Inequalities

The Electoral College Exposes Businesses Outside Swing States to Punishment

This is from Bill Bishop whose newsletter requires a subscription:

“It’s also worth noting that talk is going around DC that the US and China may keep the original $50B in tariffs, but that the Trump Administration has asked the Chinese to move theirs away from targeting the GOP base to less politically sensitive sectors, even proposing alternative industries to the Chinese side.”

What makes a business sector “politically sensitive”?

Campaign donations is one answer, but since Citizens United individual donations by the mega-wealthy have become far more important than corporate donations. Businesses generally balance donations between both parties and want to avoid alienating customers or hurting their brand by being labelled to the left or right on the political dial.

What matters is location. A business with many employees that is headquartered in a swing state is “politically sensitive” because its managers and employees matter to the close-run pluralities that define a state as a battleground.

Or did you think it was just an accident that Chrysler was twice bailed out by the United States government?

The Electoral College system exposes businesses headquartered on the Pacific or Atlantic coasts to the alleged conduct described by Bishop.

It’s in the interest of all businesses to have the presidency determined by national campaigns, with the winner always being the person who gets the most votes. Only under these circumstances will presidents seeking their second term have to regard all businesses with many employees as “politically sensitive.” 



Slight Modification

In this article the excellent Tom Edsall speculates that rapid and recent job growth in Republican-leaning states may boost the president's chances for re-election.

But the job growth in the 20 or so states certain to return Republican pluralities is irrelevant.

All that matters with the crazy system by which the United States chooses presidents is the situation in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. 

Of course it is true that job growth and wage growth—particularly among volatile segments, such as less educated people ages 22 to 60—has a huge impact on whether they vote and how they vote. But this consideration affects the outcome only as it applies to the handful of swing states.

If the United States used the national popular vote to pick the president, then the selection of the president would not turn on the fact that swing states by chance are located in a region of the country that lags in an economic recovery.

Should a poorly performing region have the tremendous clout that comes from picking the president?

There are three reasons the answer is no.

First, it is a mere accident that the few swing states currently are in the lagging Midwest. Suppose most people were suffering a sluggish economic recovery, but the swing states happened to be the booming Southwest. Then the well-off would be picking the president, leaving most people relatively ignored by the chief executive. The random selection of some states as swing states should not be the factor that causes the denizens of those states to get attention from candidates for president. 

Second, there are enough people in the Midwest—70 million!—to make it crucial in deciding who wins the national popular vote. Having a decisive role in the electoral college is not necessary for attention to be paid to the citizens of that region. It would be impossible for anyone seeking a national popular vote victory to ignore the Midwest, or to win without doing reasonably well in getting votes there. 

Third, many millions of Americans are underpaid or underemployed because they are less educated than necessary in the modern economy. They deserve to be treated as a voting block critical to choosing the president, regardless of where they live. Very affordable education, personal savings along the lines of Cory Booker's baby bonds, and very cheap health care costs are very important policies for all in this segment. But the focus only on this segment's representation in certain states tilts political promises toward hiring by local companies or hostility toward inbound migration, neither of which is as useful to address the fundamental problem. 



The Electoral College Makes Him Do This

According to this article, the President will push "divisive" issues, particularly immigration, in order to win re-election. What is left out, because it is assumed wrongly to be as unchangeable as the weather, is that the Electoral College system makes not only the incumbent running for re-election but also all candidates push issues that can win a mere plurality in the swing states of the Midwest. 

If President Trump had to win a national plurality he would have overwhelming incentive to propose reasonable compromises on immigration. 

It is too easy to criticize the president for taking a position unpopular with most Americans when that same position is quite in accord with his likely voters in the few states that will probably pick the president in 2020: Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. 

Anyone in elected office or who seeks elected office should realize that if the national vote does not choose the president then all candidates in 2020 and forever will shape their policies, promises, and conduct to accord with the views of a small fraction of Americans in a handful of states.



