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A Message to You, GOP: Strong Parties Win Majorities Rather Than Changing the Rules

The post-mortems are over. Most Republicans now admit what everyone else knows: Romney took a beating last November. Romney didn’t just lose under relatively favorable conditions. He managed to underperform John McCain with the party’s base without successfully reaching out to new supporters.

How should the party get better results in the future? One proposal is to change the rules of the game. Romney lost because he failed to win majorities in enough states to collect 270 electoral votes. At National Review, Katrina Trinko asks [1] whether Republicans would do better if states awarded their electoral college votes by congressional district, or the electoral college were entirely replaced by a national popular vote (NPV).

The answer to the second question is almost certainly “no”. Republicans lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. And the demographic picture is growing less favorable to them as reliable constituencies–married couples, whites, and Christians–continue to shrink. It’s theoretically possible that Republicans could win a national popular vote by improving turnout in their strongholds. But it’s more likely that NPV would shut the GOP out of the White House for good.

The plan to award electoral votes by congressional district seems more promising, partly because it would not require an amendment to the Constitution and is already in place in Nebraska and Maine. But Republicans would make a terrible mistake by pursuing this strategy, which has attracted interest [2] in Pennsylvania [3] and Michigan [4], among other states.

In the first place, the proposal is a naked attempt to rig the system to secure more favorable results. Advocates of NPV can appeal to the politically neutral principle of one man, one vote. Advocates of a district-based electoral college, on the other hand, are explicit about their goal of giving an advantage to Republicans. There’s nothing new about politicians making rules that favor their own party: the gerrymander is as old as the Republic. As far as I know, however, it’s never been seriously proposed as a basis for selecting the President.

Second, the Republican advantage under such a system could be temporary. As long as Republicans control state legislatures, they can draw favorable districts. But there’s no reason to assume that this control will last forever. Eleven states have adopted non-partisan redistricting. Others may follow their example. More importantly, Democrats could rebuild their strength in key states like Wisconsin, where they’ve recently faced setbacks (that’s what the collective bargain fight with Gov. Walker was really about). If they do, Republicans would again find themselves at a structural disadvantage.

But the main reason Republicans should reject attempts to win the game by changing the rules is that obsession with procedural gimmicks is symptomatic of a broken party. In a democracy, healthy parties pursue decisive national majorities. Sore losers try to eke out victories through electoral manipulation.

Republicans once understood this principle, which was the basis of Nixon and Reagan’s challenges to the New Deal coalition that was then in its death-throes. It was also the guiding idea of Disraeli’s construction of a “One Nation” party from the ruins of the old Tories following the Reform Act of 1832. British Conservatives spent a half-century weening themselves of their dependence on rotten boroughs. It is dispiriting to see Republicans pursuing a modern version of the same vice.


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#1 Comment By Clint On January 9, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

Americans voted for divided government. The GOP controls The House of Representatives, 30 Governorships to 19 Democrats and the majority of state legislature seats.

#2 Comment By M_Young On January 9, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

Of course the biggest ‘change in the rules’ was the Democrats managing to convince Republicans to alter the demographic balance of the country via the 1965 immigration act, the 1986 amnesty, and the 1991 immigration act (which basically gave us 1965, but more of it).

#3 Comment By The Wet One On January 9, 2013 @ 2:32 pm


As I understand it, Republicans lost the vote in Congress too. If 1 person one vote applied to Congress as it did to the presidency, Republicans would be the minority in Congress too. The fact that Republicans rigged the congressional districts to favour their party with 4 million less votes than Democrats is, I think, exactly what the author is decrying.

These facts fly directly in the face of what you’ve stated (i.e. “American voted for divided government”). If the votes were counted fairly and in an unbiased manner in Congress (I honestly don’t know about the governorships and state legislative seats), it’s pretty clear that Americans voted for Democracts through and through.

The sooner Republicans accept these facts and address them, the sooner they’ll be relevant to the discussion again.

