An (Electoral) College education

Imagine it is late on the evening of Tuesday, November 2, 2004.

Actually, it is closer to 5 am EST on the morning of Wednesday, November 3, 2004.

Since 7 pm EST the previous night, CNN has been presenting the results of the 2004 presidential election between incumbent President George W. Bush, a Republican, and his Democratic challenger, United States Senator (“Senator”) John Kerry of Massachusetts.

At this point, Bush leads in the national popular vote by about 3.6 million votes (51% to 48%); by “national popular vote,” I mean every vote cast for president (and vice-presidential running mate) in the 50 states and the District of Columbia (DC). However, under Article I, Section I of the United States Constitution (“Constitution”)—with clarification in Amendment XII—this is not the vote that determines who is elected president of the United States.

Instead, a group of electors chosen by each individual state and DC (Amendment XIII, ratified March 29, 1961) “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct” (Article I, Section I) meet and cast separate for president and for vice president. The number of electors in each state is equal to the number of members that state currently has in the United States House of Representatives (“House”) plus two (the number of Senators every state has); DC is assigned three electors. With 435 House members, 100 Senators and 3 DC electors, there are 538 electoral votes (EV) up for grabs. In order to win the presidency, a party’s nominee must win a majority of the EV (currently 270); if no candidate wins 270 EV, the election goes to the House, with each House delegation (i.e., every House member from the same state) having a single vote to cast for the top three EV recipients (the Senate similarly would choose the vice president from the top two EV finishers on a simple majority vote of all Senators).

Thus, when I cast my vote in suburban Philadelphia for Senator Kerry and his vice-presidential running mate, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, I was actually casting my vote for a slate of 21 electors I had never heard of, all of whom had pledged to cast THEIR votes for the Kerry-Edwards ticket if it won the most votes in Pennsylvania (which it did, 50.9 to 48.4%)[1].

Returning to our 2004 election scenario: as of 5 am on the morning after the election, Bush has 254 EV and Kerry has 252 EV, meaning neither has yet achieved a majority. Only the winners of Ohio (20 EV), Iowa (7) and New Mexico (5) remain to be projected. Since Iowa and New Mexico have only 12 EV combined, whoever wins Ohio will win the election.

By this point, though, there were at most a few hundred thousand votes remaining to be counted in these three states, meaning it was mathematically impossible for Kerry to win the national popular vote—and yet it was still not clear who would win the presidency.

Suddenly, at around 5:15 am, anchor Wolf Blitzer interrupts commentator Jeff Greenfield in what for him is an agitated state.

The Associated Press, who have been feeding us raw vote totals since 7 pm yesterday, has just announced that it has found an error in the tabulation of votes in Cleveland. Rather than trailing by about 143,000 votes, Kerry is actually leading the president by about 107,000 votes. And with that, CNN can now project that when all of the votes are counted Massachusetts Senator John Kerry will win the state of Ohio—and its 20 electoral votes—making him the next president of the United States.”

Winning Ohio would have given Kerry 272 EV, two more than necessary (assuming no more than two “faithless electors”[2]) to win the presidency. For the record, Kerry actually lost OH by 118,601 votes, IA by 10,069 votes and NM by 5,088 votes (vote totals from Dave Leip’s indispensable Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections). But let us assume under this scenario that Kerry wins OH by 81,399 votes (an even 200,000 vote flip), while still losing IA and NM narrowly.

In this alternate reality, Kerry would have won the United States presidency—while still losing the national popular vote by 2.8 million votes! In fact, had Kerry also won NM and IA narrowly, he would have won 284 EV (to Bush’s 254)—while still losing the national popular vote by something like 2.75 million votes!

Broadly speaking, this is what actually happened in the 2016 presidential election. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by 2.87 million votes, largely on the strength of a 3.67 million vote win in California. However, Republican nominee Donald J. Trump won narrow victories in Michigan (10,704 votes), Wisconsin (22,748) and Pennsylvania (44,292), and their combined 46 EV gave him 306 EV and the presidency. Put another way, the 2016 presidential election was not decided by a national popular vote margin of nearly 3 million votes, but a combined margin in three states of 77,774 votes.

This was actually the fourth time since 1856—the first presidential election to feature Democratic and Republican party nominees—that the candidate who won the Electoral College lost the national popular vote; the Republican nominee won all four elections.

