In Which The Parties Are Remarkably Consistent

So there’s this new Republican plan in Pennsylvania under which the state would assign its electoral votes to presidential candidates based on which congressional district is won by each (which, of course, is what Maine and Nebraska already do). The net effect of this plan, of course, would be to increase the average number of electoral votes received by Republican candidates and decrease the average number received by Democratic ones. (For what it’s worth, the Nebraska version of this idea does the opposite, as current president Obama can attest.)

Not to pick on Charlie Davis, because he’s not the only person I’ve heard say this, but here’s a somewhat standard response from certain corners of the internet. What’s interesting to me, however, is that this is actually the opposite of the kind of hypocrisy Davis is crying foul about. The reason Democrats and assorted other liberals (like me) wanted to change up the Electoral College (hereafter “EC” to save my fingers some wear and tear) after 2000 is because that election brought into stark relief the fact that the EC disenfranchises a whole lot of people. Looking at the extremes, you have California (population 37,253,956; 55 electoral votes) and Wyoming (population 563,626; 3 electoral votes): California gets 1 EV for about 675,000 people, while Wyoming gets 1 for about 188,000 people. It is, as we saw in 2000, not hard to imagine a scenario in which the candidate who gets the most votes loses the election.

Of course, you already know all that. But that means you also know why Democrats and assorted other liberals (DAAOL is not a very catchy acronym, but I’ll work on it) would oppose the Pennsylvania plan. It has nothing to do with hypocrisy and everything to do with either (depending on your level of cynicism) winning elections or preventing the further disenfranchisement of voters (in this case, urban black ones especially). Perhaps to his credit, Rick Moran at Pajamas Media gets this, even if he just uses it as a cudgel to attack liberals for gaming the system (without even bothering to note that that street goes two ways).

The reality is that congressional districts are almost always drawn in a way that lumps heavily-Democratic urban voters together in extremely lopsided districts. Take a look at the Wikipedia article on the Cook Partisan Voting Index. The most Democratic districts are D+41; the most Republican are R+29; some quick math tells me that the average Republican-leaning district is R+10.23, while the average Democratic-leaning district is D+14.22. This is largely not all that nefarious; it’s because Democratic-leaning votes tend to cluster in urban areas. It is the same reason that the EC as a whole privileges Republican candidates (at this point in history, anyway; times change).

In any case, what surprised me about this was that the parties are being remarkably consistent in their aims. Of course, as Rick Moran and I pointed out above, it also dovetails nicely with their electoral interests, which may be the only reason they have managed to muster up some consistency in the first place.

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31 thoughts on “In Which The Parties Are Remarkably Consistent

  1. The Pennsylvania plan, if adopted across the board, would help Republicans and hurt Democrats. The per-congressional-district electoral votes would approximate the popular vote, while the additional two votes per state would favor the party that controls the most small states. Guess who that is?

    This isn’t about federalism, democracy, the Constitution, or anything other than a plan to change the rules to win more elections.

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    • It would approximate the popular vote in a weird way, though. As noted in OP, districts are not evenly distributed on a partisan basis. There is far more clumping in Democratic districts, which would also give Republicans a built-in advantage.

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  2. True, but even removing this obstacle by splitting all of a state’s electoral vote in the same proportion as its popular vote still significantly favors Republicans. There are two opposing forces which, combined, make the electoral vote a good approximation of the popular vote:

    1. Large states, which tend Democratic, vote winner-take-all
    2. Small states, when tend Republican, have proportionality more votes

    The Pennsylvania plan and variants thereof are attempts to remove 1 and leave 2.

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  3. I think you miss the major point. While changing the system is desirable to avoid situations where the popular vote winner loses the election, the Pennsylvania case is just about partisan gaming of the system. If awarding votes based on victories by congressional district were by some measure the fairest way to run the system, it would have to be done in every state, otherwise it creates an non-level playing field.

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  4. Well put Ryan.

