Perverse best-case scenario: Romney wins popular vote, Obama wins Electoral College

Barring feasible foul play by Republicans, Barack Obama will probably win the Electoral College in 2012, which means that he will serve for another four years as President. Much is being said about Ohio as a swing state, along with Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Colorado. Obama carried all of them in 2008, along with North Carolina, a onetime swing state. As of Sunday, October 28, 2012, Nate Silver of gives Obama a 73.6 percent  likelihood of winning the Electoral College with 295 votes, twenty-five more than is needed for victory. However, Obama’s lead over Romney in the popular vote is only 50.3% to 48.7%.

There are a number of progressive issues that President Obama passed or tried to pass in his first term. This list does not include abolishing, or at least reforming the Electoral College. In the history of the United States, there have been three elections in which the candidate who won the popular vote lost the presidency in the Electoral College. The most recent was 2000, when Al Gore had nearly a half million more popular votes than George W. Bush. Had the election been decided by the popular vote, it would have been of little consequence that Bush supposedly received 537 more votes than Gore in Florida.

So let’s suppose that Mitt Romney wins the popular vote in 2012. This would be an increase of only 1.4 percent of the vote. At the same time, President Obama triumphs in the Electoral College and wins a second term. Conceivably, this could make the Republicans mad enough that they would feel that they were gypped, because their candidate received more votes than the Democratic candidate. At the same time, Obama along with other Democrats would continue to recognize that the Electoral College is extremely unfair and essentially disenfranchises voters in the more than 40 states that are not considered swing states.

While the President is not involved in the process of amending the Constitution, there could be bi-partisan support for an amendment to abolish the Electoral College and replace it with the popular vote. Republicans would have the motivation of thinking that they had been cheated in 2012; Democrats would have the motivation of advancing the cause of true democracy.

In practicality such a change would probably help the Democrats in the short run. With intense campaigning in states such as California, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Maryland, they would pick up millions of popular votes. The Republicans would pick up at least hundreds of thousands of votes in Texas, Georgia, Arizona, Louisiana, and Missouri. The raw numbers would favor the Democrats, but as each census reflects the migration of Americans from the north to the south, the long-range advantage would go to the Republicans.

It is indeed difficult to handicap to party would benefit most from a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College and replacing it with the popular vote. However, each party would have convincing reasons to feel that it would benefit in the long range. The one winner would be American democracy. President Obama, please put this measure on your second term agenda.