Why 'Voting Your Conscience' in Deep Blue or Red States Is a Terrible Idea For Those Who Don't Want a Romney Presidency
This post is addressed to disgruntled progressives who are urging like-minded people to vote “strategically” by casting their vote for Obama if they live in a contested state, and voting for a third-party candidate if they live in a solidly blue or red state. Daniel Ellsberg makes the case for this strategy here. If, on the other hand, you agree with Matt Stoller that Romney would be no worse for progressive America than Obama – a position that I find ludicrous – then do what you think is best. I won't tell anyone how to vote.
The reason this is a terrible idea in 2012 is simple: there is now a non-trivial chance that Mitt Romney could win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College to Obama. It'd be like 2000 in reverse. Right now, Romney holds a small, 1-point lead in the popular vote, according to TPM's polling average. But in TPM's electoral college vote tally, Obama is leading 261-206 (a candidate needs 270 to win). Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight model gives a 5.3 percent likelihood of this scenario coming to pass. That's not exactly a winning-the-lotto-type long-shot.
Now, in a perfect world, this wouldn't matter. We have a quirky system, and the winner of the popular vote is, for better or worse, a matter of trivia. We select presidents according to the Electoral College tally, not the popular vote. And if you think Republicans would greet this news rationally, understanding that George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 and acknowledging that we should be consistent in these matters, then by all means, vote strategically for Jill Stein or whomever if you're in an uncontested state.
I think a more realistic view is that they'd precipitate a crisis, as the conservative media howled about how the people had spoken and their will must be respected. A concerted effort would be made to persuade members of the Electoral College to become “faithless electors.” Efforts would be made to split the electoral vote proportionally in any states Obama wins that are controlled by Republicans. We'd see more “Brooks Brothers riots” unfold. It'd be a huge mess, and I don't think the outcome would be certain.
Karen Tumulty gives us a taste of how the corporate media might greet this turn of events in today's Washington Post, telling us that “no incumbent president seeking a second term has ever won the electoral college and lost the popular vote,” and predicting more “partisanship” than ever if such an outcome should come to pass. As Josh Marshall notes, “The difference between a non-incumbent and an incumbent winning this way is no more than some sort of pseudo-fact. It quite simply is what it is.” Regardless, we'd see a lot of this is the kind of punditry; we'd be sure to hear a lot about how “unprecedented” the situation is, despite being just 12 years removed from the last time it's happened.
Democrats can work to avoid this scenario by turning out more voters, regardless of where they live – in Oregon or Alabama. The national popular vote could be important this year, so just as Daniel Ellsberg says: think strategically.