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by inoljt

How 2012 Helps Prospects for Reforming the Electoral College

4:07 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

The electoral college is one of the lingering undemocratic parts of American politics. Unlike almost every other country in the world, America elects its presidents not via the popular vote but rather via a strange system of “electoral votes” distributed by states. The good news is that this system generally reflects the popular will. The bad news is that it occasionally fails, as last happened in 2000.

Since then there has been a push to reform the electoral college so that all states cast their electoral votes for the winners of the popular vote. Currently half the states needed to implement the reform have signed on.

The reform is mostly pushed by Democrats. This is because in 2000 the popular vote winner but electoral college loser was the Democratic candidate. As long electoral college reform was only pushed by Democrats, it was likely to fail. It is almost impossible to get enough states to sign on with complete Republican opposition.

In 2012, however, something quite interesting happened. The electoral college helped Obama quite a bit. For the final months of the campaign Obama was often behind in the national polls but still leading in the state Ohio. It was seen as a very conceivable possibility that Obama would lose the popular vote but win the electoral college and remain president because of Ohio. Even after the first presidential debate, Romney led in the popular vote but never in the electoral college.

It should be noted that these polls were wrong; they underestimated Obama nationally and put Ohio as more Democratic than a lot of states (Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Virginia) which ended up more favorable to Obama. But the perception, based on these flawed polls, was what mattered.

So a lot of hard-core Republicans got to see the electoral college really hurting them during the most important campaign of all.

Moreover, the electoral college actually has leaned Democratic for three elections in a row. In 2004 John Kerry was 118,601 votes away in Ohio from becoming president while losing the popular vote. In 2008 John McCain would have had to win the popular vote by 1.7% to win Colorado and become president. In 2012 the votes are still being counted, but it’s very certain that Obama could have lost the popular vote and still remained president.

This is good news for electoral college reform. Hopefully Republicans will not forget how polls showed them leading the popular vote but still behind in the electoral college during October 2012. Republicans now are aware that the electoral college hurts them. It would be in their self-interest to shift to a popular vote.

There are several blue or purple states in which the state Republican Party is fairly strong and has prevented electoral college reform. The hope is that in a few of these states some Republicans will now support a popular vote. It is also possible that Republicans by themselves will enact popular vote bills on their own initiative. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, for instance, has publicly made supportive statements on a popular vote. Of course this is pure self-interest, since she (like many Republicans) recognizes that the electoral college now hurts Republicans.

But a popularly elected president looks closer than ever. As long as it was only a Democratic initiative, it didn’t look like the popular vote would be enacted. Now, hopefully, some Republicans will also see that the popular vote is both something that helps a Republican presidential candidate and (more importantly for American but probably not Republicans) the right thing to do.

by inoljt

The White Female Vote in 2008

6:18 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

What if only white females voted in the 2008 presidential election?

This is the type of question social scientists and individuals like me love to explore, and which everybody else presumably finds quite boring. More fascinating still, there is actually a somewhat reliable answer to the question. This is because, in every state of the union, there are exit polls of the white female vote in 2008.

It turns out that if only white females voted in 2008, Senator John McCain would have won the popular vote 53% to 46%, taking a comfortable eight-point lead.

Senator Barack Obama, however, would be president. He would win a razor-thin, 273 to 265 majority in the electoral college:

This is quite a remarkable result. Mr. Obama loses by eight percentage points amongst white female voters – yet still wins the electoral college and becomes president. Imagine if Senator John McCain lost the real 2008 presidential election by the exact same popular margin and then magically won the electoral college.

This is a graph Nate Silver once compiled of the chances this would happen in the real electorate:

According to the analysis, a four-point margin in the popular vote translates into a one percent chance of losing the electoral college. Notice how the graph does not even go beyond a seven-point popular victory.

So how does Mr. Obama lose so badly amongst white females yet still become president?

Here is the answer:

As it turns out, white female supporters of Mr. McCain are distributed very inefficiently. They are packed in states the Republican is already winning, especially in the racially polarized Deep South – where Mr. McCain does so well it is quite amazing and sad.

The Democratic white female vote, while not as numerous, is far more efficiently placed. Democrats win white females where it matters – in thin but strategically located margins in enough states to win the electoral college.

This fact can be illustrated visually:

The map above constitutes the 2008 white female vote, except this time differentiated by margin of victory. Except in a few parts of New England, Democrats never win white females by margins greater than 20%.

Finally, this analysis also illustrates the continuing racial divide confronting the United States. More than a century after slavery and fifty years after Civil Rights, in too many parts of the country one can tell far too much – about voting habits or other behavior – just by looking at skin color.

P.S. For those interested, here is a full of table of the white female vote in 2008, by each state’s exit polling.