How would presidential elections change if electoral votes were allocated by congressional district ?

First published on Quora.

This is the system currently used in Maine and Nebraska. In Maine and Nebraska the statewide winner gets the two electoral votes (EVs) that correspond to the senators and then the remaining votes are determined by the winner of each congressional district.

The Electoral College already has a “small state bias” that skews for the time being in favor of the Republicans, since the smaller states tend to be more Republican than the country as a whole. I haven’t checked the numbers, but California has the same population as something like the smallest 20 states combined. That’s two EVs for the statewide win in California compared to forty for the statewide wins in these other states. It’s this bias that is responsible for the two “electoral inversions” we had in 2000 and 2016. That is to say, the two elections where the winner of the Electoral College did not match the winner of the popular vote.

Choosing the remaining EVs by congressional district would further skew things in the Republican direction. This is due to the extreme partisan gerrymander that took place after the 2010 election. To put this into perspective, the Democrats won the “national congressional vote” (NCV) in 2018 by something around 7 percentage points. This will give them a majority of between 14 and 19 seats when the remaining races are determined. By contrast, the Republicans won the 2014 NCV by 5.4 percent in 2014 and that gave them a majority of 30 seats. Worse, in 2012 the Democrats won the NCV by 1.2% but the Republicans maintained a majority in the House of 16 seats.

So, at least until the the congressional districts are redrawn in the wake of the 2020 Census, the current small state bias that favors republicans would be exacerbated. I don’t know if it would be impossible for a Democrat to win the presidency under such a system, but it would certainly be more difficult and there would be many instances where this system would elect the Republican even if the American people preferred the Democrat.

Still, it’s easy to imagine a worse system. During the run-up to the 2012 election, I recall Nebraska debating a return to a winner-take-all system so that President Obama could not win an EV from Nebraska like he did in 2008. At at about the same time the republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature debated switching to allocating EVs by congressional district to help Governor Romney. Imagine such a system implemented nationwide, with all the red states using winner-take-all and all the blue states allocating by congressional district or vice-versa. Such a system would virtually guarantee one-party control of the presidency.

References (all accessed 19 November 2018):

House Election Results: Democrats Take Control

RealClearPolitics – Election Other – 2014 Generic Congressional Vote

RealClearPolitics – Election Other – 2012 Generic Congressional Vote

114th United States Congress – Wikipedia

113th United States Congress – Ballotpedia

Live Blogging Election Night 2018

6:45 pm

So, I’m going to try to live-blog the results tonight; feel free to pause me or something if it gets to be too much.

We just got back from voting, and our polling place was the busiest I’ve ever seen it. Joanne got ballot #342 for our precinct. Since there’s four precincts at our polling place they’ve probably seen more than 1200 voters today. Enthusiasm seems high, to the point that they ran out of “I voted” stickers. That’s a good sign. I’m a little disappointed not to get a sticker, but I think I like the fact that they ran out better.

One of the things that I’ve been pondering is the political atmosphere and it struck me today that my congressman has been behaving like his position is hanging by a thread. He’s being too venomous toward his opponent for my liking. It’s odd. 538 gives him a 4 in 5 chance of retaining his seat, but that isn’t what his demeanor says. It’s possible that he’s just kind of a jackass, but maybe there something more there.

Speaking of 538, Nate Silver tells us that the data looks good for the democrats across a wide variety of districts; it’s possible that the there’s more good news for them in districts that they aren’t polling.

So, here’s my best guess for this evening.

Democrats moderately out perform expectations.

Democrats take back the house and beat the average by a small amount. It looks like the median projection is D+38 seats, I’m going to guess D+40 or 41.

Republican’s gain one in the Senate. I don’t think Heitkamp is going to pull it out in North Dakota. The “outperforming” gets people like O’Rourke uncomfortably close to victory, but not quite there. That said a swing of three seats in either direction wouldn’t surprise me. In the last few days, the Republicans’ odds in the Senate have dropped from 6 in 7 to 4 in 5. If that’s a lagging indicator, the D’s might do better than I think.

