David Frum

01.30.13

Could Abolishing the Electoral College Help Republicans?

Nate Cohn dangles the idea at the New Republic:

The Electoral College, where most states' electoral votes are allocated on a winner-take-all basis, privileges candidates with a broad base of geographic support. A candidate who counts on overwhelming support in one section of the country risks winning the popular vote without winning the most electoral votes; conversely, a candidate that barely wins a large number of states could conceivably triumph without winning the popular vote.

To take an extreme example, imagine that a Republican won 90 percent of the vote in the South, but 30 percent of the vote in every other state. In this scenario, Republicans would decisively lose the Electoral College while carrying the popular vote by double-digits.

So the GOP should embrace scrapping an institution because we might win a narrow victory in 2016 by sweeping Appalachia and the deep south? Got it.

Cohn fortunately follows this cynical paragraph with the best reason I've seen for preserving the Electoral College (emphasis mine):

Fans of the Electoral College system see the anti-regionalist bias as a virtue, something that requires American pols to avoid the sort of regional campaigning that can split a country apart.

But what's clear is that, over the past decade, this aspect of the Electoral College has advantaged Democrats. Since 2000, Republicans' biggest gains have been made in a very particular region: Appalachia and the inland South, where Barack Obama’s 2012 performance registered as the worst of any Democratic candidate in decades. But these gains haven’t helped them in the Electoral College: Every state of the highland South already leaned Republican in 2000, so additional GOP gains haven’t yielded additional electoral votes.

With the GOP all but certain to hold the House until after the next census, the Electoral College is one of few strong incentives to get its affairs in order.

That anti-regionalist bias means the GOP must find ways to appeal to broath swaths of the electorate across the nation. 2016's Republican candidate can't simply appeal to states in the south, great plains and interior west. To win, you've got to also be competitive in states like Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Iowa. That reason alone will force conservatives to the center in the next presidential election. (That is, if we intend to win.)

Those same institutional pressures rescued helped bring about Bill Clinton in 1992. The Electoral College may be imperfect, but its moderating influence on the American politic should not be laughed off too easily.

In short, Republicans could well benefit by scrapping the Electoral College in 2016, but at far too high a price. This is a bad idea. Let's leave it in the pages of magazines and never in a party platform.