Arguments FOR The Electoral College?

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Ryan Noonan

Ryan Noonan is an economist with a small federal agency. Fields in which he considers himself reasonably well-informed: literature, college athletics, video games, food and beverage, the Supreme Court. Fields in which he considers himself an expert: none. He can be found on the Twitter or reached by email.

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71 Responses

  1. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    I would not dispense with the Electoral College. I’d elect them a full four-year cycle earlier.

    Then, for the next four years, all arguments about who to elect for president have to go through them. Will they support their party’s candidate? Maybe. But in four years, all kinds of things can intervene, even for a party stalwart.

    Advantages, as I see them:

    We’d spend less on elections.
    We’d see reasoned arguments rather than endless TV commercials.
    Electors would become by virtue of their office the people the Founders imagined that they would be — notable, important citizens with a grave responsibility.

    Disadvantages:

    It’s just weird.
    Bribery becomes a lot more possible and would have to be carefully suppressed.
    It’s less democratic than the current system and a lot less democratic than direct popular vote, which seems more like the way of the future.Report

    • It’s also difficult because the Constitution requires that they not be members of government. Can you find enough people who understand politics, are eminent enough to be elected to this kind of role, and have no interest in running for office in the next four years?

      I also think the anti-democratic nature of the idea is decisive, even if you could work around that mechanical requirement, but I just wanted to put that out there.Report

    • I’m confused how you would reconcile this idea with your libertarianism. I understand the latter to be premised largely on an opposition to concentrated power, except insofar as it cannot be avoided. Investing more power in Electors would have the opposite effect.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Disadvantages:

      It’s just weird.
      Bribery becomes a lot more possible and would have to be carefully suppressed.
      It’s less democratic than the current system and a lot less democratic than direct popular vote, which seems more like the way of the future.

      Weirdness is not a disadvantage

      The fact that it is less democratic may in fact be an upside

      The bribery thing is the real problem. the smalle numer of electors means that it is easier to kep watch.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to Murali says:

        I’m with Murali, I think your system would function better with less democracy. And the saving money on elections is a big deal. If you want to get money out of politics, start by reducing the politicians’ demand for money.Report

  2. The slavery origin angle is of course a genetic fallacy and unworthy of discussion.

    As it has turned out, although smaller via mass media, America is much bigger physically than the nestle of the 13 colonies. The concept of “flyover” country is well-known, and is no joke. The area between Interstate 95 and Interstate 5 is culturally different enough from the coasts that a consensus between urban and rural interests, between “heartland” and cosmopolitan sensibilities, is both necessary and desirable.

    As they say, nothing succeeds as planned, and it’s also true that some things succeed unplanned. The electoral college has been a happy accident. There is plenty enough alienation from our central government without expanding majoritarianism, of which we have no shortage as it is. Better a geographical consensus than a slim popular majority.Report

    • A) I’ll just quote James Madison for you:

      “[T]here was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of the Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to the fewest objections.”

      It’s not unworthy of discussion because we no longer have slavery. You’re welcome to make an argument for the Electoral College as it stands, which you’ve lazily done, in your inimitable and pathetic way, but pretending that it isn’t worth talking about because you are an apologist for every instance of slavery and racism in the history of the Republic is… let’s say unconvincing.

      B) When Bush beat Gore, I’m pretty sure we got neither a geographical consensus or a slim popular majority. So… good job there.Report

  3. Avatar Rod says:

    And here i thought this post was going to present arguments in favor of the EC in the contemporary context. None of this is new to me anyway, although I’ll admit a lot of folks probably don’t know the real history behind it.

    I favor scrapping it in favor of direct election of POTUS for the same reason that I prefer direct election of Senators. And it’s a reason that libertarians should be able to get behind: poly-centricity.

    IMHO, the original Constitutional schema put entirely too much power in the hands of the individual state legislatures. They could choose the state’s senators, they could choose the state’s electors, they determine the House district boundaries, and of course they determine the boundaries and make-up of their own assemblies. I understand how that all could appeal to proponents of local control and maybe it would be okay if they didn’t have the gerrymandering power. But they do and that allows a temporary majority to lock themselves into power indefinitely even when they’re later a minority. Can’t do much about it on the state level but at least we don’t have to put up with it at the national level as well.