This feels like a year, like 1980 or 2006 when all the last minute swing goes in one direction. It will be interesting see how this one plays out.

7:15 pm

First amusing thing to run across this evening.

Final Texas Senate Race Polls Show That Donald Trump’s Campaigning May Have Actually Hurt Ted Cruz

7:50 pm

First Democratic pick-up of the evening in VA-10.

Numbers in Florida are looking closer to 2012 than 2016 with Gilliam and Nelson leading. But there lots of vote to to come in still.

8:01 pm

Florida 27 is the Second Democratic pick up of the night. That might be my old CD.

8:24 pm

With 90% of the vote in, it looks like the Republicans are just barely in the lead for FL Governor and Senator. Where is the vote still out? That’s going to make all the difference. The Democrats’ early lead came from quick returns in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.  30% of precincts still to come in Broward, 25% in Miami-Dade.  Palm Beach is almost all in.

9:13 pm

They called the Indiana Senate race for Braun, the Republican. That’s a Republican pick-up. Blackburn, the Republican wins in Tennessee. Tennessee was one of the few potential pick-ups for Democrats. I think the Senate is out of reach for the Democrats at this point.

9:20 pm

There’s fewer than 100 votes separating O’Rourke and Cruz.

9:36 pm

Now O’Rourke is ahead in Texas by about 0.4%.

9:40 pm

Jared Polis is the first openly gay man to be elected Governor of a state, namely Colorado.

9:56 pm

The New York Times estimates the probability that the Democrats will win the House is 95%. MSNBC estimates the probability that the Democrats win is 80%.

Meanwhile 538 has the Democrats’ chances at 7 in 10. Still looking strong.

10:03 pm.

The Democrats just picked up a House seat in Kansas. The Democrats are doing surprisingly well in Kansas. The Democrat, Laura Kelly, wins the Governorship.
Meanwhile Cruz has retaken the lead in Texas.
The good news for Democrats is starting to roll in.
Meanwhile, the races in Florida are looking red.
Mitt Romney is going to the Senate from Utah.

10:05 pm

Staten Island is a conservative area in NYC. The Democrats pick up a seat there.

10:12 pm

Heitkamp loses in ND. Net gain for the Republicans.

10:18 pm

The just called the Senate race in Texas for Cruz. That guarantees the Senate will stay in Republican hands. The Senate could look really bad for Democrats.

This is still the best night for Democrats in Texas in 30 years. And Beto’s run will have coat tails.

10:51 pm

Been busy, but this is interesting. The Maine 2nd may be the first Congressional District to be decided by instant run-off. More of that, Please.

11:01 pm

Gillum is conceding the Governor’s race in Florida. Expect to hear endless discussions about the Bradley effect.

11:05 pm

Here’s a bit of perspective. The Democrats have won more than twice as many Senate seats as the Republicans tonight. You wouldn’t know it to listen to the coverage.

11:26 pm

The democrats have a net gain of 23 seats, giving them a majority in the House of representatives.

11:35 pm

It looks like my Republican congressman has been reelected, although I have seen no election results.

12:16 am

It’s time to head off to bed. Tomorrow I’ll look into the thing that I really want to know about; state legislatures. Signing off.

 

Election 2018: Vote Anyway.

I votedI have some intense opinions about politics and generally, I’m happy to engage.  But I don’t want to make this a blog about politics.  If someone stumbles on this blog wanting to read about comics or mathematics or whatever they may not be interested in my opinions about candidate X or birthright citizenship or the current occupant of the Oval Office.  And that should be fine.  Some politics may sneak in from time to time but I’d like this to be a place that’s free from the most divisive arguments we’ve seen in my lifetime.

On the other hand, I’ve been fascinated with elections since I was 12.  I’ve done some work in voting theory and I’ve tried my hand at prognostication.  It’s been my  intention to eventually write about elections on this site.  But the problem, then, was what to write about?  We know the broad strokes of the 2018 election.  The democrats are doing remarkably well in the Generic Congressional Ballot and appear to be poised to retake the House.  That’s pretty remarkable given how heavily gerrymandered a lot of states are. Some of that has to do with the intensity of emotion engendered by President Trump.  It also helps that some of the most egregious gerrymandering we saw after the 2010 election has been overturned in the courts.

