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Do the economics of news coverage in the US help protect the Electoral College?


Just throwing this out there for discussion:

Consider if we elected presidents by popular vote. One consequence would be that the 2020 presidential race would be completely uninteresting: There is essentially no possibility that Biden will not win the national popular vote by millions of ballots. And this has nothing to do with any purported distorting effects the Electoral College might have on the popular vote: it’s not as if Trump could shake significantly more votes out of California or Biden out of Alabama if they spent time and money there.

One function of the Electoral College is that it creates suspense that otherwise wouldn’t exist in many presidential elections, because it’s increasingly easy to come up with scenarios in which a candidate loses the popular vote by millions yet wins the election, as happened in 2016 and almost happened in 2004.

I don’t believe there’s anything like a conscious plan on the part of big money/elite media types to stan for the EC because it’s good for their bottom lines, but I wouldn’t be surprised if various unconscious and semi-conscious considerations come into play when they treat the EC as essentially untouchable/unquestionable, which they tend to do (Consider how little attention the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact gets, even though it’s not too far from being adopted by enough states to make it operational).

I’ve mentioned this before, but back in the day (prior to 2000) it was pretty much taken for granted that a candidate winning the popular vote but losing the election would be a terrible thing, if not an occasion for an actual constitutional crisis. Then almost overnight it just became one of those things that happen sometimes because of the Wisdom of the Framers and because we’re a republic not a democracy so shut up already. (20 years later, the remarkable consensus among media and other elites that the putative results of the 2000 presidential election had to be treated as legitimate was striking. This was even before 9/11, although that put the final nail in the coffin of any real dissent on the issue).

In any case I think it’s notable that as obviously indefensible an institution as the Electoral College continues to get something close to a free pass in mainstream and elite media discourse, and that the economic motivations to keep presidential races competitive for media coverage purposes may play a role in maintaining that situation.

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