    I like that you can see a state where the house delegation leans one way but they elect a senator from the other party.

    The President and Vice are the only truly national level political offices in the land. They should be chosen by direct democratic election by the entire population including D.C. and the various territories.Report

  4. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I know this might not be the answer you’re looking for, but what’s wrong with it’s the way we’ve done it for 200 years and it works just fine?Report

    • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      I think the major objection to that line of thought is that it doesn’t really work all that well. Now, granted, I think we potentially make a bigger deal out of the Bush/Gore thing than we maybe should, but that was technically the *fourth* time a president has won the election while losing the popular vote. The country didn’t explode because of those four elections, but it is certainly weird to have that happen, and it’s not clear that we’re better off because that happens.

      In the end, if you add up all the arguments, you end up with a long list of things against the Electoral College (doesn’t work, anti-democratic, president represents the people not the states, etc.), and the best thing I’ve ever really heard in its favor is, “Well, it hasn’t ruined the country so far.” That just doesn’t really compel me.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

        1824 is fascinating. No one got a majority of the EC, which threw the election into the House. Two of the candidates (Adams and Clay) formed a coalition that had a majority. This was anathematized as a “Corrupt Bargain” that dogged Adams for the rest of his presidency, even though, in the rest of the world, that’s how things are supposed to work.

        There was nothing corrupt about 1888 — it was just the fact that big popular wins within a small number of states garner fewer electoral votes than smaller majorities across many states.

        1876 and 2000 were just plain filthy.Report

    • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      I left off some of the more practical/less theoretical virtues, like presidential candidates not needing to pander to Iowa corn barons or whatever. Regionalism distorts our politics in various ways that aren’t very wise given the reality that we have a national government.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

        In fairness Ryan the candidates would just switch from pandering from one type of regionalism to a different one; the focus would simply switch to population centers instead of regional swing states.

        Also since republican strength is more heavily concentrated in dispersed rural populations the GOP and conservatives would fight to the death against any such changes as if their political lives depended on it (which arguably it would). This is relevant because you can’t change something like the EC without bipartisan support; the country is too divided.Report

        • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to North says:

          Sure, of course. But population centers have the virtue of being places where people actually live. They are cleverly named.

          I don’t disagree about the politics of the situation. Unless a Democrat does what Bush did in 2000, it’s hard to imagine how you’d get enough conservative support to finally kill the damn thing.Report

          • Avatar Trumwill Mobile in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

            Can you imagine if Kerry has eeked out Ohio? He wouldn’t have won the popular vote. That would have made two elections in a row, burning both parties. The EC would have been dead meat.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Trumwill Mobile says:

              the only thing to say he didn’t is the voting machines…Report

            • Better question, WillT: Would the left be harping on the EC if Kerry had won?

              FTR, I’d have been fine with a Kerry EC victory. Esp after how the other side took 2000. They’re still harping on it a dozen years later.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                no, the left would be harping on voting machine fraud.
                EC is fundamentally anti-populist, and the left, as far as it considers itself populist, is well within reason to rant about it.Report

              • I think they’d still be open to getting rid of it. I believe much of their opposition to the EC to be genuine. I believe a lot of support from the right is genuine as well. There were at least some conservative voices in favor of it leading up to the election, when people speculated that the results would be reversed from what they turned out to be (Gore would win EC, Bush the PV) and those I knew that hated the EC were still on board with getting rid of it even if it were to give Gore the White House.

                (I can’t for the life of me remember *why* some people thought the results would be reversed. But since it almost happened four years later, it’s not implausible.)Report

              • WillT, I think it would be back-burnered even more than it is now. But this is not to say there aren’t principled people on both sides of the issue, regardless of outcomes. Me, I don’t think a President Santorum, with his decidedly uncosmopolitan values, would be a good choice to lead the country. I’m not very happy with the current cosmopolitan fellow either, esp compared to Bill Clinton, who was comfortable in both worlds.Report

              • I see it through the prism of the expiration of Independent Counsel. The feeling of having been cheated is more poignant than the feeling of not having deserved what you’ve gotten. So, just as the GOP was willing to let IC expire even as they were using it to hammer Clinton, I think that Democrats would have been happy to get rid of the EC with Kerry in the White House. I could be wrong.

