The National Popular Vote Benefits People, Not Parties

In an opinion piece published in The Hill, Lara Brown urges Democrats to “stop worrying about the electoral college,” because over time, demographics are likely to shift and the current system may favor Democrats.  Likewise, Republican pollster Jim Hobart notes that the electoral college is “cyclical,” and that in a few years, Republicans may wish that we chose our president by national popular vote.

They are both right that under the current system, swing states become safe states, and safe states for one party can become safe states for the other, with relative frequency.  Therefore, Republicans are not likely to retain a long-term structural advantage from keeping the current system, nor are Democrats always going to be better off under a national popular vote.

But under the current system, even if the identity of the swing states that decide elections changes to the advantage of one party or the other, certain things will remain the same:

That is why so many people—of all political persuasions—have been working tirelessly to enact the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact since 2006, through Republican and Democratic electoral victories alike.  No one has the right to always have their candidate of choice elected president.  But if the president has to win the national popular vote, every person’s vote will count equally. 



The Small State "Advantage" Under the Electoral College is Illusory

Some argue that because small states get more electors relative to their population than large states, the Electoral College is good for small states and protects their interests.  However, that minor advantage is far outweighed by the incentives to ignore people who live in small states entirely when almost every state awards all of its electors to the winner of the statewide popular vote.  From Ryan Cooper at The Week:

The 2016 candidates spent almost all their time in a handful of states, most of them medium or large. Two-thirds of campaign events happened in just six states — Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, and Michigan. If we include Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Arizona, then those 12 states account for 96 percent of campaign events.

The nine smallest states (including D.C.), meanwhile, got precisely zero attention. Only the tenth-largest, New Hampshire, got any events at all. In total, 25 states (mostly small and medium-sized) got no events whatsoever. And while it's true the states that got huge attention are mostly on the big side, the very largest states were almost totally ignored as well — California and Texas got one event apiece, and New York none.

The reason for this is obvious. Almost every state gives all of its electoral votes to whoever wins the state — allowing candidates to take the votes of strongly partisan states for granted. Indeed, it's actively foolish to campaign where you are guaranteed to win or lose — only the swing states matter. It would be a waste of resources for a Democrat to campaign in California or Kentucky, or for a Republican to campaign in New York or D.C.



Electoral college system encourages climate change

A strong majority of Americans supports the government leading in battle against climate change. But the electoral college system privileges states that account for the major part of greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania, three swing states that were integral to Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, were among the top 12 states in aggregate emissions.  These states would have to change their energy use the most in order to defeat climate change. Change is hard. 

 Therefore in 2016 and again in his 2020 campaign it serves Donald Trump‘s interests to support climate change denial and to be in favor of continuing business as usual, which is obviously threatening global climate disaster. If it were not for the electoral college system the United States would be much more likely to have a climate change policy that reflects the wishes of most Americans and all scientists who pay any attention to this subject. 

All the other states on the list of 12 are taken for granted by both parties. The key fact is the presence of the three swing states in the dirty dozen. 

See this chart:

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Maine Senate Passes National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

Maine’s Senate has voted 19-16 to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. If the Maine House of Representatives also approves the bill, Maine will join the fourteen states plus the District of Columbia that have pledged to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote once states with 270 total electoral votes join the Compact, thus guaranteeing that the winner of the national popular vote will become the president.

Currently, the Compact has 189 electors pledged. With the addition of Maine’s four electoral votes, the Compact will have 193 votes.



Swing States Stop Swinging

If you live in one of the few battleground states left, you may believe that the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is against your interests as one of the few voters who actually has a say in the outcome of presidential elections.  But history has shown that states do not remain swing states forever, and voters in some of the most important swing states in past elections may soon find themselves joining most of the country in the Land of the Ignored Voters in the next election.

Take Ohio, the deciding state in the 2004 election. Alex Triantafilou, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, criticized the popular vote movement as being against Ohioans’ interests because a national popular vote “would make Ohio not a player in the political game.” 

However, looking forward to the 2020 election, Ohio has already lost its coveted swing state status and moved into the into the column of states taken for granted by the Republican party.  The 2018 midterms, which generally provided significant gains for Democrats, demonstrated that Ohio has moved further into solidly-Republican territory “[s]o much so that the perpetual battleground seems less and less likely to be in play in 2020.”  A prominent Democratic super PAC has “significantly downgrade[d] Ohio’s targetability, listing it as a ‘GOP Watch’ state along with Texas and Iowa.”

 As a result, Republican commentator Scott Jennings predicts that “If you are one of the masochistic few who loves hearing your phone ring 48 times a day every fourth October, you are about to be sorely disappointed.”

On the other hand, Virginia, which had been a solidly-Republican state, then became a swing state, now looks more and more like a safely blue state.  The result: candidates may soon stop visiting Virginia, spending money in Virginia, and taking policy positions that serve the interests of Virginians. 