#4 Comment By Brian On January 9, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

Well, this plan is far, far better than the NPV plan, IF the “problem” is how to address the FL 2000 election. There would have been no recount to worry about if each vote went along with a congressional district.

“One man, one vote” is an abomination, anyway. Nothing but judicial asininity that destroyed sane governance at the state level.

#5 Comment By oldgulph On January 9, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

The Electoral College would not be entirely replaced by National Popular Vote.

The National Popular Vote bill would change current state winner-take-all laws that award all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who get the most popular votes in each separate state (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), to a system guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes for, and the Presidency to, the candidate getting the most popular votes in the entire United States.

The bill preserves the constitutionally mandated Electoral College and state control of elections. It ensures that every vote is equal, every voter will matter, in every state, in every presidential election, and the candidate with the most votes wins, as in virtually every other election in the country.

Under National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would be included in the state counts and national count. The candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC would get the needed 270+ electoral votes from the enacting states. The bill would thus guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes.

National Popular Vote would give a voice to the minority party voters in each state. Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don’t matter to their candidate.

And now votes, beyond the one needed to get the most votes in the state, for winning in a state are wasted and don’t matter to candidates. Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 “wasted” votes for Bush in 2004. 8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659).

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 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 recent 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 with 243 electoral votes. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions with 132 electoral votes – 49% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

Follow National Popular Vote on Facebook via NationalPopularVoteInc

#6 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 9, 2013 @ 3:12 pm

I am an advocate of hitting the trenches on argument. Including engaging the every citizen, even black people head on in discussions and debate. Engaging them as adults as opposed to writing them off as ne’re do wells welfare recipients.

It’s time to do the hard work.

Start supporting conservatives in areas in which they are greatly needed, education and government servivces.

Have a realistic view of the country’s history and future without squashing the dream of all that the country is and could be.

And that does not require embracing homosexual marriage, children out of wedlock, an increase in welfare, government healthcare . . . or abandoning sound fiscal management.

I think I agree with most of this assessment. Certainly advocating an electoral college shift is rather obvious.

#7 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 9, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

I would add that strong ideas communicated in a manner that actually engages the listener, even in opposition makes strong parties.

#8 Comment By EliteComminc. On January 9, 2013 @ 4:17 pm

A change that attempts to short cut, the neccessary work of deep communication.

#9 Comment By oldgulph On January 9, 2013 @ 4:38 pm

Because there are generally more close votes on district levels than states as whole, district elections increase the opportunity for error. The larger the voting base, the less opportunity there is for an especially close vote.

The current presidential election system and a district winner system make a repeat of 2000 more likely, not less likely. All you need is a thin and contested margin in a single state or district with enough electoral votes to make a difference. It’s much less likely that the national vote will be close enough that voting irregularities in a single area will swing enough net votes to make a difference. If we’d had National Popular Vote in 2000, a recount in Florida would not have been an issue.

The idea that recounts will be likely and messy with National Popular Vote is distracting.

The 2000 presidential election was an artificial crisis created because of Bush’s lead of 537 popular votes in Florida. Gore’s nationwide lead was 537,179 popular votes (1,000 times larger). Given the miniscule number of votes that are changed by a typical statewide recount (averaging only 274 votes); no one would have requested a recount or disputed the results in 2000 if the national popular vote had controlled the outcome. Indeed, no one (except perhaps almanac writers and trivia buffs) would have cared that one of the candidates happened to have a 537-vote margin in Florida.

Recounts are far more likely in the current system of state-by-state winner-take-all methods.

The possibility of recounts should not even be a consideration in debating the merits of a national popular vote. No one has ever suggested that the possibility of a recount constitutes a valid reason why state governors or U.S. Senators, for example, should not be elected by a popular vote.

The question of recounts comes to mind in connection with presidential elections only because the current system so frequently creates artificial crises and unnecessary disputes.

We do and would vote state by state. Each state manages its own election and is prepared to conduct a recount.