In fact, it had just happened in 2000. That year, Republican nominee George W. Bush beat Democratic nominee Al Gore in the Electoral College 271 to 266 (with one faithless elector), while losing the national popular vote by 547,398 votes. Under the “Kerry wins in 2004” scenario, this would mean that in back-to-back presidential elections, the winner of the Electoral College lost the national popular vote—with Democrats and Republicans switching places with regard to which party benefited from the divergence.

Presumably, this one-two punch would have led to bipartisan efforts to abolish the Electoral College, either by amending the Constitution (which requires winning at least 2/3 of the members of the both the House and Senate, followed by winning a majority in 3/4 of state legislatures) or by something like an agreement among states whose combined EV total is at least 270 to award their EV to whomever wins the national popular vote.

Actually, this exact idea—the National Popular Vote bill—was launched in 2006. As of this writing, the legislatures of 12 states and DC (whose EV total 181) have passed the bill (and had it signed by the governor), and it is expected to be signed into law in Delaware and New Mexico shortly, bringing the total to 189.

But…how did we get to this point in the first place?

Why do we even have an Electoral College?

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Just bear with me while I discuss what are now known as The Federalist Papers. Following the signing of the Constitution in September 1787, Alexander Hamilton realized how difficult it would be to convince each of 13 independent (and markedly different) colonies to ratify it, thus forming a “united” states; of particular concern was Governor George Clinton of “the growing State of New York.” [3] Hamilton thus began to write and publish a series of essays (under the pseudonym Publius) strongly defending decisions made by the Constitution’s framers; he was soon joined by James Madison and John Jay. In all, the three men—separately and together—wrote 85 essays. Federalist 68 (Hamilton) is specifically devoted to presidential electors, while Federalist 39 (Madison) grounds the idea of presidential electors in both the “republican” and “federal” nature of the proposed new government.

Federalist Papers.JPG

By “republican,” Madison means leaders are a) chosen directly or indirectly by the people and b) serve a limited time and/or under good behavior. In fact, Madison notes that most chief magistrates are already chosen through indirect means. As for “federalism”: rather than colonies merging into a single entity, there would be “a Confederacy of sovereign states.”[4] This was the great compromise: “the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular to the State legislatures.”[5]

Moreover, in Federalist 10, Madison explains how a republican government can limit the deleterious effects of “factions,” which he describes as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”[6] While this certainly sounds like our current tribalistic partisan polarization—elevating loyalty to a political party over loyalty to the nation—Madison was really talking about factions emerging, then quickly disbanding, around a single issue or demagogic leader. He did not anticipate the emergence of two evenly-matched, organized, national political parties with broadly coherent policy agendas to which voters identify over multiple elections. Instead, Madison argued hopefully that an “extensive republic”[7] (sufficient representatives from a variety of localities) would diffuse the effects of any single faction.

Hamilton simply applied the logic of both “federal” and “republican” governance to the election of a president in Federalist 68, which I recommend reading in its entirety. He avoids saying the broader voting public cannot be entrusted to elect its presidents directly (until Amendment XVII was ratified in April 1913, United States Senators were selected by state legislatures), instead observing it was…

“…desirable that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to so complicated an investigation.”[8]

Moreover, having electors deliberate within their native state will create a “detached and divided situation [that] will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people.”

**********

That was the theory, at any rate: electors, chosen at the state level, would be free to choose whomever they thought would make the best president unfettered by factional loyalties; for a fractious collection of once-independent colonies, the logic is sound. And it worked in the first two presidential elections (1789 and 1792, during which electors had two votes, ostensibly one for president and one for vice president): George Washington finished first (making him president) with 69 and 132 EV, respectively, and John Adams finished second (making him vice president) with 77 and 34 EV, respectively. Even then, however, a nascent form of political parties was emerging, with Federalists like Washington and Adams, opposing anti-Federalists, like Governor Clinton.

By 1796, the anti-Federalists had become the Democratic-Republicans, and something akin to presidential tickets were emerging. Adams ran for president as a Federalist, with former South Carolina Governor Thomas Pinckney as his “running mate,” while Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr ran as the Democratic-Republican “ticket.” However, each man ran separately—which is how Adams received the most EV (71), making him president, while Jefferson finished a close second (68 EV), making him vice president. This was the first Electoral College: the election of a president and vice president from different “factions.”

