Monday, December 19, 2016

Electoral College

Source: Real Clear Politics
The electoral college is back in the news, with Democrats suddenly discovering it's a terrible idea.

I wrote at length in defense of the college in a previous post. I wrote just before the 2012 election so I can credibly claim that my view is not a sudden discovery motivated by partisan feeling.

I don't want to repeat the whole post, though I'm still proud of it and hope I can send some traffic there.

Short version: The electoral college forces candidates to attract geographically dispersed support. Moving a swing state from 45% to 55% is much more important than moving a solid blue or solid red state from 75% to 85%.

This is vital. Our country is already polarized, and that polarization is reflected in geography.  See the map. A set of rules that encourages further polarization would be a disaster. American democracy failed miserably once. 700,000 people died and government of the people, by the people, and for the people nearly did perish from the earth. Things like this don't happen again only when people think they can, and vice versa.

In a pure popular vote contest, after candidates and parties adapt their positions and coalitions of support, we are likely to see whole swaths of the country with 70, 80, 90% or more majorities of one or the other party -- and even greater demonization of the other side. Fill in the gaps what happens next.

The deep point: When you set up rules for anything, there is a tension between measurement and incentives. Once people show up at the polls on election day, there is a strong case that "each vote should count the same." But if you do that, the incentives, and hence the outcomes will be much worse.

In the end, we care more about a good outcome -- good policy, and politics that keep the country from flying apart. So, swallow hard, measure imperfectly but set up better (slightly less bad) incentives.

This is a point worth repeating. It's the kind of thing that economists really do have to offer to students of politics and the world at large.  Good incentives for politicians, parties, and agendas  matter more than good measurement.

In that view, the important thing about the college is that we add up to the Presidency by winner-take-all over large geographic chunks. Whether we have actual electors is a separate issue. That means the movement by some states to apportion their electors according to the relative votes is a step in exactly the wrong direction, and induces more polarization.

I have learned some deep lessons from this election and especially its aftermath. Like most policy-wonk types I supposed that people care about policies, and about results, and vote accordingly. And are amenable to sensible discussion about policy, and sensible negotiation. If you're reading this blog, you probably fall in the same bubble. Most political analysis I've seen in economics runs the same way - we line voters up by policy preferences and then analyze voting systems.

What has become very clear to me since the election is a fact probably blindingly obvious to real students of politics -- that's not at all how it works. Most people vote by cultural affinity, brand, values, and a sense of personal identity.  To the extent policy matters at all, it's part of the buzzwords, propaganda and tag lines thrown back and forth.  These things are related to where you live and who you interact with on a regular basis, which is why geographic polarization is such a problem -- and why measures like the electoral college, which push our democracy to have more even representation of tribal and partisan alignments and identities are so important.

I live in a little Democratic bubble here in Palo Alto. Since the election, it is just remarkable how universally in public conversation, people assume that it would be impossible for anyone in earshot to sympathize with Republicans, let alone (heavens) actually be one or to have supported Mr. Trump. Going to book events with my wife, for example, the prelude to talking about the latest young adult fiction is moaning and groaning about how terrible this all is. Waiters at restaurants commiserate. These are good, caring people, achingly anxious never to offend anyone -- but it is simply beyond possibility that the person they're talking to, obviously a somewhat normal rational moral and caring person, not wearing a white sheet, could not feel the same way. I have traveled to a few Republican bubbles too, where people speak with similar certitude that there are no dissenting opinions around.

I got a good taste of this yesterday. I was listening yesterday to NPR, as Evan Osnos on the New Yorker Radio hour interviewed Anna Galland, executive director of (There's no transcript here, so forgive small errors of my transcription)

Evan started with the common Democratic complaint that Republicans, naming Mitch McConnell "famously said basically that they would do everything they could to .. try to interfere and to obstruct his [Obama's] presidency. Now we find that on the left there is a similar move to obstruct [Trump's] presidency obstruct Obama." Given the 8 years of complaint that Republican's obstruction was nefarious, reflected racism, or otherwise improper,  this was a good question. "What happened to ... some basis for cooperation?"

Ms. Galland's response was fascinating:
"Donald Trump lost the national popular vote.. He has no mandate. He's going to be trying to do the most extreme things in recent memory... It's not just a policy problem.. how are  we going to make it through the next 4 years with our constitutional democracy intact... and civil liberties?"  
"The order of the day here is to first stand up and project a clear moral opposition to what he's proposing to do to our country.. make sure people hear and see from people they relate to that I'm standing up." 
Mr. Osnos pressed:  "What's the argument against cooperating on shared objectives like a big infrastructure even if you object on values?" Ms. Galland replied that she felt there a moral case against cooperating with Trump on "basically anything."
"you can't play footsie with a white supremacist" 
For those of you who still think policy matters, the entire interview contained just one statement about actual policies -- just what the "most extreme things" Trump is going to do are,  and that she felt she would have to support in order to go along with an infrastructure bill:
"trying to deport millions of Americans or block an entire world's religion from entering the United States." 
Even on infrastructure -- a bill that has to get through a Congress, pass innumerable laws (Davis-Bacon, minority set-asides, etc.)
"there is no way that an infrastructure bill or any other initiative from Trump is going to advance progressive values... maybe well get three jobs out of it or a few roads repaired.. [we need instead]  a progressive infrastructure bill for the people not for billionaires"
Whatever that means. Describing moveon's many petitions, and why sign them, she said that petitions let people
 "connect with communities that share your common values.. moral commitments"
Now, our task today is to listen and think, not to take potshots at the low-hanging fruit. Gross falsehoods, "fake news," rampant hypocrisy? You bet. No, Mr. Trump is not a "white supremacist." (Where are the Facebook false-news raters now?) Since when does popular vote equal "mandate?" (A view I would be curious to see if she would have agreed with had Mrs. Clinton won with similar numbers. "Well, Mrs. Clinton swept the electoral college but didn't win the popular vote. So I really don't think she has the mandate to enact moveon's agenda over Republican's objections. We'll just have to let it wait four years?" Somehow I doubt it !) No, even if he deports millions of undocumented immigrants (something I oppose as strenuously as Ms. Galland), they are not in fact "Americans."  The chance that the Trump Administration will block any muslim from entering the United States is zero. How is this different from birtherism, calling President Obama a socialist or worse, and Republican rejectionism? Of course it isn't. Where was Ms. Galland when the Obama Administration was busy undermining constitutional democracy and civil liberties?

Sure, but leave that alone. It's not the point. And such argument is pointless.  Listen instead. This isn't about actual policy. It's about "values" and "morality." Somehow a highway bill, full of pork, signed by President Obama will advance "progressive values" and the exact same highway bill signed by President Trump will not.

This is not a set of views that rational argument can sway. When morality, values, and identity are at stake you will make no headway with that.

Ms. Galland has obviously never been in a room with a Republican whose opinion she cared a whit about, as you and I care about the good opinion of people we talk to. This is what happens when people live in self-confirming bubbles.

Well, power to her. Her job is to mobilize a base, demonize an opposition, spread around whatever propaganda including outright lies (sorry, that "white supremacist thing" qualifies), monger fears, and cast her tribe as the moral savior of the nation.

But we need a democracy in which a presidential candidate does not find Mrs. Galland's mindset a path to power. We need communities in which people understand that good people of many different values and identities live together (I wish I could call that "diverse" except the word has come to mean its opposite) and are forced by the rules of common decency to listen to each other.

The electoral college does that -- or at least is one small force keeping the trends in the other direction from getting stronger.

(By the way, the New Yorker ratio hour radio makes me listen to an ad proudly announcing that it is supported by Morgan Stanley and New York Life. Lenin was right about capitalists selling you the rope.)


  1. "This is not a set of views that rational argument can sway. When morality, values, and identity are at stake you will make no headway with that."

