Sunday, 7 October 2012

Reform US Electoral System

Predicting anything is tricky, as anyone gambling on sports events such as .... oh I don't know, golfs 'Ryder Cup', will have found out last week.  But usually there is some sort of form when it comes to politics. Opinion polls are often very good indicators of what the people of a country are thinking (well, in true democracies .... not the Russian kind), and so we can take a punt on predicting the results.

This map for example is my entirely spurious prediction for the US Presidential 2012 election next month (Obama must be favourite this time, incumbant always has the edge in a tight contest, if they are up for the fight).

US Presidential Race Prediction 2012

Now, whether this prediction is right or wrong, the fact is that this map is, give or take three or four swing states, going to be much how the voting tendencies in the US generally are. Whats striking about it is that the Democrats simply have to win the four West coast states, Florida and the small old North east coastal states, and the Presidency is theirs. This leaves the twenty eight states plus Alaska, that in fact represent the vast geographical majority of the continental US landmass, disenfranchised.

Lets be honest, its not healthy for the long term viability of the state of politics, for vast swathes of the populace to feel that their voice is ignored ... people in those states where their votes seem pointless, may start getting the idea that they need a new country - secession is always a possibility - see Scotland as possible example in 2014.

But what if there was a new system to replace the current system of electoral college votes, which can leave the US electoral map looking, well like the map above, and carry the risk that the winner of the most actual votes cast (aka the 'Popular Vote'), not winning the US Election? Well, as you might have guessed, there are lists of how the results might have looked on a straight popular voting results .... it makes interesting reading: for instance did you know that Abraham Lincoln, the Republican 'Uber' President, only had 39.65% of the popular vote (admittedly under different voting circumstances than today).

However in more modern times (post 19th century), the popular vote has thrown up a number of Presidents who have either not got 50%+ of the popular vote, or have actually lost the election under that method.

US Presidents With Less than 50% Popular Vote - post 19th century

Of course where there is a reasonably serious third candidate in the contest (such as Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996), then not getting 50%+ plus is not a necessarily a sign that a President lacked popular legitimacy, but in the US its essentially a two horse race, so a winner should really get more than 50% every time, or nearly every time. In fact on only four occasions has the actual winner of a US Presidential contest, not also had a plurality of the popular vote. e.g. Looking at this list, under whatever way you look at it, George W Bush should have lost in 2000, where Al Gore not only got the most popular votes, he also got a larger proportion, 48.4%, of the total vote ...... except under the current collegiate system (and a few hanging Florida chads).

An interesting sub story in this is that Richard Nixon was such a narrow loser in 1960, and such a narrow winner in 1968, that he anticipated another close race in 1972, and authorised the 'Watergate break ins' to bug the Democrat headquarters .... in fact had he trusted to the extra votes that the authority of the office he held would give him, then he, like George W Bush in 2004, would have expected that he would win his second term in office without the need for the buggings.

In fact ironically, he got one of the highest proportions of the popular vote ever attained by any US President .... behind only Lyndon B. Johnson with 61.05 % in 1964 and Franklin D. Roosevelt who had 60.80% in 1936 ...... how strange is fate sometimes? 

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