With the 2012 election over and President Barack Obama re-elected, the Republican Party is going through the usual quadrennial angst of the loser: "What happened? We thought we had it in the bag!"
Various theories have been advanced as to what caused the Republicans and, in particular, Mitt Romney, to lose: Failure to connect with Hispanics; failure to connect with women voters; failure to connect with Asian-American voters; failure to connect with single women voters; failure to connect with African-American voters; failure to connect with Jewish voters; failure to connect with auto workers; etc.
Based on the polls, all these factors are valid.
However, I do not see much discussion, if any, of one of the most serious threats to the future of the Republican Party at the national Level, i.e., at the presidential level, namely, the Electoral College.
We all know about that strange provision in the U.S. Constitution, placed there more than 220 years ago, that gets in the way of a direct vote for president. Instead, each state chooses electors, equal to the number of senators and representatives in Congress. Florida has 29 electors. In all but two states, the winner of the popular vote in that state, even by one vote, gets all the electoral votes for that state. (Maine and Nebraska award their electoral votes "proportionally.") Whoever wins California, our most populous state, by one vote gets 55 electoral votes!
The effect of the Electoral College is to distort the results of the election: Obama got 51 percent of the popular vote; Romney, 48 percent; in the Electoral College, Obama got 332 electoral votes, or 62 percent; Romney, 206 electoral votes, or 38 percent.
If it were not for the unusual circumstances of the 2000 election, when George W. Bush won Florida by 537 votes, and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, Al Gore would have been elected president and probably re-elected in 2004. Gore actually won the popular vote in 2000.
Since 1932, 80 years ago, all but three U.S. presidents seeking re-election (Ford, Carter, George H.W. Bush) have been re-elected.
Were it not for the unusual circumstances of the 2000 election, and if Gore had been elected, Obama would be embarking on the sixth consecutive term when the Democrats controlled the White House.
What lies ahead is a potential lock on the Electoral College by the Democrats in the near and possibly long-term future. This has significance for public policy, for the make-up of the U.S. Supreme Court, for foreign policy, and on and on.
For the past six presidential elections, the Democrats have won 16 states and the District of Columbia in each and every one of those elections. These sixteen states have a total off 218 electoral votes of the necessary 270 to win the presidency.
These states are: Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Washington State, Oregon, and California. Among them are some of the biggest of the states, population-wise.
The Democrats need only 52 more electoral votes to win the presidential election, if they can hold on to these 16 states, which they now have done for 24 years.
From the past two presidential elections, Florida and Virginia are moving more into the Democratic camp because of demographic changes ... i.e., more liberals in northern Virginia; more Hispanic voters in Florida. (Florida and Virginia have a combined 42 electoral votes.) In the move to the Democrat side, the demographers expect that Arizona is not far behind, perhaps in 2016, and Texas in 2020. (Arizona and Texas have a combined 49 electoral votes.) Obama received 332 electoral votes in 2012, to Romney's 206, a total of 538 electoral votes.
Clearly, the Republicans need to improve their demographic appeal to the Nation's voters.
But the most serious problem may be what to do about the Electoral College. If the Electoral College continues to work in the favor of the Democrats, I would expect the Democrats to oppose any effort to eliminate the Electoral College through a constitutional amendment.
The Republicans' best option may be to get the state legislatures to move in the direction of proportional representation, where the current electoral vote in each state is split among the parties according to the vote received in each state during the quadrennial presidential election. Each state has the legal authority to do this without violating the U.S. Constitution; as mentioned above, two states have already done this.
As a political scientist, this makes sense to me. As a Democrat, I do not find the idea very appealing — that is, Democrats giving up this electoral advantage.
In the end, a healthy democratic system should prevail. We'll have a real national election instead of battle for 10 key states.
Clearly, the Republican Party does not face an easy fix.