    And just think...a little over 100 years ago, monetary policy choices (sans central bank) were also clouded by that same morality, value judgement, and set of identities.

  2. Considering the "ice cream stand problem", one would actually expect the two candidates to move almost indistinguishably close towards the middle. This is also what I remember the pundits to lament in earlier elections. Maybe that's why the discourse was more about identity than policy?

    If that's indeed the root cause, one should try to get more ice cream stands (i.e. add more parties). Instead of just electing the president, one could let the people elect the whole executive leadership proportionally. This is how most state-level governments get elected in Switzerland - even the national government consists of ministers from four different parties. The result is a system that is much more stable and in which voting is more subtle than a binary choice.

  3. If there could be a music video, conveying what's in this post (at least in my interpretation), it probably would be this one:

  4. Polarization, when it leads to geographic separation is a good thing. Here's why, in four steps: (1) Each State becomes more homogeneous politically. (2) Each State is therefore more united in its opposition to edicts from Washington when the opposite party is in power (e.g., "liberal" States backing sanctuary cities despite Trump's opposition to them). (3) This makes devolution of power to the States seem like a good idea to leaders of Blue States. (Leaders of Red States already prefer devolution.) (4) Ergo: Agreement that power ought to devolve. This works best when Washington is in Republican hands, as it will be for at least the next two years (until the next Congressional elections).

    1. (Leaders of Red States already prefer devolution.)

      Then they should be refusing to take money from the Federal government.

    2. Red States on which planet?

  5. The current federal system giving voice to smaller states via the Senate and the electoral college were necessary to the formation of the *United* States. Those that argue for election by popular vote are in effect arguing for the dissolution of the United States. No US Congress, no US President, zip. It might well be possible to form a new country of CaliYork.

  6. As you probably already know, electoral votes are allocated as such - one for each House and Senate member.

    What you may not know is that there were twelve original amendments to the U. S. Constitution approved by Congress in 1789. Only ten were approved by the States and became the Bill of Rights.

    The 11th was approved in 1992 and became:

    The 12th proposed amendment addresses the issue at hand:

    "As Congress did not set a time limit for its ratification, the Congressional Apportionment Amendment is still technically pending before the states. Ratification by an additional 27 states is necessary for this amendment to be adopted."

    The formula for apportionment in this amendment goes as follows:

    "...there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons."

    So far, the states to approve this amendment are as follows:

    New Jersey — November 20, 1789
    Maryland — December 19, 1789
    North Carolina — December 22, 1789
    South Carolina — January 19, 1790
    New Hampshire — January 25, 1790
    New York — February 24, 1790
    Rhode Island — June 7, 1790
    Pennsylvania — September 21, 1791 (after rejecting it on March 10, 1790)
    Vermont — November 3, 1791
    Virginia — November 3, 1791[17]
    Kentucky — June 27, 1792

    For the proposed Amendment to be approved - 3/4 of the State legislatures must vote for it (38 states).

    Looking at state legislature control:

    Democrats control the following state legislatures that have not voted for the amendment (13):
    New Jersey
    New Mexico

    Hillary won the following additional states with Republican legislatures (2):

    That would yield 26 states, including the original eleven. Still well short of the necessary 38. But just for shits and giggles, I decided to run the numbers based upon the 2010 census results.

    As of the 2010 census, California has a population of about 37 million people.

    And so if implemented, California would have:
    100 * 30,000 = 3 million
    100 * 40,000 = 4 million
    500 * 60,000 = 30 million

    3 million + 4 million + 30 million = 37 million people
    100 + 100 + 500 = 700 House of Representative members

    Based upon 2010 Census data found here:

    The size of the House of Representatives would be 7,885 members. For comparison, the Verizon Center - home of the Washington Bullets (basketball) and Capitals (hockey) holds a capacity of about 18,300.

  7. "I travel to Republican bubbles, where people speak with similar disrespect."

    I don't think so. First, there are very, very few places with long term Republican bubbles. They are instead a mix of Republicans and Democrats crossing over, like Reagan himself. Second, the Republican disrespect in these areas, I find, is most often directed at the *politicians*, not the voters. So yes one can find plenty of bubbles with smears against HRC and Obama, but not the isolation described in the article, where nobody imagines a Republican in earshot; that's overwhelmingly a left wing phenomenon. See its most prominent example, HRC going off on a half-nation of "deplorables", as if she was in a Chappaqua salon.

    1. You need to get out more then. I spent a good 15 years of my life biting my tongue because I knew I was the only non-Republican in earshot.

  8. But what about other incentives the Electoral College creates?
    1) Lower voter turnout, civil participation, and democratic representation (for the vast majority of the country who do not live in swing states and thus whose votes don't count)
    2) Increase mistrust in government and belief that elections are rigged/unfair (Electoral College makes close elections more likely and thus more manipulable while also allowing for possibility that popular winner loses)
    3) Increase in local pork barrel promises/expenditures in swing states (e.g. ethanol in Iowa)
    4) Disproportionate influence of politicians from swing states (who may not necessarily serve the national interest or be the most qualified)

    I would also dispute the argument that the Electoral College lowers polarization. This argument assumes it's easier for politicians to get their marginal vote from extreme states by moving toward more extreme positions. But an attempt to win the marginal voter in an extreme state may lead to losses elsewhere. If we assume that voters are normally distributed on political issues, a movement toward the tail will lead to greater losses at the other end of the distribution. This should be true even if there are multiple dimensions voters care about.

    Still, it's conceivable that voters are better characterized by distributions where moving away from the middle is optimal for candidates (e.g. a bi-modal distribution). Even if this were the case, it's unclear the Electoral College mitigates this tendency. When competing for swing state votes, candidates could actually be even more polarizing if the voter distribution in swing states is more bimodal than the county as a whole. The status of being a swing state is determined by the mean of the distribution and says nothing about the shape of the distribution. For example, given its unique demographics, Florida could be more polarized than the country overall so its status as a must-win state could incentivize more, rather than less, candidate polarization.

  9. I think you are very wrong.
    With electors based on the states, in the vast majority of the states a great part of the citizens have no incentives to vote because the plurality winner is predictable. This is what creates high polarization. Only a dozen of small states are competitive. With a nation-wide popular election, everybody everywhere would have an incentive to vote. Most media would not even inform about results in every state.
    Even better, in any case, would be a parliamentary regime in which the President would be chosen by the Congress. This is what the Founding Fathers had in mind because they expected that most states would vote for their favorite sons, no candidate would get a majority of electors in the College, and the election would be thrown to the House.
    The big surprise was that two major candidacies (actually no real "political parties") were formed at national level. Yet, it's still a highly imperfect two-candidate system: almost half of the presidents since 1828 (17 out of 37) have been elected with a minority of popular votes, due to third candidacies.
    More discussion in my blog:

  10. Nothing is worse for comity than to tell one side that, even though their candidate received a few million more votes, they lost the election. With Brexit, some people were so appalled by the vote that they recommended changing the result by fiat. That should aid comity. BTW, you might look at how different areas of Britain voted on Brexit. Obviously some votes matter more than others, another endearing facet of this idiotic and undemocratic relic. People might want to revisit the arguments for the direct election of Senators. Why not give poorer areas of the country an extra vote? Finally, it's simply unfair, just like gerrymandering. It's the people who defend these policies that have a special agenda. At some point, if we don't have one man, one vote, things will get uglier.

    1. Brexit is an excellent example of the use of the Electoral College. A lot of people upset at the Electoral College in the US place some sort of significance on the fact that Northern Ireland, Scotland, City of London, and Gibraltar voted heavily Remain. ... So what? Should geographical regions get special consideration or should they not? If there were an Electoral College in the UK, Brexit would likely have failed. It's ok to have either position so long as your are consistent. It seems like too many people only care about winning though, not the process itseslf.

