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Pennsylvanians oppose congressional district system - but also status quo

by Rob Richie, Katie P. Kelly // Published September 29, 2011
Poll numbers released this week by Quinnipiac University indicate that Pennsylvania voters prefer the state’s current winner-take-all rules for allocating Electoral College votes over Senate majority leader Dominic Pileggi’s proposal to allocate electoral votes by congressional district by a  margin of 52% to 40% . That finding is important as the legislature heads into hearings on the proposal next Tuesday.

But some journalists have wrongly suggested that the public endorses the current system. The reality is that the pollsters didn’t ask the obvious question: would you instead support Pennsylvania moving the nation toward a national popular vote for president, guaranteeing that the candidate with the most votes nationwide wins?

We know what Pennsylvania voters would say. This poll was asked in a different form in Pennsylvania earlier this year and, in direct comparison, in several other states in recent years. Indeed, it’s not even close. 

An April 2011 poll by Dr. Terry Madonna from Franklin and Marshall University revealed that 2 out 3 Pennsylvanians believe the president should be the candidate who “gets the most votes in all 50 states” and that a clear majority of PA residents from all political parties and all regions of the state favor this approach. Here is a comparison of the polls.

2011 Pennsylvania Polling Numbers

 

 

 
 
 

 

% Favor Current System

% Favor Congressional Districts

% Favor NPV

Don't Know

 

Quinnapiac Poll, Sept. 2011

52

40

n/a

7

 

Franklin and Marshall Poll, April 2011

31

n/a

64

5

 
           

Voters in several other states have been asked directly to compare all three methods: allocating electoral votes by congressional district, allocating electoral votes by winner-take-all statewide or guaranteeing victory for the national popular vote. You can see the exact questions and demographic breakdowns at the National Popular Vote site, but here’s a summary:

POLL DATE

STATE

 

 

 

May 2009

Idaho

PREFER NPV

PREFER CURRENT

PREFER DISTRICT

 

Overall

71%

13%

16%

 

Republican

70%

18%

12%

 

Democrat

77%

12%

11%

 

Other

66%

17%

16%

January 2009

Maine

PREFER NPV

PREFER CURRENT

PREFER DISTRICT

 

Overall

71%

8%

21%

 

Republican

65%

7%

27%

 

Democrat

77%

8%

15%

 

Other

68%

11%

22%

May 2010

Massachusetts

PREFER NPV

PREFER CURRENT

PREFER DISTRICT

 

Overall

68%

16%

16%

 

Republican

49%

23%

28%

 

Democrat

80%

12%

8%

 

Other

65%

16%

19%

January 2011

Nebraska

PREFER NPV

PREFER CURRENT

PREFER DISTRICT

 

Overall

57%

16%

27%

 

Republican

53%

20%

27%

 

Democrat

65%

9%

26%

 

Other

51%

17%

32%

May 2009

Oklahoma

PREFER NPV

PREFER CURRENT

PREFER DISTRICT

 

Overall

77%

10%

13%

 

Republican

76%

12%

12%

 

Democrat

80%

6%

15%

 

Other

70%

17%

13%

May 2009

Washington

PREFER NPV

PREFER CURRENT

PREFER DISTRICT

 

Overall

73%

11%

16%

 

Republican

61%

17%

22%

 

Democrat

82%

8%

10%

 

Other

72%

11%

18%


Not only does state after state show a similar finding, but it’s strong across the spectrum. Idaho, for example, is a Republican stronghold, in which John McCain defeated Barack Obama by 62% to 36% in 2008. Yet, support for a national popular vote remains consistent across party lines. Findings are generally similar where this question has been asked, and we're sure it would be about the same in Pennsylvania, despite its recent (and perhaps fleeting) history as a swing state.

So let’s be clear. The congressional district allocation system is unpopular in Pennsylvania, but so is the status quo. We urge Pennsylvania lawmakers to join with other states to guarantee what the public really wants: a national popular vote for president, guaranteeing election of the candidate who wins the most votes in all 50 states and District of Columbia.