Trump — of course the entire 18 electoral votes ought to go to Trump! Who would change that?

    But suppose polls show a 51 to 49 lead for the Democrat in Ohio? Then obviously simple fairness to all voters — the American Way! — demands that the electoral vote be split the same way, with maybe 8 votes for Trump and the remaining 10 for the Democrat. Or maybe 51-to-49 is close enough for a 9-9 split, wouldn’t that be even better? Clearly every state where Trump is UNFAIRLY at risk of defeat because of an outmoded view of how elections should be conducted needs to be brought into the modern world at once!

    Still think Republicans will defend the Electoral College to the end?

  33. Kylopod says:

    @mike shupp: The problem with proportional allocation is that it greatly increases the chances of an electoral deadlock where no candidate receives an absolute majority of EVs, and the election gets thrown into Congress (which would be even worse than an EC-popular split, because it would be decided by state delegations where Republicans currently have the advantage despite being a minority in the House).

  34. mike shupp says:

    @Kylopod:

    Ah! You miss the subtlety. Not every state would have its legislature split its electoral vote — just some of them, those with Republican-dominated legislatures where it seems likely that our Dear Leader is unlikely to win a plurality. If the Donald is forecast to gain 53 per cent of the vote in Ohio, for example, the legislature need do nothing, and Trump will receive all 18 of the states electoral votes. If the forecast is that the Democrat will carry the state, THEN the state legislature can vote for proportional splitting of the electoral vote. In the “best” of all worlds, Trump gets all the electoral votes from the states he carries, and some fraction of the electoral votes from some number of other states. No one but the Democratic candidate loses anything.

    Brilliant, isn’t it? Oh yeah, in principle, as I think you’re attempting to argue, Democrats might adopt a similar strategy, but …. it’s not likely they’ll think of it, or have the stomach to enact such policies. So it’s really a policy for the party that’s Always Right.

  35. charon says:

    @Teve:

    Well that’s old news, the new news is his maneuvering of hundreds of thousands of Liberty University dollars to a young hot personal trainer.

    I thought it was $1M+.

    Commenter at BJ suggested with so much money involved, the young man is just a front, the money is really going to Falwell himself.

  36. Kathy says:

    @Teve:

    I thought of Cincinnatus, but then I recalled Duncan’s admonition that many other appointed Roman dictators relinquished power, as prescribed by law, upon completion of their sixth month in office. Cincinnatus may be unusual in that he held the post twice.

    On the other hand there’s Sulla. He was declared Dictator for Life, nevertheless he stepped down and let regular Consular government resume, once he thought he had achieved a sufficient reform of the Republic (which protected the interests of the nobility).

    On the EC matter, the hope is when the EC unfairly favors the Democrats (ie when they win a presidential election while losing the popular vote*), they won’t decide to stick with the system as is because now it favors them. That’s when reform would become possible.

    * It’s worth noting that Bill Clinton did not win a majority of the popular vote in either 92 or 96, but in each case he received the largest share of the popular vote.

  37. @Kathy:

    * It’s worth noting that Bill Clinton did not win a majority of the popular vote in either 92 or 96, but in each case he received the largest share of the popular vote.

    Nor did HRC in 2016 (she won a plurality of 48.02%). Also, no candidate won an absolute majority in 2000 (Gore won a plurality of 48.38%).

  38. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The cases where a plurality winner of the popular vote wins the electoral vote, may be the saving grace of the EC system, but only in that it prevents the need for a second round of voting with only the top two candidates on the ballot.

    This may not be a small thing, given how low voter participation is to begin with, and it tends to be lower on second rounds.

    My point, though, is that no Democrat in recent years has lost the popular vote, as in getting fewer votes than his GOP rival, and won the election in the EC.

  39. @Kathy: I think that the current pattern simply privileges Reps in the EC and that an inversion of EV/PV that helps the Dems is unlikely (although as noted, that is the best way to finally getting reform).

    On the majority thing, I would prefer an absolute majority requirement, preferably with an instant runoff. Or a qualified plurality (like, IRCC, Costa Rica).

  40. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy:

    The cases where a plurality winner of the popular vote wins the electoral vote, may be the saving grace of the EC system, but only in that it prevents the need for a second round of voting with only the top two candidates on the ballot.

    I’d prefer a ranked-choice system like Maine has recently adopted for federal races below presidential.

    My point, though, is that no Democrat in recent years has lost the popular vote, as in getting fewer votes than his GOP rival, and won the election in the EC.

    In fact it’s never happened. The four candidates who won the popular vote and lost the EC have all been Democrats, including the two in 19th century (Samuel Tilden and Grover Cleveland). There are some who argue that JFK lost the popular vote in 1960, due to the weird situation with unpledged electors in MS and AL. It depends how those electors are counted.

  41. michael reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But that wasn’t the issue–the issue is the EC. While related, they are different calculations.