    2. I was very reluctantly for Brexit.

  11. Hopefully, over time, we rediscover the value and virtue of decentralized government. Within those diverse communities you mention, our city councils, mayors, state legislators, etc should successively matter much more to us than the President. The fact that we get locked into a winner take all death match is an indication that executive authority is both too powerful as much as too centralized.

    1. Among the big threats facing the United States economy are bad decisions made at the state and local level about infrastructure, education and public pensions.

    2. Then by all means reduce their size and scope as well. I advocate both for limited and decentralized government. Decisions should be made in the private sphere as much as possible, and at the lowest level of government possible.

  12. I agree with you about the Electoral College. Arguing about the rules is like saying that if the football field had been a different shape your team would have won.

    It is a false equivalence to compare Mitch McConnell's obstructionism on the same footing as Anna Galland's advocacy of obstructionism.

    The election was about policy - the voters just disagree with you about things like how the world actually works, what is true, and what matters.

    1. The football analogy is a bit of a stretch. See my post above about the "Congressional Apportionment Amendment". Unlike football, political participants are in a position to change the rules as they see fit.

      Currently the president is elected with 270 out of a possible 538 electors (Trump got 304 votes (56.5%), Hillary got 234 votes (43.5%) ). If this amendment somehow passed, the clearing threshold jumps to ( 7,885 + 100 ) / 2 = 3943 electors.

      Doing this short hand for the the states that Hillary won:
      California - Population 37 million (200 + 500 House Members)
      Illinois - Population 12.8 million (200 + 97 House Members)
      New York - Population 19 million (200 + 200 House Members)
      Oregon - Population 3.8 million (100 + 20 House Members)
      Washington - Population 6.7 million (100 + 93 House Members)
      Nevada - Population 2.7 million (90 House Members)
      Colorado - Population 5 million (100 + 50 House Members)
      Minnesota - Population 5.3 million (100 + 58 House Members)
      Virginia - Population 8 million (200 + 17 House Members)
      Maryland - Population 5.8 million (100 + 70 House Members)
      New Jersey - Population 8.8 million (200 + 30 House Members)
      Connecticut - Population 3.6 million (100 + 15 House Members)
      Massachusetts - Population 6.5 million (100 + 88 House Members)
      Vermont - Population 0.6 million (20 House Members)
      New Hampshire - Population 1.3 million (43 House Members)
      Maine - Population 1.3 million (43 House Members)
      Delaware - Population 0.9 million (30 House Members)
      Rhode Island - Population 1.0 million (33 House Members)
      Hawaii - Population 1.3 million (43 House Members)

      Total electors for Hillary - 3240 + 2 (Senators) x 19 States = 3278 out of possible 7985 (41.0%). Which is a totally unexpected result. Hillary would have done worse with the apportionment amendment.

    2. "The football analogy is a bit of a stretch. "

      The point of the football analogy is that both the politicians and the voters (or at least enough to matter) act strategically in response to a set of rules. If you change the rules, politicians and voters will all play the game according to the new rules. Changing the rules is no guarantee of a different or better outcome.

  13. This argument's feet don't reach the ground. First of all, insofar as polarization is the result of election structure, it's a result of winner-take-all voting and gerrymandering, which drives rhetoric towards the extremist party base. If as a politician you can convince the extremes, you've got most of your winning majority already. No need to cater to the moderates any more. The electoral college has nothing to do with this.

    Second, the electoral college disenfranchises most of the country. Presidential candidates know that they only need to campaign in the 7-12 swing states and ignore the other 40. As a democrat in a bright red state, my vote for president is worthless. As a republican in a blue state, yours is worthless, too. The result creates the illusion of mandates where there are none. In the end Trump won the electoral college by 304 to 227. In my view, an illusory consensus is worse than a true perception of a balanced but polarized reality.

    Third, if you look at the county by county results, they show a clear division between urban counties, which went for Clinton, and exurban/rural counties, which went for Trump, regardless of state lines. If you want to defend the proposition that some people's votes should count more than others, as the assignment of electoral "superdelegate" votes at large state by state does, willingness to live in small towns or far away from your neighbors seems to be a strange basis for that weighting.

    1. " As a democrat in a bright red state, my vote for president is worthless. "

      That problem is unchanged by enlarging your state to an entire country. If the country is hard blue or hard red in some era, minority votes become equally useless. See the PRI in Mexico.

      Look, this is pointless. The United States *is* a federal system. There would be no United States without adoption of a federal system. The popular vote argument has no more legitimacy than demanding the vote include voters from Canada and Belize.

  14. If you think the two party system has served this country well, then the use of the Electoral College which requires 50%+1 of the votes has been a workable system.

    If we went by popular vote it is likely that there would be multiple candidates, that the winner would have less than 50% of the vote, and a coalition would be needed to govern -- in short, we would be like Italy or Israel. In our system, among 300+ million people, everything gets boiled down to two sides of an issue.

  15. Basically right-wingers like the Electoral College for obvious reasons, then try to cite some virtuous reasons. I happen to be right wing on most business issues. Still....

    Okay so the last election the winner (Trump) lost by 1.9%.

    How high can this figure go before legitimacy is undermined?

    Can someone win in the Electoral College and lose the popular vote by 4% or 5%?

    As I always say, keep it simple stupid. The direct popular vote is the only way to elect a national leader.

    1. This barely slid in under the politeness radar. But if you're going to make a partisan claim, (though I wrote the piece for the college before the 2012 election), try to persuade us that the majority of people like yourself now whining about the college would in fact be out in the streets, were the tables turned, Mrs. Clinton won the college and lost the popular vote, demanding that electors change their votes because all those Trump supporters are not having their voices properly heard. The taint of partisanship on this issue is, well, entirely on those who discovered their intense dislike of the electoral college in the first week of November.

    2. "
      How high can this figure go before legitimacy is undermined? "

      In the 49 states outside of California, Trump still won the popular. With the Electors consisting mainly of the census driven numbers from the House of Representatives, the electors will always have a heavy popular-vote content.

      The selection of President will be by popular vote in *federal* system,i.e. a federation of states, because such a system would destroy the states. There would be no *United* States if Virginia and Pennsylvania had insisted on popular. Those who insist on popular-only today are similarly demanding the end of the United States federal government. They should to do us all the favor of being honest about it.

    3. Election by states keeps it much simpler: Picture the 2000 Florida fiasco happening every election on a country-wide basis.

    4. More vividly: Now that every election means a recount, imagine a national recount, in which every vote "counts" as much as every other one.

  16. John Cochrane:

    Sorry, "right-wingers" was not meant to include you in a negative fashion, although I am a "right-winger" myself on most issues, certainly business issues. Or I am for "free enterprise" anyway, which may or may not be a right-wing stance (see property zoning for example, which is broadly accepted across both wings, but which I oppose).

    But the "right-wing" has loved the Electoral College since at least 2000, when Gore won the popular vote but lost in the EC. This was long before 2012. Everyone knows the way the EC plays out on a practical level today, is to give small states (think rural subsidies, farmers, GOP allies) a bigger say.

    Frankly, I am (provisionally) okay with a Trump presidency, at least given the option. Trump may or may not be a better president than Hillary, but he will be way more entertaining. And someone who ignores protocols to talk to a Taiwanese leader on the phone cannot be all bad.

    Also, "Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS)" also was not directed at you, but is a buzz phrase (now largely forgotten I guess). In taxes, regulations, and election law, KISS!

    And you did not answer the question: Okay, Gore by 0.5% and 400,000 votes in 2000, Clinton by 1.9% and a couple million votes in 2012. What next---the Dems win by 4% and still "lose" the election in the EC?