    The problem with this plan is precisely the point that Charlie Davis misses. Either get rid of the EC, or keep it un-altered and consistant, but half measures like the ones being proposed in PA only aggrivate the problems caused by the EC, not alleviate them.

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  5. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just arrange things so that Democrats could win everything?

    Then we could pass a Constitutional Amendment making it illegal to be a Republican. Surely that would make things much better.

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  6. “California gets 1 EV for about 675,000 people, while Wyoming gets 1 for about 188,000 people.”

    Which is why the candidates spend so much time in Wyoming?

    The Electoral College advantages people in states where:

    1) The outcome is relatively uncertain — in other words, where its closely divided between parties.

    2) The prize at stake for putting a state in your column is relatively large — in other words, the states with a lot of electoral votes.

    Put these things together, and you get a situation where all the attention is paid to large, closely-divided states. They are the ones who are advantaged by the process — the places where a campaign can swing the state, and the state can swing the outcome. Think OH, FL, MO, CO, etc.

    It may be true that, say, the GOP is advantaged by having Wyoming’s voters swing above their weight, giving them a bigger base of safe electoral votes to start with. But, the relative effect of this disproportional weighting is biggest in the smallest states, and the effect diminshes as you add up (the two bonus electoral votes that Texas gets aren’t the principal reason why the GOP needs to hold Texas.)

    So, the independent effect of the malapportionment in the EC is mild, at best. The real effect is in the winner-take-all nature — and that advantages big, closely-divided states.

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    • Well, there are two separate problems with the electoral college. One is that candidates only pay attention to swing states. A separate problem is that small states get disproportionate weighting (not in terms of candidate visits, but the candidate that most small states support will have an edge). I’m inclined to think that the second one isn’t having a huge impact, but the first one clearly is–check out this awesome graphic from Wikipedia to see how little attention is paid to non-swing states.

      Both problems, incidentally, could be solved by adopting the National Popular Vote plan.

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      • I’m not convinced that the candidates paying attention to only a few states is a problem at all. As a matter of fact, a campaign that were more “evenly” distributed across population centers would undoubtedly be more expensive to run, and would probably increase the role of money in presidential politics over what it already is.

        Additionally, it’s not clear what the policy implications of either change would be. Would different policies results? In what way would they be different? It’s not like the campaign would unfold the same way is we used the popular vote. If anything, it would probably make our issues of polarization worse, as our most visible politicians preached to the faithful, running up big margins in places where they are loved (think the Democrats in major Eastern cities, or the Republicans in Anaheim or the Houston suburbs.) This would result in a more dysfunctional system, on net, I think than we have presently (and that’s saying something.) The majority we get by having presidents assemble moderately-sized majorities in lots of places is probably more conducive to governance, it that it forces them to adopt a message with broader appeal.

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          • The current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes maximizes the incentive and opportunity for fraud. A very few people can change the national outcome by changing a small number of votes in one closely divided battleground state. With the current system all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who receives a bare plurality of the votes in each state. The sheer magnitude of the national popular vote number, compared to individual state vote totals, is much more robust against manipulation.

            Senator Birch Bayh (D-Indiana) summed up the concerns about possible fraud in a nationwide popular election for President in a Senate speech by saying in 1979, “one of the things we can do to limit fraud is to limit the benefits to be gained by fraud. Under a direct popular vote system, one fraudulent vote wins one vote in the return. In the electoral college system, one fraudulent vote could mean 45 electoral votes, 28 electoral votes.”

            Hendrik Hertzberg wrote: “To steal the closest popular-vote election in American history, you’d have to steal more than a hundred thousand votes . . .To steal the closest electoral-vote election in American history, you’d have to steal around 500 votes, all in one state. . . .

            For a national popular vote election to be as easy to switch as 2000, it would have to be two hundred times closer than the 1960 election–and, in popular-vote terms, forty times closer than 2000 itself.

            Which, I ask you, is an easier mark for vote-stealers, the status quo or N.P.V.[National Popular Vote]? Which offers thieves a better shot at success for a smaller effort?”