That former swing states should move to one column or another should not come as a surprise.  Indeed, even Democratic stronghold California used to be a swing state.  On the other side, Republican stronghold of Texas may become a swing state soon

As time goes on and demographics and party positions change, the key swing states that decide elections will inevitably shift.  A state with tremendous power and influence in one election may be completely ignored in the next.  But under the national popular vote, all votes will matter equally in every election.



Yup that’s it

This article correctly understands that the election turns entirely on who wins the statewide votes in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan. and Wisconsin. The very strong economy in these four states gives the president an extremely good chance of winning reelection while losing the national popular vote by a margin of millions. That would mean that in half of the elections of this century the loser of the popular vote nationally would become president. 



Still Another

Here is still another article that does not explain the meaning of presidential politics. The claim here is that President Trump is scuttling the China trade agreement (if there really was one in the offing) in order to improve his re-election prospects. The theory expounded is that by imposing tariffs on Chinese imports the president will get more votes, although it is also true that the Chinese will tariff their imports (our exports) of agricultural products, thus hurting American farmers.

What the article does not say is that the electoral college system makes the interests of American farmers irrelevant to the president. He is certain to obtain the electoral votes in the agricultural heartland of the country, say, Iowa, the Dakotas, Kansas, Nebraska. He can ignore, and obviously is ignoring, the interests of farmers in these states, where evangelical Christians are sure to give Donald Trump their votes and a plurality that awards him all the electoral votes.

The reason that bashing China and hurting American farmers works as an election strategy is that, presumably, it is popular in the more manufacturing-intense states that by pure accident happen to be the only states truly relevant in determining the outcome of the election – Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Florida, the lynchpin of the Trump election strategy, also is not impacted much by the Chinese tariffs on American agricultural products.

If the national popular vote were relevant to choosing the American president, farmers as a block of voters, regardless of where they live, would be important to the outcome. They number about 30 million and if their votes counted in a national tally no candidate for president in the general election could do without a coherent farm policy. Under the electoral college system such a policy is unimportant, and as farmers may have noticed the general election never features much discussion of farm policy.



Most of the 2020 Campaign Will Happen in Just Six Big States

Though defenders of the Electoral College often say that the institution is necessary to protect the interest of small states, in fact, the opposite is true.  A winning strategy for presidential candidates requires them to ignore small states and spend all their time and money on the few persuadable voters in large swing states.  

In 2016, 99% of campaign spending took place in only fourteen states, with half of that going to just four large states—Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  The rest of the United States was ignored.  And 2020 is shaping up to be even worse.  A pro-Trump Super PAC, America First Action, has stated that that just 13 states matter in the next election and plans to spend $250 million in just 6 large states—Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. 

 The result of the election may be dependent on an even smaller pool of voters: swing voters in Florida.

In Florida, for example, the starting Trumpworld assumption is that 10.5 million votes could be cast, which would represent record turnout in a fast-growing state. To be sure of a win, the president would need around 5.2 million to 5.3 million votes. At least 4.3 million Floridians, according to the campaign models, are already assured to come out for the president. The goal from there is straightforward: Find the 972,000-odd voters who would get the president to the win number.

The president isn’t wrong to commit to this strategy. The eventual Democratic candidate will certainly focus all of his or her energy, money, and time on these same few voters, taking the rest of the country for granted.  It is the system that forces candidates to spend all their time and money in large swing states.



A Look Back on a Bipartisan Effort to Reform the Electoral College

Recent polls have shown a sharp partisan divide in American’s opinions about Electoral College reform, though a majority still prefers a national popular vote.  But the national popular vote was not always an issue that split along partisan issue.  Polls from the 1960s and 1980s showed that large majorities of Republicans and Democrats both favored a national popular vote in nearly equal numbers.

During that era, there was a robust effort to reform the Electoral College by constitutional amendment spearheaded by Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana.  As Jesse Wegman wrote in the New York Times:

In a remarkable speech on May 18, 1966, Mr. Bayh said the hearings had convinced him that the Electoral College was no longer compatible with the values of American democracy, if it had ever been. The founders who created it excluded everyone other than landowning white men from voting. But virtually every development in the two centuries since — giving the vote to African-Americans and women, switching to popular elections of senators and the establishment of the one-person-one-vote principle, to name a few — had moved the country in the opposite direction.

Adopting a direct vote for president was the “logical, realistic and proper continuation of this nation’s tradition and history — a tradition of continuous expansion of the franchise and equality in voting,” he said.

He then explained how the Electoral College was continuing to harm the country. The winner-take-all method of allocating electors — used by every state at the time, and by all but two today — doesn’t simply risk putting the popular-vote loser in the White House. It also encourages candidates to concentrate their campaigns in a small number of battleground states and ignore a vast majority of Americans. It was no way to run a modern democracy.

Despite having the support of more than 80% of the population according to a 1968 Gallup poll, the effort to amend the Constitution failed, as nearly all proposed constitutional amendments do. 

Fortunately, with the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an amendment isn’t required to make all votes matter.



Poll Shows Majority of Americans would Prefer a National Popular Vote

According to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll: “53 percent of Americans support a move to a popular vote, while 43 percent believe the country should continue to elect its presidents using the Electoral College.”

