Since the 2016 Presidential election, some people (mostly Democrats) have been calling for the Electoral College system to be abandoned in favor of the popular vote to decide national elections.
Coming from Democrats, the main reason for this is because they feel that they lost the 2016 election due to flaws in the Electoral College system and not because their political platform had little to no appeal to everyday Americans.
But what Democrats and others fail to realize is that a switch to a popular vote would only have an effect on the outcome if it could be applied retroactively, which is what Democrats seem to want to do. The reason I say “retroactively” is because if candidates knew they had to campaign in a such a way to win the popular vote, they would simply campaign differently than they currently do and this would nullify any change in the result.
For example, Republican candidates such as Trump do almost no campaigning at all in states such as California. They allocate very few if any resources to the state because it has such a high probability of going to the Democrats in the Electoral College voting. Since campaign funds are finite, there is no reason spending any money in such a state.
Of course, this sets up a situation where one candidate basically gets all the attention in that state, so the results are lopsided. But it’s partially because the other candidate spent no time or resources there. They did no town halls, no community outreach, no canvasing of neighborhoods, no outreach to local unions, etc. So it’s basically a landslide, but one that the opposing candidate conceded to before the race even started.
Think of it like this. National political campaigns are basically marketing campaigns. You put together a message and a plan to get that message out to the people you need to hear it. You market (or advertise) in places you feel you need to and avoid others that you either already have in the bag or are not worth trying. It’s like if Pepsi never advertised in the state of California over the past 50 years. If that were the case then Coke would obviously have a huge market share advantage. But it’s not because of Coke, it’s really because of the lack of exposure to Pepsi advertising among consumers there. Of course this is a simplified analogy, but you get the idea.
In 2016, the election came down to a few key battleground states, as national elections usually do these days. So this is where a candidate like Trump spent most of his time and campaign money. Because of the electoral system, he knew he had to win those states.
If however the nation were to be switched to a popular vote system, candidates like Trump would simply campaign differently. They would spend money on states like California and New York. Since most campaigns go on for almost 2 years, this would be 2 years worth of advertising and setting up a ground game in those states.
In 2016, Trump lost the popular vote by 2.8 million votes. But this loss of the popular vote was with virtually zero campaign presence in California or New York and other states that generally go Democratic. By choosing a broader campaign strategy that simply targeted these states, a candidate such as Trump would start to pick up the needed votes.
Another aspect that must be considered is how many Republicans in 2016 never bothered to vote in California, New York, or other blue states because they knew it wouldn’t make a difference since their state always goes blue. These non-voters would suddenly be voters.
Of course, this would work on both sides and the candidates don’t have to be Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I’m just using those as an example since it was the most recent election with a popular vote disparity. But a switch to the popular vote would suddenly unlock several million voters who currently don’t bother to vote in their state.
But the truth is, campaigns focus on what will give them the victory. They play to the rules, and the rules currently are based on our Electoral College system. If the rules were changed to a popular vote, campaigns would simply change their strategy and we would wind up with the same results. Perhaps the first election would be different as campaign managers wouldn’t understand the new format fully, but by the next election cycle, they would have it figured out.
It’s no different than bureaucratic regulations. Individuals and companies just find a way to work around them and often you end up with a bigger problem than you had in the beginning. People will always play to the rules.
This brings us back to why I said only a retroactive application of a rule change would effect the outcome. When campaigns know they have to win the popular vote, they will run their campaigns differently which results in a different outcome.
So in the end, we would ultimately get the same results but without the built in protection of the Electoral College system created by the Founding Fathers. There is simply no reason to call for the abandoning of the Electoral College, unless of course, it’s to find outside blame for your own party’s poor candidate.
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