When Adams ran for reelection four years later, the Jefferson-Burr ticket again opposed him. Unfortunately, Jefferson and Burr each received 73 EV because every Democratic-Republican elector split their votes between their party’s designated choices for president and vice president; the House ultimately selected Jefferson as president and Burr as vice president. This second glitch led to Amendment XII (ratified June 1804), establishing separate Electoral votes for president and vice president.

Much to the chagrin of Madison (who died in 1836), though, the modern strong two-party system was emerging, particularly under the leadership of Martin Van Buren, Vice President under Andrew Jackson (1829-37) then President (1837-1841). And the leaders of the two parties realized the best way to maximize the EV they received in a state was to legislate a “winner-take-all” system: whomever won the most votes in a state won all of that state’s EV—the system we have today. Virginia was the first state to adopt such a law,[9] in 1800; by 1832, only Maryland still split its EV. And as of 1880, every state had passed a “winner-take-all” law.

I cannot emphasize how important this history is to understanding the modern Electoral College. Remember, for Hamilton and Madison, the fundamental purpose of electors was to deliberate on the vital question of who they wanted to be the nation’s chief executive independent of factional alliance. The winner-take-all legislation—pushed by the very factions Madison sought to restrain—was not only antithetical to this purpose, it made a complete mockery of it.

**********

The first time the national popular and Electoral College votes diverged was in 1876.[10] Democratic nominee Samuel J. Tilden won the national popular vote over Republican Rutherford B. Hayes by 252,696 votes (3.0 percentage points [“points”]), but fell one EV shy of the required 185; Hayes had 164 EV. Nineteen EV were in dispute because both men declared victory in Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina. Ultimately, Hayes was awarded all 19 disputed EV, as well as one problematic EV in Oregon,[11] making him the dubious winner.

After two excruciatingly close elections[12] which could easily have resulted in a divergence, it actually happened in 1888. Republican Benjamin Harrison lost the national popular vote to incumbent Democrat Grover Cleveland by 94,530 votes, but prevailed in the Electoral College, 233-168. However, despite four divergences/close calls in a row, any momentum toward ending the Electoral College system stalled once Cleveland decisively beat Harrison in an 1892 rematch, 277 to 145 EV, despite a national popular vote margin of “only” 3.0 points[13].

And then came 13 presidential elections (through 1944) in which the average national popular vote margin was 14.1 points and the average Electoral College margin was 266.5 EV. The only relatively close elections during this period were 1896 (Republican William McKinley beat Democrat William Jennings Bryan by 4.3 points, 95 EV) and 1916 (incumbent Democrat Woodrow Wilson held off Republican Charles Hughes by 3.2 points, 23 EV). In fact, had Hughes flipped just 1,887 votes in California, HE would have won despite losing the national popular vote by more than 570,000 votes.

Starting in 1948, though, “near misses” became more common. That year, incumbent Democrat Harry Truman was challenged by Republican Thomas E. Dewey, Progressive Henry Wallace and States Rights Strom Thurmond.  As I wrote hereDewey had fallen just 77 EV short of the 266 he needed to win. Had he won about 18,000 more votes in California (47.6-47.1%), 34,000 in Illinois (50.1-49.2%) and 8,000 (49.5-49.2%) in Ohio, he […] would have won the 1948 presidential election…” Under this scenario, Dewey would still have lost the national popular vote by a remarkable 4.5 points (2.1 million votes).

Republican Dwight Eisenhower then defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson by 10.8 points (353 EV) in 1952 and 15.4 points (384 EV) in 1956. But in 1960, Democrat John F. Kennedy defeated Republican Richard Nixon 303-219 EV, despite winning that national popular vote by only 0.17 points (112,827 votes). It is easy to imagine a scenario in which Nixon wins at least 113,000 additional votes across states he won, such as California, Florida, Ohio and Virginia, giving him a narrow national popular vote victory but a loss in the Electoral College—the first time a Democrat would have benefitted from such a divergence.

Four years later, incumbent Democrat Lyndon Johnson trounced Republican Barry Goldwater (22.5 points, 434 EV). But in 1968, Nixon beat Democrat Hubert Humphrey (and Wallace) by a solid 110 EV, despite winning the national popular vote by “only” 511,944 votes (0.7 points). While that is a substantial margin to overcome, had Humphrey won half the votes American Independent George Wallace won in Michigan (331,968), New York (358,864) and Pennsylvania (378.582), he would have won a bare national popular vote victory of 22,763 votes (but not the White House).

