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Monday, February 4, 2013


According to, a liberal blog, there is a new effort under way among Republicans to gimmick the presidential elections, now that the boomlet of efforts to get states to pass laws allotting electoral votes by congressional district has died.  It seems the new idea being pushed is to circumvent the Electoral College by getting enough states to pass laws allocating their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the popular vote, regardless of the outcome in the particular states.  The plan is to make these laws [which have already been passed in a number of reliably Democratic states] take effect as soon as enough states have passed them to add up to at least 270 electoral votes.

The demographic shifts now in motion in America are steadily increasing the size of heavily Democratic sub-populations, thus making it ever harder for the Republicans to win the popular vote.  The Republican Party has lost the popular vote in five out of the last six elections [including the 2000 Bush/Gore contest, in which Gore won the popular vote by 500,000.]

The purpose of the Electoral College originally was to protect smaller states from domination by larger states, and it continues to serve that function.  California, with a population in excess of thirty eight million, gets 55 electoral votes, so each of its electoral votes represents 691,000 Californians.   Wyoming, whose population is 573,000, gets 3 electoral votes, each of which represents 191,000 Wyomans.  Since the Republican strength is concentrated for the most part in low-population states [Texas being the striking exception], any shift to a system by which the popular vote chooses the president can only serve to diminish the influence of deep red states.

Am I missing something? 


toto said...

With the current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes, it could only take winning a bare plurality of popular votes in the 11 most populous states, containing 56% of the population of the United States, for a candidate to win the Presidency with a mere 23% of the nation's votes!

toto said...

Anyone concerned about the relative power of big states and small states should realize that the current system shifts power from voters in the small and medium-small states to voters in the current handful of big states.

With National Popular Vote, when every vote counts equally, because states with a majority of the electoral votes-- enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), would award all their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC, successful candidates will find a middle ground of policies appealing to the wide mainstream of America. Instead of playing mostly to local concerns in Ohio and Florida, candidates finally would have to form broader platforms for broad national support. Elections wouldn't be about winning a handful of battleground states.

Now political clout comes from being among the handful of battleground states. 80% of states and voters are ignored.

Now with state-by-state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), under which all of a state's electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state, presidential elections ignore 12 of the 13 lowest population states (3-4 electoral votes), that are non-competitive in presidential elections. 6 regularly vote Republican (AK, ID, MT, WY, ND, and SD), and 6 regularly vote Democratic (RI, DE, HI, VT, ME, and DC) in presidential elections. Voters in states that are reliably red or blue don't matter. Candidates ignore those states and the issues they care about most.

Kerry won more electoral votes than Bush (21 versus 19) in the 12 least-populous non-battleground states, despite the fact that Bush won 650,421 popular votes compared to Kerry’s 444,115 votes. The reason is that the red states are redder than the blue states are blue. If the boundaries of the 13 least-populous states had been drawn recently, there would be accusations that they were a Democratic gerrymander.

Support for a national popular vote is strong in every smallest state surveyed in recent polls among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group. Support in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK -70%, DC -76%, DE --75%, ID -77%, ME - 77%, MT- 72%, NE - 74%, NH--69%, NE - 72%, NM - 76%, RI - 74%, SD- 71%, UT- 70%, VT - 75%, WV- 81%, and WY- 69%.

Among the 13 lowest population states, the National Popular Vote bill has passed in nine state legislative chambers, and been enacted by 3 jurisdictions.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

All of that is no doubt true, and thank you for the detailed and important information, but it is still the case that the republicans are on the losing side, demographically, of the popular vote, so why on earth do they view this as the magic bullet to give them the presidency? Now, it may well be that the current system inflates the electoral vote margin gained by Democrats with a given popular vote victory, but that makes no difference at all to the result, which is a Democratic victory.

Carl said...

Yes, you're missing something: that the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is not a Republican initiative. As the Talking Points Memo post says, "Although more closely associated with progressive circles in recent years, the idea has a number of conservative activists behind it as well." Note that the compact has been passed so far only by California, Vermont, Maryland, Washington, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia, none of which were won by Republican presidential candidates this century. My impression is that Republicans who support the compact do so out of either desperation at their chances under the present system or (though perhaps I'm too naive here) a genuine desire for greater electoral fairness.

Carl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert Paul Wolff said...

Carl, I quie agree. The initiative makes sense as a Democratic initiative. I could not see why the republicans were for it. Please let us leave to one side any question of their desire for greater fauirness. I mean, please! Desperation fits the bill. I am just struck by it.

Carl said...

Republicans may also remember that if John Kerry had received 120,000 more Ohioans' votes he would have won the presidency while still losing the popular vote by about three million.

Seth said...

I first heard about the National Popular Vote initiative from an active volunteer for the Howard Dean campaign.

It *is* rather bizarre that Republicans are finding the idea appealing. The electoral vote per Congressional district idea holds much greater appeal for those looking to rig the system to Republican advantage.

toto said...

A shift of 60,000 voters in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated President Bush despite his nationwide lead of over 3 million votes.