                On the latter part of your comment, I’ve pondered whether we tend to like rural candidates over urban ones in large part because rural candidates understand both urban and rural, while urban candidates don’t understand rural (and neither do most of their Ivy Leaguer, urban advisers). It’s easy to be successful and go your entire life without being rural. It’s more difficult to do so without ever having been urban.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Will Truman says:

                Yes, Will, I frequently note that [many, most] conservatives are bilingual and grok Leftese just fine. But conservatism is another language even for someone as worldly as Jon Stewart.

                https://ordinary-times.com/blog/2012/06/jon-stewart-and-marco-rubio-do-political-tv-the-right-way/

                See, Sen. Rubio [R-FL] or any conservative really, wouldn’t say to Stewart that they live in “separate universes” except to note that Stewart doesn’t get it. They—and I hate using “we” here—understand the Left just fine. Talk radio was having a nice hoot this morning about the Orwellian “white privilege” meme.

                UNIVERSITY BACKS OFF CONTROVERSIAL “WHITE PRIVILEGE” PSA

                http://www.thecollegefix.com/post/11072

                Which is why I spoke well of Bill Clinton in this context. Bubba just doesn’t talk such nonsense, and would beat both BHO and Romney in a walk tomorrow.

                [As for the Independent Counsel thing, it’s disingenuous to expect the other side to unilaterally disarm regardless of the issue.]Report

              • On the first thing, agreed of course.

                On the IC thing, I agree about unilateral disarmament. I see little contradiction with conservatives using IC while also advocating its expiration. That’s sort of my point: I don’t see Democrats changing their mind on the EC simply because Kerry is president. They would defend Kerry’s right to be president, just as the GOP continued use of IC, but would agree that in the future, we should use the popular vote. I think that’s the position they are more predisposed to anyway, and Bush’s first election would weigh more heavily than his defeated re-election, in the same way that the IC going after Reagan/Bush weighed more heavily than their use of it against Clinton.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Will Truman says:

                Could the Dems have killed the filibuster rule when they had 60 seats? Open question, really, and quite germane.

                And I stipulate again that on the EC question, there are principled folks—on both sides.Report

              • Could the Dems have killed the filibuster rule when they had 60 seats?

                Yes, since the filibuster is not a Constitutional provision nor any other form of law, but rather a rule of the Senate’s parliamentary procedures. The repeal of the filibuster rule would only have been effective for the remainder of that Congress, though, since the rules have to be re-adopted every Congress. The Senate in the next Congress could have re-adopted the rule by majority.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Will Truman says:

                Aha. So why didn’t they? ;-OReport

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Will Truman says:

                Because every Senator can forsee a situation where there the 52nd vote on something? 🙂Report

              • Exactamundo, Jesse. The filibuster rule may save Obamacare next year. 😉

                Or not. According to Paul Clement, the awesome lawyer who clearly won the oral argument phase:

                2. By placing the ACA under the umbrella of the tax power, Roberts may have made the ACA easier to overturn by several orders of magnitude. The ordinary process, of course, requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. But when it concerns budgetary matters, including taxes (like the Bush tax cuts), 51 votes are sufficient to put the law on hold for 10 years. So, theoretically, 51 Republicans will be capable now of overturning the ACA at least for ten years (at which point it could be reviewed again). Fifty-one Republicans could have attempted this in any case, but now they can do so with much greater plausibility because this is a matter of taxing and spending and not regulation of commerce.

                http://www.patheos.com/blogs/philosophicalfragments/2012/06/28/five-possible-silver-linings-in-the-obamacare-decisio/Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

        I suspect that the things you believe would be fixed by moving to popular vote would not be. The one exception being a very, very close election in which the electoral does not predict the popular… in which case different reasons will be found for why the system is broken and subverts the will of the people.Report

        • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          That’s why I’m willing to call them “practical”. They are irrelevant to the theoretical arguments, which I think are very, very decisive, but I’m not totally cynical, so I hold out hope that we will also get other improvements.Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

            I’m not sure where this hope comes from. Or, to be more clear, I understand where the hope in general come from, but I’m not entirely sure where you think that issues like pandering or focus on less uniform and larger populated areas is a result of, and will consequently be fixed by the removal of, the electoral college.

