Saturday, March 29, 2003

Just Stop Saying That Department

I am really, really tired of hearing people say that if it weren’t for the Electoral College, Al Gore would have won the 2000 election. Aside from the fact that Gore-supporters need to finally just *get over it*, the truth is that we *don’t know* who would have won under a different system. Why? Because different rules create different incentives. It’s true that Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, but that only means he got a majority of the votes actually cast that day – and there is every reason to believe a different set of votes would have been cast under different rules. First, there are many Republican states, like Utah, where it was virtually guaranteed that Bush would win the statewide vote. As a result, many conservatives in Utah probably felt no particular need to visit the polls that day, because Utah’s electoral votes would go to Bush anyway. But if they had known their votes could counter Democratic votes in New England or California, as would have been true in a popular vote, they might have voted after all. Second, there are other states with Democratic majorities but substantial Republican minorities, like California. In those states, some conservatives may have avoided the polls because it was pointless, California being a virtual shoo-in for Gore. But if there had been a popular vote, Republican Californians’ votes might have mattered after all.

Of course, we can make similar arguments for why more Democrats would have visited the polls under a popular vote system as well. Democrats from Utah might have cast votes with the hope of countering Republican votes cast in the South. More Democrats in California might have voted because a larger margin of victory in that state wouldn’t have been superfluous. The point, again, is that we just don’t know, and we never will. We’ll never know what voters would have done if they’d had different incentives.

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