Saturday, November 15, 2008

College Life, Redux

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Quantum of Solace, the new James Bond movie, is much better than the reviewers make it out to be. I think it was in the low 70% range on Rotten Tomatoes, but most people have said that it's not that good or that you can wait for DVD. Is it as good as Casino Royale? No, but it's much closer than I thought it would be. It's setting the series up for the next installment, but it's a fine film in its own right.
    • I also watched the movie Street Fight this morning on Netflix's Watch Instantly feature. Nominated for the 2005 Best Documentary Oscar, it follows young Newark City Councilman Cory Booker on his run for mayor in 2002. He goes up against an established and ruthless political machine that will stop at nothing to make sure they stay in power. It's compelling and tense and it's fascinating in light of our recent election and the themes of change and race in politics. If you watch this (or see Booker on last week's episode of Bill Maher, though that doesn't give the ending of the movie away), you'll agree that Booker could very well be the second African-American president. It would be a travesty if Obama doesn't offer him the HUD Secretary position.
  • Defending the Electoral College:
    • Okay, so someone cut and paste the defense of the National Popular Vote Movement into the comments yesterday. I could find a similar defense of the Electoral College and paste it here, but I'm going to offer my own analysis:
      • First off, the winner of the popular vote has not lost the election in one out of every 14 elections. There have been 56 presidential elections, but this has only legitimately (for the popular vote argument) occurred two times. 1824 just doesn't count. Neither candidate won a majority of the electoral vote, so the House of Representatives decided the presidency. Also, because the popular vote didn't count, not every state recorded it and therefore you can't use the national number. 1876 was decided under curious circumstances. Tilden led Hayes in the electoral vote as well as the popular vote, but it's believed that a deal was cut to end Reconstruction in exchange for Hayes winning the presidency. So that, again, can't count because it's not as easy as one person winning popular and another winning electoral. So we're left with 1888 and 2000. Twice in American history. Not exactly the kind of frequency that makes you want to run around changing the Constitution.
      • It was said that there are other elections where a small change could have resulted in a popular vote win and an electoral college loss. Let's look at 1888 and 2000 to see what changes could have occurred there. In 1888, Cleveland beat Harrison by 0.8% in the popular and lost the electoral. He won by around 90,500 votes. So if 0.4% of the population had voted differently, Harrison would have won the popular vote as well. In 2000, Gore won the the popular vote by 0.5%. So if 0.25% of the population had voted differently (or if 0.9% of the people who voted for Nader voted instead for Bush), Dubya would have won the popular vote. We're not talking about anybody convincingly winning the popular vote and losing the election.
      • I'm as blue a Democrat as possible, but I call foul because Democrats have an extraordinary built-in advantage in the popular vote. I'll look at this a few ways. Let's look at the 2008 blue states without any swing ones (so, CA, CT, DC, DE, HI, IL, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, NJ, NY, OR, PA, RI, VT, WA, WI) and Obama pulled around 35.3 million votes this year. Look at the red states similarly (AL, AK, AR, GA, ID, KS, KY, LA, MS, NE-1, NE-3, ND, OK, SC, SD, TE, TX, UT, WY) and McCain pulled 17.4 million votes. I'm not even counting GA (2 million for McCain) as a swing state, which it may have been and will be in 2012. That's 17.4 million votes total out of his base and Obama pulled 7.2 million out of CA alone. Second, let's look at this map of the counties that Obama won. That's insane! He won a tiny number of counties, but they were the most population-dense counties in the country, from NYC to LA to the DC 'burbs to the Chicago area to Houston, and so on.
      • Let's look at the 100 largest counties, according to population estimates from the 2000 census. I used CNN's fantastic Election Center to get the vote totals by county (New England sucks because you have to add up towns to get county totals) and came up with this chart. Of the 100 largest counties in the U.S., Obama won a ridiculous 88. He banked around 30.4 million votes out of his 67.1 million total. He won those counties over McCain by 62.3% to 37.7%. 127.5 million Americans voted this year and 48.8 were in those 100 counties. Of the remaining 78.7 million, Obama would only need 42.4% to get 50%-plus-one of the total popular vote. If we look at the states that don't have any of those 100 counties (via this chart), Obama grabbed 8.7 million votes. Take those out and he only needs 38.7% of the remaining votes of the non-100 largest counties (in mostly friendly territory, mind you -- the 100 largest counties fall 22-9 in blue states). The population centers in the U.S. favor a Democrat way too much for a National Popular Vote to allow for the two-party system that we have right now.
      • Look at all of those numbers again. The boilerplate National Popular Vote stuff mentions that, "Under a national popular vote, a Democratic presidential candidate could no longer write off Kansas (with four congressional districts) because it would matter if he lost Kansas with 37% of the vote, versus 35% or 40%." That's just absurd and naive. You're telling me that Obama should fight over 2% of the 1.2 million voters in Kansas (that's 24,000 votes) when the Census says there are 10 million people in Los Angeles County and only 3 million votes or so were cast? He'd ignore not only Kansas but a whole lot of other states he campaigned in this year and he would work his ass off getting out the vote in L.A. Or NYC. Or Chicago. The middle of the country just wouldn't matter.
      • Which brings me to my last point on why the National Popular Vote wouldn't give more face time to the smaller states. The internet has allowed campaigns to be everywhere for a very small cost. Obama's denial of public financing this year gave him a huge financial edge and allowed him to advertise nationally at will. In effect, he is campaigning in any number of smaller states as efficiently as he would be able to given limited time for rallies and appearances.
      • So, in closing, check the assumptions before you bring that stuff into my house, son!


