I am going to try for a non-partisan discussion of something that has been in the polls lately. (Wish me luck?! Ha.) Feelings are running strong for and against particular candidates, but this is intended as a discussion of the process itself. If we are to understand our Constitution and our Electoral College, then it’s important to understand what has gone wrong or right this year.
This morning, a poll came out showing Independent candidate Evan McMullin polling at 22% in Utah. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are polling even at 26% each. Political scientist Larry Sabato was on CNN this morning, and he called the race in Utah a virtual three-way tie. But Utah is one of the safest red states in the country! This is a bit of a political earthquake. What does it mean?
A few thoughts:
(1) The Electoral College requires coalition-building. Candidates who focus too exclusively on one type of voter don’t do well. This year has been remarkable in that neither of the major party candidates seems to be especially good at coalition-building. You don’t usually see both major parties make that mistake simultaneously. It’s why third-party candidates are doing better than normal this election cycle.
(2) What would a McMullin victory in Utah mean? Does it necessarily benefit Clinton? Well, it’s really too soon to tell. Consider that Gary Johnson is polling well in (more blue) New Mexico. Potentially, there is a completely unanticipated outcome here: What if a few red and blue states are pulled out of the Trump/Clinton columns simultaneously? If neither Trump nor Clinton can achieve 270 electoral votes, then the election will not be decided in the Electoral College. Instead, we will use the secondary election procedure outlined in the Constitution: The House of Representatives will select a President. In that election, each state delegation gets one vote. The House may choose from the top three candidates.
Please note that such an outcome is still unlikely, but it’s at least become possible.
(3) As I have said for years, there is no such thing as a permanently safe or swing state. Any political party or candidate who ignores one of his/her safe states for too long WILL feel the ramifications at the polls. I often use the example of West Virginia in 2000. At the time, it was a safe blue state. However, Al Gore ignored the concerns of coal miners there, and he ended up losing the state. George W. Bush won the state, and it provided him with 4 critical electoral votes. Without those votes, Bush would have lost the election. The disputes in Florida wouldn’t have mattered one way or another. Is Utah going the way of West Virginia? It’s at least possible, given these poll results.
Too often I hear people comment that the election is “rigged.” Given: We live in an imperfect world, and dishonest people exist. But please consider that not everything is “rigged.” Sometimes, it’s really just an issue of education. In general, we Americans tend to be remarkably ill-informed about our own election processes. Some of the dynamics that I’m discussing above have existed for decades! It’s just that no one ever teaches about it.
One silver lining of this crazy election season has been that Americans are learning much more about their electoral processes. I, for one, hope that this increased attention and education continues, regardless of who wins the White House later this year.
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