The Policy Consequences of the Electoral College

I was watching a little Up With Chris this morning and they got to talking about the Electoral College and its political and policy consequences (if any). Several of the guests seemed to be imagining that, for better or for worse, the main change would be that you’d see Democrats trying to pump up turnout out of New York and California while Republicans tour the deep south juicing the base.

No doubt there would be some of that. But I don’t think it’s a game-changer in policy terms, simply because both parties bases already have influence over presidential politics through the primaries.

The difference is that geographically mismatched voters would get more play. If you aggregate South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma you’ve got many millions of Obama voters living in those states. And the fact that the Affordable Care Act will make a vast pool of money available to the governments of those states to provide Medicaid coverage to their low-income residents is a huge deal. The fact that thanks to the Supreme Court those states will have the option of turning the money down is also a huge deal. But we haven’t heard anything about this in the campaign. But if Obama were running a national reelection campaign, he’d be looking for ways to mobilize his legions of supporters in the low-income African-American population in the south and this would be a huge deal.

Conversely, California and the Northeast are home to many millions of Republican voters. Since they tend to be affluent, they’re not totally locked out of presidential politics since Mitt Romney spends time in coastal metropolises looking for dollars.

But in general Republican presidential candidates don’t bother to try to see if there’s anything at all in the conservative free market playbook that could be pitched to the coasts as good for their local economies. The fact that one of the main functions of the federal government is to transfer wealthy from richer blue states to poorer red ones never seems to come up, but if you were trying to mobilize Republicans in New Jersey and Connecticut and Maryland to come out and vote this is surely an argument you’d want to put on the table.