Election Predictions, the Electoral College & Lessons from AbroadBy: hawkgrrrl
The blessed day has finally arrived! The long awaited day after which we can stop caring about the election because it will be over, one way or another. Which is eerily similar to what we thought in 2000 . . .
Living abroad, I have been exposed to other countries’ voting practices. In both Australia and Singapore, voting is mandatory. Don’t vote, and you will be tracked down and fined. Some Australians living abroad deliberately choose to pay the fine because it’s less trouble than voting. Given that we can’t even properly count our votes in the US and people get upset when identification is required, I don’t see how this would work for us. Perhaps if they put the IRS in charge of the voting process rather than the octogenarians at the local rest home.
Week before last, I was in China. Our tour guide explained that the voting process in China is entirely done by the district representatives, not citizens. He said that as a result, there is seldom change, and people feel less invested in the outcomes of elections. Hawkmaaan and I explained that the US system is really a combination of popular vote at the state level and that the electoral college dictates the winner. He found this idea confusing. Why not just let the people’s votes decide?
Like most non-Americans, our guide was very pro-Obama. A change in US presidents feels risky to other countries because the future president is an unknown and therefore unpredictable. He really didn’t know much about Romney, about the impacts of the economy on US citizens, or about domestic policy in the US. We also didn’t hear any concern about the tough talk toward China from anyone we met there; even the newspaper was soft on this topic. Our guide seemed surprised that the election was close or might unseat the incumbent.
In China, we saw many messenger bags and tee shirts with a picture of Obama in a communist uniform and the title “Oba Mao” (also one that said “Maobama”). Based on conversations with our tour guide and shop owners, this was considered a compliment, showing kinship with our president, not a criticism of his policies.** It was just further evidence that citizens of foreign nations view US presidents through the lens of their own immediate national interests, not through the lens of the average American citizen.
Last week I was in Sydney. I was chatting with a colleague from Hong Kong who speculated that Hurricane Sandy would impact the election. I said it could logistically (voting procedures) but that I doubted it would in terms of garnering more votes as the states most directly impacted are already blue. Interestingly, he mentioned Romney’s gaffes which have been widely publicized. I explained that the best definition of “gaffe” I have heard is “when a politician accidentally speaks the truth.” He also observed that Obama won all but the first debate, whereas US reporting mostly showed the later debates as a tie.
I also attended a dinner with a business partner who is Belgian but lived in Indonesia for many years and is now a dual citizen in Australia. He predicted a Romney win but strongly preferred Obama. He had the notion that Romney is too stupid to be president. I pointed out that Romney was Harvard educated, a former governor, and a highly successful businessman. Many Aussies read the Financial Times, a UK publication; this week, Ian Duncan Smith, leader of the Tory party, has lambasted the UK media for its unwarranted demonisation of Romney.
“I think the American election’s been appallingly reported here in the UK. “The demonisation of Mitt Romney over here has been appalling. Whilst he may have faults – all politicians have faults – this is a guy who actually ran a state very well, he got debts and deficit down. Whatever else you say about this man he’s not stupid, and he’s made out to be stupid over here. And he’s quite capable of running stuff.”
Throughout the election, different polls have predicted different outcomes, but most are predicting a close race. Most polls and pundits predictably favour their own candidate, making me (and many others) very skeptical about polling accuracy. Because the race is so close, there are two controversial predictions that actually have some chance of happening: an electoral tie, and a second race in which one candidate wins the popular vote and the other wins the electoral vote. Let’s take a look at these possibilities briefly.
- Romney & Obama Tie. A few have even been so bold as to predict a 50/50 chance of a tied electoral vote: 269 electoral votes for each candidate. In an electoral tie, the decision goes to the House. In our current scenario, the House comprises 26 Republican states, 11 Democrat, and 13 too close to call. A tie would favour a Romney win. The most likely tie scenarios are if among the 11 battleground states, Romney wins all but VA and CO or if Romney wins all but OH and NH. Some other tie scenarios are presented here.
- Popular vs. Electoral Vote. Both candidates have already lined up their lawyers in case this happens. As most of us will remember, there was a lot of tension as Gore’s lawyers fought for the presidency. The way it currently looks, the risk is Obama losing the popular vote but winning the electoral vote, what some see as a sort of payback for Gore’s loss in 2000.
Should We Throw Out the Electoral College?
Many have said the electoral college is antiquated and should be eliminated in favour of the popular vote. If the electoral vote contradicts the popular vote again, it could drive this change. There are pros and cons to the electoral college:
- Regional interests. It acknowledges the regional diversity of the United States and forces candidates to be aware of interests in a variety of locations in the US, not just large population centers. Although this was originally done to give slave states sufficient representation, arguably a bad aim, it has over time morphed into ensuring that candidates pay attention to more than urban, coastal states’ interests. On the downside, this has resulted in less representation of minority and female votes as they tend to cluster in urban areas while rural votes tend to favour white, conservative candidates.
- Bipartisanship. It encourages a two-party system. Obviously, two parties are better than one. However, it also has the disadvantage of making more than two parties essentially untenable in our election process. A third party candidate is so unlikely to win an electoral vote that s/he is only capable of “spoiling” the election for the most similar candidate in the two main parties.
- Voter turnout. One of the main reasons to have an electoral college is to encourage participation from all citizens, not just those in large population centers. However, a downside is (as we’ve seen in the recent election) that only those in the battleground states really matter. So the electoral college actually has the opposite effect: reducing voter turnout in states that are firmly red or blue. If a tree falls in the forest or a Democrat votes in Utah (or a Republican votes in New York or California), nobody can hear it. The real landslide wins require flipping states that have a traditional voting record aligned with a single party as Reagan achieved in 1980 (winning 44 states including his native California).
- Tally accuracy. Historically, the difficulty of accurately tallying votes and the risk of fraud has made retaining the electoral college desirable. Clearly, given the historical voter accuracy issues in Florida, this is still a risk even when states are responsible for voter tallying, but taking voter tallies to a national level and putting responsibility in one central group centralizes the risk which multiplies the effect of an instance of incompetence or fraud. Keeping the electoral college splits the risk.
Why Can’t We Be Friends?
Regardless the solution, the partisanship in this election is a huge turn off to me. The extreme charges from both the left (he’s a liar! he’s Thurston Howell III! he’s heartless! he belongs to a cult!) and the right (he’s a Muslim! he’s not even a citizen! he’s a communist!) are distasteful, unsophisticated, and uninformed. So is the making a mountain out of a molehill that has gone on far too long (binders full of women, rape can be shut down by a woman’s body, horses & bayonets, the Big Bird scuffle). The nation fails to have a mature political process when we settle for name calling instead of listening to other views and when we as citizens sit smugly in our political Facebook echo chambers. We show our immaturity as a nation when the media (at both ends of the spectrum) fails to ask the tough questions of either candidate; what is the point of a free press if that press picks sides in a schoolyard fight? These are all evidence of partisan arrogance and a lack of gravitas. The current economy calls for humility, open-mindedness and serious solutions.
All right, let’s see what you think.
- What’s your prediction for the election outcome? Think fast, or we may already know the outcome!
- Should the electoral college be done away with? If so, why? If not, why not? If there is a split between popular and electoral vote again, would this change your answer?
- How do we heal the partisan divide in this country? Is it possible? If we can’t heal it, how do we reduce it?
**In fact, the Mandarin characters below the name “Oba Mao” said “Chairman Mao Thinks President Obama is Handsome.”