The Electoral College
There’s no doubt that the electoral college is an undemocratic way to choose the president of the United States of America. Thanks to the electoral college, both George W. Bush and Donald Trump won the presidency — without winning the popular vote. But this body of electors may be responsible for more than just these two elections. The electoral college has contributed to the vast division of the working class within the current two-party system. As a result, many Americans who have similar class interests view those within the opposing party as the enemy. The electoral college is not only inherently undemocratic in its election of candidates that the majority of Americans did not vote for, but also a major factor in the polarization of Americans and the great divide between blue and red state working class voters.
Compared to the 1% of Americans who currently benefit the most from the two-party system, working class voters on both sides of the aisle stand to gain collective power with the abolishment of the electoral college. But the attitudes and actions of members of both the Democratic and the Republican parties keep the working class divided. Democrats and Republicans alike judge one another — sometimes fairly but often not — and spin false narratives about the other side that rely on fear over reason.
Swing States over Red States
The electoral college is the way in which America chooses its president every four years, every state in the union has a certain number of electoral votes. The amount of votes in the electoral college that each state has is determined by the amount of legislators each state has in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Each state will have at least three electoral votes, since every state has two senators and at least one representative. The amount of representatives is determined by the population of each state. In order to win the presidency a candidate needs to win 270 votes out of the possible 538 electoral college votes. Before any ballot is ever cast however most states can be safely assumed that one state is going to vote for one candidate or the other and thus their electoral college votes go to said candidate. There are states that are not safe on one side or the other, these are called swing states, states that actually determine the election more than non swing states since they give the votes to the candidate that gets them to 270. Thus red and blue states are often left alone during a national election, their votes are considered already won or lost so the attention of each campaign turns towards the swing states.
Both Democrats and Republicans will spend money, time and energy on a handful of swing states across the country while completely ignoring states they feel are a lost cause. The Democrats typically only push for a candidate — and thus give a state any sort of attention — when there appears to be a possibility of success. For instance, in Kansas, it wasn’t until Barbara Bollier’s chances of winning a U.S. Senate seat, which has not been held by a Democrat in the state since 1939, became apparent that the national party started giving the state of Kansas and its voters some attention. Additionally, Biden has a slight chance of winning Texas, a state that has not been won by a Democrat since 1976, which has led major donors for the Democratic party to start spending more money in that state. These examples illustrate how, historically, rather than helping create political success, Democrats bide their time waiting for local candidates to succeed on their own, then attempt to capitalize off those efforts. However, this election could prove to be the exception to the rule. Democrats have been able to outraise and outspend Republicans by a wide margin, enabling them to focus on states that would normally be out of play — but this year might actually be up for grabs — in the Senate, House of Representatives and in the presidential race. In some states, this is reflective of trends that have been happening for years now. In the 2018 midterms, Kansas selected not only a Democratic governor but also a congresswomen, Sharice Davids. And Trump’s unpopularity might be accelerating these trends: Many Texas Republicans are not seeking reelection this cycle.
While Democrats are currently riding on a lot of potential as a result of Trump’s toxicity, they are still actively ignoring red states and thus willfully narrowing their scope on certain issues. The issues facing voters in Florida, for example, are given more consideration than those in North Dakota, Oklahoma or Missouri. While the 2020 DNC platform does address a lot of issues affecting Midwestern red states, such as the opioid crisis, rising rates of suicides, the harmful practice of conversion therapy and the lack of livable wages, what guarantee is there that these issues will get the same amount of attention as issues affecting blue states? Blue states have much more political influence in the Democratic, so their issues are ultimately the ones that get addressed. This is even more likely if a state is consistently seen as a swing state between national elections, then the Democrats spend more time addressing issues in swing states more than those of deep red states, states that could use more attention from a national party like the Democrats.
Democrats campaigning on the national stage often take for granted that red state voters can — and do — change their party allegiance. In 2016, Hillary Clinton spent more time in the deep blue state of New York, which most Democrats win easily, than she did in any red state, fumbling the opportunity to at least try to persuade Republican or undecided voters in those states to vote Democratic that year. With more potential swing states this year than there were in 2016, the Democratic philosophy of ignoring red states until they’re put into play has only expanded in the 2020 election cycle. But a candidate does not have to be physically present in any state in order to effectively campaign. The national party could implement “get out the vote” campaigns in red states or host virtual events. However, more often than not they ignore red states altogether.
The Divide Between Those in Red States and Democrats
22 of the smallest states in the country equal the population of California, which means the smaller populations of South Dakota, Nebraska and Montana have the same, if not a bigger, voice than that of California. Yet even though the working class within those 22 states and the working class of California have very similar interests, the way the electoral college is set up encourages Democrats to ignore deeply red states. The resulting divide can be seen in the polarization of Americans today. And since Democrats write off red states as impossible to reach, mutual feelings of resentment are common. Hillary Clinton calling the people who would vote for Trump “deplorables” is an example of this resentment. Any good party or candidate should strive for empathy, but instead the Democratic party dismisses the concerns and problems of entire populations, in turn making Democrats come off as “elitists” who know better than the people who live in those states.
There are plenty of people in deep red states who have firsthand knowledge about the issues affecting their state who have never once stepped foot in D.C. yet could do a better job at winning over voters than whoever the national party sends. Take Amy McGrath, for example. She embodies what the national Democratic party thinks the people in Kentucky want. She was a fighter pilot and well educated at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins University. But she has not spent a lot of time in Kentucky during her professional career and thus has a skewed idea of what she believes the issues facing the people of Kentucky are. Her failure to connect with Kentuckians is evidenced by her trailing Mitch McConnel in the polls, as well as her 2018 Congress loss. Her primary opponent, Charles Booker, was a much better choice for the average Kentuckian, yet the national party continuously punches left more than they ever punch right. Their misunderstanding of the issues and people in red states results in them pushing for faulty candidates.
The electoral college has boxed the Democratic party into ignoring working class red state Americans. Democrats give a lot of attention to swing states, as well as states that already have significant potential for victory, leaving many voters in red states to either fend for themselves or turn to the only other party in their state giving them sufficient attention. Many voters who turn to Republicans ultimately feel othered, due in large part to the Democratic party’s passive neglect of these voters between elections — and outright ignorance of their issues during an election. But they also feel othered by the culture wars Republicans use to divide people, which have been amplified during Trump’s presidency. The flawed electoral college system compels both Democrats and Republicans, willingly or otherwise, to actively keep the working class of America divided.
There are two solutions to repairing the damage caused by the electoral college, both of which are long term projects that will take decades to see real results. The first should be obvious: Abolish the electoral college and make the popular vote the basis for all elections. If a consensus around abolishment cannot be reached, the other option is for each state to reward their electoral college votes to the candidate who won the popular vote. Either solution will take a long time to accomplish because, even though Republicans benefit the most from our current system, both parties ultimately benefit from the electoral college. This timeline could be sped up, however, if the Democratic party stops ignoring red state voters between national elections and starts spending more time learning about state specific issues. They should no longer punch left when a local, more left leaning candidate presents themselves as the better option for the people in their state. If the Democratic party can start the long project of reuniting the working class, dismantling the electoral college will be a lot easier. Until then, the electoral college remains a shackle on democracy in America.