National Popular Vote progress

In past discussions here at F&V on the National Popular Vote plan for US presidential elections, some opponents have suggested that it is a bad idea to have democratic elections for the nation’s highest office, on grounds that it would result in low-population states being ignored. The view is apparently not universally shared. Consider this item on Montana, where the NPV bill just cleared a key committee in the upper house:

Republican Sen. Rick Laible and other supporters said the change would make Montana and other sparsely populated states more of a factor in presidential races and could increase voter turnout. [my emphasis]

The NPV organization has a page devoted to tracking the progress of an idea whose time has come.


Greg commented that it was unclear how a less populous state like Montana would gain from NPV. This is a good point, and I had the same thought. I initially answered at the seedbed, but I might as well put it here.

The basic response would be that we–myself included, apparently–are so stuck in the state-interest paradigm that we hardly think of presidential elections, or presidential-election mechanisms, in any other way. But interests that transcend state boundaries are inherently under-represented by the electoral college, relative to a popular vote.

Under current arrangements, if an election were very close in both the Electoral College and Montana, the state could be targeted by campaigns. Otherwise, it is likely to be taken for granted, given only 3 electoral votes (and normal Republican leanings in presidential elections, though not necessarily safely so).

My priors would be that NPV is something of a wash for a state like Montana–thinking in terms of state interests, that is. I can’t get inside Sen. Laible’s mind, but following is one example of what he could be thinking of in the remarks quoted above.

If issues of concern to voters in the Intermountain West become more important in future elections, candidates would pay attention to them even if such issues were unlikely to swing Montana’s own vote plurality (or those of any other single state in the region).

That is, NPV would allow various broad regional interests that transcend state boundaries to be more electorally relevant than they are now.

0 thoughts on “National Popular Vote progress

  1. That’s very interesting–I didn’t know the movement was that widespread. I wonder, though, how it would make Montana more relevant to the presidential race. Right now, candidates focus on states with a large number of electoral votes. With NPV, wouldn’t they focus on the largest metropolitan areas? Montana doesn’t fit either category.

  2. That comment about giving Montana more influence struck me as strange as well.

    I would think the main beneficiaries would be (1) bigger states that aren’t that close, and (2) regional issues, for the reasons you state above.

    Another effect could be to partially free us of tiny interest group hostage issues (e.g. Cuba embargo), though of course an SMD Congress would still make this a problem.

  3. Note that “big states that aren’t close” and “regional issues” mean the same thing in this context, for the beneficiaries in a state like California or Texas would be interests that have their counterparts outside the state but are currently not subject to mobilization.

    That is, the Republican constituency nationally will be different when 5.5 million Calfornians are taken into account, as will the Democratic constituency when 2.8 million Texans are added to the mix. While Calfornia Republicans and Texas Democrats agree with their out-of-state co-partisans on some issues, they presumably also have various regional or sectoral interests that neither those out-of-state co-partisans nor their own-state dominant-partisans are currently addressing.

  4. Thinking about this in another way, is it possible that a state in which all electoral college votes are awarded to one party will get ignored if the other parties polling numbers drop below a certain number? For example, if Montana does work in this way, and the Democrats feel they have NO chance to win the electoral college seats, they will view the state antagonistically. In a First Past the Post system, this happens frequently in ridings which are dominated by one party or another.

    So, to look at the point, a party might take a state more seriously if they think they have something to gain (a few extra votes, which would have meaning). Although I still cannot see how a party would benefit by targting resources for a few votes in Montana rather than a lot more votes for the same resources in, say, Seattle.

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