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        • In the 2012 election, pundits and campaign operatives agree already, that, at most, only 14 states and their voters will matter. None of the 10 most rural states will matter, as usual. Almost 75% of the country will be ignored –including 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and 17 medium and big states like CA, GA, NY, and TX. This will be more obscene than the 2008 campaign, when candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their campaign events and ad money in just 6 states, and 98% in just 15 states (CO, FL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WI). Over half (57%) of the events were in just 4 states (OH, FL, PA, and VA). In 2004, candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their money and campaign visits in 5 states; over 80% in 9 states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states.

          2/3rds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential election. That’s more than 85 million voters ignored.

          Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

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          • Some places don’t know how lucky they are. My house has the misfortune to be in a competitive state for the Presidency and Senators, a competitive district for the US House, and competitive districts for both state house and senate. If recent history is any guide, we will be buried under the political mailings, and receive multiple robo-calls per day. I’m thinking of setting aside a big box on the first of the year and weighing the mailings on the day after the election. I’m guessing there will be more than 25 pounds.

            The majority of the mailings and calls will have the general flavor of “the other candidate is a worthless so-and-so who kills and eats puppies.” The remainder will promise great things tailored to — depending on the particular office — this region of the country, this state, or the suburbs. After election day, the winners will ignore the promises completely.

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        • Presidential candidates currently do everything within their power to raise as much money as they possibly can from donors throughout the country. They then allocate the money that they raise nationally to places where it will do the most good toward their goal of winning the election.

          Money doesn’t grow on trees. The fact that candidates would spend their money more broadly (that is, in all 50 states) would not, in itself, loosen up the wallet of a single donor anywhere in the country. Candidates will continue to try to raise as much money as economic considerations permit. Economic considerations by donors determines how much money will be available, not the existence of an increases number of places where the money might be spent.

          If every vote mattered throughout the United States, as it would under a national popular vote, candidates would reallocate the money they raise.

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        • The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities (going as obscurely far down as Arlington, TX) is only 19% of the population of the United States.

          Suburbs and exurbs often vote Republican.

          If big cities controlled the outcome of elections, the governors and U.S. Senators would be Democratic in virtually every state with a significant city.

          Evidence as to how a nationwide presidential campaign would be run, can be found by examining the way presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as in Ohio and Florida, under the state-by-state winner-take-all methods. The big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami certainly did not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida in 2000 and 2004.

          Because every vote is equal inside Ohio or Florida, presidential candidates avidly seek out voters in small, medium, and large towns. The itineraries of presidential candidates in battleground states (and their allocation of other campaign resources in battleground states) reflect the political reality that every gubernatorial or senatorial candidate in Ohio and Florida already knows–namely that when every vote is equal, the campaign must be run in every part of the state.

          Even in California state-wide elections, candidates for governor or U.S. Senate don’t campaign just in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and those places don’t control the outcome (otherwise California wouldn’t have recently had Republican governors Reagan, Dukemejian, Wilson, and Schwarzenegger). A vote in rural Alpine county is just an important as a vote in Los Angeles. If Los Angeles cannot control statewide elections in California, it can hardly control a nationwide election.

          In fact, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland together cannot control a statewide election in California.

          Similarly, Republicans dominate Texas politics without carrying big cities such as Dallas and Houston.

          There are numerous other examples of Republicans who won races for governor and U.S. Senator in other states that have big cities (e.g., New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts) without ever carrying the big cities of their respective states. It is certainly true that the biggest cities in those states typically vote Democratic. However, the suburbs, exurbs, small towns, and rural parts of the states often voted Republican. If big cities controlled the outcome of elections, the governors and U.S. Senators would be Democratic in virtually every state with a significant city.

          Under a national popular vote, every vote everywhere will be equally important politically. There will be nothing special about a vote cast in a big city or big state. When every vote is equal, candidates of both parties will seek out voters in small, medium, and large towns throughout the states in order to win. A vote cast in a big city or state will be equal to a vote cast in a small state, town, or rural area.

