Public Choice

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 201–215 | Cite as

Electoral College reform and the distribution of voting power

  • Douglas H. Blair


The empirical findings of this essay suggest that suburban native whites, the most economically advantaged of the nine demographic groups, also wield the most political power in the selection of the president under either of two power measures. They further indicate that this power would be diminished by abolition of the Electoral College. Blacks, on the other hand, the least economically advantaged of the groups, are shown to have below-average voting power under the Electoral College procedure according to each index; they would gain power under direct election. It would seem to be no very strenuous normative leap for an egalitarian to conclude that electoral reform is in order.

Three caveats should be borne in mind while taking this plunge, however. The first concerns the robustness of the model. Most of the simplifications underlying the coalition-formation model have already been pointed out. At least one, however, has not: the assumption implicit in the Rae-index calculations that candidate behavior, and hence group voting patterns, would not be appreciably affected by changes in the method of election. Secondly, even if this model succeeds in capturing each group's current voting behavior, it is hazardous to forecast with it political realities over the likely constitutional life of any reform amendment. Issues and alliances will doubtless change, as will the distribution of demographic groups across states.

Finally, Bickel has defended the Electoral College on the ground that its supposed bias in favor of urban and minority groups counterbalances the “interests that have a more rural, nativist, and Protestant orientation ... [which] have tended to dominate Congress.” (1971, p. 7.) Can we simply insert into Bickel's argument our evidence that minority groups are advantaged by direct election and invert his conclusion on the same balance-of-power grounds? We cannot do so with certainty, at least without undertaking a parallel investigation of the biases of Congress, a task which is doubtless vastly more complex than the undertaking reported here.


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© Martinus Nijhoff b.v 1979

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  • Douglas H. Blair

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