            If we were starting from stretch and building an entire system of electing the President, I’m not sure that I would care which system we used. I’d be fine with either, if only because I don’t think it makes a tangible difference in the way the country functions. (As a guy that can’t stand Bush and voted for Gore in 2000, I never really felt “cheated.” My thought at the time and since was that if you’re running on basically the same platform as your opponent, and you’re the VP of an incredibly popular President during a gonzo-boom time in the economy, and all is relatively speaking uncharacteristically peaceful and well with the world, and you can’t even win your own home state then you probably weren’t ever “the guy.”)

            But since we already have the apparatus up, I’m not sure what is to be gained be striking it and rebuilding, only to get to exactly where we would have been with without the striking and rebuilding. And I think that’s where the difference between myself and people that really want to eliminate the electoral college stems.

            I suspect that most people that want to abolish the electoral college believe that our country would somehow be fundamentally different and better were we to have a popular vote for President; that politics would somehow become more honest and person-centered, and the influence of big money and special interesting would be diminished.

            I do not see this.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          The one exception being a very, very close election in which the electoral does not predict the popular

          Which is a case where it’s quite likely that neither candidate has an actual popular majority and the difference between them is within a tight margin of error. E.g., 2000, where the popular vote was 47.87% to 48.38%, .51% difference. In that case, the election could very well have turned on random factors, and any reasonably fair tie-breaker is a fair way to determine the outcome.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I think that 1 still makes sense to me. I hang out with a very high-information group of people but still have friendships with a handful of low-information people. I imagine that the low-information people that I know are still around “average”… if only because there are low-information people out there who don’t hang around with any high-information people at all. (I suppose the mitigating factor is that low-info folks who hang around other low-info folks tend to not vote *AT ALL*.)

    The electoral college can make elections as close as 52-48 feel like landslides rather than coinflips. I don’t know that having every election feel like a coinflip will have more positive outcomes than negative.Report

  6. In a modern context, I’d like to see extra electoral votes handed out based on the size of federal landholdings in each state (expressed as a percentage of the state’s area, in order to avoid the issue that later states were generally much larger than earlier states).Report

  7. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Is Amar’s argument just about why the EC was OK for the time, or is he arguing that it was selected for those virtues? Those are very different things, and if the former, I’m good, but if the latter, I’m critical.

    And FWIW, I think a better approach than either the EC or plurality vote would be a Borda count.

    In fact I suspect approval voting would actually be the best way to choose a U.S. Presidentt.

    But since we’re very unlikely to change the EC (since an amendment would require small states to ratify, and they’re the ones that are over-repped by the EC), and since it really only comes into play in elections that are functionally toss-ups, I can’t get too worried about it. Especially when we’re talking about replacing it with plurality voting.Report

    • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to James Hanley says:

      His argument is about why it exists and why it made sense at the time (both theoretically and politically) to create it, despite the fact that it appears to make no sense at all from our perspective.

      He was also pushing back on the notion that the Framers hated democracy (they didn’t) and that the EC was designed to protect small states (it wasn’t and doesn’t).Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

        I’d argue that it’s a bad argument about why it exists. According to William Riker in The Art of Political Manipulation (and here is a full-text copy of his original article), the EC was pure compromise. The Virginia plan proposed that the president would be selected by the legislature (like a parliament). A handful of guys, including Gouverneur Morris, thought that would lead to too much backroom dealing (“cabals” and “intrigues”), so they pushed for direct election. They lost multiple votes on the issue, but eventually convinced a few others legislative election was a bad idea, and then struck a deal with small states via the EC proposal.

        So ultimately, the only reason the EC was adopted was not because anyone thought it a particularly good idea in itself, but because it was neither legislative election nor popular election.Report

  8. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Sigh. Another book I’ve gotta get now. I’ve always been aggravated by the Electoral College and the 17th Amendment. This puts me firmly in the camp of the Tinfoil Hat Brigade, I know. Shameful, isn’t it?

