What If Every State Had Used The District Method In 2008 ?

By Doug Mataconis | Related entries in Barack, McCain

As I’ve said in the past, I am generally in favor of reforming the Electoral College system so that states allocate their voters based on what’s come to be called the District Method.

Under this method, candidates get one Electoral Vote for each Congressional District that they win in a particular state and the candidate who receives the most votes state-wide gets two more Electoral Votes. That’s the system that has been in use in Maine and Nebraska for many years now and it received some attention last year when Barack Obama managed to win one of Nebraska’s Electoral Votes by winning in one Congressional District.

Now, Congressional Quarterly is out with a study that shows what would have happened if every state allocated their Electoral Votes in this manner:

What if the 2008 presidential election had been re-run using a district-based system of awarding electoral votes — used only in two states — instead of the winner-take-all method that every other state uses?

The answer is that Barack Obama still would have beaten John McCain , though the Electoral College tally would have been closer than the actual 365-173 margin of victory.

According to a CQ Politics analysis, Obama would have beaten McCain 301-237 using a district-based system, under which a candidate receives two electoral votes for winning a state and one electoral vote for every congressional district he or she wins. Only Maine and Nebraska allocate electoral votes in this fashion.

The analysis found that Obama won 242 districts and McCain won 193 districts. Obama also posted another 59 electoral votes by carrying 28 states and the District of Columbia, which is entitled to three electoral votes under the 23rd Amendment. McCain would have received another 44 electoral votes as a result of winning 22 states.

Not a major change in the outcome, of course, thanks to Obama’s lead in the popular vote, but it’s one that more accurately reflects how the election turned out nationwide.

And what if we’d done it in 2000 ?

Well here’s how I think it would’ve turned out:

  1. Bush won 228 Congressional District, while Al Gore won 207 (Source here), so we start out at Bush 228 Gore 207.
  2. Bush also won 30 states (if you include Florida) to Gore’s 20 + D.C., (Source here)which would give Bush an additional 60 Electoral Votes to Gore’s additional 43.

Thus, that would have given Bush a total of 288 Electoral Votes to Gore’s 250. And, if you did give Florida to Gore, assuming no shift in the district allocation, the total would have been Bush 286 Gore 252. There would have been no hanging chads, no Constitutional crisis, no Bush v. Gore.

Sounds like another reason we should consider adopting this nationwide.


This entry was posted on Monday, March 23rd, 2009 and is filed under Barack, McCain. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

17 Responses to “What If Every State Had Used The District Method In 2008 ?”

  1. politicalpartypooper Says:

    Sounds like a great idea to me. But I’ll bet one party or the other will have some goofy reason to not support it.

  2. Simon Dodd Says:

    The only qualification that I’d propose is that I don’t like the locution of “we” should adopt this “nationwide.” This is an issue for the states to decide on, and while Congress can certainly cajole and coerce, it ought not. De facto interstate agreements relying on “triggering” mechanisms should also be examined carefully. If we do end up with it nationwide (and to the extent such a move might preserve the electoral college a little longer, I am for surrendering an inch to save a mile), it should be the result of parallel conduct by the states, not formal or informal central direction.

    Just to respond to he commenter above, this was proposed in California, and it was opposed by the Democrats because it would eliminate their lock on the California block vote. And, to be bipartisan about it, one assumes that if this were to be proposed in Texas, the GOP would oppose it for the same reasons. Partisan utility may or may not be a goofy reason, but what is goofy is that the opposition will feel obligated to make believe about their incentives; instead of being candid about partisan motives, they will make up some reason – which will probably be goofy – that purports to be neutral.

  3. Doug Mataconis Says:

    Simon, I do agree with you.

    I don’t think that Congress should mandate this and I am very skeptical of those interstate agreements that surround the so-called National Popular Vote Movement. For one thing, I don’t like the NPV as an idea since I think the Electoral College still has value. For another, there’s a very good case to be made that such interstate agreements without approval of Congress are unconstitutional.

    Personally, though, I’ve come to think that the District Method may be the one thing that saves the Electoral College from a populist onslaught. Although I will say this — if the result in 2000 didn’t create enough political momentum for a Constitutional Amendment to eliminate the Electoral College, then it’s likely that nothing will.

  4. kranky kritter Says:

    I think it would be a VERY GOOD adjustment to the existing system, one that would revitalize participation in the least purple and most moribund states. Electorally speaking.

    I don’t think Congress can or should mandate this. However, for it to happen, we’d probably need some sort of organizing group and maybe even a multi-state compact or agreement.

    Ordinarily, the big winner-take-all states could blunt this simply by staying as they are, making states with fewer electoral votes reluctant to “self-balkanize.”

