Friday, November 11, 2016

It doesn't matter who won the popular vote

For these four reasons:

1. The Electoral College suppresses voter turnout in non-swing states, such that we can’t know if the popular vote outcome would have been the same without the Electoral College.  Voting is a pretty irrational waste of time to begin with from any one individual’s perspective (even in swing states, your vote is essentially meaningless, and has less chance of swinging the election than you do of dying in a car crash on the way to the polling place) but this is especially true in states whose electoral college votes are essentially already allocated.  As such, many politically engaged people in “safe states” like Texas and California nevertheless stay home during presidential elections, because practically every pundit and news station gives them daily reminders that their state’s outcome is a foregone conclusion. If they had known the president would be elected by popular vote, however, many of these people would have voted after all, and perhaps their input would have flipped the popular vote winner.

2. Both candidates knew the Electoral College was all that mattered from the outset, and they campaigned accordingly.  Had the campaign season begun under a different set of rules, the entire strategy of both campaigns would have shifted.  Both would have spent more time in urban areas and less time in rural areas.  Both would have adjusted their policy pitches and perhaps even their policy positions.  All of this would have influenced who voted, in what numbers, and for whom. They might not have even been the same candidates!  The current system of state-by-state primaries and caucuses only developed in response to the reality of the Electoral College. Who knows who the Republican and Democratic parties would have nominated, or what rules they would use to do so, if the name of the game were switched to popular vote victory?  You can’t claim the right to rule because your candidate won by a metric that neither candidate was trying to win by.  It would be equivalent to Arsenal complaining that they deserve to be the TRUE Premier League champions from last season, because the off-sides rule is stupid, and Leicester City only had such successful defense by playing the offside trap. Even if the off-sides rule is stupid, obviously the teams would have used different strategies all along had they know they were playing without it, and obviously that would have influenced the outcome in ways hindsight will never know.

3. The opinions of voters are not more morally significant than the opinions of non-voters.  As I’ve explained above, voting is so irrational that nobody can be rightfully blamed for not doing it. Whatever it was these people were doing instead of voting was almost definitely more productive and helpful to the world than what you and I were doing standing in line to vote.  Imagine: if everyone who voted this week had instead spent 5 minutes online donating $5 to a charity of their choosing, they would each have saved a lot of time and frustration, and we collectively have done a lot more good for the world to the tune of some $650 million.  In fact, by choosing to spend an hour or so of your day voting INSTEAD of spending it volunteering at a local charity, we rather selfishly prioritized out own personal feelings of civic pride over the wellbeing of all those we might have helped!  Why should us selfish ones be the only Americans whose “consent” is taken into account by our government?  I’m partly joking, of course, but in all seriousness, a government’s legitimacy cannot solely be measured through elections. There’s no way to tell which of the two candidates the 46.9% of American adults who rationally decided to stay home would have preferred and by what numbers, and only 25.6% of American adults voted for Clinton. That’s not enough to unequivocally claim she is the people’s champion.

4. The disparity in vote totals is so puny as to be completely morally irrelevant.  Democracy is the least bad form of choosing leaders I know of, but it’s still a completely arbitrary and subjective method. I’ve said before on this blog that I don’t think majority rule is morally authoritative EVEN in cases of a landslide; even if Donald Trump had got 70% of the vote and Hillary Clinton only 30%, from my view he would have no greater right to impose his will on those 30% than he does now.  But when one candidate gets 47.7% of the vote and the other gets 47.5%, neither even securing a majority, it’s just preposterous to claim that either of them has a clear “public mandate” to foist their will on the rest of the country!  121 million people voted, and the top two vote getters were separated by less than 400,000. That’s as close to a tie as you can get. For all intents and purposes, their supporters voted at a 1:1 ratio. If the people’s voice was truly “heard” in this election, it came out pretty garbled. Under such conditions, a society needs a set of rules in place to determine who the winner is, and merely counting who has more is no less crude nor arbitrary a method than the Electoral College.

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