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The Electoral College Has Become Another Partisan Issue

For the past half century, a majority of voters have consistently told pollsters that they’d like to amend the Constitution to scrap the Electoral College and award the presidency to the winner of the nationwide popular vote. But in the weeks since Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and Donald Trump won the Electoral College, fewer than half of Americans polled by Gallup and Morning Consult said that they’d dump the Electoral College — marking the first time that abolishing electors has been backed by less than half of respondents in the few dozen polls we were able to find on the issue. The cause of this drop seems to be the politicization of a position that once enjoyed broad bipartisan support. With the country roughly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, and with relatively equal proportions of Republicans supporting the Electoral College and Democrats opposing it, our presidential voting system has become yet another issue that divides the country along partisan lines.

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It’s possible that as the memory of the 2016 vote fades, the Electoral College will lose some of its partisan divisiveness. Republicans and Democrats also diverged sharply on the issue after the 2000 election, which also was won by a Republican who lost the national popular vote. By 2012, however, most voters in both parties — including Trump — favored ditching the Electoral College, which that year favored Democrats. But the partisan divide on the Electoral College this year is much wider than it ever got after 2000. Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, a nonpartisan group that researches elections and advocates for changes to the Electoral College and other parts of the electoral system, conjectures that in 2000, voters could dismiss the Republicans’ advantage in the Electoral College as a fluke. Now that a Republican candidate again won while losing the popular vote, voters might be more prone to deeming the electoral body biased toward Republicans, even if there’s no way to know if that will remain the case in the future.


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Carl Bialik is FiveThirtyEight’s lead writer for news.

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