The first political campaign I ever worked on was a congressional race in 1998, just as the Clinton impeachment proceedings were heating up. Voters were divided over whether President Bill Clinton’s affair was a big deal. Today, that divide seems almost quaint in comparison to the gulf separating political camps across our nation.
A congressional race in Vermont covers the entire state, so my eyes were opened to stark regional, cultural, and political differences. Our campaign was committed to talking to any and all as we hosted open town halls, barbecues, spaghetti suppers, and rallies. Any question was fair game, and voters may not always have agreed with the answer, but they walked away understanding where my candidate stood.
Today, different political factions aren’t talking, and there’s a glaring reason nobody ever mentions.
FOX and MSNBC will break down our political divisions by race, income, and education. They’ll explain the difference with “blue-state” and “red-state” shorthand, but they miss the guilty dynamic baked right into their political code.
The fact is, the Electoral College exacerbates our divide.
In 1960, 24 states were up for grabs, meaning almost half the states could go to either candidate. The presidential campaigns set out to talk with about 60 percent of the country.
Fast forward to today, and the red/blue map has solidified such that fewer states are in play. Most voters won’t be part of a campaign. Neither candidate needs to engage, earn our votes, poll our opinions, or explain their points of view to the bulk of Americans because at least 38 states are already locked in as “red” or “blue.”
Keep in mind, Democrats aren’t talking to voters in safe blue states, nor are Republicans talking to voters in red states. The candidates don’t need more voters in the states they are sure to carry. Joe Biden couldn’t make Massachusetts any bluer. Trump couldn’t get a bigger prize out of Idaho.
Seventy percent of Americans are shut out of the conversation.
Candidates concentrate their entire campaigns on just a few battleground states. In 2020, 96 percent of the presidential campaign took place in just 12 states. In 2016, 12 battleground states saw 94 percent of the effort. In 2012, 100 percent of the campaign took place in a dozen states.
In addition to the candidates, most of us have no motivation to generate our own discussion when our state is a foregone conclusion. Why would a Democrat in Alabama engage a neighbor in a political debate? It’s a hopeless exercise because, no matter how convincing they might be, Alabama will predictably give its electoral votes to the Republican.
A Republican in Maryland faces the same situation.
States control the Electoral College and in the last 15 years have been adapting a proposal that will reform it to guarantee every voter in every state casts a meaningful vote in every election. This reform, known as National Popular Vote, has passed in 15 states and the District of Columbia and would take effect when states with 270 electoral votes sign-on. The 15 states and the District of Columbia have 195 electors.
Electing the president using national popular vote, adhering to one-person, one-vote, and guaranteeing the candidate with the most votes wins the White House will force Americans in all 50 states to engage in a dialogue. It will provide a reason for neighbors and communities to have a much-needed discussion so that, even as divisions remain, we can at least hear where the other is coming from.
Our nation is divided, but we should not tolerate an election system that drives us farther apart. Luckily, the Constitution gives states the power over the Electoral College, and states are already using this power to create a national popular vote for president.
Learn more and become part of the effort at www.NationalPopularVote.com.