    1. Of the 538 electors, 438 are in effect census driven.

    2. Benjamin Cole: the system that the Founders envisioned worked EXACTLY as they intended. The Founders intended that no big state (or no few big states) should be the overlord of the rest of the small states, so that the biggies always determines who wins.
      Hillary Clinton won the popular vote ONLY because of California and New York. Outside these two states, Trump won the popular vote.
      And that was exactly the intention of the Founders. They did not want a republic ruled only by voters in California and New York. They wanted the assignment of power to be dispersed, the same way the whole Constitution is intended to be a dispersion of power, and not a concentration of power.
      I am native from a South American country, Uruguay. Its capital (Montevideo) has close to half the population, and thus half the voters. Presidents are chosen by popular vote. It is no surprise that for decades and decades (and still today) Montevideo determines what happens in the rest of the country. There is no containment of the capital's power. At the turn of the previous century Uruguay had two bloody uprisings from the countryside, because Montevideo just divvied up the resources without caring about the rest of the country.
      All of this to say, maybe, just maybe, the history in Uruguay would have been different if there had been something akin to the Electoral College, as the American Founders envisioned. Who knows, we cannot run history twice, but I do wonder.
      Kudos of the American Founders for being such visionaries, and for truly understanding what dispersion of powers means.

    3. Manfred:

      You will be happy to know the opposite of what you fear has happened in the USA: The rural areas force urban residents to subsidize them.

      All infrastructure and many industries in rural America are subsidized by the federal government, or benefit from forced cross-subsidization; that is when you buy an airline ticket there is a $10 charge to maintain rural airport service. Your phone and internet bills cross-subsidizes rural services. Mail service too.

      Roads, rails, water systems, power systems, all federally subsidized, not mention the USDA etc.

      Rural America is probably the most socialized, subsidized economy on the planet, unless France tops us.

      I cannot say the Electoral College is a good idea. It violates the KISS rule, and the requirements for simplicity, transparency, accountability in government. Especially in elections!

      Besides that, say in the next election, Trumps loses by 4% but wins in the EC? At what point do voters conclude the system is illegitimate?

      As much as I like Trump, he appears illegitimate right now, having lost the election but marching into the White House. I cannot tell if this a Reality TV Show, or the real thing. Vaudeville comes to mind.

    4. " say in the next election, Trumps loses by 4% but wins in the EC? At what point do voters conclude the system is illegitimate? "

      Recognize that it is nearly impossible for the popular vote to continue to run away from EC count, as 438 of the EC 538 is census driven.

      It is not the EC that is illegitimate, but the questions about it. The *United* States was fairly formed as a constitutional republic, a federation of states, big and small. Outside of this agreement, US citziens have no more right to abolish the state based EC (and Senate) than does a citizen of Belize.

    5. Falstaff:

      Not sure I copy you.

      Is it not theoretically possible that a presidential candidate wins enough states, by one vote in each state, to secure the Electoral College, and then loses the remaining states by 100%? This would result in a new "President" who garnered about 25% of the popular vote.

      Yes, this is unlikely--but then we have seen Trump "win" while losing the popular vote by nearly 2%.

      Surely, a President who loses 46% to 54% but "wins" in the EC is possible, without too much stretching reality.

      Simplicity, transparency, accountability in government are virtues. The EC fails by these measures.

    6. Benjamin Cole

      Sorry, only now did I see your posts.

      You say: "Besides that, say in the next election, Trumps loses by 4% but wins in the EC? At what point do voters conclude the system is illegitimate?"
      In 1992, Bill Clinton got 43% of the vote; that is, 57% of the voters voted against him. He still became president, and nobody complained.

      Then you say that the Electoral College violates "accountability, transparency, etc etc". I am not sure why the Electoral College violates all of that. Everybody knows the rules; the rules have been in place for many, many decades. And everybody understands them. Nothing to do with transparency and accountability, etc.

      As for rural America: thank God there is some subsidization. Otherwise, the US would have two or three megacities and nothing elsewhere, and would look like a Third World country. And those megacities would just dominate politics, the resources, the economics, everything, just like they do in the Third World. Is that what you want for the US?

  17. And way OT, but worth a chuckle (and yes, this is a real news release):

    “SAN DIEGO – October 4, 2016 – Cubic Global Defense (CGD), a business unit of Cubic Corporation (NYSE: CUB), today announced the award and receipt of Notice-to-Proceed on a $5.75 billion Multiple Award, Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (MA-IDIQ) task order contract from the General Services Administration (GSA) in partnership with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for Human Capital and Training Solutions (HCaTS). Under this contract, CGD will have the opportunity to provide customized training and employee development, human capital strategy and organizational performance improvement services across the federal government at all levels. The base MA-IDIQ contract duration is for five years with an additional exercisable five-year option period.

    With this contract, the government will have direct access to CGD’s deep organizational planning and transformation; force structuring; modeling and simulation experience; as well as game-based, virtual, immersive and neuroscience-based training and development capabilities. CGD is one of 72 unrestricted contracts awarded under the HCaTS vehicle and 37 that were set aside for small businesses under the HCaTS SB vehicle.

    “As part of our NextTraining strategy, Cubic is focused on raising organizational readiness and optimizing human performance in all government settings,” said Chris Bellios, senior vice president of defense and intelligence services for Cubic Global Defense. “We look forward to working with GSA, OPM and various government organizations to expand the impact and accessibility of organizational government performance solutions.”

  18. Interesting comments on the Electoral College and what the "Founders" wanted. The insertion of the Electoral College into the "imperfect" Constitution was a compromise: (1) primarily between slave states and non-slave states; slave states would have fewer representatives if the 3/5ths of person were also not included and based solely on popular votes (White males (also free Blacks (in Philadelphia, for example), primarily property owners); (2) also a compromise between the influence of a big state like Virginia and other big states like Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts; (3) and between big states and small states.

    Free Blacks living in the North? -- at the time of the Civil War, from the 1860 Census, the Northern States (excluding the Slave states that went with the Union: Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware) was less than 2% of their population and mostly concentrated in a few cities, like Philadelphia and New York City.

  19. John Cochrane,

    Appreciate your writing on the Electoral College. I see its abolition as a path to irreparable extremism and even war.

    Are there any books you could recommend that elaborates on any of the explanations in favor of an Electoral College?

    Also, how related in your opinin is an understanding of the french revolution and Jacobin principles to undstanding progressives imperative for abolishing the EC in favor of direct democracy?

    I have read with great profit "the great debate" by Yuval Levine on the ideas of conservatism and progressivism from their analogue of Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine.

  20. I really enjoyed this post and your previous one on the electoral college. Jason Brennan of Georgetown University argues for epistocracy in his book "Against Democracy". He makes the same observations in his book that you did in your blog, that most voters vote on identity, tribalistic, or just plain incompetent grounds. He refers to the hyper-partisans as hooligans in the sense that they approach politics much the same way as soccer fans approach the World Cup - evidence is simply never weighed. Brennan feels that limiting the voting power of the most uninformed voters would help prevent the "political pollution" that their systematic errors bring (e.g., much of the voting public holds to a mercantilist model of economics).

    Given your observations about how this election played out, do you see a role possible for epistocracy in further helping to tie geographical regions together?

    1. Absolutely not! Our epistocracy would consist of the New York Times editorial page, upper-east-side socialites, K street law firms, regulatory bureaucrats and state department, Davos, U.N., Krugman and Stiglitz, the Brussels bureaucracy that Britain just exited and so on. They vote on identity, tribe, brand, and the worst of all motivations -- drive for power -- even more than the much maligned deplorables.

