Today’s lesson is about the importance of keeping the Electoral College — if, like me, you are an ardent anti-
Democrat fascist. Consider the 12 presidential elections from 1972 through 2016, in which a third-party candidate failed to earn an electoral vote (though a few were cast for third-party candidates out of spite). The record of the past 12 elections shows why it’s so important to retain the Electoral College, and to ensure that some States don’t join an unconstitutional pact to cast their electoral votes for the “winner” of the mythical national popular vote.
Consider this graph (which I’ll explain in detail):
The horizontal axis represents the share of the two-party popular vote won by each GOP candidate; the vertical axis represents the share of the electoral vote won by each GOP candidate (ignoring votes cast for other candidates by faithless electors). The various points on the graph represent the outcome of each election from 1972 through 2016. (For ease of viewing, the labels for the years in which a GOP candidate won are placed to the left of the regression line; the labels for the years in which a Democrat candidate won are placed to the right of the regression line.)
If the relationship between popular votes and electoral votes were proportionate, the points on the graph would be clustered around the dashed red line. But because of the winner-take-all rule that prevails in most States, there is a knife-edge relationship between popular votes and electoral votes; departures from 50 percent of the “national” popular vote usually reflects gains (or losses) of whole States and their blocs of votes. (The point labeled “1984”, for example, represents the 1984 presidential election in which Ronald Reagan won 59.2 percent of the total number of votes cast for him and his Democrat opponent, Walter Mondale. Reagan’s 59.2 percent of the two-party popular vote yielded him 97.6 percent of the electoral vote because Reagan lost only D.C. and Mondale’s home State of Minnesota.) So a relatively small change in a candidate’s share of the “national” popular vote yields a disproportionate change in the candidate’s share of the electoral vote (which is truly a national tally). The regression line (dashed black line) and its accompany equation reflect the knife-edge relationship.
But, because the number of electoral votes cast by a State is equal to the number of U.S. senators and representatives from the State, the Electoral College is weighted in favor of less-populous States. And those, in recent decades, have generally voted Republican. In 2000, to take a crucial example, George W. Bush won 50.5 percent of the electoral vote while drawing 49.7 percent of the two-party popular vote. He was able to do that because he won the electoral votes of 29 States to Albert Gore’s 22 jurisdictions (21 States plus D.C.). In other words, Bush had an edge of 14 electoral votes that offset Gore’s edge in populous States with Democrat majorities.
A starker example, of course, is the outcome of the 2016 election, in which Donald Trump won 48.9 percent of the two-party popular vote but earned 56.9 percent of the electoral vote. His Democrat opponent, Hillary Clinton, won the electoral votes of only 21 jurisdictions (20 States plus D.C.). More important, though, was Trump’s ability to eke out narrow victories in States that Gore had won in 2000 (e.g., Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin), while losing States with fewer electoral votes that had gone to Bush in 2000. Trump’s edge in number of States won earned him a bonus of 18 electoral votes. It’s a bonus that Trump could use in the coming election.
In general, the regression equation in the graph suggests that, on average, a GOP candidate would win 50.2 percent of electoral votes (a bare majority of 270-268) with 49.5 percent of the popular vote.
This all leads to the obvious question (posed in classic left-speak): Is it fair? The correct answer is that “fairness” has nothing to do with it. The Electoral College is justifiable as a matter of State sovereignty:
As long as the States retain their power under the Constitution, they remain co-sovereign with the government of the United States. The election of a president by the Electoral College recognizes the co-sovereignty of the States, and the separate voice that each of them has in the election of a president.
It is not for the voters of California to dictate the winner of a presidential election, as they would have done in 2016 had a nationwide tally of popular votes by State been decisive. Rather, it is for the voters of each State, in the aggregate, to cast what amounts to a State-wide vote through the Electoral College. One can quibble with the constitutional compromise that gave less-populous States a slightly disproportionate say in the outcome. (The number of electoral votes cast by each State is equal to the number of its Representatives in Congress — thus roughly proportional to its population — plus the number of its Senators in Congress, which is two for every State regardless of its population.) But the principle remains, regardless of the quibble: Each State is independent of every other State and its aggregate preference should not be submerged in the mythical nationwide popular-vote tally.
(The quoted passage is from an aptly titled post of mine: “Vive le collège électoral!”.)
Previous posts in this series: