Posted on March 01, 2006I've been involved in an important effort to establish a national popular vote for president through action in the states, an important and timely reform plan launched recently. See: www.nationalpopularvote.com.
One of FairVote's goals over the past year has been to draw attention to what's made the Electoral College system more destructive than ever before to basic democratic principles of equality and majority rule. To that end, we've released a new report called Presidential Election Inequality, available in hard copy and on-line at www.fairvote.org/presidential.
As oral arguments take place in the Texas redistricting case and we see the likely hyperbole about the impact of gerrymandering on political competition, I thought it valuable to share one insight from our report -- one that supports FairVote's argument that redistricting practices certainly have an anti-competitiveness impact, but a far more limited one than many backers suggest.
Why use presidential races? Presidential elections provide helpful insight into the issue of redistricting and competition due to:
- the bizarre nature of our state-by-state Electoral College system, where the results in 51 separate contests are important and, at least in battlegrounds, contested
- the major party candidates clearly have great access to resources, so campaign spending cannot explain the failure of one party to make inroads in another party's territory
- states don't change their borders, meaning that changes in results over time are not due to gerrymandering, but to changes in voting patterns.
This data shows that the number of competitive states in presidential has dropped both steadily and sharply since 1988. Given that congressional districts tend to be more homogenous (more definitively rural or urban), these patterns are all the more pronounced in many districts.
The report has plenty of good data and analysis (again, at www.fairvote.org/presidential), and I have a spreadsheet for the 44-year period that I'd be happy to send to anyone who's interested in working with it. Here's a summary of one trend below -- note that the chart also shows why the case for a national popular vote is very strong for both our biggest states and our smallest states, although every category of state is in general doing poorly.
What does this mean for FairVote? It means that if we as a people believe in the principle of voter equality and the importance of voters being able to hold representatives accountable, we should have a national popular vote for president (ideally by majority vote with instant runoff voting) and some method of proportional voting in legislatures that, like a national popular vote, doesn't consign many voters to no-choice, meaningless elections.
Of the 11 states with 15 or more electors in 2004:
1960 - 10 of these 11 states within a 9% partisan division (all but Georgia) 1976 - 10 of these 11 states within a 9% partisan division (all but Georgia) 2004 - only 4 of these 11 states within a 9% partisan division
Of 13 states with 9 to 15 electors in 2004:
1960 - 7 of these 13 states within a 9% partisan division 1976 - 6 of these 13 states within a 9% partisan division 2004 - 6 of these 13 states within a 9% partisan division
Of 14 states with 9 to 15 electors:
1960 - 8 of these 14 states within a 9% partisan division 1976 - 8 of these 14 states within a 9% partisan division 2004 - 5 of these 14 states within a 9% partisan division
Of 13 states (including DC) with 4 or fewer electors
1960 - 6 of these 13 states within a 9% partisan division 1976 - 5 of these 13 states within a 9% partisan division 2004 - 1 of these 13 states within a 9% partisan division