          Under National Popular Vote, successful candidates will find a middle ground of policies appealing to the wide mainstream of America. . Any candidate who yielded, for example, the 16% of Americans who live in rural areas in favor of a “big city” approach would not likely win the national popular vote. 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 states.

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          • “There will be nothing special about a vote cast in a big city or big state. When every vote is equal, candidates of both parties will seek out voters in small, medium, and large towns throughout the states in order to win.”

            I don’t think this is true. Campaign dollars will be spent more effectively (in terms of marginal vote gained per dollar spent) in larger media markets. And it certainly wouldn’t make any sense to do actual visits in places that can only muster small crowds, excepting that this then gets you coverage in larger media markets (e.g. Chicago media will report on a campaign stop in Peoria, but no major city median will report on a campaign stop in Billings or Burlington.) Also, there are network effects to mobilization, and campaigns know this — people in bigger areas simply *know* more people, and mobilizing one is likely to have second- and third- order effects that mobilization efforts wouldn’t have in small towns.

            Candidates will go where the voters are most densely concentrated, and people who live in less densely populated areas will be ignored, relative to voters in dense metropolitan/suburban areas.

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      • I am tepidly in favor of a popular vote, but I have to say… the constant mentions of Wyoming ultimately rub me the wrong way. Wyoming may get undue representation, but instead of getting .15% of the vote they get .56%. Florida, meanwhile, gets 5% instead of 6%. I understand the arguments as far as the senate goes, but as far as the EC goes, this, to me, is really a non-issue save for the fear that “OMG those little state bumpkins are getting away with something!” and urban/rural animosity more generally.

        The arguments about swing/non-swing are much stronger.

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  7. Any setup — like the proposed PA one — that involves the loser of the popular vote getting more EC votes than the winner is, by default, stupid.

    Frankly, the Electoral College is stupid. I’m 100% behind the plan to get a EC majority of the states to award their EC votes proprotionally to the popular vote (for the life of me I can’t remember the name of it), but that’s just an end-run to reform the system as a whole.

    Which is entirely different than gaming the snot out of it.

    PA’s little fun is closer to, oh, requiring photo ID then closing the DMV’s in Democratic areas to make sure those non-drivers can’t easily get that photo ID.

    Or, to pull another totally hypothetical and certainly not real example, refusing to admit to people that you can, in fact, give them free photo ID’s if it’s for voting purposes. (Although I suspect that one is more about getting that 25 dollar fee than partisan shenanigans).

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  8. Let’s note a couple of peculiarities about PA especially wrt this election cycle. There’s a mean vs. variance thing that illustrates how fall the President’s electoral chances have fallen.

    On the level of expectation, this should be pretty neutral. Pennsylvania is probably the swing state at the moment. I expect the GOP candidate to win it, in fact he might win it by a bigger margin than some other state even. The thing is, no matter who is favored, PA is a state that the President desperately needs. Taking PA’s EVs off the table essentially kills his already slim chance at reelection.

    I don’t care too much the handwringing over the EC and the rest of it. The operational rules have more or less been set, we just need to win with them. On a contingent level, I oppose the Pennsylvania plan. For this cycle, the last couple and the next couple, are message dominated cycles. Organization and money are relatively less important now.

    The GOP has the winning message. We have the hope of employment and prosperity for America. Let’s not allow ourselves to be distracted by ancillary crap.

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      • That might be true in some other situation but not right now. It was Quinnipiac, I think, that had a poll where the President was losing to a generic Republican by ten points or whatever in February or March.

        Now, there’s reason to think that the President will do better against an actual Republican than a generic one, and bin Laden helped a bit, but as I see it that poll represents the underlying lay of the land. At this point you’d have to think the President’s chances of carrying PA is 50-50 at best.

