Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Squib On The Electoral College

     Anyone reasonably conversant with the history of the American Constitutional order will know that the Founding Fathers designed the electoral college as they did to prevent the more urban, more populous states from politically dominating – and suppressing the interests of – the smaller, more agrarian states. Yet the scheme was not proof against the passage of time, as the following graphic shows:

     In the projection above, taken from MarketWatch, Hillary Clinton would prevail in only 22 states, yet she would edge Donald Trump in the electoral college, thus becoming the 45th president of the United States. Now, I’m not about to call that “unfair.” It would be entirely consistent with the Constitutional design. What it does illustrate is how powerfully the urbanizing tendency of the century behind us has shaped the American political scene.

     I wrote some time ago about how the concentration of a population into cities magnifies the power of the political class. The strategists and kingmakers of that class are fully aware of this tendency. It’s perfectly consistent that those who want power should gravitate to cities...and that those who seek the pinnacle of power in the United States should concentrate their efforts on the most urbanized states, which mainly sit along the national borders.

     Conservatively inclined New Yorkers have complained for decades about the Big Apple’s dominance of New York State politics. Given that Gomorrah on the Hudson contains more than 40% of the state’s population, there’s little to be done about it at the moment. However, it does suggest that conservatives willing to play a “long game” should ponder the possibility of a decades-long strategy to encourage the de-urbanization of New York.

     Clearly, that can’t require having a large fraction of New Yorkers return to farming and hunting for their livelihoods. But if there exists a path toward such a de-urbanization that would serve the economic and social interests of New Yorkers – or any other heavily urban state – it would be worth considering for its political impact, as well.

     Hm. It seems I’ve just suggested that conservative lawmakers and strategists should urge happy (mostly) city dwellers into the countryside. No, I haven’t been possessed by the ghost of Pol Pot. But it does suggest that I should have more than one cup of coffee before setting my fingers to these damnable keys. Well, we all have our little ways.


Dystopic said...

In line with your post the other day... I think there is a deep-rooted American desire to remove unnecessary complexity in life. At least for me and those close to me there is such a desire. It's anecdotal, but there it is.

And that may be the path to deurbanization. It is only my career that holds me to the city. If the bottom fell out of the market for my skillset, I would leave the city and never return. And I think a lot of folks feel similarly.

With the rise of the Internet and with things like online retailing and 3d printing, and other things... it is possible to enjoy the benefits of an industrialized civilization without necessarily living in massive hives of human beings, where all sorts of societal ills fester and breed.

Maybe that's the way forward, and getting people out of these hives will open the eyes of some folks.

And maybe I'm being overly optimistic.

toto said...

Given the historical fact that 95% of the U.S. population in 1790 lived in places of less than 2,500 people, it is unlikely that the Founding Fathers were concerned about presidential candidates campaigning and winning only in big cities.

The presidential election system, using the 48 state winner-take-all method or district winner method of awarding electoral votes used by 2 states, that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers. It is the product of decades of change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by states of winner-take-all or district winner laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

With the current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), it could only take winning a bare plurality of popular votes in the 11 most populous states, containing 56% of the population of the United States, for a candidate to win the Presidency with less than 22% of the nation's votes!

A presidential candidate could lose with 78%+ of the popular vote and 39 states.

The biggest cities are almost exactly balanced out by rural areas in terms of population and partisan composition.

16% of the U.S. population lives outside the nation's Metropolitan Statistical Areas. Rural America has voted 60% Republican. None of the 10 most rural states matter now.

16% of the U.S. population lives in the top 100 cities. They voted 63% Democratic in 2004.
The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities (going as far down as Arlington, TX) is only 15% of the population of the United States.

Suburbs divide almost exactly equally between Republicans and Democrats.

Tim Turner said...

I don't know. Don't Oregonians and Coloradans decry the influx of liberals from other states? (I'm looking at you, California.)

If liberalism is a disease, shouldn't we let the denizens of Detroit, San Francisco, New York City, Atlanta, etc. stew in the crock pots of crime, bankruptcy, incivility and decay that are of their own making?

Just a thought. I'm sure there are valid counter-arguments. I live too close to San Francisco and am hung over after having spent another night cowering in my bedroom exurb with computer baseball.

Scott said...

I'm with Tim.

Let them win in 80-90% landslides inside their cities, at least it improves the odds outside. Bunching up is bad strategy when 51% wins.

Cities also tend to be places high on problems (and low in fertility). They can have 'em.