NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Electoral College Serves Two-Party System

November 6, 2000

Close presidential elections often bring calls to abandon the Electoral College when the possibility looms that a candidate could win the popular vote but lose to an opponent who wins more electoral votes, which are apportioned by state. However, analysts point out this fear is misguided.

First, there has never been an Electoral College victory by a candidate who lost the popular vote by a substantial margin. Moreover, the electoral system has shaped, and been shaped by, the two-party system, and has preserved political order.

  • The direct popular election of presidents, or the proportional allocation of a state's electoral votes to each candidate, would incite minor parties to fractionate the electorate.
  • That might lead to runoffs in which minor parties would auction off their support so one candidate could get 40 percent of the vote.
  • The electoral system buttresses the two-party system and pulls them to the center, producing a temperate politics of coalitions rather than a proliferation of ideological factions.
  • Choosing presidents by electoral votes is an incentive for candidates to wage national campaigns, building majorities that are geographically as well as ideologically broad.

As for the notion that a candidate could become president by winning the 11 largest states by a single vote -- and get no votes elsewhere -- and become president with just 27 percent of the popular vote, critics reply that serious people consider serious probabilities, not idle possibilities. It's just as idle to speculate that a candidate could win Wyoming 220,000 to nothing, lose everywhere else by an average of 4,400 votes, and be the popular vote winner while losing in the Electoral College 535 to 3.

Finally, as to the idea that the system makes some people's vote count more than others, it does, but again critics ask, so what? In the Senate, Wyoming's senators can cancel out California's senators, who represent 69 times more people. The Constitution wasn't devised for simple-minded majoritarianism.

Source: George Will, "Electoral College," Dallas Morning News, November 5, 2000.

 

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