    They’re more than related, they are two issues with a single cause: states. The EC gives relative advantage to low-population states. Then, in the event of an EC tie, what happens? Each state gets one vote. That’s one for Delaware and one for California. And one for WY and ND and SD and so on.

    Why does Wyoming have three EC votes? Because they have two senators. Why do they have two senators? Because of states.

    It’s just one issue: the obsolete state system.

  42. @michael reynolds: My point is that that there is a different between discussing origins, which are clearly joined at the hip, and reform in the current moment.

    It is possible to reform, or get rid of the EC, without doing anything about the Senate. They are different issues in that sense.

    And I will push back on the obsolescence of states. The notion that some amount of governing (such as police and criminal justice) is better handled at the local level rather than in a centralized fashion makes tremendous sense. Large countries need ways to govern locally, and so places like the US, Canada, and Australia are federal. Germany functions well as a federal system.

    The issue is not states, the issue manifests with specific institutions and how states are empowered (or not). The EC is just a wreck of an institution. And the Senate seat allocations do not make sense given the way the states have evolved since 1789.

    A federal chamber is not, per se, a bad idea. What is a bad idea is having the kind of representational divergence he see between the largest and the smallest states (population-wise) and the way in which Senate procedures greatly favor the minority will in a national sense.

    Why does Wyoming have three EC votes? Because they have two senators. Why do they have two senators? Because of states.

    No, not because of states, but because of the constitution. Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina all have states (all are federal) but none have an EC.

    States, per se, are not the problem.

  43. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    I’d prefer a ranked-choice system like Maine has recently adopted for federal races below presidential.

    I wonder is some states could enact a law where 1) the electoral vote goes to the winner of the majority (50.01% or higher) of the popular vote in the state, and 2) uses ranked choice voting to prevent the need for second round runoff elections.

    I don’t know whether that would change the odds of another Republican, or Trump, from again taking an election with a minority of the popular vote, but, as it is, many EVs are won with a plurality of the vote in each state, entirely because of third party candidates “stealing*” votes from the main parties.

    * We need a better terms for third-party votes than “stealing” or “wasted votes.”

  44. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “And I will push back on the obsolescence of states. The notion that some amount of governing (such as police and criminal justice) is better handled at the local level rather than in a centralized fashion makes tremendous sense.”

    That’s an argument for local and possibly regional control. Most states control a far larger area than that, and suffer from similar inefficiencies. Indeed, other than (possibly) Rhode Island, I would suggest that none of the states are sufficiently uniform to permit the sort of local governing you have in mind.

    Even other small states have major conflicts between their regions, such as in Delaware between Greater Wilmington and (s)Lower Delaware (as the locals call it), or between South Jersey and North Jersey. Larger states like North Carolina or Ohio become a hopeless morass of conflicts between the urban areas which provide most of the income for state government and the rural areas which have control of the legislature, often with the legislature taking power away from local governments to resolve their own issues.

  45. @Moosebreath: None of that is an argument against states as a concept.

  46. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    It certainly is an argument against keeping significant power in the hands of the current lineup of states. If you have a proposal to dissolve the current states and replace them with significantly smaller ones which actually reflect local interests, then I am all ears. Though I doubt it would be feasible in the short or even medium run.

  47. @Moosebreath: I am not arguing that the current state boundaries/sizes are ideal. I am simply noting that the notion of states is not the fundamental problem.

  48. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I would say that the concept of local government is not the problem. The idea that the average number of people per unit of local government should be approximately 330 million people divided by 50 states, or 6.6 million, and that the number of people per unit of local government should vary by a factor of well over 50, is a significant part of the problem.

  49. @Moosebreath: I am by no means going to argue that 50 states are the optimal number. I will confess that I have not given it sufficient thought to have any firm opinion on what the optimal number should be, however.

    Further, I would be more than happy to maintain federalism, including the federal chamber, but if I were starting from scratch I would limit what influence the federal chamber had–I would prefer a system more like Germany’s where truly national legislation is handled by the first chamber and the second chamber only gets involved in matters that are truly of concern to the states. I would also weigh representation in the Senate by population.

    But, of course, none of that has much to do with how big states are, how they are internally organized, etc.

  50. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: I would have to differ with you on “wasted votes.” As a person who voted for third party candidates in 6 elections (after which I reconsidered what I was trying to do and stopped voting for President), I think one has to consider why people would vote for candidates who have no chance whatsoever of winning. Is it to voice displeasure at the choices? No one cares (in fact, instant runoff and other schemes at achieving “a true majority outcome” simply reinforce the fact that your one’s vote “doesn’t count” until it’s for a D or an R). Is it because of a sincere belief that the Libertarians, Greens, Natural Law-ites, or whoever are truly better choices? Again, so what? Everyone else in the US disagrees with you. What’s the point?

    Voting for 3rd party candidates even negates the notion that “every vote matters;” the outcome of the election stays the same whether the third party voter votes or stays at home. Sorry, but “wasted vote” describes the situation almost perfectly.