Victims of the Electoral College

Farmers have been doubly hit this year by a trade war with China and extreme flooding. All the states afflicted by this catastrophe are taken for granted in the general election because of the Electoral College. There are 60 million Americans in rural counties. They would have real clout if all their votes were added together in a national tally.  

Because they are not, the trade war and the lack of investment in infrastructure are a pair of punches in the gut. 



Our Towns

Among the many evils of the electoral system is this: it divides the votes in small towns by partitioning them into 50 states. These towns' citizens are then outvoted by the citizens of the larger towns and cities in each state. 

But the interests of small towns are distinctly different. As explained here, small towns in the West have figured out how to have vibrant economies, to attract young people and immigrants, to balance opportunity with quality of life. In the Midwest, small towns have lagged behind. Federal policy should learn from successful small towns and try to repeat these successes elsewhere.

There are more than 18,000 small towns (population less than 25,000). They contain more than 30 million people. This huge voting block would be important to any party's nominee if only the national vote mattered. Instead, with the winner-take-all curse and the disregard of runner-up votes that are both part of the electoral system, the small town voting block isn't a block at all. It is just an outvoted minority in virtually every state.

Some defenders of the current system conjure up the notion that small towns and rural interests are advanced by the electoral college. The exact opposite is the case. 

Some also claim that presidential candidates would ignore small towns. That is what they do now. If every vote mattered, candidates in the presidential election would advertise in small town newspapers, on small town radio, and on the nearest broadcast TV station carried by the small town cable system. They would use email and social media to reach small town voters everywhere in the country. They might even have a bus tour through small towns a la Clinton-Gore in 1992. 

The importance of swing states in the existing system sucks attention from small towns. The pluralities in the swing states are won by urban and suburban turn-out. 

Nothing about the current system motivates candidates in the general election to pay attention to the 30 million small town voters. So they are angry with reason, and democracy is in their interest. Not that politicians are telling them that. This truth would threaten the political power structure in every state. 

Nor do commentators explain to small town citizens that the current system hurts them. 

Why not? Because historians and law professors do not understand the perniciousness of the existing system; political scientists since the death of Robert Dahl have burrowed into intellectual tunnels and left democracy poorly examined; and presidents and their media followers prioritize urban and suburban viewers over small town audiences.


Think the National Popular Vote Would Always Help Democrats? Not So Fast

Conventional wisdom says that choosing the president by national popular vote would help Democrats and hurt Republicans.  But that is not necessarily the case.  MEVC’s own analysis shows that under the current, winner-take-all Electoral College system, a split between the winners of the Electoral College and the popular vote will happen about a third of the time in close elections—and neither party is likely to have a long-term advantage.

A growing number of Republicans have recognized that the national popular vote may be the best way to build winning coalitions going forward, and that any apparent benefit the current system has to Republicans may only be temporary. As Susan Crabtree explains in RealClearPolitics:

To [Republicans], the equation is clear: Defending the traditional system puts the GOP in the best position for President Trump to win a second term. But some Republicans wonder if the conventional wisdom is short-sighted. For starters, these contrarians are concerned with how the existing Electoral College dynamic has reduced civic engagement in whole areas of the country, from the deeply red South, rural Plains and mountain West to the millions of essentially disenfranchised Republicans in Democrat-dominated California. Such places are ignored every four years as the two major parties and their respective presidential tickets spend almost all of their time and treasure in roughly a dozen battleground states.

Of more pressing concern, these GOP contrarians also point out that the electoral map that currently favors them is not set in stone.

… Republicans who support shifting to greater reliance on the popular vote argue that in five to 10 years, their candidates may find themselves at a disadvantage even under the current system. That’s because demographics are changing palpably and Republicans might well lose their ability to win the important swing state of Florida, and possibly even the GOP anchor state of Texas.