    Still, I have this dream of a Council of Elders. Maybe it arises from the same part of the gaseous swamp where other folks get Natural Law (a contradiction in terms). It’s not that I distrust The People, I do trust them. But when too many folks are all clamouring for attention, nobody’s argument gets a fair shake and only the shriekers are heard.

    Though I haven’t read the book, I’m going to take issue with the first point raised: that the Founders didn’t anticipate what they called Faction. They clearly did and they did their best to harness its power in Federalist 10. Madison argues for a Republic.

    Folks, a Republic is not direct democracy. Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, said Madison. But Madison also said when our statesmen lose the faith of honest men, the spell of the republic is broken.

    The People are best served when some Council of Elders and representatives can hash things out in private, where disputes benefit from a hearing, not in public, where they only serve to inflame.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

      We need a House of Lords, where the Duke of Gates, the Counts of Koch, and the Sage of Omaha can apply their wisdom to matters of state.Report

      • Hmmm… seems you two were thinking along the same lines as I was (see below). Down with democracy!Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        In defense of Blaise, Canada’s upper house acts like that. As I understand, they’re appointed for life, but they have very little formal power. What they can do is investigate issues and work to bring them to the attention of the lower house. It seems to work pretty well for them.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Gates is hardly an Elder Statesman type. (loftily, puts on Oxford airs) The Counts of Koch, well those fellows are just snobs. The government ought to be more particular and was when I was a boy. I don’t mean to say there’s any harm to those Koch boys, but they’re in trade, my good fellow, they’re in trade. And so is that frightful old bore Warren Buffett. We must draw the line somewhere.Report

    • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I just wanted to respond to this, even though I know it’s been all day since you wrote it. I don’t think point #1 requires a failure to predict faction, so much as it requires a failure to predict the way in which we would divide neatly (enough) into two camps on every issue, and that those camps would be fairly consistent across the board on all issues – i.e., actual, national, consistent(ish) political parties.

      It’s one thing to see that people will divide up on issues and duke it out. It’s harder to predict that we’d have a situation where someone in Georgia would say, “Oh, that guy from Massachusetts is a Republican. I should vote for him because I can confidently predict he’s with me on most things.”Report

      • Avatar M.A. in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

        The worst failure was the failure to predict that following the rise of two ideologically rigid parties, almost everyone who didn’t fit the purity test of one side or the other would just give up on politics.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

        Yet what little we know of the debates surrounding the Constitution reduced to two Factions: the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. Mutatis mutandis we still have these factions today, though they have changed labels any number of times.

        Did they know or fully understand the form and substance of those factions? I believe they did understand. When Franklin, then a trembly old gent, was asked what had emerged from those closed-window debates, a Republic or a Monarchy, he replied “A republic, if you can keep it.”

        If we can keep it. Thank goodness it was a republic. A republic can deal with Faction.Report

  9. Avatar CK MacLeod says:

    Won’t happen until it doesn’t really matter. In other words, more likely that the presidency will be reduced to a quasi-ceremonial role before we ever get rid of the EC – somewhat as envisioned by the unwitting Hegelian Grover Norquist: The president will simply be the symbolic embodiment of the whole culture-state, ceremonially signing bills passed by the one-party legislature, though actually written by shifting alliances of public and private corporate oligarchs. Eventually, whether or not a popular vote is also involved will have to do more with ceremony than with any practical meaning. During emergencies, it will be up to the dictator.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      Given that the presidency has been steadily gaining power since the late 19th century, it’s a bit hard to imagine it shrinking to a purely ceremonial role. And considering we’ve had more transfers of party control in the House in the past two decades than we did in the prior 40 years, it doesn’t seem like we’re on a path toward one-party governance. It looks to me like your expected outcome depends on a sharp reversal of trends.

