Back in 2000, a widely held pre-election suspicion was that George W. Bush was going to win the popular vote, but that Al Gore was going to triumph in the Electoral College.
Republicans were setting the stage for complaining they wuz robbed, while Democrats pointed out, with some justice, but little passion, that if victory was instead based upon who won the popular vote, the election would have been run very differently by both candidates.
At any rate, exactly the opposite occurred, but by the time the dust cleared, the question was almost entirely subsumed by the matter of Florida.
The sole role the popular vote played was to give Gore a bit of moral high-ground in resisting pressure to throw in the towel.
A more long-term impact was to turn Electoral College reform into a partisan issue, when it is really nothing of the sort.
I am a strong supporter of the National Popular Vote Plan (NPV), and rather than explaining it here, I will refer you to this link where I discuss it in detail.
Suffice it to say, a race where every vote counted as much as every other would be run very differently than one targeted almost exclusively to a few discrete “swing states.”
Which issues were addressed and how would change very much, and I think for the better.
Which brings us to today’s prescient observations from Jonathan Chait:
A week after the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney has wiped out President Obama’s lead in the national polls, but still appears to trail in most swing states. Obama, in particular, continues to lead every poll in Ohio, which is developing into his firewall. The apparent split between the national vote and the electoral college has some analysts, like Nate Silver, groping for an explanation, but the answer seems fairly obvious to me: Swing states have been soaked in political information for months, with round-the-clock advertising, campaigning, and local news coverage of candidate love-bombing. The non-swing majority of America hasn’t. New information from the debates is more likely to change your mind if you just tuned in to the Denver debate than if you had been hiding under your sofa while Obama and Romney pounded down your front door.
So one way to look at this is that Obama has merely received an October scare. Romney won what was, by public opinion measures at least, the biggest debate victory in presidential campaign history, and yet he still hasn’t gotten over the top…If Obama does pull out a win despite losing the electoral college, perhaps this would finally incent Republicans to abandon their opposition to reforms like the National Popular Vote.
This, despite my derision for the Panglossian optimism displayed by the likes of Hackshaw, is why I believe Obama still looks like he is going to win (though if a few more disasters occur, I might revise that opinion).
Given the smug way they governed in the aftermath of 2000’s non-mandate (after eight years of dissing Bill Clinton as a minority President), the excuses why it didn’t matter offered by the likes of George Will, the contempt for Electoral College reform displayed in the GOP platform (and the willful ignorance deployed against it), I would almost luxuriate in the opportunity to watch the entire party pull a Mitt, and have to eat their words without admitting it.
Nonetheless, I am pulled from the precipice of wishing for such an eventuality by the thought of how those hypocritical bastards would exploit it, as well as by what it would probably auger in down-ballot races.
Anyway, a lot could still happen between now and the election. As Mario Cuomo liked to say, “between now and then, a Pope could be born.”
But if I had to bet today, I would bet on an Obama electoral vote victory, without a popular vote mandate.
I’m not wishing for it, but watching the Tea Party call for electoral reform would be quite a silver lining.
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