“It’s the swing states, stupid”

Here is a rare article about the economy and the upcoming election that addresses a sad reality: the only economies that really matter are the economies in the small number of states that will decide the next election. The rest of the nation—where the vast majority lives—hardly matters at all.



Demography is Destiny

As the chart below shows, the swing states' demographics — meaning their balance of whites and non-whites — are, put simply, hugely different than the mix in other, politically uncontested states. So the America that chooses the president is not the actual America. It is nonetheless the America that produces the political stance of, most obviously, Donald Trump.

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Battle in Colorado

A sign that the national popular vote movement threatens to succeed is this well-funded Republican effort to repeal Colorado's adoption of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. 

The goal for the Republicans is simple: maintain the possibility of obtaining the presidency while having most Americans vote against their nominee. This is called minority rule. It is utterly inconsistent with the Constitution which was specifically designed to have a majority pick the president—a majority of electors, state delegations, or Senators, as the situation required. This original intent has been twisted over time to be a mechanism by which voters in a consortium of states dominated by one party, plus pluralities in five or fewer swing states, choose the president, even while most Americans vote for someone else.

Some Republicans believe their party and the country would be better off if their party did not depend on the archaic and otiose electoral system to produce a Republican chief executive. They are being overcome by the party professionals and big donors who believe Donald Trump represents the sort of nominee the party will continue to produce, like it or not, and that therefore their nominee cannot win the national popular vote. These people generally favor keeping the country on the carbon platform that is burning up the world, maintaining the current levels of income and wealth allocation, and the current tax policies. They may not support the immigration or trade policies of the administration but they believe these stances are useful ways to win the electoral college and so must be tolerated.

Most Americans do not agree with these policies. If the national vote chose the president, neither party would nominate people who deny climate change, adopt racial references to rile up white voters, support extreme income and wealth inequality, or conduct trade wars that raise costs for all Americans. Democracy is, as it is supposed to be, the method of having political leaders do what most people want.

 But in Colorado, not to mention most of the country, you still see people like Governor Hickenlooper in this article, fail to note the importance of the national vote as a fight for democracy. It is time for the national vote reform to battle on a big stage.

To defeat the repeal effort, it will be necessary to contest the issue in three ways:

1. Get national and local attention to the issue, which is democracy versus autocracy. Let there be no mistake: the repeal cause in Colorado has its source in the battle for a permanent minority to choose the president.

2. Coordinate all grassroots activity in Colorado in an open, collaborative manner, with experienced personnel handling the many dimensions of the contest, as was done in the 2018 victories against gerrymandering in Michigan and elsewhere.

3. Use the legal resources of Making Every Vote Count and any other volunteers to take all appropriate issues to all appropriate courts, while endorsing the fundamental idea that a ballot measure to have the people pick the way to pick the president is precisely in line with the fundamental cause here: democracy should be expanded in America. 



The Electoral College Causes This

Assuming this story is accurate, it is a result of the electoral college system. This “white working class“ voting block is disproportionally larger in the handful of that midwestern swing states than anywhere else in the country.

A campaign based on this strategy cannot win the national popular vote. Donald Trump probably could win the national popular vote with a different strategy because the economy is doing so well and it was time to stand up to China. But he is playing by the rules.

They are bad rules for the country.



This is what a non-democracy looks like

As this story shows, the British are finding out how frustrating is the system that chooses a national leader without a democratic process. In the United States only about 20% of the voters effectively matter in the choice of the president because of the electoral college system.

According to Nate Cohn, Donald Trump could lose the national vote by 5 percent and still probably win the electoral college by winning a plurality among that 20% who occupy the swing states.

The British system risks the dissolution of the United Kingdom. The American system threatens the unity of the country and the survival of the republic.

U.K. Voters’ Frustration High as 99% Are Sidelined in Prime Minister Election


Coloradans Write in Support of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

 In March 2019, Colorado became one of 15 states plus the District of Columbia to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Not long after, opponents of the national popular vote began circulating a petition to repeal the Compact that may be on the ballot in 2020. 

