Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Electoral College

A topic of discussion at the faculty table yesterday was whether we should abolish the electoral college. If we only counted popular votes at that table, the measure would have passed... overwhelmingly among the under-30 set, by the way, and with gusto by a nice girl who's an immigrant. Her words: "It would be better if you did it more like the French do...." RIGHT. That's what I want from my government: to be more FRENCH. The two main holdouts to this idea whose time has obviously come were the two of us at the table who actually teach history, government, and/or civics.

Most folks who don't like the EC really just don't like the fact that Bush beat Gore in 2000. What they don't realize is how many times in US History the winner has not received a majority of the popular vote (all but 4 times--1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000--the winner did receive at least a plurality of the popular vote). Just off the top of my head, I'm thinking Clinton twice, JFK in 1960, Truman in 1948, Woodrow Wilson in 1912, and a guy you might have heard of called Abe Lincoln in 1860. All of those folks would have gone to a run-off under a popular-vote system. And some (Truman, Wilson, Lincoln, possibly Clinton '92) would have probably lost.

Here's the deal. Imagine a scenario where a candidate wins a single state, let's say a big one, like Texas, by 50,000 votes. Then he or she goes on to lose the other 49 states by 1000 votes each. So he or she "wins" the overall popular vote by 1000--but the other guy wins 49 states. Which one deserves more to be president of the whole country? I think most of us would say the one who won the broadest support across most of the country, rather than the deepest support in one region. The electoral college measures that, while also adjusting for the relative populations of the states (hence, 55 electoral votes for California, 27 for Florida, 8 for good 'ol SC, and only 3 for near-empty Wyoming). It was one of the smartest things old James Madison ever came up with. Thank goodness that changing the system (for us, unlike the French) requires a pretty severe super-majority to pass an amendment.

NOTE: I realized after writing this that I have spoken of this topic before. My original point, that the Democrats have an electoral advantage this cycle, remains unchanged. They win Kerry's states plus Ohio, and it's over 270 electoral votes. but McCain scrambles things. If he wins Bush's states, loses Ohio, but flips New Hampshire (where they LOVE him), he still squeaks out. There are a million scenarios, of course. But reading my year-old posts about how he's never going to get nominated should serve as fair warning about trying to predict these things.


bekster said...

That's funny... I re-read your older post and it is crazy how things can change so much from the way we think they will be (which is a good reason why we shouldn't get too bent out of shape when God doesn't respond to our prayers the way we think He should at the time).

On a different note, it just struck me how nice it is that the people who have run for President in the past are still remembered in history. Even though they didn't win, some kid in your class has to know who they are. It is kind of cool to look back on past elections and things like that and study why they had the outcomes they did. I do not quite understand all of that stuff, but I am starting to and I think it is interesting. Strategy can be fun if you actually get it.

Paul Murphy said...

Agreed. Popular vote is trash- it further minimalizes the importnace of the state, and I think my states pretty durn important.

bekster said...

Besides the Democrats being mad about Bush winning, I think they also prefer the Popular Vote to the Electoral Vote because they tend to value the "little guy" more. Now, I am not fooled into thinking that it is all about compassion on their end (speaking more about politicians than the common person here)... I think they go for the power and try to pull on people's heart strings to get it. But, they are all about people being "equal," while Republicans know that people are NOT equal. Some people work harder than other people and do deserve to get more. Also, some people are more intelligent or knowledgeable about certain things. We can't leave it totally up to the Popular Vote because much of the populous is pretty stupid, or at least ignorant about the things for which they are voting. I know that if everything happened exactly the way that I, as a "common" person, wanted it, it would probably not turn out the way I think it would. That's why we have political leaders in the first place, and that's also why we have the Electoral College, to shield us from ourselves. In fact, much of the way our government is set up is to keep us from falling victim to our own idiocy (checks and balances, etc.) Anyway, I think that because Democrats tend to favor giving even the idiot a voice, that's why they like the Popular Vote more than the Electoral Vote.

bekster said...

Oh, and, to expand on what Paul said, I think that Republicans like the Electoral College more because it DOES put more power in the hands of the states, which is what Republicans usually want. Democrats favor more Federal control.

Goode Design said...

You'd think after such a long time of using the Electoral College that we'd have progressed in 2 areas:

1. people would know WHY it works
2. it would have at LEAST achieved electoral UNIVERSITY status...


Security Word Verification:
Lrcyx n. The muscle group that moves when you sing acappella. Did you see how Stephen Segal crushed that guys lrcyx as his hair floated throught the air in slo-mo!!!