      The shifting alliance part, well we’ve more or less always had that.Report

      • That’s not in my view an accurate reading of the history of presidential power. In the ’70s, for instance, the executive lost impoundment authority with it much of the president’s traditional powers regarding expenditures. Some mainly conservative writers view Nixon’s prior maneuvers to exploit that power apart from party as the real underlying explanation of his having been forced out of office. As for transfers of party control in the House (and Senate), they may in retrospect look like the the last storm before the calm: We’ve had previous periods of ricocheting control followed by extended periods of 1-party rule.

        Just speculating here for the fun of it, but the more durable, deep-going, and arguably very well-justified trend (heavily cheered on by one of the two major parties and even more by its base) has been the loss of public confidence in all institutions, against a broad willingness to write big (TARP) or plain blank (AUMFs) checks in the shadow of emergency. Obama still plays C-in-C, but his range of choices is severely limited. So a ceremonialized Norquist-Hegel presidency, with an electorate or former-electorate only just barely paying attention most of the time, wouldn’t be that great a step from what we have.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to CK MacLeod says:

          C.K.,

          I don’t know if I’d say there’s a consensus among presidency scholars, but a very prominent theme among them is the increasing power of the presidency.

          – More and more policymaking is done via executive order;

          – The executive has gained more control over the bureaucratic agencies (they used to be mostly controlled by Congress, through the budgeting process, in which each agency had to defend its requests in front of its relevant committee);

          – The budgeting process has shifted from a Congressionally developed budget to a centralized executive branch budget proposal, over which the president’s non-congressionally approved folks in the OMB dominate the development of the budget proposal;

          – Signing statements have been used to effectively act as a line-item veto;

          – The national security state has enabled the president to act unilaterally and without regard for the Constitution, and Congress has made no effort to restrain the presidency. This includes warrantless wiretaps, the claim to have inherent authority to imprison Americans indefinitely without trial, and the use of the state secrets claim to prevent citizens from having their day in court.

          – The president’s war-making authority has increased since the War Powers Act tried to reign it in. Clinton took the U.S. into Bosnia without bothering to ask Congress for approval. Obama got us involved in Libya despite explicit Congressional refusal to approve his action.

          Don’t mistake inability to control the legislative process for diminishment of power. Presidents have rarely been able to dominate the legislative process, only in unusual and temporary cases. So more and more they just operate independently, without regard for legislation. Obama’s action on immigration is just the latest example–as much as I approve of his purpose, his approach is yet another example of presidents declaring themselves to be above the constraints of law.

          L’état, c’est moi.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to CK MacLeod says:

          the loss of public confidence in all institutions,

          That actually works to the president’s advantage. “We,” collectively chose him. Only he can claim (however fallaciously) the mandate of the people; only he represents the whole nation. When other institutions are failing, the president can claim to be the tribune of the people, their savior.Report

          • system ate my prior reply – so I’ll repeat it in abbreviate form here, on the off-chance that it shows up after all: What matters is the lawlessness, not the particular legal fiction. If Prez O can make small wars on his own, or be forced to given into generals (Petraeus/Afghanistan), then eventually generals can make the wars. Lefties and Paleos already think Cheneyish Defense Oligarchs + NeoCons did Iraq, with Dumbo along for the ride.

            So all we need is an emergency and a decisively weak or compromised Prez, and we’ll be rallying around the next Petraeus, not some Romneyesque cipher.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to CK MacLeod says:

              I get you, and I’m not entirely in disagreement. But I don’t think Congress is anywhere near that weak yet. They defer to the president out of expediency and because he can claim that popular mandate. A usurper won’t have that popular mandate. Some people thought your scenario was going to come when Truman recalled MacArthur. Mac got a big ticker-tape parade, a national hero, and Truman wasn’t that popular, so some feared a coup. Didn’t happen, didn’t come close.

              Not that it couldn’t happen here. I’m a believer that in fact it can happen here. But I think it’s a remote threat, and the more immediate threat is the effective destruction of checks and balances by the prez.Report

  10. Avatar mac says:

    That list is pretty much the same as what I learned in (public) high school history class.Report

  11. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    I’d be curious to see if there’s a poll/map out there which shows support for the EC by geographic location. It’s fair to assume support for the EC is almost directly proportional to population density.Report

    • Avatar Trumwill Mobile in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      A little, because of the perceived partisan ramifications and different attituds towards tradition, but people I know from Idaho are not fans because their vote remains irrelevent. Few small states are swing states and those that are still don’t get much attention.Report

    • Avatar toto in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%,, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: AZ – 67%, CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%.

