Old-school thinking

The old school, in this case, is the Electoral College, and it deserves a couple of cheers, says Garett Jones:

The electoral college, set forth in the U.S. Constitution, is a great tool for reducing social conflict across regions of the United States. You might think that’s a crazy claim — don’t we see maps of red and blue, and aren’t the red places — the places supporting the Republican — mostly in the South and Midwest? Indeed, and that pattern across regions is key to explaining how the electoral college defuses some social tension.

And if there’s anything of which we have a surplus in this largely stagnant economy, it’s social tension. Look what we’d have with a straight popular vote:

[I]t’s safe to say that if your state is polling 65% for a particular presidential candidate, neither candidate is likely to campaign there any time soon.

And that’s great news for social peace. We rarely hear too much about regional issues in the U.S. other than farmers vs. everyone else. But if the presidency was decided by majority rule, I’m sure we’d hear a lot more about regional differences. Could a presidential candidate get 75% of the votes in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida by promising broad-based Gulf Coast subsidies and a few other goodies? Could a candidate get 85% of California’s and New York’s votes partly by offering housing subsidies for people facing high housing costs?

I don’t know: But if we got rid of the electoral college and had a popularly elected president we’d sure have a chance to find out.

And we don’t want to, either:

As it stands, presidential candidates are trying to appeal to the median voter in each state across a large number of states. That’s how you get to be president. This reduces regional tensions because candidates are never trying to get 90% of the votes in a state. When you’re pitting 90% of one region of the country against 90% of another region of the country, you’re substantially raising the probability of social conflict. Too many civil wars are based on regional differences for this to be no big deal.

It would be well to remember that those who wail and gnash their teeth about the distribution of power are always making exactly the same argument: Group A, whom we disdain, needs to be disempowered for the benefit of Group B, whom we embrace. My own stance on this is simple: Groups A through Z inclusive should be told to STFU and GBTW, because groups, other than the states themselves and We The People, have no standing under the Constitution. And I’m getting to the point where I would much rather everyone were vaguely dissatisfied with the system as it is than have some ecstatically happy at the expense of everyone else.


  1. JT »

    28 October 2012 · 9:27 pm

    That’s been the basis of compromise across party lines for most of the existence of the country. No one gets everything they want, and that’s a good thing.

  2. Roger Green »

    29 October 2012 · 8:02 am

    In this clearly close election, it will be litigated in Ohio, Colorado, maybe Florida or Virginia. But not in New York or Oklahoma or almost every one of 435 election districts. PLUS I don’t have to watch the damn ads.

  3. CGHill »

    29 October 2012 · 8:30 am

    “PLUS I don’t have to watch the damn ads.”

    That’s worth something right there.

  4. Ed Skinner »

    30 October 2012 · 9:59 am

    Well said, the last sentence in particular. Very well said indeed.

  5. The Adventures of Roberta X »

    30 October 2012 · 11:12 am

    Quote Of The Presidential Election Year…

    Y’see, kids, a republic is a lousy form of government — and all the other forms are even worse, many of them by huge margins. Ours? You’re not supposed to like it, just not be too frikkin’ inconvenienced by it…

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