Support For Eliminating Electoral College Hits Two-Decade Low
Last month, for the fifth time in American and the second time in sixteen years, the candidate with the most popular votes lost the election due to the Electoral College, As things stand now, Hillary Clinton appears to some 2.5 million votes ahead of Donald Trump in the popular vote, and that margin may grow a bit more as the final numbers come in. As it did after the far more divisive 2000 election, this has led many to call for an end to the Electoral College in favor of a system where the President would be elected via a nationwide popular vote, something that would obviously require a Constitutional Amendment. As things stand, though, that outcome appears unlikely given the fact that public support for such an amendment has dipped to a five-year low:
With Hillary Clinton ahead of Donald Trump by more than 2.7 million votes (and counting), the idea of getting rid of the electoral college has become very popular in certain circles of late. Al Gore, a victim of the electoral college in 2000, became the latest high-profile supporter earlier this week. “After the Supreme Court decision in 2000, I continued to support the electoral college because the original purpose was to tie the states together,” he said. “I have changed my view on that. I do think it should be eliminated.”
It’s easy to think that “everyone” wants to move to the popular vote to decide the presidential race. Nope! In fact, quite the opposite.
A new Gallup poll shows that for the first time in almost five decades there is less than majority support for a constitutional amendment that would institute the popular vote as the method of picking the president. Just 49 percent said they want to replace the electoral college system with a popular vote, a remarkable drop from the 80 percent who said the same in the wake of the 1968 election. (Richard Nixon won 301 electoral votes but carried the popular vote by less than a percent.) For what it’s worth, after Gore won the popular vote but lost the election to George W. Bush in 2000, support for swapping the electoral college for the popular vote was about 60 percent.
Despite the decline in support for the idea, there are still marginally more people who prefer the popular vote to the electoral college: 49 percent to 47 percent. But the margin between the two options has never been closer.
Why? Simple. Republicans are now deeply opposed to dumping the electoral college. In 2011, a majority (54 percent) of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents favored amending the Constitution to make the popular vote decisive. Now? Just 19 percent feel that way.
It doesn’t take a genius — thankfully! — to figure out why. Support for the popular vote as the decider would mean President Hillary Clinton. And, no matter what they might think of President-elect Donald Trump, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents do not want that.
Presumably, if the election had gone the other way, with Hillary Clinton winning the Electoral College and Donald Trump winning the popular vote, then it’s likely that these numbers would be reversed to some degree and it would be Republicans calling for reform while Democrats defend a system that put their candidate in office. What’s interesting, of course, is that there were seeming majorities in both parties that seemed to favor reforming the way we elect Presidents to eliminate the Electoral College, and that support for such an idea goes back at least to 2001 and the wake of the 2000 election, but that nothing got done in this regard. The main reason for that, of course, goes back to an idea I’ve mentioned before, namely the fact that Americans prioritize the political issues that they are base their voting decisions on in such a way that the fact that something has majority support doesn’t necessarily mean that it is likely get done or to have a huge impact on a given election. We also see this with regard to an issue such as gun control, where surveys indicate widespread support for measures such as universal background checks, but election results show that few candidates who emphasize these issues end up winning elections. For much of the past decade, the Electoral College appears to be a similar issue, one where a majority in both parties supported reform but nothing happened largely because it is a low priority issue for voter and elected officials alike. Indeed, I am not even aware of any member of the House or Senate who has introduced legislation to begin the Amendment process on this issue since the 2000 election and, if they did, it certainly never resulted in either committee hearings or action on the floor of the House or Senate.
With these new poll numbers, of course, it’s even less likely that we’ll say any action on this issue any time soon. However, even if we return to the pre-2016 status quo where support for reform is above 50% for both Republican and Democrats, reform is unlikely simply because of what would be necessary to accomplish it. In order to amend the Constitution, you need two-thirds of the members of Congress and three-quarters of the states to come together and support an amendment. The last time that happened was some forty years ago when the 26th Amendment, which expanded the right to vote to people between the age of 18 and 21, was ratified. Since then, the only change to the Constitution that we’ve seen was the addition of the 27th Amendment, which regulates Congressional pay and which was actually a holdover from the original Bill of Rights that lied in limbo until it was ratified by the small handful of states needed to satisfy the requirements of Article V. Other than that, while several Amendments have been suggested on a wide variety of issues, none have made it out of Congress with the exception of the Equal Rights Amendment, which was a source political controversy in the 1970s but ultimately died without being ratified by enough states before expiring. Most likely, the same thing would happen to any effort to amend the Constitution to eliminate the Electoral College.
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