Nixon then handily defeated Democrat George McGovern in 1972 (23.2 points, 503 EV). Four years later, Democrat James E. Carter beat Republican Gerald R. Ford 297-240 EV while winning the national popular vote by 2.1 points (1,683,247 votes).  However, Ford only lost Ohio’s 25 EV by 11,116 votes and Mississippi’s 7 EV by 14,463 votes; a simple shift of just 12,760 votes in these two states would have given Ford 272 EV (and the White House) despite losing the national popular vote by well over 1.6 million votes.

After four near-misses in eight presidential elections, however, the next five (1980-96) were not especially close, with average winning margins of 10.0 points and 337.8 EV[14]. Still, that brings us to the five most recent presidential elections, three of which ended in divergence (2000, 2016) or came very close (2004). Even in 2012, had Republican Willard “Mitt” Romney flipped 214,761 votes across Florida, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia, he would have won 270 EV—and the White House—despite losing the national popular vote by more than 4.5 million votes (3.9 points).

To summarize, in the 38 presidential elections following the end of the Civil War, there have been…

  • 4 elections (1876, 1888, 2000, 2016) in which the candidate who won the Electoral College lost the national popular vote
  • 2 elections (1880, 1884) where a small shift in votes across a few states could have produced divergence in either direction
  • 2 elections (1916, 2004) where flipping fewer than 60,000 votes in only one state would have produced divergence
  • 1 election (1976) where flipping 12,790 votes in just two states would have produced divergence
  • 2 elections in which flipping a total of ~60,000 votes in three states (1948) or ~215,000 votes in four states (2012) would have produced an extremely narrow Electoral College victory AND a national popular vote loss averaging 3.4 million votes
  • 2 elections in which a candidate would have had to win an additional 130,000 votes across four states (1960) or win back half the votes of a third-party candidate in three states (530,000+ votes) to produce divergence.

Thus, one in three presidential elections over 150 years (1868-2016) either featured divergence or could have done so with varying degrees of plausibility. The Republican presidential nominee won all four “divergence” elections and would have won between four and six (depending on 1880, 1884) of the other nine “plausible divergence scenario” elections, for a total of 8-10 Republican victories (vs. 3-5 Democratic victories). And eight of those 13 elections came in two different five-election “blocks” of (mostly) close presidential elections: 1876-1892 and 2000-2016.

Those two blocks highlight a basic truth about the Electoral College: so long as the national popular vote margin is wide enough (≥5.0 points), there will be no divergence, making the Electoral College a quaint anachronism. But the closer the national popular vote margin (particularly <3.0 points), the higher the likelihood of divergence. And just because it does not always happen in this latter circumstance is purely a matter of chance.

It is worth keeping in mind that Hamilton and Madison had absolutely no conception of a national popular vote, because they did not intend for the general voting public to vote directly for a president (or vice president), any more than they could envision the modern two-party system reducing the choices to a few viable candidates. That very system, though, has reduced the electors to mere human rubber stamps, archaically ratifying what we already knew on Election Day (or a few days later). Their independence—and their role in the delicate compromise between “sovereign” states and the national government—was gone by 1836, if not earlier.

**********

Which leads to one final question: are there any good reasons to continue using the Electoral College to elect the president and vice president of the United States?

Arguments for keeping the Electoral College fall into two broad categories:

  1. Upholding tradition
  2. It prevents smaller states/rural areas from being ignored by presidential candidates seeking to maximize national vote totals.

The first category has two primary components:

  • It is very difficult to amend the Constitution
  • We continue to be a federalist republic, so giving states an independent role in selecting the president is necessary.

Taking each component in turn:

Amending the Constitution is indeed extremely difficult; it has only happened on 18 separate occasions (counting the 10-amendment Bill of Rights as one occasion) in 230 years. However, all that means is that amending the Constitution requires time, bipartisan effort and focus.

And there are 27 amendments (Amendment XXI even repealed Amendment XVIII)—including those arising from a steady increase over time in direct democracy such as expanded suffrage (blacks, women, 18-20-year-olds) and altered electoral processes (direct election of Senators). Similarly, since the 1968 McGovern-Fraser Commission, the process by which presidential nominees are selected has become far more democratic (if not completely so) through the establishment of state-level primaries and caucuses which use voter preferences to select Democratic and Republican nomination convention delegates.