    But these days, only FL among the 4 really big EV states is seriously contested. CA, TX, and NY are rubber stamps. Then the medium sized states are mostly contested pretty vigorously.

    So the challenge seems to rest with getting the small and medium small states, mostly reliably partisan, to vote to go with district apportionment. That’s a real challenge, because invariably each state’s legislature matches that state’s electoral proclivities.

  5. Justin Gardner Says:

    Making the electoral college even more granular is the exact opposite of what we need to be doing, not to mention is extremely skewed.

    Case in point…let’s take your Bush v. Gore situation. Gore still would have won the popular vote and yet lost the electoral by 30 points instead of tying? Also, Obama wins the popular by 9.5 million votes, but instead wins the electoral college by 70 instead of 190? That system clearly favors Republicans. It’s a complete non starter.

    The only way to level the playing field once and for all is go with a popular vote and get rid of any segmentation. That way every vote counts the same. Done and done.

  6. Ron Chusid Says:

    It isn’t valid to interpret past elections based upon this. Campaigns were run based upon the current rules. They would have behaved differently if they could have picked up electoral votes for winning individual Congressional districts. Candidates would have competed in Congressional districts of states where they were not competitive state wide and would have allocated resources differently in the states where they did compete. There is no way to say what the results would have been if they were playing under different rules.

  7. Doug Mataconis Says:

    Ron,

    You are correct that full implementation of the District Method would change the nature of Presidential campaigning, which is exactly why I support it.

    Justin,

    Unless you’re willing to take an eraser and get rid of all the state boundaries, the logic for the Electoral College is as compelling and correct as it was in 1787.

  8. J. Harden Says:

    The only way to level the playing field once and for all is go with a popular vote and get rid of any segmentation. That way every vote counts the same.

    Thereby demolishing our republic in favor of a pure democracy — so the rancid squalor of the urban welfare-state can forever dominate the political landscape and we can all be blessed with centuries of “community organizers” as our leaders.

  9. Nick Benjamin Says:

    District boundaries currently lead to bitter recriminations, nasty partisan BS, and lengthy court battles. Like that time half the Texas Senate fled to Oklahoma so the GOP couldn’t redistrict. Making it even more important for the parties to get favorable boundaries does not strike me as a good idea.

    Currently this reform benefits the GOP. In 2000 they dominated state governments, so they got to gerrymander more districts than we did. In Michigan, for example, the Republicans won 7 of 16 seats in 200. With their new gerrymander they won 9 of 15. There was no GOP wave in Michigan that year. But there were new district boundaries. So in practical terms all this reform will do is make the 2009 and 2010 state elections do or die. If either side actually succeeds they end up with a huge advantage in Presidential politics for a full decade.

    BTW in several states the winner-take-all method is clearly the best system for that individual state. Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida are big deals because a few hundred thousand votes in any of them switches dozens of electors. Lesser swing states (Iowa, Virginia, Michigan) also benefit. In other states it only benefits one party. But most Texans vote Republican so they keep winner-take-all.

  10. Nick Benjamin Says:

    Thereby demolishing our republic in favor of a pure democracy — so the rancid squalor of the urban welfare-state can forever dominate the political landscape and we can all be blessed with centuries of “community organizers” as our leaders.
    A pure democracy (in the classical sense) has no elected officials. There’s no Congress and no President. Everybody votes on everything. Literally. As long as Congresscritters are the only ones who vote on the budget we’re not a classical democracy.

    That’s why all 50 states have “Republican governments” as per Article 4, Section 4. All Governors are directly elected by popular vote.

  11. kranky kritter Says:

    Let’s get it straight folks. If you want to get rid of the electoral college, you’re all welcome to fight that fight.

    Fact is, the electoral college was a founding constitutional compromise approved by each and every state, and it can’t be blithely washed away. The only fair and reasonable way to change from the electoral college system is to have a constitutional convention or pass an amendment, and that’s very unlikely to happen.

    I know that progressives still steamed about Gore’s loss think that a comp[act can be passed to end around the electoral college, but I have 99.9% confidence that the states are not stupid enough to do this. And I have 100% confidence that if they do, it will be overturned due to issues of individual state sovereignty.

    Obviously redistricting is a closely related issue. The people need to do a much better job of keeping their elected leaders honest. We have to come up with a much better way to craft congressional districts.

  12. Nick Benjamin Says:

    Nobody’s trying to wash it away. They’re trying to nueter it. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to admit that it is technically different than abolishing the electoral College. And the law loves a technicality.

    As far as I can tell there is only one possible way to beat the Compact in Court. It doesn’t have Congressional approval, and Article 1, Section 10 says compacts are supposed to be approved by Congress. But that’s not going to be difficult to get if they’ve got 270 Electoral votes. It’s kinda hard for a Rep from a state in the Compact to oppose the Compact.

