Thursday, October 19, 2006

Simplistic majoritarianism

George Will writes:
Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed a bill that, had it become law, would have imparted dangerous momentum to a recurring simple-mindedness.

The bill would have committed California to cast its electoral votes -- today, 55 -- for whichever candidate receives the most popular votes nationally. The commitment would have been contingent on a compact with other similarly committed states, all having a combined total of at least 270 electoral votes.

Such legislation has been introduced in six states and passed by Colorado's Senate. Advocates offer three rationales: ...

The second argument for the multistate compact is:

The possibility of the winner of the popular vote losing the electoral vote contest violates the value that trumps all others -- majoritarianism. Well.

Never mind that in 42 of the 46 elections since 1824 (all but 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000) for which we have popular vote totals, that did not happen. Which suggests that the assault on the electoral vote system is driven by simplistic majoritarianism, which would shatter the two-party system that is conducive to temperate politics.
No, it only happened in 1876. Samuel Tilden won the popular vote with 51% of the vote, but Rutherford B. Hayes became president.

The closest example in the last century was in 1960, when Richard Nixon got 49.6% of the popular vote, but lost the election. No other presidential loser since Tilden has come so close to winning the popular vote. Second closest was Al Gore, who won 48.4% of the popular vote in 2000. (Gore received a plurality, but not a majority, of the popular votes. Nixon also won a plurality, if you take into account the fact that Alabama had more Democrat votes than Kennedy votes.)

The argument against the Electoral College is not "simplistic majoritarianism". In every presidential election since 1876, the winner got a majority of the electoral votes, and the losers all failed to get a majority of the popular votes. Majoritarianism would leave the system the way it is. If we switched to a system based on a plurality of the popular vote, then it would almost certainly result in a non-majority president in the next several elections, as no one won a majority of the popular vote in 1960, 1968, 1992, 1996, and 2000.

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