But Coloradans who want to make every vote count are rushing to the defense of the Compact: calling friends and neighbors, posting on social media, and writing letters to the editor in local papers.  Here are two great letters that explain how the national popular vote works and why it is in the interest of Colorado—and all Americans—to make sure that every vote is counted and that every vote count’s equally:

Making every vote count in Colorado by Sylvia Bernstein in the Vail Daily

Popularity Contest by Diane Alexander in the Aspen Daily News



It is Also About Where they Live

This chart from the New York Times shows something very important but leaves out the key fact. Again and again political reporters leave this out.


The electoral college system does not magnify every political faction. It minimizes some, such as college educated (also high turnout) or African Americans. It magnifies white evangelicals because of their large presence in the few midwestern swing states, where their voting exceeds 30%:

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Why? One reason is $$

I was telling a friend the other day that his state adopted the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact and he demurred. "We aren't a democracy and we shouldn't be," he said. Why? "My state is smaller than the really big ones. In a democracy we wouldn't matter."

I pointed out that his state has never had any presidential candidate visit in the modern era. I noted that no small states attract any attention from presidential candidates or elected presidents, with the exception of New Hampshire, a small swing state, and occasionally Nevada. 

He stuck to his guns, the way people do in this era of non-agreement on everything. 

At bottom he does not like democracy. He has his reasons.

But here is one argument in favor of democracy, even if irrefutable thinking about elemental fairness or the virtue of participation in elections doesn't grab everyone.

This paper concludes that democracy produces greater wealth for the whole society.



Presidential elections are about the past

A truism in politics is that elections are about the future. Typically the change candidate wins.

But actually with the broken system that prevails in the United States the presidential election is more about the past. The backwards looking candidate is advantaged.

As the chart below shows the states where America is changing the most rapidly are almost all irrelevant to the outcome of the presidential election.

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Thanks, Electoral College

Almost all the voters in the problem locations below are ignored by the system. Florida, it gets attention, and sometimes North Carolina. But the candidates in both parties take for granted the outcome all the rest of these states. Given the plight of the people in these states, the voters really ought to be able to have all their votes count in a national election of the president.

There are two maps shown. The first is Lincoln’s, used to inform him about the slave population. The second, is Raj Chetty’s report on where low income parents are located. The overlaps show, among other things, how long the Electoral College system has denied voice to the people – of all races! – in these states.

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Listening to voters

According to this article, politicians pay attention to voters. The problem with a president, however, is that to get a second term it is only important to pay attention to the voters in the swing states. More than 80% of the voters are ignored because they are in states where the results are taken for granted.



Here's Why Splitting Electoral Votes Proportionally Is Not the Answer

In another post, we discussed the problems with dividing a state’s electoral votes by congressional district (in a word: gerrymandering).  Another proposed solution to the winner-take-all problem is allocating electors proportionally based on the votes of the state at large.  Simply put, if a candidate won 70%-30% in a state with 10 electoral votes, 7 votes would go to the winner and 3 to the runner-up. 

The upsides of this proposal are straightforward: more votes would matter, turnout would increase, and candidates would have incentives to seek votes in more places. But proportional representation is unlikely to create a national campaign, nor would it make every vote truly equal.  Indeed, a proportional system may lead to an even more undemocratic result than is likely under our current system.

While there would be fewer wasted votes under a proportional system, it would not make every vote count. Absent a constitutional amendment, the votes would have to be rounded to the nearest whole elector.  So there would still be wasted surplus votes and votes for the runner up that do not count in the final tally.  In close elections, this could lead to the winner of the national popular vote still losing the presidency.

But splitting electoral votes proportionally would raise a whole new problem: a dramatic increase in the likelihood of third-party candidates throwing the election to the House of Representatives.

If a third-party candidate could get enough votes to win just a few electors in a close election, that candidate could prevent anyone from reaching the 270 electoral votes necessary to win.  In such a case, the election would go to the House of Representatives, with each state getting a single vote regardless of population. This is a profoundly undemocratic outcome that would lead to voters losing their voices entirely. 

Looking at past elections, the House would have decided the outcome in at least 2000 and 2016 if electors were awarded proportionally.  But if elections actually occurred under the proportional system, the percentage of elections decided by the House would be much higher as the incentives for third-party candidates grew exponentially. In large states, a third-party candidate would be able to garner at least a couple of electoral votes by winning only a tiny fraction of the vote in that state, and in a close election, that could keep any party from reaching 270.

