From the mailbag:
Can you do a post of a break down of the election thus far, because it looks like a possible 2000 repeat (only in regards to the popular vote not winning the Electoral vote)? Also a comparison to how people view the popular vote then and now (based on the fact that it’s now flipped) for all of us who were too young to remember the hype? Also, 10+%lead Obama has in Maine, but the 4-6% lead Romney has in Maine’s 2nd district (thus a split vote) would be worth mentioning.
You can find more thorough breakdowns of the election elsewhere, but I’ll say this: unless something changes dramatically in the last two weeks (it’s happened before), an Obama victory might just be the most underwhelming in recent American history, something like Ford’s victory over Reagan in the ’76 primaries.
Why? Because if Obama is re-elected, it probably will be with far fewer electoral votes and a lower percentage of the popular vote that he received in his first election. Only two Presidents have pulled that off: Wilson in 1916, and FDR in 1940 and 1944. However, given the size of their prior victories (Wilson 1912: 435-88-8; FDR 1932: 472-59; FDR 1936: 523-8), there was almost nowhere to go but down.* That wasn’t the case with Obama; he “only” won 365-173– a big win, sure, but one that left room for improvement. But Obama won’t win that many electoral votes this time. If he wins with, say, 300 electoral votes, then yes, he’ll have won, but it’ll feel like he just missed getting voted off the island. That’s not exactly empowering, and it’s not a pro-Obama mandate. Combine that with a GOP-controlled House and enough Republicans in the Senate to sustain filibusters, and Obama will be a lame duck the second he completes his victory speech.
(By the way, feel free to check back in a few weeks when Obama tops 55% and wins 400 EVs. This post’ll still be here and you’ll be welcome to poke fun.)
You’d have to do some research to get a thorough sense of how people felt about the popular vote in 2000. Here’s how I remember it:
In the last few days before the 2000 election, it looked like George W. Bush would barely win the popular vote and Al Gore would barely win the electoral vote and thus the Presidency. I seem to remember some Democratic commentators defending the Electoral College, or at least criticizing it while “ruefully” acknowledging that we were stuck with it. When Gore won the popular vote and Bush won the electoral vote, then the Electoral College was completely illegitimate, and Al Gore really won the election, and the hunt was on to find three electors who’d switch their vote from Bush to Gore, and so on.
In 2004, if 50,000 or so votes in Ohio went the other way, Kerry would’ve been President despite losing the national popular vote, and all of a sudden the Electoral College would’ve been a good idea all over again.
This year, if Obama wins the electoral vote despite losing the popular vote, you won’t hear many Democratic complaints. You also won’t hear many Republican complaints, since they generally don’t mind the Electoral College to begin with.
In 2001, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact was proposed. In short, states that join the compact will automatically give their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote. It’s been passed in a few states, but it doesn’t go into effect until enough states (worth 270+ electoral votes) join it and Congress approves it. I think states would be foolish to trust each other in this compact, because I can see the states ignoring the compact and casting their votes however they wish. Congress would be virtually powerless to stop them.
The Electoral College isn’t going anywhere. You’d have to get 2/3rds of Congress and 38 state legislatures to ratify an amendment replacing or abolishing the Electoral College. That means that just 13 states can stop it. There are certainly more than 13 states who want to keep it.
Oh, and Romney might win one of Maine’s electoral votes. There’s your mention.
*Wilson’s electoral vote dropped for another, stranger reason. In 1912, he won about 42% of the popular vote but won a huge electoral victory because the Republicans were split between Taft and TR. In 1916, Wilson improved to almost 50% of the popular vote but just barely won the electoral vote because this time around, the Republicans were united and won more states.