I’ve noticed in my travels that when people are asked where they’re from, most will respond “Japan” or “France” or “Kenya” or such. The big exception, as usual, is Americans, who rarely say “America”; instead, it’s New York or Ohio or Tennessee. That is, their identity is tied up in their states. That makes perfect sense, of course, given the huge distances, both geographic and cultural, in a continent-size nation. No one says “Asia” or “Europe” or “Africa”, so Americans are in that sense in line with the norm.
It occurs to me, then, that all this talk of jettisoning the electoral college system for the popular vote is, regardless of last month’s results, missing the point. I suppose it sounds straightforward enough: the president is everyone’s president, so the winner of the election should be the one who wins the most votes, period. But it doesn’t work that way in a massive country like the US.
Consider the EU. Just four countries – Germany, France, the UK and Italy – have half the population of the 28-member bloc. Not everyone in those large countries will vote the same way, of course, but that’s not how the smaller nations will see it. You think Belgium, for example (or Greece or Spain or Sweden or whatever; take your pick), is going to let the Big Four have their way in matters that have a material effect on its own future? I don’t think so. I can’t imagine anyone arguing that the EU should be run by pure popular vote given the clear deep differences among the member nations. In theory, each state works out its own position via its elected representatives based on its needs and negotiates with the other states on an equal basis to reach a mutually agreeable position.
Those US states that are not California and New York feel the same. States are independent entities, the country’s basic building blocks, and their citizens (i.e., taxpayers) are represented in national politics by state senators and congressmen for their district. Citizens don’t vote en masse in national referendums on any topic, but through their representatives as chosen by them in local elections. That’s representative democracy for you. There is no America; it’s the United States, or more properly the united states, each of which needs to feel it has a stake in the system. Voters in Alabama and Hawaii and North Dakota and Michigan and so forth have their own concerns and want their voices heard. Whether the present electoral system balances that properly is another question (especially the winner-take-all format used by most states), but no one can possibly believe that presidential candidates unbound by the need for electoral votes would simply ignore local issues and appeal to the population as a single entity; they would just shift their energies to the big states.
You can redesign the electoral college or America’s entire election system, but you can’t redesign human nature. The more local, the better. Here’s to the united states.