  13. Rich Says:

    Justin said:
    Case in point…let’s take your Bush v. Gore situation. Gore still would have won the popular vote and yet lost the electoral by 30 points instead of tying? Also, Obama wins the popular by 9.5 million votes, but instead wins the electoral college by 70 instead of 190? That system clearly favors Republicans.
    *********************************
    I don’t quite get what you’re trying to say. You think the District method is bad because your candidate in 2000 would’ve lost by a greater margin that he did. OK, fine. A plurality in popular vs electoral votes makes everyone feel all warm & fuzzy inside. Understood.

    However, you then go on to complain that Obama would’ve “only” won by 70 electoral votes instead of the 190 that he actually won. But, the District method STILL would’ve had Obama win by a greater margin of electoral votes than he won in popular votes. 53% to 47% (popular vote results) would’ve been 285-253 in electoral votes – only a 32 vote difference.

    Sooo, which is it?? Do you want electoral votes to more accurately reflect popular votes (as you seem to believe should’ve happened in 2000), or do you want the president to win by a significantly disproportionate margin (the bigger – the better, as you clearly enjoyed in 2008)??

    Seems hypocritical to me….

    Personally, I’d like to see national candidates stop pandering to the heavily populated areas and pay a little more attention to the more rural states. As it is now, they largely ignore about 50% of the population because it’s spread over about 80% of the area and focus on the 50% of the people crammed into about 20% of the country.

    Frankly, the per capita welfare rates, crime rates, drug usage, single-parent households and government corruption are higher in heavily urban areas compared to rural areas. Maybe the nation needs more “rural, conservative” values instead of the putrid mess of the “enlightened, progressive” strongholds.

  14. J. Harden Says:

    Maybe the nation needs more “rural, conservative” values instead of the putrid mess of the “enlightened, progressive” strongholds.

    Putrid is the right word. I grew up on a farm in Kansas. Later in life I moved to Kansas City, I’ve also lived in Chicago and DC and Mexico City for short periods. I’m now in a relatively rural area of Missouri — thank you GOD!

    The urban lifestyle is totally unnatural and dispenses a variety of perverse psychological mutations. It feminizes men (see “metrosexuals”) and turns women into a angry man-hating battle-drones. It turns children into disrespectful, fat little cretins that have no respect for the food they eat. Most of those poor kids have never been fishing or seen a live cow.

    People are not meant to live on top of each other like roaches — and instead of escaping, all the roaches want is a bigger roach motel. This is what passes for progressive enlightenment.

  15. wj Says:

    I see the problem that gerrymandered “safe” districts pose for this proposal. To what extent could those be avoided if each state allocated two electoral votes to the overall winner of the popular vote, and then the rest proportionately? No district boundaries involved.

  16. Griffin Hoffmann Says:

    Mr. Harden said: “The urban lifestyle is totally unnatural and dispenses a variety of perverse psychological mutations.”

    Wow. I’m not used to seeing angry sweeping generalizations about whole segments of the population on this site. Listen, I grew up in a tiny tiny logging town in Oregon. I love being out in the sticks, hunting, fishing — absolutely freaking love it. But truth be told, it was in a city that I learned about different types of people, music, food, and culture. Your remarks remind me of the ignorant rednecks who never ventured out of my little town and are just straight-up bitter and close-minded.

    Big cities have upsides and downsides, small cities have upsides and downsides, rural areas have upsides and downsides…don’t generalize — one generalization validates all generalizations — so if you can say that a place like, say Chicago “feminizes men”, then it’s equally valid to say that a place like say, rural Missouri, is full of ignorant inbred racists.

  17. debbiep Says:

    hello, what about the “popular vote” how about whoever wins the states residents votes….wins the state!! the whole state!!

Leave a Reply


NOTE TO COMMENTERS:


You must ALWAYS fill in the two word CAPTCHA below to submit a comment. And if this is your first time commenting on Donklephant, it will be held in a moderation queue for approval. Please don't resubmit the same comment a couple times. We'll get around to moderating it soon enough.


Also, sometimes even if you've commented before, it may still get placed in a moderation queue and/or sent to the spam folder. If it's just in moderation queue, it'll be published, but it may be deleted if it lands in the spam folder. My apologies if this happens but there are some keywords that push it into the spam folder.


One last note, we will not tolerate comments that disparage people based on age, sex, handicap, race, color, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry. We reserve the right to delete these comments and ban the people who make them from ever commenting here again.


Thanks for understanding and have a pleasurable commenting experience.


Related Posts: