Will a Republican President ever win the popular vote again?
by Curtis Laforge
"The electoral college is a disaster for democracy" - Donald Trump
Had California, with its 39 million people, existed in 1790, and was given the opportunity to join the young United States, it would naturally ask “okay, how many votes do we get in your Senate?”. And after finding out that it would only be two senators for every state, would just as naturally reply “you mean we get the same number of senators as tiny Delaware? Is that democracy for the stupid? Hmmmm. We'll let you know.”
And at the Constitutional Convention, this was very similar to the position taken by the colonies with large populations, such as Virginia and Pennsylvania. While originally balking at the idea that the small states would have equal representation in the Senate, they were caught between a rock and a hard place, and for two very good reasons. First, with regards to ratifying the new Constitution, they started out with only one vote to begin with. Oh shit. Wait. What?
And second, small colonies like Delaware were threatening to join forces with foreign governments. “The English weren’t so bad after all, maybe we made a mistake. Maybe they would like to help us in our disputes with Virginia.” So they caved and the much ballyhooed American semi-democracy was born.
Thus begun what would ultimately result in a central government that would, on average, be more conservative than its public, shift political direction more slowly, and be continually at risk of electing presidents that lose the popular vote. And because of the very asymmetric demographic trends in the growing US population, Republicans are now more likely than not to be elected President while losing the popular vote. The last two Republican presidents, Bush (2000) and Trump (2016) were both elected that way, and this trend will become an ongoing feature in American politics.
But the inequalities in the Electoral College begin with the inequalities of the Senate, which was designed to provide the economic elite with checks to the truly democratic one-person one-vote philosophy of the House of Representatives. Further, it was also designed to reduce the influence of rapid swings in public opinion, so Senators were given six-year terms, with only one-third subjected to re-election every two years.
The Electoral College was then constructed to reflect the congressional delegation, with one elector for each House and Senate member, leaving the states to decide on how to select the electors. As such, it would become a combination of the democratic one-person one-vote rule of the House, with the “I don’t give a fuck how many people your state has” rule of the Senate. Add the strong tendency for large urban populations to be more liberal, and you have a voting system that not only biases both the Senate and the Presidency towards the right, but also the Supreme Court (since it is selected by the President and approved by the Senate).
Estimating the Republican Bias of Two Senators per State
But how much bias? Quantifying the “I don’t give a fuck” rule for the Senate has several options. On the Senatoral Voting Power.pdf table below, we can see some statistics that show this phenomenon.