Saturday, April 06, 2019


I've seen a lot of dubious attempts to defend the Electoral College, but I don't think anyone will top this one, from Dan "Baseball Crank" McLaughlin in National Review.
In a nation as wide and varied as ours, it would be destabilizing to have a president elected over the objections of most of the states....

Consider an illustrative example. Most of us, I think, would agree that 54 percent of the vote is a pretty good benchmark for a decisive election victory — not a landslide, but a no-questions-asked comfortable majority. ...

Picture a two-candidate election with 2016’s turnout. The Republican wins 54 percent of the vote in 48 states, losing only California, New York, and D.C. That’s a landslide victory, right? But then imagine that the Republican nominee who managed this feat was so unpopular in California, New York, and D.C. that he or she loses all three by a 75 percent–to–25 percent margin. That 451–87 landslide in the Electoral College, built on eight-point wins in 48 states, would also be a popular-vote defeat, with 50.7 percent of the vote for the Democrat to 49.3 percent for the Republican. Out of a total of about 137 million votes, that’s a popular-vote margin of victory of 1.95 million votes for a candidate who was decisively rejected in 48 of the 50 states.

Who should win that election?
McLaughlin's math appears to be right. His grasp of American political realities -- well, that's another matter.

California and New York are blue states, but they're not that blue. Hillary Clinton didn't come close to winning 75% of the vote in California or New York State -- she won less than 62% of the vote in California and 59% in New York. I know conservatives regularly warn that Democrats would win popular-vote presidential elections by "running up the score" in New York and California, but improving your winning margin by 15 points in states with very expense TV advertising markets would be quite a task for any Democrat. Besides, there's nothing preventing Republicans from "running up the score" in the red parts of these very populous states. (Donald Trump lost California badly, but California gave him his third-highest state vote total -- 4,483,810 votes, just below the number of votes he got in Texas and Florida. In terms of raw votes, New York was Trump's sixth-best state. He or another Republican could absolutely "run up the score" in these states.)

But here's what's really absurd about McLaughlin's argument: Is there any universe in which a Democrats loses each of 48 states by 8 points and yet does better than a typical Democrat in New York and California? We're talking about the Democrat suffering 8-point losses in Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington State -- each of which Hillary Clinton won by at least 15 points -- while vastly improving on Clinton's totals in New York and California.

Under what circumstances could that possibly happen? Voters in the other blue states see the world much the way voters in New York and California do. Why would they hate this hypothetical Democrat who's loved in the two giant coastal states?

This is the fallacy of so many Electoral College defenses: that presidential candidates under the current system run "50 simultaneous statewide elections" (as McLaughlin puts it), the implication being that what a candidate does to win one state has absolutely no effect on any other state.

We're not in Pony Express days. We have television and the Internet. What a presidential candidate says or does in another state reaches us where we live. What inspires or angers working-class white men, or suburban white women, or African-Americans, will have a similar effect across the country.

Obviously, in a tight state race, it matters whether a candidate shows up to campaign. But under the current system, most of us never see a presidential candidate during a general election, and yet we manage to make up our minds about the candidates.

And, of course, McLaughlin's argument is absurd for the most obvious reason: He assumes that any fair person would want the Democrat to be denied the presidency in his scenario even though the Democrat wins more votes. That's the unfairness of the present system, no matter how unfair an alternative system might be under hypothetical circumstances that would never actually occur.

No comments: