Would Electoral Win Without Popular Vote be Swan Song for Swing States?


Electoral College System Has Backers

ABC's political analyst George Will has argued that the current system lends stability to the political process. As often as it creates a split decision, it can magnify a slim victory. John F. Kennedy, for instance, narrowly won the popular vote 49.7 to Richard Nixon's 49.5 percent in 1960. But Kennedy had a more commanding win in the electoral college.

"The electoral vote system shapes the character of winning majorities," said Will. "By avoiding proportional allocation of electoral votes, America's system — under which Ross Perot in 1992 got 19 percent of the popular votes and zero electoral votes — buttresses the dominance of two parties, and pulls them to the center, producing a temperate politics of coalitions rather than a proliferation of ideological factions with charismatic leaders." (Read George Will's argument here).

A Campaign Without Swing States?

What, no swing states? The mind boggles.

But Keyssar suggests it could make the entire system more equitable and engage a larger portion of the country in the election.

"If you imagine where we are today in this election, what you'd be looking at is a national mass mobilization with everybody trying to get out the vote everywhere, instead of everybody sitting around looking at the polls in Ohio," he said. If votes in his home state of Massachusetts were a bit more important to the national total, there would be more engaged local efforts to get people out for president -- the current epic Senate battle there notwithstanding.

Hans Von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundaton, sees it differently. He writes on the Heritage Foundation website that the National Popular Vote effort would lead to a further marginalizing of smaller states. Campaigns would instead focus all of their attention on major media markets where the most voters could be reached for the least cost.

Relying on a popular vote instead of a state-based system, he argues, would trade swing states for a focus on large urban areas, where advertising dollars can reach more people.

The Electoral College "embodies the balance [the Founders] aimed to achieve through deference to states with smaller populations and by ensuring that the interests of these states be reflected in national decision-making," he writes. Not to mention that in 2000, the recount in Florida caused a collective rise in the national blood pressure. Imagine a national recount.

But supporters of a popular vote system say it is more important to achieve a more democratic ideal than one in which swing states are so key.

"This problem would disappear if we had a truly national election with one electorate and votes counting the same wherever they were cast," said Jack Rakove," a Pulitzer Prize winning Stanford political scientist. "Then the candidates would have to think more creatively about how to mobilize a national electorate, rather than pouring money into the televised advertisements that must drive voters in the battleground states completely bonkers. The parties would have the incentive to attract voters throughout the country, which is now a matter of complete indifference to them."

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