      It sounds good that only the "educated" should vote. But who decides who is "educated?" You slipped in to the worst verbal habit of dirigistes -- "limiting the voting power." OK, but who does the limiting? When subjects disappear from sentences, liberty is always in danger. If the Federal Government started putting in testing requirements for voting, say, guess who is going to write the test? I can't wait to see the "facts" about, say, climate or American history that one will have to recite to pass that test.

      The point of public schools is an informed electorate. If the average voter can't pass the citizenship test we require of immigrants, fixing the schools seems a better path than disenfranchisement. Besides which, if an epistocrat liberal talks about requiring "education" for voting, this is a way to disenfranchise Trump voters. If a conservative mentions such a thing, it's racism.

    2. David - don't confuse being educated with being smart. They are not the same thing. (says a man with eight years of university and two and a half degrees)

    3. Thank you for following up on my comment. I think that Brennan's argument is that we should be ruled by competent voters in the sense that they process any information at all. Since each person's vote counts for so little - I will get the same government whether I choose to vote or not - there is little incentive to use information. His competence exam might be as simple as "What is the size of the federal budget?" or "How many Supreme Court Justices are there?" He argues that we don't allow children to vote in part because we don't believe that they are competent. We exclude all seventeen year olds from voting even though there are at least some that are potential high information voters. And, just as we would find it unacceptable for a trial jury to ignore evidence and convict on, say, physical appearance or group membership, Brennan argues that we should look for ways of ensuring that all those who have power over us (the voting public) are competent. He sees this position as anti-authoritative in that we have the right to be free from incompetent decision making.

      I agree with you that the possibility of abuse is a serious issue. Power hungry groups hijacking the definition of competence seems to me to be a big problem, perhaps fatally so. I could just imagine what would happen if those who created Dodd Frank got involved! Liberty is precious. I also agree that the NYT crowd are tribalistic, almost certainly much more than the "deplorables". But I think that Brennan suggets epistocracy, in the sense of having very basic knowledge, as a method to reduce the influence of tribalistic voting tendencies while at the same time ensuring the splintering of political power. I don't know if it would work or lead to better results. Whatever the case, as you point out in your post, I think we are along way from most of the public dispassionately examining policy and voting accordingly.

    4. The principle that to vote someone should have some minimum level of competence -- say the citizenship test required of new immigrants -- is one that one could debate in the abstract. But the sad history of literacy tests in denying the vote to African Americans puts it really out of possibility of American politics today. Even suggesting that one should show some form of ID to vote gets you branded as a racist.

    5. The author Nevil Shute (_In the Wet_, 1953) proposed a novel idea: the "multiple vote"—everyone gets one vote, but additional votes can be earned by individuals for meritorious service, up to a maximum of seven. Examples included awards for military service, successfully raising children to a certain age, and educational attainment.

  21. David

    Under your approach someone has to decide what facts are true and which are important. Voters are frequently like the blind men and the elephant - each accurately describes what they have encountered but because they have grabbed different parts of the elephant their perceptions are very different. Compound that with the fact that each voter gets to decide what facts or policy goals are important to them.

    Europe has tried a forty or so year experiment with passing power to an informed educated policy elite and it is tearing them apart, because, among other reasons, what is important to the policy elite is not what is important to the broad public.

    In my more philosophical moments I judge candidates by this test: would I trust this person, as a person, to make the decision to send my children to war?

  22. Absalon

    I am not advocating epistocracy. Given the observation in this blog post, I just wanted to see what Professor Cochrane and other commenters here think of the idea as presented by Jason Brennan in his book.

    In your analogy about the elephant, Brennan is concerned that most voters don't even bother to touch the elephant but simply declare that, whatever is there, it's a giraffe. He advocates for qualified voters - people who at least touch the elephant.

    To be fair to Brennan, he is not advocating for an aristocracy or an oligarchy in which a group of elites make decisions for everyone else. And he certainly doesn't believe that because you are smarter or more educated that you are therefore entitled to rule over others. He makes the argument for qualified voters according to a base standard so that we are protected from incompetent decision making. Brennan is not overly troubled with deciding on the base standard, but perhaps, as Professor Cochrane points out, that lack of concern might be a touch optimistic. Brennan says,

    "The big question, of course, is what counts, and who decides, political competence or basic political knowledge. I’m less troubled by this question than many. We could just use the type of questions we’ve been using on the American National Election Studies. We could use the questions we’ve been using on the American citizenship exam. These are easy, objective, easily verified questions, but we have good grounds to think that the capacity to answer them is correlated with the kind of social scientific knowledge that really matters."

    In the end, I could see how dangerous the decision about competency could become.

  23. Cochrane is a fairly skilled writer of conservative partisan polemics, like the piece above. I'm not annoyed that he (frequently) does this. I am annoyed when concurrently he congratulates himself for doing something more noble.

    Don't believe Fox News Channel's claim they are "fair and balanced".
    Don't believe Cochrane when he proffers his nonpartisan wisdom and guidance. No, this is all highly partisan stuff.

  24. Electoral College as it functions today, violates the Equal Protection Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment. Only some elementary mathematics is enough to show that the current way of counting votes amounts to multiplying them by different weights, depending on a state people live in. A California Republican's vote is multiplied by a factor less than one. Same for an Alabama Democrat. The opposite goes for Floridians or Pennsylvanians. One way of proving arguments like this one, is to demonstrate that a probable occurrence would lead to an absurd result. Imagine that Trump had won in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by one vote in each state. He would have gotten the same number of 306 electoral votes and would have still lost the popular vote by about 3 million. The votes in those three states would have carried much larger weight than in other states. The states and the Federal Government do not have the right to dilute my vote for the President. It is the number of votes what counts, not the distribution of votes.

    1. Read the 5th and 14th. The 5th invokes due process against *criminal* and *property seizure* actions of government, and was appended contemporaneously with the article 2 creation of the electoral college; it can not abolish the EC. The 14th is specifically about equal protection of the law *in* the states, as it of course must be: A citizen of Ohio has no right, nor practical path, to demand access to the laws of Indiana.

      This country was made as these *United* States, made so only by means of a compromise including the Senate and EC. If you're successful in some dystopian no-states future, please tell me, what will you call that country?

    2. Due Process Clause of of the Fifth Amendment has been interpreted to guarantee equal protection under the law by the Federal Government. The guarantee is implicit. In this context it means my vote for President cannot be multiplied by a factor smaller than one and someone else's by a factor greater than one. The Fourteen Amendment guarantees the same protection under state laws. By awarding all electoral votes to a winner of a popular statewide election, states are complicit in vote dilution. The idea of democracy has a nice mathematical justification: take a mean of all votes to estimate the will of the people. The mean value is a good estimator. What is the result of the electoral college vote in mathematical terms? An aproximation of the mean, which is supposed to be better?

    3. I've heard some zany ideas in my time, but the idea that the electoral college, though decidedly in the constitution, is unconstitutional, is one of the most, er... novel. Good luck with that one.

    4. Rafal,

      The due process clause from the 5th Amendment:

      "...nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law..."

      There are two types of due process:
      1. Procedural due process - referring to rules to be enforced in a court room setting

      2. Substantive due process - which I assume that you are referring to here.

      From the wikipedia article:
      Today, the Court focuses on three types of rights under substantive due process in the Fourteenth Amendment which originated in United States v. Carolene Products Co. Those three types of rights are:

      1. The first eight amendments in the Bill of Rights
      2. Restrictions on the political process
      3. The rights of "discrete and insular minorities"

      I presume that you are arguing that the electoral college places some type of restriction on the political process? That is a tough argument to swallow given that the electoral college process is embedded in the Constitution.

      "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector."

    5. Not the Electoral College itself, but the way it functions, the way its votes are apportioned after the popular vote. It can be easily fixed. For example, if the states award their electoral votes to the winner of the nationwide popular vote, the constitutional equal protection problem is solved. I would like also to point out that the last time the candidate won the presidency without winning the popular vote did not work out very well for the country...