We should not consider a national popular vote because of any perceived short-term gain to one party over another. Instead, consider the benefits that are lasting. A guarantee that all votes would count equally.  A truly national campaign.  And a promise that your federal disaster relief won’t be contingent on whether you live in a swing state. Sometimes the Democratic candidate would win; sometimes the Republican. But every voter would have a chance to weigh in on the decision.



Doesn’t this strike you as weird?

This is from a Firehouse poll:

The voters who picked Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016 in [Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin] will likely decide who wins in 2020....In Michigan, 84% of Obama-Trump voters choose Trump regardless of the Democratic opponent. In Pennsylvania, 70-79% support Trump depending on matchup (Biden fares the best, and Beto fares the worst). And even in Wisconsin, roughly two-thirds side with Trump over Democratic opponents.

So 20 months before the election we are all told that 47 states and the District of Columbia will be taken for granted and the pluralities in just three states will decide the next president.  Indeed, not just the voters in that trio but the views only of the tiny fraction of the people in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin who somehow managed to see their way to voting both for Obama and Trump (as opposite in every way is in the two presidents could be) will determine the next president.

This is how the Electoral College system works. How do you like them apples?

This means the preferences, opinions, cares, and needs of 90% of the population are going to be ignored. The wishes of most people don’t matter.  Heck of a system. 



Electoral College System Divides, Gives Unequal Voting Power to Native Americans

The Native American population is growing in size. From 200,000 self-identified in 1900 it is now 5.2 million. Native Americans are younger than the mode for Americans, increasingly enroll in college, and more than three-quarters live in urban areas. But they are divided, effectively partitioned, by many state lines. As a result, although they share a variety of common views, they cannot mass their votes in an effective way because in most states they choose the runner-up for president and receive zero electors in the Electoral College.



The way we pick the president means we can save the Great Lakes but not the Chesapeake Bay

After his initial budget threatened to cut 90% of the funding to clean up and preserve the Great Lakes, President Trump announced at a rally in Michigan that the full $300 million budget would be restored.

On the other hand, the same budget still would cut funding to clean up the Chesapeake Bay by 90%—from $93 million to only $7.3 million

Why does the president want to save the Great Lakes but not the Chesapeake Bay? Because Michigan will be a critical swing state in the next election, and no president can afford to potentially anger the small number of voters who, by chance, have the privilege of deciding the election.  On the other hand, Maryland’s electoral votes are taken for granted. 

This is just one example of how our current presidential election system warps our spending, policies, and priorities with very real consequences.



The Winner-Take-All Electoral College Benefits Big Battlegrounds, Not Small States

One of the most prominent argument in favor of keeping our current electoral system in place is that it keeps small states from becoming ignored. But in reality, the Electoral College is not doing much to promote the relevance of small states. From the New York Times:

The Electoral College’s small-state bias had essentially nothing to do with Donald J. Trump’s victory. In fact, he won seven of the 10 largest states, and Hillary Clinton won seven of the 12 smallest states.

Over all, the Electoral College’s bias toward small states probably cost her a net of four votes — essentially nothing.

If there is a benefit to protecting small states, the Electoral College is not doing a great job of providing it. Big states can dominate small ones under the system, and they have done so at times.


North Dakota Mistreated

I was kindly invited to speak on the Plain Talk podcast with Rob Port in North Dakota. Here’s what I tried to communicate:

  1. The 216,000 North Dakotans who voted for Donald Trump got three electors in the Electoral College, but only 174,000 Trump voters in Wyoming got the same number, and only 163,000 in Alaska got the same number. What's fair about not giving every vote in every state equal weight? The only way to do that is to count every vote in every state equally in a national contest for the presidency.

  2. There are according to various sources at least 583,000 eligible voters in North Dakota. Of course it is a Republican leaning state, but only 216,000, or 37%, voted for Donald Trump. Why? Because his campaign took the state's outcome for granted, and not every vote cast there mattered. This is how the electoral college system does not bring North Dakotans into full participation in the single national election. The result is that your citizens get less attention paid not only in the general election but generally in politics than they deserve. This is why, for instance, the tariff war doesn't help you, why the focus on manufacturing in Ohio does nothing for you, and so on.