      ***
      Most Americans don’t care whether their presidential candidate wins or loses in their state. . . they care whether he/she wins the White House. Voters want to know, that even if they were on the losing side, their vote actually was directly and equally counted and mattered to their candidate. Most Americans think it’s wrong for the candidate with the most popular votes to lose. We don’t allow this in any other election in our representative republic.Report

      • Avatar toto in reply to toto says:

        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.

        * * *
        The National Popular Vote bill would change existing state winner-take-all laws that award all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who get the most popular votes in each separate state (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), to a system guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes for, and the Presidency to, the candidate getting the most popular votes in the entire United States.

        * * *
        When the bill is enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes– enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

        * * *
        With National Popular Vote, when every vote counts equally, 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. More than 2/3rds 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), 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.

        * * *
        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%.

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

        * * *
        Of the 25 smallest states (with a total of 155 electoral votes) 18 received no attention at all from presidential campaigns after the conventions. Of the seven smallest states with any post-convention visits, Only 4 of the smallest states – NH (12 events), NM (8), NV (12), and IA (7) – got the outsized attention of 39 of the 43 total events in the 25 smallest states. In contrast, Ohio (with only 20 electoral votes) was lavishly wooed with 62 of the total 300 post-convention campaign events in the whole country.Report

  12. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    A quick aside: this is about as good as it gets, folks. Everyone who’s put in a word is firing on all cylinders. I have seldom seen a more productive discussion online in years.Report

  13. Avatar toto says:

    The National Popular Vote bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

    * * *
    Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

    * * *
    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 states. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions possessing 132 electoral votes – 49% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

    NationalPopularVote
    * * *Follow National Popular Vote on Facebook via NationalPopularVoteIncReport

  14. Avatar Whitcomb says:

    I’m not especially troubled by the possibility of a presidential candidate losing the popular vote yet winning in the Electoral College. It could happen this year, with Obama squeaking out an electoral majority in 15 or so states, while losing the popular vote. Should that happen, Obama could plausibly argue that he won in states far more representative of the country.

    I had little sympathy for Al Gore (and I voted for him) following the 200o election, because if he had paid some attention to his home state, and won it, nobody would have cared about hanging chads in Florida. Al Gore would have won both the popular vote and in the Electoral College. We would have been spared the Bush v. Gore ruling.

    JFK won the popular vote in 1960 by less than a quarter of 1 percent, yet he collected over 300 electoral votes. He could easily have lost the popular vote yet still won in the EC. Considering the regional and religious biases working against him that year, I would say three cheers for the Electoral College.

    The EC compels the candidate to build a collection of large, electoral-rich states and smaller swing states to claim the presidency. As a small-state resident, I don’t see what’s wrong with that.Report

  15. Avatar IanD says:

    Late to the game here, but thought I’d offer something as I think about this from time to time.

    Being from the UK, I see the electoral college as only being occasionally problematic, that is in cases where it lands the other way to the electoral vote.

    I assume that dismantling the college might encourage candidates to devote more time to big cities, but given that presidential elections tend to be close in terms of the popular vote, I’m not convinced that this would change the outcome of races. (And could make elections more expensive if candidates felt compelled to advertise in expensive big city TV markets.)

    It’s different in a parliamentary system where Parliament is effectively an electoral college but it doesn’t dissolve after picking the head of the executive but sticks around to help implement his or her policies. In that case the relationship between the outcome of the popular vote and the composition of the college/Parliament really does matter as it helps the executive drive through its policies and having a disproportionately large number of MPs is very helpful.

    Neither of those are arguments for keeping the college, of course. One thing I wonder is whether indirect election suppresses third party candidates because they would need to win a whole state to get seats in the college, but under direct election could in theory pull together a disparate national coalition to reach 30% or so. (I also assume under direct election there would have to be some sort of run off provision to stop a candidate without a majority of the votes becoming President.)Report

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