That individual states select convention delegates using their own rules, broadly analogous to the Electoral College (even if Democrats allot delegates proportionally, not winner-take-all), demonstrates an ongoing robust federalism. Moreover, even if the Electoral College were repealed (or legislatively overruled), there would still be a solid division of labor between the national government and state (and local) governments.

The single most frivolous argument in this category, though, was made recently by Michael Steel, former spokesman for Republican former House Speaker John Boehner[15]: using the national popular vote to elect a president would be like using attendance to determine the outcome of a baseball game.

Ummm, what now?

First, how would one divide attendance to determine a winner? Second, the winner of a baseball game actually IS the team that scored the most runs—not the team that scored the most runs in the most innings, a better analogy between a baseball game and the Electoral College.

In the same conversation, however, Steel all-but-admitted Republicans want to keep the Electoral College because it has allowed them to win the White House three times in the last five elections despite only winning the national popular vote once. And that brings us to the second set of arguments: that presidential candidates would spend all their time in the biggest population centers rather than trying to win votes across the entire nation.

Forget that presidents (and vice presidents) were never meant to campaign anywhere; they were supposed to wait for the decision of independent state-level electors. Or the fact that Hamilton and Madison said nothing about protecting small states or rural areas; if anything, they were trying to convince the largest state—New York—to ratify the Constitution.

No, the fundamental flaw in this argument is that, since the advent of winner-take-all laws 200+ years ago, candidates for president and vice president have limited their campaigning to a few “swing states.”

Let me demonstrate using 3W_RDM, which measures how much or less Democratic a state’s presidential voting is relative to the nation. Table 1 lists the 12 states most in play in 2020, using the median Democratic margin in the national popular vote in the last five elections (2.1 points)[16] and an average 3W-RDM “miss” of 5.4[17].

Table 1: States most likely in play in the 2020 presidential election

State EV 3W-RDM Projected Margin in 2020
Michigan 16 D+2.2 D+4.3 (R+1.1 to D+9.7)
Colorado 9 D+2.2 D+4.3 (R+1.1 to D+9.7)
Nevada 6 D+2.0 D+4.1 (R+1.3 to D+9.5)
Minnesota 10 D+1.5 D+3.6 (R+1.8 to D+9.0)
Virginia 13 D+1.5 D+3.6 (R+1.8 to D+9.0)
Wisconsin 10 D+0.7 D+2.8 (R+2.6 to D+8.2)
New Hampshire 4 D+0.1 D+2.2 (R+3.2 to D+7.6)
Pennsylvania 20 R+0.4 D+1.7 (R+3.7 to D+7.1)
Florida 29 R+3.4 R+1.3 (R+6.7 to D+4.1)
Iowa 6 R+4.7 R+2.6 (R+8.0 to D+2.8)
Ohio 18 R+5.8 R+3.7 (R+9.1 to D+1.7)
North Carolina 15 R+6.0 R+3.6 (R+9.3 to D+1.5)
TOTAL 156 R+0.8

One can quibble with the mix of states[18]—perhaps the 27 EV in Georgia (R+9.6) and Arizona (R+9.7) are more in play for Democrats than the 24 EV in Iowa and Ohio. But the point is that in 2020 presidential candidates will focus on, at most, 14 states—a far cry from the “nationwide campaign” hyped by Electoral College advocates.

Their argument about small states fares little better. Using EV as a proxy for population, 22 states (including DC) can be considered “small” (<7 EV; median=8), of which seven are “likely Democratic,” 12 are “likely Republican,” and only three (Nevada, New Hampshire, Iowa) are potentially in play in 2020[19]; In other words, under the current Electoral College system that supposedly protects smaller states—at most three of the 22 smallest states will see ANY campaigning.

Then there is the argument only major metropolitan areas—usually limited to California (55 EV) and New York (29 EV), though not Texas (38 EV)—would see any presidential campaigning at all, completely ignoring rural areas.

First, this is precisely how campaigns are generally currently conducted within many states: Democrats rely on massive turnout in urban areas, Republicans rely on massive turnout in rural areas, with each hoping suburban areas break their way. Why is this acceptable? Why not apply Electoral College logic by assigning every county (or other sub-state area) a number of votes based upon its representation in its legislature, so that to be elected governor, for example, you would need to win a majority of these sub-state level votes?

