Monday, July 16, 2012

Elsewhere: EC, Pronoun Trouble

At Greg's place today, I returned to the idea of lazy mendacity, in particular the latest ripped-out-of-context conservative talking point. It also works, however, as an excuse for a reference to the classic "pronoun trouble" riff in "Rabbit Seasoning." It does raise the more complex question of whether "that" counts as a pronoun, but I think it does in this context, doesn't it?

Anyway, the one I want you to read is over at PP, where I talk about the idea that only a handful of people in a handful of states determine the presidential election. My argument is that you can see it that way -- and I see why campaign operatives do -- but it's more of a myth, albeit a clever myth, than some sort of great truth about the electoral college. I can add something else: if there was simple national plurality vote presidential election, you would still have only a (relative) handful of swing voters. So it's really not, when you think about it closely, really an electoral college thing. It's not even a first-past-the-post thing; a p.r. system would of course make someone's choice between, say, the Republican Party and an actual Tea Party candidate meaningful (in a sense) because it would be more likely to have a marginal effect on the number of seats those two parties would hold, but it still would have for all practical purposes the same chance of actually deciding the election.


  1. Jonathan, regarding the PP article:

    There probably is zero chance that one’s individual vote (even in a swing state) will decide a Presidential election. So yes, from a strictly individualistic perspective, no one’s vote actually matters… But as you say, perspectives are subjective, and the significant thing is that no one actually thinks of their vote this way (if they did, our democracy wouldn’t work so well). Rather, people imagine their vote swinging an election when combined with the votes of like-minded people -- yet as a practical matter, even this article of faith is impossible to maintain unless one lives in a state that could potentially be won by either side. Many people probably see their vote as nothing more than “making a statement” or a duty that needs no justification. But enough people subscribe to the other perspective, that the feeling of being disenfranchised is not uncommon.

    Your argument that this is all ok because we have “national elections” only makes sense if you subscribe to a theory of virtual representation (Sure, my vote won’t matter, but there’s probably a SWF in Tallahassee who feels just like I do!). I find it hard to believe that any American actually thinks this way.

    The idea that most people’s vote doesn’t count isn’t just a “clever insider point,” it’s a rational conclusion based on how people actually think about their vote.

  2. Jonathan, could you clarify: do you think EC is *just as good* as a more national system, or just that it's not as bad as everyone says?

    Doesn't the fact that campaigns treat elections as focusing on a small number of states mean that the issues campaigns focus on will be geared toward those states, and therefore that when governing the elected politicians will do the same (you stress regularly that presidents try to keep their promises). If, say, presidential campaigns bought large ad buys in New York City to increase turnout there (since under EC New York State turnout has zero effect), wouldn't the elected president be more likely to govern with urban issues in mind?

    (I feel like the fact that I think this might be true is because of things I've learned from your blog, so I'm often surprised at how dismissive you are of complaints about the EC.)

  3. 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. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. There would no longer be a handful of 'battleground' states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in more than 3/4ths of the states that now are just 'spectators' and ignored after the primaries.

    In 2008, voter turnout in the 15 battleground states averaged seven points higher than in the 35 non-battleground states.

    If presidential campaigns did not ignore 200,000,000 of 300,000,000 Americans, one would reasonably expect that voter turnout would rise in the more than two-thirds of the country that is currently ignored by presidential campaigns.

    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 bill uses the 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 for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group 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 Small 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: AZ – 67%, 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 win.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 states. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions possessing 132 electoral votes - 49% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.



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