Jonathan Bernstein has written a really interesting article, Democrats’ Electoral College Edge. Who’d a thunk it? I’ve generally thought of the Electoral College as being something that benefited Republicans because of the tiny red states that get more than their fair share of electoral oomph. But that is no longer true. Political scientist Ben Highton looked at it and indeed, the Electoral College is good for the Democrats. Very good.
Now what does this mean? If the popular vote comes out evenly divided, the Democrats would win the presidency 80% of the time. And the reason is very interesting. Blue states are getting bluer, so that pushes against Democrats getting an advantage from the Electoral College. But this is more than compensated for by the fact that Red states are getting redder at an even faster pace. To give you an example, the most heavily Obama-voting states were Hawaii and Vermont with 70.55% and 66.57% of the vote. Compare this to the most heavily Romney-voting states of Utah and Wyoming with 72.79% and 68.64%. Admittedly, Utah was hotter for Romney because he was a Mormon, but if you look at 2008, Utah’s still number three for the Republican.
What I find fascinating about this is how what is happening to the Republicans on the federal level has long been happening to Democrats on the state level. While it’s true that gerrymandering greatly harmed the Democratic Party after 2010, at least as big a problem is that Democrats are clustered in urban areas. So even when congressional districts are reasonably drawn, there is a tendency for the Democratic districts to be very Democratic. Now that same thing is happening on the federal level because increasingly, the hatred of the conservative movement is relegated to little states no one especially wants to visit: Oklahoma, Idaho, West Virginia, Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Nebraska, Kansas. (For the record: I know there are a lot of fine people in those states.)
But Jonathan Bernstein said something else that I take issue with, “If these results hold up through 2016, expect the parties to begin flipping their positions on the Electoral College, perhaps very rapidly.” Despite what readers may think, I don’t consider myself a partisan. Yes, I am mostly against everything that the Republicans have to offer. But I’m more than willing to admit when someone like Rick Santorum has some reasonable things to say about economic policy. And although I am a registered Democrat, I largely disagree with the economic policy of that party. Even more than most so called independents, I go my own way. And on this issue, I value democracy far more than I value an advantage to the Democratic Party.
Where I really disagree with Bernstein is in his false equivalence. Yes, I’m sure that the Republicans will rush to the realization that the Electoral College is a Very Bad Thing™(pending). But I suspect that Democrats—other than the hyper-partisans—will keep thinking that the Electoral College is a very bad thing. Because liberals actually do believe in democracy. But I will go this far in Bernstein’s direction: it won’t be high on Democrats’ list of priorities.
I find the whole thing fascinating and I am glad that political scientists can look at it. But as much as I think democracy is an incredibly flawed system, I also think it is the best system yet devised for creating governments. I’m pleased that right now it greatly favors the less terrible party. But I am as much against it as ever. I can’t put it any more clearly than the bumper sticker above: I ♥ Democracy!
If you haven’t seen it, you should watch the great CGP Grey’s video, “How the Electoral College Works”:
And then watch “The Trouble with the Electoral College”: