Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A popular vote for president would expand the campaign map, would not shrink it

So-called “conventional wisdom” about the effects of changing to a popular vote vs. keeping the Electoral College are veritably false

It didn’t take long for Donald Trump to change his position on the Electoral College.

Just days after the election this year, Trump had implied he preferred abolishing the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote system selecting the president. In prior years, Trump expressed the same distaste for the current system.

After winning last week, Trump told 60 Minutes’s Lesley Stahl, “I’m not going to change my mind just because I won. I would rather see it where you went with simple votes. You know, you get 100 million votes and somebody else gets 90 million votes and you win.”

But earlier this week, Trump did change his mind...

...and suggested he’d have an easier time campaigning under an alternative, popular vote model:

The argument Trump is making here is a common one made by defenders of the Electoral College, that a system based on a popular vote would limit where candidates would campaign. This line of thinking suggests that candidates wouldn’t travel to other areas of the country that they otherwise do under the Electoral College, opting instead to stay in California, New York, Florida, and Texas, the most populated states.

In other words, the “small” states would lose out, and only a handful of cities would gain the attention of the candidates.

But as I pointed out last week, a popular vote system wouldn’t result in less travel for candidates to engage voters across the country -- it could actually require them to travel MORE places to court voters.

To do the absolute bare minimum of campaigning in order to reach a majority of Americans in the most populated metro areas across the country, a candidate would have to travel to these 24 areas:
New York, New York
Los Angeles, California
Chicago, Illinois
Washington, DC and Baltimore, Maryland
San Francisco, California and San Jose, California
Boston, Massachusetts
Dallas, Texas
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Houston, Texas
Miami, Florida
Atlanta, Georgia
Detroit, Michigan
Seattle, Washington
Phoenix, Arizona
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Cleveland, Ohio
Denver, Colorado
San Diego, California
Orlando, Florida
Portland, Oregon
Tampa, Florida
St. Louis, Missouri
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Charlotte, North Carolina
Those areas are within 18 different states, plus the District of Columbia -- so 19 different geopolitical areas within the United States. That sounds like a small amount of travel, but consider these two items:
1. This list is the BARE MINIMUM needed to reach over 50 percent of the nation’s citizenry. Assuming two or more candidates were competing, you could count on them overlapping in their campaign travels. The list above assumes a single candidate wins every one of those cities with 100 percent of the vote. That’s not going to happen, and will likely result in even more travel for the candidates than just the metropolitan areas on this list.
2. The 2016 states map that candidates traveled was smaller than the list above. After the two major candidates were selected at their respective party conventions, the campaigns traveled to just 12 different states 94 percent of the time. They traveled to four states 53 percent of the time. And most of their travels ignored so-called “small states” altogether.
The old adage suggesting that a change to a popular vote for president would result in candidates “camping out” in big cities is certainly false. If anything, the two points I make above suggests a change would expand the campaign map, requiring candidates to travel to more places than they would under the system offered by the Electoral College.

It’s time once and for all that we begin the process of removing the current system, and providing the American people with a system that instead respects their popular vote wishes. If we’re to call our nation a leader in democracy, the least we can do is respect the democratic preferences of the governed.

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