  3. There are 60 million Americans in rural areas. By and large they are ignored relative to the residents of a handful of swing states, even though their concerns and issues are quite distinct. The reason is that almost all live in states that are taken for granted by the presidential nominees.

  4. According to Wikipedia, presidential visits to North Dakota are few and far between—only seven visits since Nixon—if you want to take that as evidence of being taken for granted.  By contrast, Barack Obama and Donald Trump alone have visited New Hampshire (a state with only one more electoral vote than North Dakota) seven times as presidents.


Majority of Americans Support Getting Rid of Electoral College

The widespread discontent with the Electoral College has recently gone from a slow, constant simmer to a full-on boil.

Making Every Vote Count weighed in on Hardball with Chris Matthews tonight, as CEO Reed Hundt joined the show to discuss the system’s inequities.


Workers Too

In the same commission process that illuminated the bias against African-Americans, Alexis Herman pointed out that the primary process’s schedule “affects which voices within the party are the loudest, which issues are given the most prominence. Where, she asks, is the vote of the manufacturing worker?”

In 2005, the commission mitigated the bias created by putting Iowa and New Hampshire early by moving South Carolina and Nevada, with their very different demographic compositions, up close behind the early two.

This in Primary Politics by Elaine Kamarck at 80-81.

In the general election, the winner-take-all system is biased against the interests of every working group not in a key precinct in a battleground swing state. That includes almost every constituent of the AFL-CIO. Labor should insist in every state that at least some electors are allocated to the national winner. The Chamber of Commerce should have the same view. Every business not big in a swing state gets taken for granted in the general election. That is almost all of business.



California Dreaming

But for the electoral college system, would the sort of confrontation reported below between a first-term president and the biggest state be imaginable? I have a dream of one country bound by a national election where every vote was weighed, measured, and counted equally. 

WASHINGTON — A day after California filed a lawsuit challenging President Trump’s emergency declaration on the border, the Transportation Department said it was exploring legal options to claw back $2.5 billion in federal funds it had already spent on the state’s high-speed rail network.

The Trump administration also said it was terminating a $929 million federal grant to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, according to a letter the Transportation Department sent Tuesday.



The Civil Rights Case for the National Vote

Elaine Kamarck explained that in 2004, testifying to a Democratic commission formed to reform the nominating process, Ron Walters, a “veteran of Jesse Jackson’s two presidential campaigns,” described “how difficult it was for African American candidates” to “do well” in the “all-white states of Iowa and New Hampshire.” He said that if “Section 2 [of the Voting Rights Act] suggests that we shouldn’t dilute the voter of minorities,” then putting these two states up-front in the process has “the effect of diluting the black vote.” The reason is that the results in these two states matter more than the results that follow in later states, where the percentage of African-American votes is much higher. Page 79.

The winner-take-all system of allocating electors has the same effect. In states where African-American votes typically are cast for the losing presidential candidate, such as across the states in the former Confederacy, those votes are “diluted.” Indeed, they are systematically discarded.

The only two ways to make those votes matter equally to white votes are to have all states adopt a proportional system of allocating electors according to the popular vote in states OR to have some states allocated some electors to the national winner, thus forcing the candidates to seek a national win based on a one person-one vote principle in order to get enough electors to be president.

The former solution works only if all states adopt it. If all were willing to do that, they might as well simply amend the Constitution by calling for direct election of the president. (Americans have long favored that step, but professional politicians have stood in the way.) The latter works even if only a few states chose to allocate electors to the national winner. The way to avoid diluting any group’s votes – not just African-Americans, but any group’s votes – is for some states to allocate some electors to the national winner. There probably is a Voting Rights lawsuit to bring on this topic.