American politicians love to boast that the United States is the greatest democracy in the world. But a little humility is necessary. The way the United States elects its presidents is not the method a self-respecting democracy should use to choose its head of state, as our opinion points out. Electoral college system holds us hostage to the whims of an increasingly small part of the electorate.
A new report from the Washington Post tracing the modern trajectory of the Electoral College has the latest sobering data and finds that the 2024 White House race is “likely to target a smaller proportion of Americans than at any time in the modern era, despite the massive increase in spending due to online fundraising.” »
But a quick refresher on our electoral system before we look at how bad these numbers are: Under the Electoral College, American voters do not directly elect the president but rather choose a set of state-specific electors to represent their vote. The distribution of voters is not entirely proportional to state population and greatly overrepresents the voting power of citizens in small states. And because of the winner-take-all system for voters in all states except Maine and Nebraska, presidential candidates consider states that consistently lean toward one party not worth their time. ‘engage.
Before our polarized era, White House candidates ignored a large portion of the citizenry, while engaging with a large portion of them: as the Post explains, political scientists Daron R. Shaw, Scott Althaus and Costas Panagopoulos found that between 1952 and 1980, presidents targeted 26 states on average during their campaigns. That number has dropped since then, and in the last election, Republicans and Democrats running for president focused on just 10 states and two congressional districts. In that early era, presidential campaigns targeted areas that covered about 3 in 4 Americans, but by 2020, that figure had fallen to 1 in 4. And the situation risks getting worse: “If the major parties don’t run in Florida in 2024, as is widely expected, only 18 percent of Americans would live on the battlefields,” the Post reports.
It’s a grim statistic. The overwhelming majority of American voters are transformed into spectators in their own republic. How can we consider ourselves a great democracy – or even a functioning democracy – when less than a fifth of voters live in areas where their individual vote plays a decisive role in a presidential election and therefore counts for more than that of so many? others? Can we consider ourselves a democracy if this same system allows the popular vote to be overridden by an unrepresentative distribution of voters, as has happened twice in the last six elections?
In addition to being undemocratic, our system also narrows our political horizons. A handful of states, disproportionately located in the Midwest, are becoming central to the political calculations of presidential candidates. The idiosyncratic demographic, political, and economic characteristics of states like Wisconsin or Michigan disproportionately determine the type of political speeches White House candidates make, even though they represent only a small part of the experience American. (All the pablum about non-coastal states representing exclusively “real America” wouldn’t work if we had a true one-vote-per-person system.) Democrats’ preoccupation with winning the Rust Belt tends to make them more cautious towards certain progressive policies. proposals than they would if states like California and New York had voting representation that matched their populations. In other words, our idiosyncratic electoral system sabotages Democrats’ ability to present some of the biggest ideas to solve our social problems.
There are a number of explanations for the historical design of the electoral college system, including suspicion of popular democracy And successful lobbying of slave states to strengthen their influence with the national electorate. Whatever its origins, it is clear that today it constitutes an obstacle to the expression of popular will. Americans should demand that the system to be discarded in favor of a truly democratic electoral system.