Other than its patent absurdity, I suspect the answer is that statewide elections invalidate the “rural areas would get the shaft” argument. Theoretically, that same formula could apply at the national level:  Republicans would campaign in rural areas in every state, Democrats would campaign in urban areas in every state, and both would battle over suburban votes in every state[20]. Even more radically, Republicans could compete aggressively for urban voters, with Democrats countering by competing aggressively for rural voters. This would thoroughly upend the current geographic and policy alignments of the two parties in unforeseeable but interesting ways.

Here is the simple reality: Hamilton and Madison argued for the Electoral College in The Federalist Papers because they a) feared voters could easily be manipulated by factional loyalties and b) were luring 13 sovereign colonies into a single “united states.” But the emergence of strong political parties (national factions), the continued existence of robust federalism, the ongoing expansion of direct democracy and winner-take-all laws that run counter to the deliberative intentions of electors moot their arguments. The Electoral College simply has not served its original stated purpose since at least 1796, and it is time to repeal it to allow the only two elected officials who represent the entire nation to be elected by national popular vote.

Until next time…

[1] I was living in the suburb of King of Prussia at the time. Every morning, as I drove to the commuter rail station in Radnor, I would count the lawn signs for Bush-[Vice President Dick) Cheney and Kerry-Edwards. On average, the count was something like 24 for Kerry-Edwards, 12 for Bush-Cheney—and a smattering for Shreiner Tree Care!

[2] In the 2016 presidential election, there were a record seven such electors—five Democrats and two Republicans.

[3] According to the “Message to Mankind” written just inside the front cover of my paperback copy of Rossiter, Clinton, editor. 1961. The Federalist Papers. New York, NY: NAL PENGUIN INC.

[4] Ibid., pg. 243. Italics in the original text.

[5] Ibid., pg. 83.

[6] Ibid., pg. 79.

[7] Ibid., pg. 82.

[8] Ibid., pg. 412

[9] Technically, three states had winner-take-all laws in 1789, but each repealed them by 1800.

[10] I exclude the presidential election of 1824 because, technically Andrew Jackson won both the national popular vote AND the most EV, but because he fell 32 EV shy of the required majority (131 EV), the House decided the election in favor of the runner-up in both areas, John Quincy Adams. Moreover, both Adams and Jackson were Democratic-Republicans (the Federalist Party had faded away).

[11] An elector was invalid because he was an elected official.

[12] 1880 (9,070 votes, 59 EV) and 1884 (58.579, 37 EV)

[13] There were also bigger election system fish to fry, such as the direct election of Senators (Amendment XVII, 1913) and women’s suffrage (Amendment XIX, August 1920).

[14] The presidential election of 1988 was closer than it appears at first glance. Yes, Republican George H. W. Bush beat Democrat Michael Dukakis by 7.8 points and 315 EV. But Bush won a number of states by narrower margins than that. While this is a stretch, had Dukakis flipped a total of 615,920 votes across 12 states (CA, CO, CT, IL, MD, MI, MO, MT, NM, PA, SD, VT), he would have won the Electoral College 270-268 (assuming no faithless electors) despite losing the national popular vote by more than 5.8 million votes. Similarly, four years later, Democrat Bill Clinton defeated President Bush by 5.6 points and 202 EV. Had Bush flipped just over 300,000 votes in 10 states (CO, GA, KY, LA, NJ, OH, TN, WI and any two of MT, NV, NH), he would have won 271 or 272 EV, despite losing the national popular vote by nearly 5.2 million votes.

[15] Steel makes the argument at 39:15 here.  Actually, the entire conversation between host Chris Matthews, Steel and Reed Hundt is worth watching; Steel starts off on solid ground, then slowly deteriorates.

[16] The average of 2.3 points is slightly skewed by Obama’s 2008 margin of 7.3 points.

[17] Democrats are strong favorites in 16 states (including DC) totaling 191 EV, and Republicans are strong favorites in 23 states totaling 191 EV.

[18] Including Maine (D+5.9) and Nebraska (R+25.8), who give two EV to the statewide winner, and one EV to the winner of each Congressional district.

[19] These are also the first three primary/caucus states, undercutting arguments about their “unrepresentativeness.”

[20] This also answers a hypothetical question I like to pose: if we had had been using the national popular vote to elect presidents and vice presidents since 1789, would anyone have proposed a system as convoluted and, frankly, anti-democratic as the Electoral College as a “solution” to whatever problems may have arisen? I sincerely doubt it.

8 thoughts on “An (Electoral) College education

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