democracy and its discontents
Reminder: The Electoral College Isn’t Going Away

That Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election despite winning the popular vote has predictably produced a crusade against the Electoral College system among Democratic pundits and partisans. But the outcome of the election actually made the public more supportive of America’s idiosyncratic election system overall. Gallup:

Americans’ support for keeping the Electoral College system for electing presidents has increased sharply. Weeks after the 2016 election, 47% of Americans say they want to keep the Electoral College, while 49% say they want to amend the Constitution to allow for a popular vote for president. In the past, a clear majority favored amending the U.S. Constitution to replace the Electoral College with a popular vote system.

The reason for the shift is simple: The 2016 election caused GOP support for a popular vote system to collapse. In 2012, the last time Gallup asked the question, more than two-thirds of Democrats wanted to scrap the Electoral College, compared to just over half of Republicans. The 2016 outcome caused Democratic support for a constitutional amendment to increase to over 80 percent, while Republican support plummeted to just 19 percent. The parties are now more divided on this issue than they are on hot-button culture war questions like abortion.

Because amending the Constitution requires the support of 38 states, it is virtually impossible to do on narrow partisan lines. As Jason Willick noted last month, “between swing states that relish the attention presidential elections bestow on them, small states looking to maintain their outsize influence, and states that feel the current Electoral College map favors their dominant party, it’s hard to see how there will be ever be fewer than 13 states with an interest in maintaining the existing system.” And the irony is that continued Electoral College-popular vote splits probably make it even more difficult to build the kind of supermajority needed to amend the Constitution, because such splits will increase support for the system among members of the party that benefits from it.

Since the election, liberals have continued to point to and take solace in Hillary Clinton’s popular vote margin as votes from deep-blue California trickle in. But every minute spent fixating on this is a distraction from the Democrats’ real task: Building a political coalition with which their party can win power under the rules as they are. And that means building a coalition that has a critical mass of support outside of cosmopolitan coastal enclaves.

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