Monday, October 15, 2012

Debate a 'People's Choice' pledge

Here’s something that should be a topic during the final two presidential debates but won’t.

Call it “The pledge to abide by the will of the people.”

It doesn’t matter which candidate makes the proposal. I’ll leave it to you to decide who might be most likely to make it and what the effect might be on his strategy.

Imagine Mitt Romney or Barack Obama saying the following: “I challenge my opponent to join me in serving the best interests of this nation and the will of the people by agreeing that the only candidate to assume the office of the presidency should be the one winning the plurality of votes cast nationally.

“In short, the winner would not be chosen by the electoral college, but by the American people.”

“We each recognize that individually we could ‘lose’ under this pledge, but we also know the people would win.”

“So I am willing to pledge that unless I win the plurality of the votes, I will not accept the presidency. Accordingly, I will direct ‘my’ Electoral College electors to vote for you.”

“Will you do likewise?”

I’m certain this would produce a collective gasp and send media analysts scurrying to their computers and calculators.

The best authority on the impact of such a proposal is master poll aggregator and data cruncher, Nate Silver of the web site five thirty eight. If you go to the site, you will see his projections for the likelihood of the electoral college being at odds with the popular vote.

Here’s where we are at this point in the campaign, according to Silver’s “now-cast”:

Electoral College tie (269 electoral votes for each candidate) 1.8%
Recount (one or more decisive states within 0.5 percentage points) 14.1%
Obama wins popular vote but loses electoral college 4.9%
Romney wins popular vote but loses electoral college 4.6%

The last two percentages are directly relevant although the other two are a concern. Just think: "hanging chad."

If Silver is correct, there  is a 9.5 percent chance (or one chance in 10.5) that the majority of the electoral college will be bound to vote for the candidate with fewer votes than his opponent.

Silver’s forecast for election day is that there is a 7 percent chance of a the electoral college voting into office the loser of the national vote.

That, of course, is what happened in the 2000 election. Under this proposal, George W. Bush would have forfeited the presidency to Al Gore.

If, by some remote chance, Romney or Obama does propose the “people’s choice” pledge and the other accepts, the campaigns suddenly would be forced to engage every single registered voter in the country, not just those in so-called swing states.

Would it be more expensive? Yes, but campaign financing and cost is already an issue.

Would it be the right thing to do? Absolutely!

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