S said...

FYI. The postings explaining National Popular Vote came from a female. I'm not your son.

Under the National Popular Vote plan, the focus of the campaigns and media in the months prior to the presidential elections will be on polls of the national popular vote, not on state-by-state polls from a handful of closely divided battleground states. There will be no red states and no blue states, only the United States.

Under the current system, voters in three-quarters of the states are not politically relevant in presidential elections; a second-place candidate may occupy the White House; and every vote is not equal. Ultimately, the choice is whether it is more important for the winner in a particular state to receive the state’s electoral votes or for the winner of the entire country to win the White House.

Josh said...

The "son" was vernacular.

Under the National Popular Vote plan, voters in the vast majority of the country would still not be politically relevant. A candidate would spend their time on GOTV in the population centers, as the numbers show they could and should. Especially as the U.S. moves towards majority minority status, the cities, suburbs, and exurbs would continue to become more and more powerful in determining the popular vote. Again, I'm as Democrat as it gets, but I'm not willing to support a system that gives them/us that much of a built-in advantage.

Roy said...

Frankly, I take issue with a bunch of things with the National Popular Vote argument.

It would help absolutely not at all in making voters in less populous areas "more relevant" than they are right now. Even beyond Josh's great points about candidates doing GOTV in the population centers, there is the simple fact of time and opportunity. Even with mass media changes, the one thing candidates do not have more of during a general election is time. Even under a NPV (yes, I am marginalizing it with initials), a candidate will spend the time in the places where changing minds can have the most effect. Think of it this way; GOTV is focused on getting people who already support you but may not vote to vote. NPV arguments are based more on swaying voters minds. Even if a candidate seeks to sway voters minds all over instead of just GOTV in cities, they will do it where the sway-ables are large enough to make it worth their while. A Democratic candidate would still largely ignore (absent the 50 state strategy) those smaller states and just focus sway arguments in Texas, which is a red state with enough population to make it worth the while. Frankly, instead of a state by state focus under the current Electoral College model, the NPV would create an even more lopsided population / city center bias, simply because the candidates could not afford to spend the few fleeting hours needed to hold an event in such a sparse area; for what, a dozen votes? Over spending the same hours in Indianapolis or Pittsburgh and changing 10,000?

Even more important is the fact that voters in those 3/4 states are VERY POLITICALLY RELEVANT. When I count to 270, the numbers 1, 2, and 3 are just as important as the numbers 268, 269, and 270. A Democratic candidate may largely currently ignore California and New York in the general election as much as a Republican candidate may Texas and Georgia, but it doesn't make those states, or their voters, irrelevant. You can't get to 270 with the swing states without each sides base support states. As we saw this year, as those base states become closer, they a) get a lot more attention, and b) spell doom for the candidate that needed to count on them. How did Mondale do without his base states? Would Bush have won in 2000 without Texas? Of course not. So how were voters there irrelevant? This is my fundamental problem with the whine of this NPV "NO FAIR!" argument.

If anything, what the complaints of the NPV people seem to really lead toward as a more logical conclusion would be to not do polling. Every vote would become oh so relevant if we had no idea what a state, or the nations, support levels for each candidates looked like. I also might kiss a toad too, so let's exist in the real world now. The hurt I see in so many people who argue for the NPV is either residual heartbreak from 2000, a dire unfulfilled need for attention from a party candidate (I want a rally in Idaho!) or despair from living in a state opposed to their own way of thinking. There are real things that real people can and have been doing to address real issues with real solutions.

1. Move. Really. Some people have moved to states that think more like them politically. Others have moved to swing states so they can have a 'more' important vote. Not something I would do, but easier to do.

2. Work. Really Hard. There are a lot of people out there working hard to turn their own state into a battleground no matter how long the odds. People trying to turn New Jersey 'red; people burning the midnight oil to turn Oklahoma 'blue'. Much as you may roll your eyes at them, they aren't much different from those who were working hard 8-10 years ago in Virgina and Colorado, or even those who worked so hard for a Republican Governor in Maryland.

3. Study. As in your unbiased history. The "swing" states of the times change over the years. The Southern Strategy. The Wall Street Conservatives. Population shifts. One parties current base can be another parties former base. To judge the American election systems based upon the last 1, or 3, or 6 Presidential races is as unfair and short sighted as judging the entirety of the World's governments over all existence on the basis of America's government. It's way too small a sample size.

Stop being so small / narrow minded. Your vote is exactly as important as you think it is! You effect as much in your life and the lives of others in your vote for Rep., Gov., State Senator, and County Councilman as you do President. The mere fact that we have these votes to cast shows just how important every vote in America already is.