  51. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “none of that has much to do with how big states are”.

    My mileage differs. A state like California, with over 30 million people, or even Texas, with roughly 20 million people, is simply too large for concerns about local matters to be best decided at the state level. You had said above “Large countries need ways to govern locally…”. My point is that state governments do not meet that need, as they are still too large, both in population and area, for them to effectively handle local matters.

  52. @Moosebreath: “none of that has much to do with how big states are”–that referenced the preceding paragraph that I wrote and that paragraph really didn’t have anything to do with physical size.

    I understand your point about size of states and why that might be a problem (indeed, I am sympathetic to the idea that CA and TX are too big). Still, please try and see I am talking about different issues than what you are talking about. Yes, they are related, they are not the same thing.

  53. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I understand that your point is different than mine, but I think you are missing my point entirely.

    All of our states are the wrong size to handle local matters. Possibly Rhode Island is an exception, as it has only a single significant sized city and all or nearly all of the rest of the state is part of that city’s circle of influence. But no other states meet that criteria.

    If you believe that there are only matters which should be left to the federal government and matters left for local government, then there is no reason for there to be state governments at all, as state governments are the wrong size to handle any issues which arise and are therefore obsolete, as I initially said. If you believe otherwise, then what issues are properly handled at the state level?

  54. Moosebreath says:

    @Moosebreath:

    To put it another way, why should the representatives elected by the citizens of Birmingham, AL get a vote on anything which affects Mobile other than those issues under control of the federal government, when the representatives of Tallahassee and New Orleans do not, even though all 3 cities are roughly equally far away from Mobile? The only reason they do now is because Birmingham is in the same state as Mobile.

  55. @Moosebreath:

    but I think you are missing my point entirely.

    My understanding of your point has to do with size, compactness, and relative proximity. You are arguing that states should be much smaller to effectuate actual local governance.

    I get that.

    And, as I noted above, I do not have a well thought out notion as to the ideal geographic nor population size for a state.

  56. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “My understanding of your point has to do with size, compactness, and relative proximity. You are arguing that states should be much smaller to effectuate actual local governance.”

    That’s in the direction of my point, but not it. I don’t believe that there should be any functions handled by state governments as they are thought of now. I believe that they are obsolete, and even cause more harm than good by removing issues which only affect a local area from local control.

    I believe there should be a federal government, local/municipal governments, and a very limited role for regional governments, limited in scope to areas within a Metropolitan Statistical Area, and limited to issues where regional cooperation is needed. Neither geographic size nor population is the primary factor so much as shared common interests.

  57. @Moosebreath: Ok, I understand where you are coming from.

    What you are describing is a unitary state, more or less.

    I have doubts that a geographically large country, like the US, could function as a unitary state (and it is the case that most geographically large countries are federal). If anything, you are leaving out the degree to which federal policy is carried out by states (e.g., interstate highways, medicaid, WIC, other welfare programs). Even if you didn’t have states, you’d have to invent some state-like functions.

    There are also reasons for federalism in other places having to do with ethnic or linguistic divisions (e.g., Canada, Belgium, Switzerland).

  58. But, yes, I understand and acknowledge your position.

  59. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “If anything, you are leaving out the degree to which federal policy is carried out by states (e.g., interstate highways, medicaid, WIC, other welfare programs). Even if you didn’t have states, you’d have to invent some state-like functions.”

    These would be moved down the proper level (local or regional). Medicaid is a good example of an issue which was made worse by state governments, as people in one part of numerous states, who didn’t want to provide services for “those people” in other parts of their state, have placed limits or contingencies upon receipt of benefits.

  60. DrDaveT says:

    @Moosebreath:

    I don’t believe that there should be any functions handled by state governments as they are thought of now. I believe that they are obsolete, and even cause more harm than good by removing issues which only affect a local area from local control.

    I’m sympathetic to that view, but the bottom line is that the States came first, and the Union is founded on compromises that guaranteed the various States the right to retain their local irrational legal autonomy. We have whittled away at that over time, with a handful of federal laws that assert (basically) that individual States can’t continue to be hateful dicks on certain issues (and a fairly powerful “no interfering with interstate trade” ruling), but to this day the vast majority of all law in the US is State law.

  61. Moosebreath says:

    @DrDaveT:

    “the bottom line is that the States came first, and the Union is founded on compromises that guaranteed the various States the right to retain their local irrational legal autonomy. ”

    I understand that. As I said above:

    “If you have a proposal to dissolve the current states and replace them with significantly smaller ones which actually reflect local interests, then I am all ears. Though I doubt it would be feasible in the short or even medium run.”

    “a handful of federal laws that assert (basically) that individual States can’t continue to be hateful dicks on certain issues”

    Unfortunately, either we haven’t passed enough of those laws, or the ones we passed haven’t worked well enough, as the individual state governments are being hateful dicks on far too many issues.