Wednesday, November 10, 2010

One man, one vote? Not in the United States

I got this response to my last post, in which I claimed that the Republican Party has a structural advantage in elections, given the nature of the Electoral College--which no other democracy on Earth has. He said:

12 of the 13 smallest states (3-4 electoral votes) are almost invariably non-competitive, and ignored, in presidential elections. Six regularly vote Republican (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota),, and six regularly vote Democratic (Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC) in presidential elections.

I suppose this is supposed to refute my claim. And for all I know this is the sort of refutation promoted in the right wing blogosphere.

However it only shows how much trouble most people have understanding statistics--especially when it isn't a black and white story. The reader's statement may be true as far as it goes but it doesn't change the fact that it takes more than one Democratic voter, on average, to counter the vote of one Republican voter.

What propagandists do is take advantage of humans' "confirmation bias" where we start with a conclusion then cherry pick the facts--or accept fake facts from people who claim they're members of our tribe--and then arrive at our foregone conclusion.

And this is a prime example.

I went to Wikipedia and looked up their entries on the states, and on which are red, blue, and purple (swing states), based on the results of the last several presidential elections.

Here's what I found:

All the red states, taken together, have a total population of 109 million people distributed across 22 states.

All the blue states, taken together, have a total population of 150 million people distributed across 21 states.

All the purple (swing) states, taken together, have a total population of 48 million people.

The averrage Republican state has a population of 4.9 million people, while the average Democratic state has a population of 7.1 million people (and the swing states average 6.9 million people).

That's a humongous imbalance. Yet Republicans win presidential elections, because the Electoral College favors them. all else being equal. This is due to the fact that the small states get more electors per citizen than the big states get. And it's not a small difference. A Montana Republican's vote counts for more than three California Democrats' votes.

Here's the raw data, with the states ranked in order of just how thoroughly they are in one camp or the other--thus Utah is the reddest state and Massachusetts the bluest (even though it sent a Republican to the Senate recently):

Red states--ranked by degree of "redness"

state name (redness) population

rank / size (in millions)

Blue states

Purple states

[sorry this doesn't appear as the
table I'd created--formatting issues
with Google I guess for those who
don't speak fluent HTML at least]


n1ck said...

I remember after the 2004 presidential election, I really took a look at how terrible the electoral college really is.

To win the electoral college, you need to get 271 votes. To win a state's vote, you only need to win 50.01% of the state's votes.

Red v. Blue aside, because of the electoral college, it's possible that a candidate can win 50.01% of the top 11 most populated states, lose 100% of the other 39 states, and still win the election. AND, that candidate would lose the popular vote.

The top 11 states and electoral college votes.

CA: 55
TX: 34
NY: 31
IL: 21
PA: 21
OH: 20
MI: 17
GA: 15
NJ: 15
NC: 15

Win those states by .01% of the popular vote, and the other 39 can disappear and it won't matter.

The above is absurd, but also take into consideration that:

•NY had 38k more people vote than TX, yet had 3 votes less than TX

•FL had 200k more ppl vote than NY or TX, and had 4 less votes than NY and 7 less than TX

•OH had 500k more ppl vote than IL and has 1 less vote than IL

I think its pretty safe to say that the electoral college is an anachronistic system that should be removed, with a direct, popular election of the president.

One Salient Oversight said...

I think its pretty safe to say that the electoral college is an anachronistic system that should be removed, with a direct, popular election of the president.

Absolutely. All we need now is the GOP and the Dems, along with Obama, to change things. Will such a bipartisan move actually work, given that one side will naturally be disadvantaged?

Anonymous said...

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 equal and counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

Now 2/3rds of the states and voters are ignored -- 19 of the 22 smallest and medium-small states, and big states like California, Georgia, New York, and Texas. The current winner-take-all laws (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state) used by 48 of the 50 states, and not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution, ensure that the candidates do not reach out to all of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. Voter turnout in the "battleground" states has been 67%, while turnout in the "spectator" states was 61%. Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes--that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those 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.

The bill has been endorsed or voted for by 1,922 state legislators (in 50 states) who have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

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 in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado-- 68%, Iowa --75%, Michigan-- 73%, Missouri-- 70%, New Hampshire-- 69%, Nevada-- 72%, New Mexico-- 76%, North Carolina-- 74%, Ohio-- 70%, Pennsylvania -- 78%, Virginia -- 74%, and Wisconsin -- 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Alaska -- 70%, DC -- 76%, Delaware --75%, Maine -- 77%, Nebraska -- 74%, New Hampshire --69%, Nevada -- 72%, New Mexico -- 76%, Rhode Island -- 74%, and Vermont -- 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas --80%, Kentucky -- 80%, Mississippi --77%, Missouri -- 70%, North Carolina -- 74%, and Virginia -- 74%; and in other states polled: California -- 70%, Connecticut -- 74% , Massachusetts -- 73%, Minnesota -- 75%, New York -- 79%, Washington -- 77%, and West Virginia- 81%.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas (6), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), The District of Columbia (3), Maine (4), Michigan (17), Nevada (5), New Mexico (5), New York (31), North Carolina (15), and Oregon (7), and both houses in California (55), Colorado (9), Hawaii (4), Illinois (21), New Jersey (15), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (12), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), and Washington (11). The bill has been enacted by DC, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, and WA. These seven states possess 76 electoral votes -- 28% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

Ehkzu said...

A national popular vote isn't a cure-all. If I had to choose between this and nationwide nonpartisan redistricting I'd pick the latter.

But, that said, a national popular vote is certainly one several things needed to retrofit the world's oldest real democracy to modern standards.