The state-by-state winner-take-all system is not a firewall, but instead causes unnecessary fires.
“It’s an arsonist itching to burn down the whole neighborhood by torching a single house.” Hertzberg

Given that there is a recount only once in about 160 statewide elections, and given there is a presidential election once every four years, one would expect a recount about once in 640 years with the National Popular Vote. The actual probability of a close national election would be even less than that because recounts are less likely with larger pools of votes.

The average change in the margin of victory as a result of a statewide recount was a mere 296 votes in a 10-year study of 2,884 elections.

No recount would have been warranted in any of the nation’s 57 previous presidential elections if the outcome had been based on the nationwide count.

The common nationwide date for meeting of the Electoral College has been set by federal law as the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. With both the current system and the National Popular Vote, all counting, recounting, and judicial proceedings must be conducted so as to reach a “final determination” prior to the meeting of the Electoral College. In particular, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that the states are expected to make their “final determination” six days before the Electoral College meets.

#10 Comment By oldgulph On January 9, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

Most Americans don’t care whether their presidential candidate wins or loses in their state or district . . . they care whether he/she wins the White House. Voters want to know, that even if they were on the losing side, their vote actually was directly and equally counted and mattered to their candidate. Most Americans think it’s wrong for the candidate with the most popular votes to lose. We don’t allow this in any other election in our representative republic.

The National Popular Vote bill preserves the constitutionally mandated Electoral College and state control of elections. It ensures that every vote is equal, every voter will matter, in every state, in every presidential election, and the candidate with the most votes wins, as in virtually every other election in the country.

#11 Comment By Chad On January 9, 2013 @ 5:00 pm

EliteCommInc. I must say as a black person clumsy phrases like “even black people” will not engage the listener or reader.

#12 Comment By Brendan Doran On January 9, 2013 @ 11:08 pm

The 40% of the country that is conservative and the 70% majority has no representation.

We need a new Party.

Republican politicians represent the loyal opposition of the governing class. They do not represent their voters and when in power did not act in accordance with their stated beliefs and platforms but grew government in an attempt to become a less irresponsible Democratic Party – which behaves as if other peoples money is unlimited and their common property to dispose of – and uses the printing press when they are afraid to take more.

The governing class and their ever more degraded clientele are well represented. If your life however is not dependent on the government and you do not wish it to be you have no representation.

We need a new party.

#13 Comment By William Dalton On January 9, 2013 @ 11:50 pm

What “oldgulph” and other proponents of NPV fail to understand, and which Samuel Goldman also misses, is that passage of this scheme only defeats the purpose of our founders in giving us the Electoral College to choose the President of the United States to begin with. That purpose was to prevent the union from becoming a single state with a single monarch, who derives his power from popular appeal rather from the intended constituents of the Federal Government, the several States of the Union. The primary purpose of the Constitution was to devise a method by which the States could join together to pursue the fulfillment of their common and necessary needs without allowing for the aggregation of power in that government greater than that need required.

The idea was that we would have a President for that federal government (not a “national government”), a person who would not be a tool of Congress (therefore preferably not to be elected by them) and would not assist them in aggregating that power to themselves. But neither would we have a President who, like the leaders of ancient Rome, could appear, perhaps as a hero at a time of war, to such public acclaim and adulation that he be thrust into the position that, with popular will behind him, could become a national dictator, as did happen to Rome.

What this nation and, what is now, contrary to its founders’ intent, ITS government, need most is a President who holds NO popular mandate, but whose power is solely that entrusted to him by the Constitution, to faithfully execute the laws that others have made, and to respect the limits placed upon by that Constitution, even in the execution of those powers.

I suggest we fulfill this need by using the Electoral College the Constitution gives us – let each state choose its electors by some means OTHER than popular vote, and then let those electors so chosen elect the President THEY believe will best fulfill that Constitutional function. Then, perhaps, the office may no longer fall to those money forces prepared to submit the highest bid. There are people in every state whose votes cannot be bought, and it is the duty of each state to devise a system by which precisely those people are selected to be our electors.

#14 Pingback By THURSDAY GOD & CAESAR EDITION | Big Pulpit On January 10, 2013 @ 9:15 am

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