With the 2012 presidential election battle already heating up, a majority of Americans would like to see a major change to the voting system: They want to completely scrap the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote.
A new Gallup poll found that 62 percent of Americans support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to replace the Electoral College system with a popular vote system. A mere 35 percent of those surveyed said they would keep the Electoral College.
The sentiment crosses party lines: For the first time in 12 years, a majority of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans all said they would prefer a popular vote system. Democrats overwhelmingly support the change, with 71 percent, while Independents had 61 percent support and Republicans had 53 percent support.
Those who advocate abolishing the Electoral College often do so on the basis that the system puts undue emphasis on a small number of swing states. Whether Americans as a whole are concerned about that byproduct is unclear. However, they broadly agree that the country should adopt a system in which the popular vote prevails. While Republicans are less supportive of this than Democrats, 11 years after the 2000 election politicized the issue, the majority of Republicans once again favor the change.
Perhaps the pain of the notorious 2000 presidential election is still fresh in Americans’ minds — and they fear the idiosyncrasies of the Electoral College could lead to another confusing and unjust election. In any case, these numbers are a strong sign that people of all parties think it’s time to break with the Founding Fathers’ convoluted Electoral College system. Whether politicians will actually act on this data, however, is doubtful.
Instead of a constitutional amendment, a more likely possibility for reforming the electoral system is through the National Popular Vote movement. In this system, states would guarantee that all of their electoral votes would go to the winner of the national popular vote — a move that would render the Electoral College ineffective.
Under the U.S. Constitution, the states have exclusive and plenary (complete) power to allocate their electoral votes, and may change their state laws concerning the awarding of their electoral votes at any time. Under the National Popular Vote bill, all of the state’s electoral votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes — that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538).
So far, eight states and the District of Columbia have approved the National Popular Vote bill, giving the movement 132 of the 270 votes needed to take effect. The fact that states with considerable power in the current system — including California and Illinois — have signed on could signify the movement’s viability.
Supporters of the National Popular Vote include Hendrick Hertzberg of The New Yorker, who points out that the Electoral College system was created when citizens did not have access to news media, and that it was the result of an antiquated compromise related to slavery. Responding to opponents of the National Popular Vote, Hertzberg writes:
Why should Presidential candidates “cater” to “important states” — i.e., to the ten or so “battleground” states? What about the forty or so unimportant states? Why cater to “states” at all? Why not cater to human beings? Aren’t they “important”? Wouldn’t it be better to give candidates for President of the United States “incentives” to cater to the people of the United States?
Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee definitively opposed the National Popular Vote this summer. “The popular vote initiative is an attempt to solve a problem we don’t have, but it will create problems we don’t want,” Tennessee RNC member John Ryder said. As in 2000, Republican politicians have tended to benefit more from the Electoral College system than Democrats in part because of geography, which might explain their refusal to consider a straight popular vote.
But with Americans of all political stripes supporting the elimination of the Electoral College system, the National Popular Vote movement might gain more momentum despite official GOP resistance — increasing the possibility of a more democratic presidential election than ever before.