This poll shows that Americans favor the national popular vote by a landslide margin. But because it only asked about amending the Constitution, the poll actually understates support for the popular vote. Amending the Constitution is a radical move that would take years to accomplish, and the process has only rarely been successful.

Unfortunately, this poll did not ask about the much more conservative approach to requiring presidential candidates to seek the votes of all Americans, one that does not require a constitutional amendment: the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Under the Compact, states agree to give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote once states with enough electoral votes to elect a president—270 votes—join the Compact. Right now, the Compact has 189 votes committed from fourteen states and the District of Columbia, with more states currently considering the bill.  The Compact is a constitutional exercise of the states’ authority to allocate their electoral votes as they see fit.  The Compact would not get rid of the Electoral College, but would make it work for all Americans instead of just those in swing states.

If the poll had asked about achieving a national popular vote without the need for a constitutional amendment, support would have been much higher.  Making Every Vote Count’s own polling shows that when asked the simple question “Do you think the person who wins the most votes nationwide should become the president?” 74% of all Americans say yes.



Electoral college shapes foreign policy

This would not be taking place if it were not likely to win votes in Florida. Without carrying Florida the president has precious little chance to win re-election. But for an important segment of Florida voters both Cuba and Venezuela are seen as enemy states. Hostility and intervention there wins votes, whereas these same voters may support, or at least not mind, the president’s withdrawal from Syria or his amicable attitude toward North Korea. 

Spanish-speaking voters in Texas or California are far more likely to react negatively to Donald Trump’s policies toward Mexico and Central America, from where they’ve come. But they are relatively indifferent to his Cuba or Venezuela policies, since most do not trace their origins from those areas. However, these voters are taken for granted or ignored in presidential politics because of the anti-democratic  electoral college system. 

This is another in a litany of bad aspects of the selection system. 



Our Election System Makes us Vulnerable to Foreign Hackers

 When we talk about the Electoral College and the national popular vote, we usually think about issues of fairness, democracy, history, and policy.  But there is another problem with the way that the Electoral College currently operates—with one candidate getting all the electoral votes from a state whether he or she wins that state by one vote or one million votes—that counsels strongly in favor of reform: election security.

As national popular vote activist Bunnie Keen writes, our current system makes it much too easy for a malevolent foreign power to hack an election:

The Mueller report documents that, in 2016, at least one county computer system in Florida was successfully hacked by Russian operatives. The vote margin for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton was just over 100,000 votes in that state. That was approximately .07% of the total votes cast nationwide (136 million) in our last presidential election.

It’s not known at this time which Florida county suffered the intrusion, but if the results were sufficient to flip the state’s total electoral votes from one candidate to the other, does it matter at this point?

The critically urgent question that must be addressed before 2020 is: Who do we want to have the greatest influence on our next presidential election: the American people, or a foreign government?

When elections can turn on just a few hundred votes in one state, as it did in 2000 and easily could again, even a small or relatively contained hack could make a universe of difference.  If all votes counted equally, the system would be much more difficult if not impossible to hack.



The Electoral College Distorts the Primary Process

The Electoral College system has a tremendous impact on candidates’ campaigns and policies.  But it also dictates who the candidates are in the first place.

The 2020 Democratic primary is in full swing, and voters have a staggering number of candidates to evaluate. According to a HuffPost/YouGov poll, 49% of Democratic voters think it’s more important that a candidate is more likely to win compared to only 35% who think it’s more important that a candidate’s position on the issues is closest to their own.  A focus on electability in itself is not terribly surprising—any primary voter should be concerned about a candidate’s appeal to the broader electorate.  But under the Electoral College, primary voters can’t just evaluate which candidate they think will do the best across the nation as a whole.  Instead, they think about electability in terms of a fraction of a fraction of voters—that is, swing voters in swing states. As Ed Kilgore explains:

“Without question, the most popular contestants for key swing voters next year are the Rust Belt white working-class voters — many of whom voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and/or 2012 — who helped Trump win Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and thus, the presidency in 2016.”

The problem is, voters tend not to be very good at determining electability. So the primary system forces voters to make a decision based on the perceived preferences of just a tiny sliver of the population, a double distortion that leads candidates even further away from the policies that most Americans actually want.



Four arguments in defense of the Electoral College--And Why They're Wrong

This article tackles four common defenses of the Electoral College: 1) it filter the passions of the people; 2) it forces candidates to campaign in rural areas; 3) it prohibits a couple of states or cities from picking the winner; and 4) it prevents the chaos of a contested election—and explains why each of them is factually incorrect.



More democracy means more money

According to this study, democracy improved GDP per capita by 10%. As everyone knows, the United States does not choose the president through a democratic process—or more precisely, it is democratic voting separately in a handful of states that determine who becomes president. If the candidates had to win a national democratic vote, each person getting equal weight in the voting regardless of state of residence, then we can guess that the American GDP would be nearly $2 trillion higher. 

The causation would run through many pathways, including more efficient advertising of policy positions, more efficient delivery of government services, more responsiveness to felt needs of most people, and more confidence in the future of the country.