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Monday, December 19, 2016

An unsatisfying plurality

There's a lot of discussion about the Electoral College vis-à-vis direct, nationwide popular vote to choose the President… healthy discussion. I ran a spreadsheet model that may interest you because it's a plausible scenario by which a candidate can win only seven states and still win the presidency. If a candidate gets:
  • 60% of the vote in California and New York,
  • 55% of the vote in Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio, and
  • 45% of the vote in every other state,
he or she wins. One can construct other scenarios where even fewer than seven states are needed, but those are less plausible so I will omit them. What makes this possible? Over half the votes in last month's election were cast in just ten states.

If you're a campaign manager, the message is very clear: focus on the most populous states which become the new "swing states". Candidate appearances, media buys, etc are more efficient in terms of votes per dollar expended in the most populous states (and even in the most populous metro areas of those states). It will happen naturally. If people in New Mexico complain that they never see a presidential candidate, changing to popular vote will not address their complaint because they will surely never see one. Republicans in the District of Columbia — the most futile actors in national politics, by far — will still have no clout because they are such a microscopic percentage of the national electorate.

In the Electoral College, at least thirteen states are required to prevail under the current apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives. Even Jimmy Carter and John Kennedy won more than 20 states each, and they had the smallest number of states in their victory column of any election in the last 100 years. That's the way it should be, I think. The nation is called the United States of America. It's not a nation that is subdivided into states for administrative convenience; it's a nation formed by the union of sovereign states — one reason why what happens at the North Carolina General Assembly and other state legislatures is so important. I don't believe that allowing a small number of states to determine the outcome of a national election is wise, even if it is technically still a democratic process.

My fellow Democrats, we simply have to find ways to win under the rules as they are. We have done so before, and we will do so again. In the meantime let's focus our energy on practical battles where our energy can make a difference. And remember that in 1992 Bill Clinton won only with 43% of the popular vote (!!) but 69% of the Electoral College. This knife cuts both ways.