America’s Cycles of Change

Why the United States Needs Its Electoral College

Thu, 08 December 2016

The Electoral College of the United States runs counter to the ideology and ideals of “pure” democracy in that it sometime negates the Popular Will of the clear Majority.

But it continues to perform a vital function in keeping the different regions and different prevalent regional interest groups, economic concerns, regional prejudices and perspectives of a huge continental nation in balance with each other.

In other words, the Electoral College is crucial to the continued unity and stability of the United States.

The Electoral College was originally designed to preserve the interests of individual states and to prevent small ones being repeatedly shut out by larger ones.

Historically, this has always given an inherent additional weight to the interests of small population states across the American Heartland.

That tendency was clearly on display in the 2016 results, where Republican Donald Trump ran up clear margins of victory across so many Heartland states, and even throughout the rural areas of states like New York, despite the overwhelming support that the major urban centers in them gave to his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Clinton ran up enormous majorities in two of the four most populous states- California and New York. She lost Florida, which now has an equal number of Electoral College votes with New York, by a narrow though still clear margin. She did not come close in the second most populous state Texas, which remained overwhelmingly conservative.

What this mean is that it was the conservative, nationalist and more traditionally religious Heartland beat out the liberal, far more heterodox states of the East and West Coasts.

Through most of the elections over the past 192 years, the Electoral College has so not functioned to thwart the political will but to magnify it. This had the generally desirable effect of translating narrow margins in the overall popular vote into much more impressive sanctions based on the vote totals from individual states.

There is certainly a case to be made for abolishing the Electoral College in favor of establishing a more widespread democracy in the US, but Karl Popper’s “Law of Unexpected Consequences” should point to resisting the arguments to do so.

A more perfect democracy in this case in practice would lead to a far more disaffected United States in the short term, and in the longer term, therefore, possibly to no United States at all.