In the Senate, it’s a very different story. This is the class of senators that was elected in 2006, a Democratic wave that gave them the majority for the first time in four years. In 2012, despite defending more than 2/3 of the seats up for election, the Democrats actually increased their majority by two. So the Democrats are faced with what fivethirtyeight.com calls “the most unfavorable Senate mapthat any party has ever faced in any election.” Of the 35 senate elections being held this year, only 9 are held by Republicans and only one of those is in a state that’s bluish, namely Nevada. Meanwhile a lot of the seats being defended by democrats are in deep red states like North Dakota and Missouri. Despite being ahead on the Generic Congressional Ballot, it’s entirely possible that the Democrats will lose seats in the Senate.

Aside from the National stage, the most important elections that are happening this year are, in my opinion, the races for State Legislature. We don’t see much national coverage on these elections, but they’re crucially important. This is our first opportunity to elect some of the people who will be drawing the political maps in the wake of the 2020 Census. The candidates we elect now could determine control of the House of Representatives and of State Legislatures for a decade or more.

But all of this is known and it hasn’t shifted much. I could have written the last three paragraphs a month ago. Or two.  But the thing that motivates this post is that I stumbled across this.

A lot of folks pay attention to polls.  The polls influence their tendency to vote.

silver-datalab-betterpolls-1

Democrats in Texas or Republicans in New York might decry their need to go to the polls because the opposition is going to “win anyway.”  But here’s the thing: according to this article (originally published in 2014) the average House poll has, since 1998, been off the final result by 6.2 percentage points.  Polls in senate races and gubernatorial elections have fared somewhat better, missing the final result by 5.1% and 5.2% respectively.  And polling is getting harder.  Response rates are declining making polls more expensive.  The decline in the prevalence of landlines along with laws about contacting people on cell phones are making it harder to get a representative sample.  You might think your Senate candidate is behind by three points, but the race could be a dead heat.

2016ProjectionI see this graphic on Twitter a lot in Nate Silver’s feed.  The implication being made that Silver “predicted” that Clinton would win the White House and so, 538 “got it wrong.”  That’s not what this says at all.  This is a probability.  What this says is that, if you could repeat the election a bunch of times, Clinton would only win about 71.4% of the time.  In 28.6% of the “elections” Trump would be elected.  A Trump election isn’t surprising.

Imagine tossing a coin twice.  Would you be surprised if you got two tails?  You shouldn’t be.  The probability of that outcome is 25%.  Sure, it’s more likely that one of the other three outcome will happen, but it isn’t surprising at all.

The Trump victory, according to this analysis, is slightly less surprising than throwing two tails. The difference is that most people are not emotionally invested in the coins toss.

So, what’s the point?  Vote anyway.

Do you want the Democrats to win the senate?  Current estimates say there’s only a 1 in 6 chance of that happening.  Vote anyway.

Do you want the Republicans to retain control of the house?  Fivethirtyeight says they’ll “need a systematic polling error” for that to happen.  We’ve seen those before.  Vote anyway.

Do you want Heitcamp to get reelected in North Dakota, but you’re afraid she’s fallen too far behind?  Vote anyway.

Do you want DeSantis to win the Governorship in Florida but you think Gillum has pulled too far ahead? Vote anyway.

Not interested in the winner of the marquee race in your state?  The down ballot races and the initiatives are at least as important.  Vote anyway.

Can’t bring yourself to vote for either of the major party candidates?  You don’t have to use your vote to help determine the winner.  For example, here in New York the results of the Governor’s election determine which parties get dedicated ballot access.  You could vote to help the Working Families Party or the  Conservative Party or the Green Party or the “The Rent is Too Damn High” Party get on the ballot.  Vote anyway.

Elections are important.  We’d be a profoundly different country if everyone who could vote did vote.  But to quote Arron Sorkin or Benjamin Franklin or any number of people, “Decisions are made by those who show up.”  This one is really important.  No matter what you think is likely to happen, vote anyway.