Americans Support Proposal to Eliminate Electoral College System

by Frank Newport

As Congress officially certifies electoral vote this weekend, a majority of Americans say they would prefer changing to a popular vote system

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Both chambers of the United States Congress will meet in joint session on Saturday, January 6 in order to carry out Congress' ceremonial task of reading the electoral votes cast by each state, and officially certifying Texas Governor George W. Bush as the next president. In so doing, the House and Senate are following the requirements of Article II of the Constitution, which lays out the procedures by which each state appoints a number of electors, who in turn meet in their respective states and vote for president and vice president. The Constitution goes on to state that "The president of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates, and the votes shall then be counted. The person having the greatest number of votes shall be the president, if such number be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed; … "

This process, which has been carried out in the election of U.S. presidents for over 200 years, says nothing about the popular vote of the citizens of the country, thus leaving the president and vice president as the only elective federal officials not chosen directly by the vote of the people.

The system has generated intense scrutiny this year, only the third time in history in which the winner of the Electoral College (and thus the winner of the presidency) was not also the popular vote winner. Just as Rutherford Hayes and Benjamin Harrison won the presidency while losing the popular vote in 1876 and 1888, respectively, George W. Bush will be taking office this year having lost the popular vote to Al Gore by more than 500,000 votes.

There is little question that the American public would prefer to dismantle the Electoral College system, and go to a direct popular vote for the presidency. In Gallup polls that stretch back over 50 years, a majority of Americans have continually expressed support for the notion of an official amendment of the U.S. Constitution that would allow for direct election of the president.

One of the earliest times in which the public was asked about the Electoral College system was June 1944, just before Franklin Roosevelt's re-election to his fourth term. A Gallup Poll question asked, "It has been suggested that the electoral vote system be discontinued and presidents of the U.S. be elected by total popular vote alone. Do you favor or oppose this proposal?" The answer: 65% of Americans said they favored the proposal, with 23% saying they opposed it, and another 13% saying they had no opinion.

In 1967, the Poll question was modified to focus more explicitly on the idea of a constitutional amendment. The question asked if respondents would approve or disapprove of an amendment to the Constitution that would do away with the Electoral College and "base the election of a president on the total popular vote cast throughout the nation." Fifty-eight percent approved of that proposition, with only 22% disapproving (the rest were unsure).

In May 1968, the percentage favoring a constitutional amendment was 66%, and by November 1968, just after the narrow victory of Richard M. Nixon in the popular vote (despite a more substantial victory in the Electoral College vote), that percentage increased to 80%.

In 1977, 73% approved of such an amendment. In November 1980, the last time until this year that Gallup asked about the Electoral College, 67% of those interviewed approved of a constitutional amendment getting rid of the Electoral College.

This year, Gallup has asked about the Electoral College system twice, with slightly different wording than was used in the past:

Thinking for a moment about the way in which the president is elected in this country, which would you prefer: to amend the Constitution so the candidate who receives the most total votes nationwide wins the election, or to keep the current system, in which the candidate who wins the most votes in the Electoral College wins the election?

 

Amend the Constitution

Keep the current system


Both/Neither


No opinion

         

November 11-12

61%

35

2

2

December 15-17

59%

37

1

3

Support for changing the Constitution this year, although still clearly in the majority, may be down somewhat from previous decades because of an apparent reluctance on the part of Republicans to support the change -- which would have given the presidency this year to Al Gore rather than to George W. Bush. Here is the breakdown of the responses to the question as asked in the December 15-17 poll by party affiliation, and by the groups of voters who say they would support Bush and Gore in a hypothetical 2004 election:

 

Amend the Constitution

Keep the current system


Both/Neither


No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

         

Total sample

59

37

1

3

         

Republicans

41

56

1

2

Independents

57

38

1

4

Democrats

75

22

1

2

         

Bush voters in 2004

40

57

-

3

Gore voters in 2004

75

22

1

2

The question referred to general changes in the Constitution, with no specific references to the situation in Florida. Still, the fact that there is a 34-percentage-point difference in the level of support for the change between Republicans and Democrats suggests that many respondents may have been thinking about how the system would have worked to their candidate's benefit or detriment this year.

Support for getting rid of the Electoral College is also higher among younger Americans. Sixty-six percent of those 18-29 and 63% of those 30-49 say the system should be amended, compared to only 51% of those 50 years of age and older.

The significant -- and predictable -- variations by party in interest in amending the Constitution suggest that Americans generally understand how the system works. In fact, in a November 13-15 Gallup poll, only about 28% of those interviewed said they didn't understand the Electoral College system well, while 72% said they understood how it works at least "somewhat well."

Many members of Congress, including New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, have announced their support for an amendment to do away with the Electoral College. But despite the fact that about six out of ten Americans support the idea, the real-world chances for the success of such an amendment may not be all that robust, given the high barriers to constitutional change set up by the framers of the Constitution in Article V. Two-thirds of the members of both houses of Congress would have to approve such an amendment, and then three-quarters of the legislatures of the 50 states would have to ratify it in order to change the system to direct election of a president by popular vote.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,011 national adults, aged 18+, conducted December 15-17, 2000. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Get Articles in Related Topics:


Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/2140/Americans-Support-Proposal-Eliminate-Electoral-College-System.aspx
Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030