    6. One more thing and you don't have to post it for everyone to see. Are you aware that the Electoral College was created by the Contitution, but it was states which set up the winner takes all rule, not the Constitution? Should I also mention that Bush v. Gore was an equal protection case? Have you done your homework before engaging in this discussion?

    7. Rafal,

      "Should I also mention that Bush v. Gore was an equal protection case?"

      You might also mention that it was Bush's team that successfully made the equal protection argument.

      "Seven justices the five Justice majority plus Breyer and Souter agreed that there was an Equal Protection Clause violation in using different standards of counting in different counties."

      "Are you aware that the Electoral College was created by the Contitution, but it was states which set up the winner takes all rule, not the Constitution?"

      Certainly. And I am also aware that some states (Nebraska, Maine) don't have a winner take all law and can split their votes.

      Your argument is such:

      "In this context it means my vote for President cannot be multiplied by a factor smaller than one and someone else's by a factor greater than one."

      The Constitution (through the establishment of an Electoral College) seems to say otherwise. In addition, your solution - "if the states award their electoral votes to the winner of the nationwide popular vote", does not address the problem you identify.

    8. Frank, my reply was dircted to John's short response to my post, no to you. Hovewer, both your arguments are invalid. In Bush v. Gore the Supreme Court held that any recount must comply with equal protection guarantee. So, you cannot count votes differently in different counties. It follows that the votes must be counted equally. Vote count is more important that any recount. Establishment of the Electoral College does not mean that the states can do anything they want and arbitrarily pick electors. Otherwise, some states could simply award all electors to a Democratic candidate, regardless of the popular vote result. How would you like that?

    9. Rafal,

      "Establishment of the Electoral College does not mean that the states can do anything they want and arbitrarily pick electors. Otherwise, some states could simply award all electors to a Democratic candidate, regardless of the popular vote result."

      Please read:

      "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector."

      There is nothing in the U. S. Constitution to preclude a state legislature from declaring that all electors for President be of the Democratic or any other party or in fact be chosen by means of a coin flip. That is completely left to the discretion of the state legislature and it's voters.

      "How would you like that?"

      I can't say that I would vote for it, and I would likely relocate from a state that eliminates my ability to choose the person I feel that is best suited to represent me (Democrat leaning state, Republican leaning state, or otherwise).

      But getting back on topic, you have made the argument that the methodology of the Electoral College violates due process. Your rationale (as I understand it) is that "my vote for President cannot be multiplied by a factor smaller than one and someone else's by a factor greater than one."

      That is a tough nut to swallow given that the establishment of the electoral college under Article II of the Constitution predates both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments that establish the right to due process.

    10. Frank, your literal interpretation of Article II of the Constitution was rejected by the Supreme Court in Williams v. Rhodes, 393 U.S. 23 (1968). Please read pp. 28 and 29. ("There of course can be no question but that this section does grant extensive power to the States to pass laws regulating the selection of electors. But the Constitution is filled with provisions that grant Congress or the States specific power to legislate in certain areas; these granted powers are always subject to the limitation that they may not be exercised in a way that violates other specific provisions of the Constitution.").

    11. Rafal,

      Thanks for the heads up on the Williams v. Rhodes case.

      "The District Court, composed of three judges, held the election laws unconstitutional, and granted relief only to the extent of allowing write-in ballots, but refused to order the names of the parties (Independent Party and Socialist Party to be printed on the ballots."

      Presumably, votes cast for write in candidates at the time were not even counted under Ohio law? The article mentions that "A three-judge District Court held those laws unconstitutional..", but does not identify the codified laws enacted by the Ohio legislature that were struck down.

      On appeal to the Supreme Court, it was ordered that the Independent Party have their candidate's name typed on the ballot because they obtained the required signatures totaling 15% of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election but was denied ballot position because the February deadline had passed.

      All that being said, it is clear that the writers of the Constitution did not want the Presidential election to be decided by a popular vote.

      "A third idea was to have the president elected by a direct popular vote. Direct election was rejected not because the Framers of the Constitution doubted public intelligence but rather because they feared that without sufficient information about candidates from outside their State, people would naturally vote for a "favorite son" from their own State or region. At worst, no president would emerge with a popular majority sufficient to govern the whole country. At best, the choice of president would always be decided by the largest, most populous States with little regard for the smaller ones."

  25. Whether to have electoral college or popular vote is a fringe question when our huge problem is that the electorate is largely disinformed by corporate media. As long as talking heads, carefully avoiding making any complete statement, pass as news sources we are doomed to having candidates that parry personality traits instead of doing rational debate about how government should operate.
    Who's to blame? Rupert Murdoch? CNN? The people who choose to watch that stuff? The people who scientifically determine how peoples voting behaviour will be affected by one or another candidate statements?
    Heck if I know who's to blame. Or how to fix it.
    Happy Winter Solstice!

  26. Dear Prof Cochrane,

    I hope you get your deregulation and I hope this will compensate you for all the bad things that will happen to your country. I really wonder how someone with such an academic background can look forward to the stupidity (Trump & Cabinet) that moves into the white house. I hope for better days and for better future presidents. America once had great presidents like FDR, JFK or Ronald Reagan. Comparing these presidents to Donald Trump, one gets the unavoidable feeling of living in a crazy alternate reality. I would have thought that someone like you, despite your political attitude, would be more critical regarding Trump. But America really seems to be f**** up these days.


    PS: I know my comment is a bit off-topic...
    PPS: I'm wondering what Milton Friedman would have thought about this PEOTUS ;-)

  27. It would seem to me that the arbritrary distribution of R vs D close to 50-50 (in about 20% of the states of our union every four years) is an absolutely crazy way to determine the head of the most powerful country on earth.

    It becomes even crazier when you take the Professors points about about the electorate, IMO. Especially when you can clearly see that people often vote for/against candidates based on issues that no one could reasonably blame the candidate for (see for instance, a totally random set of shark attacks near the jersey shore during one of the Wilson campaigns...shark attacks --->lowered tourism---->local downturn ---->damn you Wilson!). I'd rather take the wisdom of a much larger crowd than 51 smaller and potentially frivolous crowds.

    Finally, the point about geographical dominance is completely wrong and had always been so. How many of presidents came from Virginia in the first 50 yrs of the republic? Hint: a lot!

    The EC has been a very bad idea since Hayes-Tilden, arguably since Adams-Jefferson; it should have died with the 3/5ths compromise, the limitation of voting rights to propertied white males and the indirect election of sentators.

    I would have said this under any permutation of EC vs Popular Vote victory under any of our elections. The fact that we now have so many of these EC/PV splits is a warning sign that the process is not legitimately representing the will of the people.

  28. Anybody tried to identify boundaries between States lately? Freeways slice across them with, perhaps, a grandiose welcome sign but little or no evidence in the scenery. I tried to find where California, Nevada, and Oregon meet. There is no visible boundary. Just sagebrush in all directions. There is a much more evident boundary, within California, between the "Bay Area" and the "Central Valley". Traveling East on the freeway the contents of the car radio swiftly change from homogenized rock to Biblical literalism.
    I posit that the State boundaries are a synthetic anachronism dating from a time when slow communications mandated localized authority. The boundaries were laid down in open areas between fiefdoms. In which case the EC is, itself, constructed out of a synthetic anachronism.
    This is not to say that popular vote would solve any problems. Just that EC does not solve any either.
    Like I said before, the big problem, if we are to assume that we actually have a problem, is that we have a disinformed electorate. Solve that one and any old voting scheme is likely to be just fine.