Once the vote goes to the House, horse-trading, corruption, and backroom deals could lead to a candidate being inaugurated despite having little popular support.  So proportional representation is not cure for the evils in our system and would create a host of new and bigger problems.

There is also a feasibility problem under any proposal that involves splitting votes. Unless all or almost all states signed on, the campaigns would still not be truly national—and many states will be unwilling to split their votes for fear of losing political influence. 

Splitting up a state’s electoral votes makes sense for a few small states—like Maine and Nebraska—that are perpetually ignored.  But most states adopted a winner-take-all system in order to increase their political heft. They wanted candidates to campaign in their states in hopes of winning a large number of electoral votes at once.  Therefore, states will be unlikely to unilaterally split their votes for fear of losing that clout. 

Safe states would hesitate to give up any of their votes to the other party, and swing states would hesitate to lose their special status. And as long as just a few big swing states kept the winner-take-all system, candidates would have a strong incentive to focus their campaigns on those states alone rather than battling it out for the one or two swing electoral votes in most other states.

The best way to make every vote count—and to make presidential candidates campaign for every vote—is to enact the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.  Unlike splitting electoral votes, no state is put in the position of unilaterally giving up any influence because the Compact does not go into effect until enough states join to guarantee the winner of the national popular vote will become the president.  And the Compact is over 70% of the way there—only a few more states need to sign on to make it a reality.  When that happens, all votes will count equally—no matter where you live.



Youth must be served

As this article explains, voter turnout among youths can be decisive in elections.

But the electoral college system in this century is biased against young voters. Why? Swing states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, have some of the highest median ages in the country:

The key swing states Florida and Pennsylvania have the first and second highest percentage of residents over the age of 65. Voters in these older states decide the election and the young people everywhere else are taken for granted. 



The electoral college frustrates the majority

This is from a recent poll:

“Overall, the top issues for Americans as the 2020 election nears are the economy, health care and immigration. Foreign policy, gun violence, taxes, issues of special concern to women and abortion follow behind. Climate change trails the others — but still over half say it’s at least ‘very important.’”

On all these topics the majority of Americans have a strong desire for reform. But they can’t get what they want from presidential candidates who focus on fomenting divisiveness in a few swing states.



Former Romney Strategist: The National Popular Vote is Better for America and Republicans

Republican strategist Stuart Stevens explains that the perceived advantage that the Electoral College gives to Republicans will not last, and that we would be better off with a system in which every vote counts equally:

The argument that abolishing the Electoral College would result in campaigns only targeting large urban areas simply doesn’t make sense. In America’s largest states like California and Florida, candidates campaign all over the state. The benefits of campaign appearances are far more about driving a message than the acquisition of votes in that particular market. In a recent race for the U.S. Senate, Democrat Beto O’Rourke campaigned in each of the 254 counties in Texas despite the fact that 84% of Texans live in urban areas. The idea that suddenly, presidential nominees would run campaigns like mayoral races in big cities is a fanciful excuse to justify an outdated system of electing a president.

The Electoral College has never performed as intended, with electors acting as a deliberative check on the whims of a national election. In practice, its only function is to allow for the possibility that the choice of a plurality of American voters will be thwarted and subject America to minority rule.



It’s the system

The point is that the Electoral College system motivates the candidates from the major parties not to move to the center of the country. Instead, they should and must focus only on what drives turn out in a handful of states that are not necessarily representative of the rest of the nation.

Here a New York Times columnist plumps for anyone but the incumbent, but misses the point of what the system causes to happen:

“A majority of the American electorate — liberals, moderates and even some conservatives — want a greater government role in health care, a higher minimum wage, higher taxes on the rich and less punitive border policies. If Trump isn’t going to move to the center, then their only choice should be the party that, no matter its nominee, backs each item on that list.”



The electoral college encourages racism

Everyone knows the electoral college was originally designed in large part to win support from the constitution from slave states. But not everyone realizes it is still doing its work of dividing the country on the basis of race. As this article shows, the Trump presidency has relied on racial division to attract a base of supporters. 

But completely left out of this article (as is typical for all political reporting) is the fact that racism can be the key to winning the presidency only because of the electoral college. Inciting racism would doom any candidate who would need to win the national popular vote. Where is the NAACP on this topic?