NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Direct Election Versus The Electoral College

November 20, 2000

Whatever the ultimate outcome of the presidential election, there will be debate about replacing the Electoral College with a direct popular vote.

Polls have consistently shown large majorities of Americans favoring direct election of the president.

  • As long ago as 1944, the Gallup Poll found 65 percent of Americans in favor of abolishing the Electoral College.
  • The most recent poll, by ABC and the Washington Post in 1988, found 77 percent of Americans preferring direct election to the current system.

Thus far, advocates of the Electoral College largely have relied upon the views of the Founding Fathers to support their case.

  • However, a recent Portrait of America Poll found that only 51 percent of Americans would even vote to ratify the Constitution, were it put up for a vote today.
  • Twenty-two percent would get rid of it altogether. The rest were unsure.
  • Those who support the Electoral College are going to have to rely more on practical political arguments, and less on appeals to historical authorities.

One of the virtues of the Electoral College is that it tends to magnify the winner's victory, giving him greater stature and making it easier to govern.

  • For example, in 1960 John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon by less than 0.2 percent of the total popular vote, but won by a much more comfortable margin of almost 16 percent of the Electoral College (see figure ).
  • More recently, Bill Clinton won by just 5.5 percent of the popular vote in 1992, but by more than 37 percent in the Electoral College.

The problem this year was simply that the American people divided their votes almost equally between Gore and Bush. Absence of the Electoral College would not have made the outcome clearer.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, November 20, 2000.


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