    1. I'm sure it's true that state boundaries, county boundaries, even national boundaries are blurry to ... those living carefree with no legal residence. To the rest engaged in the local community and economy, a great deal changes the moment one establishes legal residence on the opposite of that border. For the state boundary, taxes change, dramatically in some cases. So too availability of jobs, minimum wage laws, the regulatory regime (licensing, environmental, food delivery, building codes...), electricity prices, benefits. Then, culture changes among the public employees, the police, social services, ...

      Most of these dismissals of the EC seem to me to be so much special pleading, with little attempt to check the assertions against known reality. For instance, if the states were actually fictitious, baseless concepts, as asserted here, then the first moment of national popular will against the EC would be sufficient to render 3/5 of the fake states and abolish the EC via constitutional amendment. But we all know, visibly, that such is politically impossible. The small states, at the founding and now, won't go along. Then, as now, without the EC (and the Senate) there is no United States.

      BTW, should your view miraculously prevail, look for immediate follow up by the same kind of sophists dismissing the national boundary as fiction, that failure to include Canadians and Latin Americans in any political decision has become similarly provincial, xenophobic, who-are-you-to-not-count-their-votes-equally, etc

    2. It's probably true that it is politically untenable. But the key questions that are being discussed are (as much as I can surmise) are:

      1. Is it a good process to follow? My answer is no. Large states and small states are ignored if there is a greater than 10 point difference between D and R. Increasingly, these tight contests lead to dubious voter fraud claims and wastes energy on vote suppression efforts to maintain dominance. This would not be happening in a national popular vote...
      2. If it is not a good process than is it at least preserving some national representation of the will of the people? No. It never did (see above point about our first presidents...all of whom resided in large states). Further today's map is essentially becoming a 'border' party vs an interior. Virginia, NC and Florida are already swing states. Georgia, Texas and Arizona to follow. demographics should not be the crucial driver in either parties stance towards governing America but it is what the EC is driving us toward.

      I hesitate to say this given that Le Pen has made the final round but I'd like to have a 3 round process which is similar in principle to the French presidential process:

      Rd. 1: party primaries which are consolidated into 4-5 regional election going from Jan-June.
      Rd. 2: A vote after the conventions in September where the winner must have 50%+1 to have a winner. Failing that (which we have done more often lately)...
      Rd. 3: the top two go to a final round in November. A winner must have the required 50% + 1 and will, always.

      No more questioning legitimacy of the winner. No more marginalization felt by people who don't like the monotony of the two party system.

    3. "No more questioning legitimacy of the winner. No more marginalization felt by people who don't like the monotony of the two party system."

      Bizarre. 1) People in small states won't question the "legitimacy of the winner", because they will have every right and motivation to leave the union. There will be no US as we now know it.

      2) France is smaller by area than *one* US state, Alaska, and has the roughly the population of *two* US states, California and Texas. French governmental procedures are no more a model for a continental nation than are the procedures of some island nation a model for France.

    4. You guys have lost track of the main point. The question is not how to aggregate votes given a fixed set of candidates and political preferences. The question is how voting rules induce the candidates and parties to shape their policies.

    5. Excuse me professor but that is exactly my point. Presidential politics is entirely geared around the preferences of the 20% of the states where both parties feel they have a chance of winning. In a a national popular vote, would we have a candidate making the centerpiece of his platform a 35% Tariff and magically bring back jobs that will not come back to the 'rust belt'?

      And I think there is a much bigger problem that you keep ignoring. We are more divided than ever as a country. The EC isn't the only catalyst for this situation. But the EC is in fact pushing us towards two countries (flat land and coast land). There would be far less pressure to agglomerate into blue or red states in a system where your vote matters across the country for your Head of State....the person who is responsible for making nominations to your judicial branch.

      I'm a big fan of federalism, but I think the EC is long overdue for elimination.

    6. Falstaff, we've had two minority of plurality presidents and somehow the union persists. Please stop the hysterical line of argumentation. Sometimes small states and large states don't have their champions win right? The difference is that a sizable minority in each state will have selected the winner. And everyone's vote is respected equally.

      The point of size comparison is better but it is not persuasive to me at all. We've already had EC issues 2x (bush/gore and Hayes/Tilden)...the difference is a national vote would have neatly resolved each crisis.

    7. A Sanders: the hysteria lies with those who would change the fundamental federalism of this constitution that have been in place for centuries.

      The outcome of any particular election doesn't threaten union. Changing the state based participation in the EC/Senate/constituional amendments does.

    8. Wow, what a flurry happens when one (i.e. me) has 2 days of inattention!
      "if the states were actually fictitious, baseless concepts, as asserted here" (Falstaff)
      My point was not that the state boundaries have no real significance. My point was that they do not derive from physical realities. They do exist, like you say, as cultural realities. I did also point out that significant cultural boundaries exist separately from state boundaries. Without even referring to the obvious rural/urban distinction.

      Yes, Professor, I have wandered (naughty me) from the original point (EC vs 1p1v) by asserting that the point is unimportant relative to the situation we have in which votes are essentially fanmail (thank you ananymous-who-addressed-Wayne-Chang.


    9. "(thank you ananymous-who-addressed-Wayne-Chang."

      I never said all votes are like that. A portion of them are and they will always be.

      I would have liked to see you asserting your view under a Democrat President.

    10. Professor,
      A few back in this thread (dec29) you tried to get us back on track saying "The question is how voting rules induce the candidates and parties to shape their policies".

      No doubt the rules do affect parties' PR and speechwriting but I am unconvinced that the voting rules have any significant effect on parties' subsequent choice of policy.
      Witness the current disconnect between Mr T's speeches and whatever policies might actually come to fruition. As has been alluded to before, somewhere here, it is a wide open unwritten book.

  29. Ok, fair point on the electoral college and your point about 2012 is both well taken and one that needd to be made, sadly. Good for you. Your consistency is admirable. Zero snark intended.

    But you can't open with an extremely broad generalization about Democrats and then claim that you are not partisan. "Democrats" think something about the electoral college? Good to know. Snark intended.

    In fairness, I generalize broadly about Republicans, but in the plain light of day. Not that it matters.

  30. From many of the comments, maybe we need a more realistic (or less idealistic) view of just what the democratic process is.

    1. This is a puzzling comment. Why do we have one person one vote in literally every other case?

  31. Dear Professor Cochrane, Falstaff, and other supporters of the status quo (Electoral College + Winner-Take-All),

    I summarize existing arguments along with responses:

    1. The status quo is more desirable than a popular vote for President.
    Pros for the existing system must overcome the significant con that it effectively disenfranchises the vast majority of the population. A vote in swing states is worth 20-50+ times that of one in heavy red or blue states (FiveThirtyEight Voter Power Index). In 2016, 94% of campaign events were held in 12 states representing only 31% of the population. When more than 2/3 of the country's people don't matter, this creates huge distorting incentives and undermines the fundamental principle of our representative democracy. Imagine if we had a market system where price signals were distorted by 20-50x! That would be unacceptable and be a first-order threat to our market economy. Why is it that every other country in the world that's tried an Electoral College system abandoned it? The simple answer is that it's a bad system.

    a. The status quo is desirable because it lowers polarization.
    This is Professor Cochrane's original point, but I argue in my previous comment that the intuition is flawed. It's just as likely that the existing system exacerbates polarization. Professor Cochrane provides no empirical support, so this claim is just an unsubstantiated hypothetical.

    b. The status quo is desirable because it preserves our federal system of government.
    The Presidential election is for a position at the national government dealing with national issues (defense, trade policy, etc.). A federal system argues for power to devolve to the most local level that policies affect. But this says nothing about how positions in the national government should be filled. A system where states dictate even national policies is a confederation, which we abandoned in 1789 because it didn't work.

    c. The status quo is desirable because it preserves the power of people living in rural areas.
    Margaret Thatcher said, "There is no such thing as society. There is a living tapestry of men and women." Similarly, there's no such thing as rural or urban areas, only individual citizens. The only thing worse than the tyranny of the majority is the tyranny of a small minority.

    d. The status quo is desirable because it avoids recounts that would be logistical nightmares.
    Really? So we disenfranchise 2/3 of the population? This is an argument for a better voting infrastructure. If Indonesia and Brazil can (with 80% and 64% of our population), surely we can too.

