The real problem of the electoral college: it is biased towards the big battlefields


The debate on the electoral college this week is familiar, but irrelevant.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, underlined by critics, the discussion often focused on the actual but minor bias of the system towards small states.

This largely misses the real reason why the electoral college so often produces results that go against the majority: the winner wins everything in most states. You get all the Michigan voting votes, whether you win by a vote or by a million votes.

There are legitimate arguments for maintaining the victor's current system, even those that progressive opponents of the constituency might appreciate. In the 1880s, for example, it limited the electoral gains that white supremacist democrats had achieved by depriving black voters of their rights.

But the electoral college also carries the risk of anti-majority results – in which the winner of the national popular vote loses the election – without any high reason, as was the case in 2000 and 2016. It even has the potential of # 39; worse. the type of seizures that it was intended to prevent.

If there is an argument about the electoral college that seems to ignite the passions on Twitter, it is its bias for small states.

Votes are allocated to states based on the number of representatives in the US House, which is essentially proportional to the population of a state, and the number of senators, which is not the case. Thus, California gets two electoral votes from its two senators, and Wyoming, much smaller, also gets two votes from its two senators. In total, 81% of electors are allocated based on population and 19% equally among states and the District of Columbia.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, presidential candidate, will participate in an event this week in Memphis. She called at the end of the electoral college.CreditKaren Pulfer Focht / Reuters

There are circumstances in which this modest bias may be decisive: a similar link with that of the electoral college, as in 2000. After failing in Florida, Al Gore was defeated by George W. Bush by five electoral votes less than the total of 18 default votes acquired through small states. But for perspective, this is the only result obtained by the electoral college since 1876 in the 20 or so electoral margins provided for the bias of small states.

The bias of the small electoral college has nothing to do with the victory of Donald J. Trump. In fact, he won seven of the top 10 states and Hillary Clinton won seven of the 12 smaller states.

Overall, the electoral college bias towards small states has probably cost him four votes, virtually nothing.

If there is an advantage to protecting small states, the Electoral College does not do a great job of providing it. Big states can dominate the little ones in the system, and they have sometimes done it.

The real quirk of the constituency comes from the way states allocate their votes, not from the number of votes each state has: it is (largely) the winner.

It is this characteristic that defines the character of the US presidential elections. A candidate who narrowly gains the power of the Netherlands will win the presidency, regardless of the margin of victory achieved in the rest of the country. This means that candidates are not encouraged to campaign in a non-competitive state, be it a populated state like California or the opposite, such as North Dakota.

The winning-all bias that elevates the states of the battlefield exceeds all other biases. If the big states were close and competitive, they would decide our elections – as they had done until recently. In 1888, another time, the popular vote and the electoral college separated, the candidate who carried it (Benjamin Harrison) swept by one percentage point the biggest states of the country, of which the biggest, New York.

What is interesting is that this feature is largely unintentional.

This is not specified in the Constitution. In the first presidential election, most states did not vote for their constituents. Two states have not yet done so: Nebraska and Maine, which allocate electoral votes by constituency.

If the states wanted it, they could design an electoral system that better reflects the popular vote. They could award their voters in proportion to the statewide popular vote or the winner of the national popular vote, as some states have attempted. through an inter-state pact.

No state has taken the initiative to do it himself, for the same reason that he's first turned to the winner: everything else dilutes their power and remove voices from their favorite candidates.

The winner's system has virtually nothing to do with the reasons why the founders created the Electoral College, just as their concern about the investment of the masses with the power to choose the president. All states now allocate their electoral votes based on citizens' votes, rather than on the votes of state legislatures, as many have done in the past.

This is not because the winner's system takes everyone is not argued. The main, principled argument is that it discourages regionalism and encourages a candidate to appeal widely across the country rather than to a single region.

Although it does not always work, it sometimes works. The elections of 1888 again offer a useful example. That year, the Democrats won the popular vote by depriving Republican black voters of their rights and increasing their score in the Great South, where they earned between 70% and 26%. The Republicans overcame this with some narrow wins in the big states and more victories on all.

Republicans make a similar claim today about the 2016 election: they argue that the Democrats won the popular vote because of their large margin in California and that the constituency properly protected the rest of the country against an imperial California or New York.

But this is not what happened. Trump's victory at the constituency was mainly due to the impressive strength of the traditional battlefields, and not to the imbalanced and ineffective force of democracy in their regional strongholds. Indeed, Mr. Trump did just as well in his basic states – call them Appalachafornia – as Mrs. Clinton did in California.

Mr. Trump's electoral victory was the product of two factors. The one was essentially an accident of state lines. The 2016 results could be reversed simply by giving the Florida Panhandle to Alabama and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in Wisconsin. It is not clear that the distribution of Ms. Clinton's support has something that inevitably puts her at a disadvantage in a win-win system.

The second is that traditional battlefields are whiter and less educated than the country as a whole. Clinton's gains have been made in educated and diverse, generally less competitive states, including red states like Arizona, Texas and Utah.

If these trends continue, it is possible that the momentum of the 2016 election will be reversed. Republicans' extra earnings among white-minded working-class voters could remain largely unrewarded, now that they have reversed almost all battlefields, mostly whites. One day, democratic advances in the sunshine belt could tip states like Texas, Georgia, and Arizona.

The America of today is not as divided as before the Civil War or after. But even if the electoral college is supposed to discourage regionalism, it can hardly erode it once it settles, because it does not encourage a candidate to appeal to a place he can not win. In fact, tMr. Trump, who complained about what he did in California, has no reason to put his name on the ballot.


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