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  9. By state (electoral college votes), by political affiliation, support for a national popular vote in recent polls has been:

    Alaska (3)- 78% among (Democrats), 66% among (Republicans), 70% among Nonpartisan voters, 82% among Alaska Independent Party voters, and 69% among others.
    Arkansas (6)- 88% (D), 71% (R), and 79% (Independents).
    California (55)– 76% (D), 61% (R), and 74% (I)
    Colorado (9)- 79% (D), 56% (R), and 70% (I).
    Connecticut (7)- 80% (D), 67% (R), and 71% others
    Delaware (3)- 79% (D), 69% (R), and 76% (I)
    District of Columbia (3)- 80% (D), 48% (R), and 74% of (I)
    Idaho(4) – 84% (D), 75% (R), and 75% others
    Florida (29)- 88% (D), 68% (R), and 76% others
    Iowa (6)- 82% (D), 63% (R), and 77% others
    Kentucky (8)- 88% (D), 71% (R), and 70% (I)
    Maine (4) – 85% (D), 70% (R), and 73% others
    Massachusetts (11)- 86% (D), 54% (R), and 68% others
    Michigan (16)- 78% (D), 68% (R), and 73% (I)
    Minnesota (10)- 84% (D), 69% (R), and 68% others
    Mississippi (6)- 79% (D), 75% (R), and 75% Others
    Nebraska (5)- 79% (D), 70% (R), and 75% Others
    Nevada (5)- 80% (D), 66% (R), and 68% Others
    New Hampshire (4)- 80% (D), 57% (R), and 69% (I)
    New Mexico (5)- 84% (D), 64% (R), and 68% (I)
    New York (29) – 86% (D), 66% (R), 78% Independence Party members, 50% Conservative Party members, 100% Working Families Party members, and 7% Others
    North Carolina (15)- 75% liberal (D), 78% moderate (D), 76% conservative (D), 89% liberal (R), 62% moderate (R) , 70% conservative (R), and 80% (I)
    Ohio (18)- 81% (D), 65% (R), and 61% Others
    Oklahoma (7)- 84% (D), 75% (R), and 75% others
    Oregon (7)- 82% (D), 70% (R), and 72% (I)
    Pennsylvania (20)- 87% (D), 68% (R), and 76% (I)
    Rhode Island (4)- 86% liberal (D), 85% moderate (D), 60% conservative (D), 71% liberal (R), 63% moderate (R), 35% conservative (R), and 78% (I),
    South Dakota (3)- 84% (D), 67% (R), and 75% others
    Tennessee (11) –78% (D), 73% (R)
    Utah (6)- 82% (D), 66% (R), and 75% others
    Vermont (3)- 86% (D); 61% (R), and 74% Others
    Virginia (13)- 79% liberal (D), 86% moderate (D), 79% conservative (D), 76% liberal (R), 63% moderate (R), and 54% conservative (R), and 79% Others
    Washington (12)- 88% (D), 65% (R), and 73% others
    West Virginia (5)- 87% (D), 75% (R), and 73% others
    Wisconsin (10)- 81% (D), 63% (R), and 67% (I)
    Wyoming (3) – 77% (D), 66% (R), and 72% (I)
    http://tinyurl.com/3oyeejj

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  10. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Elections wouldn’t be about winning states. Every vote, everywhere would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. States have the responsibility and power to make their voters relevant in every presidential election. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in the current handful of swing 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.

    The presidential election system that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers but, instead, is the product of decades of evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

    The bill uses the exclusive 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.

    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 is strong among Republican voters, Democratic voters, and independent voters, as well as every demographic group surveyed 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 smaller 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: CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should get elected.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in AR, CT, DE, DC, ME, MI, NV, NM, NY, NC, and OR, and both houses in CA, CO, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, RI, VT, and WA. The bill has been enacted by DC (3), HI (4), IL (19), NJ (14), MD (11), MA (10), CA (55), VT (3), and WA (13). These 9 jurisdictions possess 132 electoral votes — 49% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

    http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

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