    2. Changes toward a popular vote for President are unconstitutional.
    Unconstitutionality is a weak argument if what it's defending is undesirable. We passed many constitutional amendments ensuring former slaves (14th), African Americans (15th, 24th), women (19th), DC residents (23rd) and people over eighteen (26th) can vote. Why not pass one ensuring everyone's vote actually counts? Besides, a national popular vote need not require an amendment (National Popular Vote Compact). Even a simple proportional allocation of electors (rather than winner-take-all) substantially reduces the chance of the popular winner losing. Since proportional allocation more closely follows the spirit of Constitutional equal protection, the existing winner-take-all system is actually less Constitutional!

    3. Changes toward a popular vote for President are irrelevant.
    Two of the last four Presidential elections are affected, with huge foreign policy (e.g. Iraq War) and domestic policy (e.g. likely repeal of ObamaCare) implications. Of course a more educated electorate will be helpful. But the status quo makes close elections more likely thus increasing the susceptibility of elections to a poorly informed electorate. The status quo also incentivizes the vast majority of people living in non-swing states to stay uninformed.

    1. Dear persistent Wayne Chang (and any other persistent protester at the current political affairs)

      I know this will create tensions but before I lay out my own opinion, I will give a few references.

      More specifically, professor John Cochrane in 2012 said:
      "It looks possible that Gov. Romney will lose the electoral college and win the popular vote. One may forgive liberals bemoaning the electoral college when George W. Bush won. But I hope that people who express reverence for the constitution and the wisdom of the founding fathers will do so again even if they lose. It's a good system. If they lose, Republicans need to find a new coalition that delivers small, widespread majorities. We are not immune from the tides of history pulling other countries apart. "

      And in 2016 the same person says:
      "What has become very clear to me since the election is a fact probably blindingly obvious to real students of politics -- that's not at all how it works. Most people vote by cultural affinity, brand, values, and a sense of personal identity."

      If these two quotes don't give any clues of what is at stake, I don't know what will. It should be obvious but then again rationality is not highly correlated with education.

      My opinion is that the arguments you provide are impressionistic drivel. You are arguing against the status quo but this isn't about the status quo. It is about the electoral college and how it mitigates fanboyism-voting in presidential elections.

      I won't go into the process of replying to every argument. I believe there are other sources that can do that better than me.

      However, I want to reply to the last point of yours, because you mentioned the Iraq War as an example.

      George Bush won the presidential elections in both 2000 and 2004.

      In 2000, he won the electoral vote with 271 (+5 from the other) while his popular vote was 50.4 million (he lost it by approximately 500 thousand less).

      In 2004, he won the electoral vote with 286 (+35 from the other) and he also won the popular vote with 62 million (roughly 3 million more than the other candidate).

      The Iraq War was initiated in March 2003 and the elections were held in November 2004. The same person who was responsible for the invasion, won the popular vote, 20 months later, in both relative and absolute terms.

      People died, the electoral college has always been there and the president you were implying (I have a feeling it wasn't Obama because of obamacare) received nearly 12 million votes more than before.

      Again, if this doesn't give any solid clue, I don't know what will.

    2. The anonymous above hit the nail on the head .... the problem being "fanboyism-voting in presidential elections" .... but somehow thinks that the electoral college has some magic ability to mitigate the problem.
      Neither electoral college nor one-person-one-vote can do anything to avert the consequences resulting from the vast majority of votes being equivalent to fan mail.

    3. The anonymous E5 must be another persistent protester who, in the end, agrees indirectly with me.

      "Neither electoral college nor one-person-one-vote can do anything to avert the consequences resulting from the vast majority of votes being equivalent to fan mail."

      So what is the point of replacing the electoral college with the one-person-one-vote system? Because at that scenario Clinton MIGHT have won?

      If it was truly a bad system then why is it still there? I imagine that my opinion is irrelevant.

      That's why I will give two sources so you can comment and mock them as much as you like.

    4. Anonymous anonymous,
      I don't see that you got my point at all. I am not protesting the EC.
      My complaint is that corporate media have turned the process of choosing the person who presides over the busiest economy in the world into, essentially, a beauty pageant.

    5. AnonymousE5: Two back to back posts with the same message, so I think I understand you: the electorate are fools that are easily led by the bread and circus, and your primary evidence is, I believe, the outcome of the election. They were fooled, but not you and yours.

      Consider this: your condescension, voiced by many to include Clinton and the establishment in Washington, is the reason for Trump. An echo has rung across the land in the last many months, not only criticizing a flawed candidate, but this time also the people that might consider him. And they say Trump was unprecedented.

      Starting a couple decades ago, those that paid little heed to politics started voicing objection to unchecked borders. The response from the like of the WSJ was not compromise but literally 'open borders'. In more recent elections,2012, the objections got louder, still coming from people who otherwise would have no truck with orange billionaires, but were directly impacted by low wage labor. Response: racists, deplorables, and the global economy needs cheap labor. This time the call became Immigration G#%D%^m It! You respond, beauty pageant. Keep it up if you want more of the same.

    6. AnonymousE5: In my first reply I was implying that irrational voting will always exist. So it should be a constant to the broader picture, not a problem to mitigate. I can see now that I could have worded it better despite the fact my sentence is irrelevant to what the EC actually does.

      On the other hand, you didn't follow the flow of the replies. Someone said the status quo needs to change. I said status quo is too general and the whole protest focuses around EC. And, then, the question to be asked is "is EC a truly bad mechanism?".

      Finally, I agree with you that the media have turned it into a show. It feels like a group therapy for the left.

    7. Sorry Falstaff, I may be a bit thick. I don't quite get what you are saying.
      Please don't jump to the conclusion that I favor Mrs C over Mr T or vice versa. I feel more in the camp of Richard Feynman ..... you may have read his autobiography where he described how he thought a presidential candidate should conduct him/herself. And Feynman decried the fact that the publicity system is such that an honest candidate would get nowhere.

      You may have noticed that my complaint is not against voters but against the folks (media, principally) who withhold information, offer up disinformation, and generally abuse the trust of those (voters) who are trying their best to make a good decision.

      To quote one of my thoughtful conservative friends "population 350 million and these are the best two candidates we can come up with?".
      Pretty much the same complaint as from my "opposed-by-conservatives" friends.

  32. I've heard the "electoral college requires a geographically diverse support base" argument many times before. But that seems incorrect. On the contrary, the electoral college seems to me to actually narrow the possible base of support. We have an electoral college right now and politicians openly say that only about 15 states really "matter". We call those "swing states". Consider Republicans who live in CA, KY, and OH. Those people care about very different things. If we had a popular vote system, a Republican candidate could go to any of the three states and court those voters. Instead, the CA votes /as well as/ the KY votes are essentially ignored because they are "safe". Only the OH Republicans are viewed as important to presidential candidates, even though KY is more Republican, and ultimately you don't see Republicans making trips to KY or CA. I agree that regional diversity is important. The House and Senate already do so (the Senate by apportioning seats evenly, and the House by having a floor of at least 1 seat per state). It is wrong to get geographical diversity by devaluing people's vote within an election simply because of where they live. It is nothing more than an arbitrary circumspection of one person, one vote. (To give you a sense of how arbitrary it is, someone showed how if one redrew the borders of the US ever so slightly, Clinton would have won the past election. This is not so improbable; all three states have squiggly borders.


Comments are welcome. Keep it short, polite, and on topic.

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