Politics and Government

Population and the Electoral College

Epistemic status: Speculative. I did some personal research on the electoral college, and have some intuitions about voting, but I have no special expertise in this area.  
This depressing webtool lets you figure out, among other scenarios, how few counties you can move to make Hillary Clinton win the electoral vote. (Spoiler at the bottom)


I do think that something like an electoral college is a good idea. It’s not hard to imagine a political coalition that consistently wins huge margins in big cities or a few highly populous states, gets virtually no votes elsewhere and still wins the popular vote. I think that would be bad.

That said, the current system is just *INCREDIBLY* shitty.

For those not in the loop; the # of electoral college votes for each state is determined by their # of congressional representatives. So, 2 senators plus at least 1 congressperson per state. This gives a huge advantage to low-population states. The two lowest population states, Vermont and Wyoming don’t even have 700,000 residents, but get fully 3 electoral votes.

States then supposedly get an additional congressional district (and congresspeople and electoral votes) for every roughly ~710,000 people living there. In reality there are weird irregularities in how new districts are added. Montana and Rhode Island both have a pop. of 1 mil +/- 100k, but MT gets 3 electoral votes while RI gets 4. Louisiana has ~4.53 mil people, Alabama has ~4.78, Louisiana has 8 votes Alabama has 9.

To show how distorting this system is is, here’s a sample of the population per electoral vote in different states, ordered by pop.:

CA (~37.25m pop/55e.votes)= 677,348 p/ev
TX (~25.15m pop/38e.votes)= 661,725 p/ev
PA (~12.70m pop/20e.votes)= 635,119 p/ev
VA (~8.00m pop/13e.votes) = 615,463 p/ev
WI (~5.69m pop/10e.votes)= 568,698 p/ev
AL (~4.78m pop/9e.votes)= 531,082 p/ev
LO (~4.53m pop/8e.votes)= 566,672 p/ev
NV (~2.70m pop/6e.votes)= 450,092 p/ev
WV (~1.85m pop/5e.votes)= 370,599 p/ev
RI (~1.05m pop/4e.votes) = 263,142 p/ev
MT(~0.99m pop/3e.votes) = 329,805 p/ev
VT(~0.62m pop/3e.votes) = 208,580 p/ev
WY(~0.56m pop/3e votes)= 187,875 p/ev

Revolting, yeah? Huge range in absolute voting power, huge variation in the per-unit effect of changes in population, multiple internal trend reversals, and this ISN’T EVEN ONE OF THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE PROBLEMS PEOPLE TALK ABOUT.

This is *not* a swing-state vs. safe state thing, this is not voter fraud, this is not ‘faithless electors’, this is literally just population per electoral vote. If California was a swing state, your vote would *still* count way less than someone in West Virginia, or Nevada, or Wisconsin, let alone Wyoming.

Changes I’d like to see:

1. Ditch the appointed ‘electors’ all together, they are a bad idea.
2. Decouple electoral votes from Congressional representation, and use a population-indexed point system with a less extreme small-state-friendly flattening term.

Keeping state voting-blocks unified makes sense due to the unification of their governments. Changes in the federal government affect Californians differently than Nevadans. Discrepancies in the per capita number of districts could also be sensible, I don’t know enough about it and I reserve judgment, but I can’t think of any reason to link # districts to electoral votes. I don’t know why we settled on that idea in the first place; availability heuristic and decision fatigue among the Framers perhaps?

Residents of small states should get their voting power nudged upward and residents of large states should get a nudge downward. I don’t know what weight to use, and there will be downsides to any system. But, Wyoming votes should not count nearly 4x more than California votes. Louisiana voters should not have less voting power than Alabama despite having a *lower* population, and moving a single county from one state to another should *probably* not flip presidential elections.

Politics and Government

What Trump Voters Believe

Epistemic status: Anecdata, but pretty confident. This post accurately records my personal experiences interacting with Trump voters on the internet. I think the factual claims are modest enough that I endorse them as written. I intentionally don’t make broader statements about “what most Trump voters believe” or related topics.

(CW: The beliefs of Trump voters)

I made some posts on various pro-Trump parts of the internet to get out of my bubble and learn a little more about why people chose Trump.

I was hoping to find some common ground, or at least a less depressing narrative than the one in my head.

No dice on that.

Here’s three things I did learn. Note that these beliefs are *not* the ‘reasons’ I think the election went for Trump, but rather the explanations offered by a certain set of Trump supporters for their choice.

1. Many people are extremely upset about ‘social justice warriors’ and ‘political correctness’. The specific features that Trumpfolk find most upsetting vary considerably, but include:
privilege and race discussions of the ‘offensive Halloween costume’ or ‘racist sports mascot’ variety;
Black Lives Matter and affiliated movements;
perceived unwillingness of liberal politicians and journalists to say bad things about Islam;
fears of accepting refugee immigrants from Syria and similar places;
and, perhaps most tellingly, a general perception that race, gender, and sexuality ‘cards’ are played to smear political rivals and silence reasonable dissent.

2. Many Trump supporters believe that elites on both sides of the political aisle are part of a vast multinational conspiracy to preserve the power of the ruling class over everyone else. The exact composition of this cabal is vague, but it includes lots of rich people, government leaders from around the world, and definitely George Soros. Trump is believed to be uniquely free from the influence of the cabal. Evidence for this includes the universal revulsion that ‘cabal-y’ people feel towards him, and also his immense personal wealth, which they believe insulates him from corruption. As one supporter put it, ‘What would Trump have to gain by being President?’. Trump has so much wealth and power already that many of his supporters think he would never subject himself to the inconvenience of a presidential run unless he were altruistically motivated.

3. Clinton is super-part of the aforementioned conspiracy. The Clinton Foundation is a slushfund. The Clintons have taken money from the Saudis and other suspiciously ‘Islamic’ foreign powers. The Clintons have constructed a vast web of influence with corporations, the media, and other powerful folk. The most damning evidence for Clinton’s special corruption comes from Wikileaks releases of her emails. One of the most important leaks is a 2008 memo from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta (linked here: https://wikileaks.org/podesta-emails/emailid/59125) outlining key strategies and messaging for Hillary’s 2008 run. Podesta strategy imperatives like “brand all conservative candidates as ‘Bush’ Republicans” and “drive the content of politics through a strong “echo chamber” and message delivery system” are held up as conclusive proof of the Clinton’s desire to brainwash and control the American populace.

Notably absent from the people that I spoke to were Conservative talking points like abortion, climate change, or government waste. The exception was the considerable anger at Obamacare, which seemed more motivated by opposition-in-principle than personal inconvenience. This is probably partly a selection effect, questions asked in explicitly pro-Trump online spaces naturally get answers from exceptionally ‘Trumpy’ people.

Overall, I feel considerably worse about the election that I did before. I didn’t expect to find sophisticated conservative arguments about the tax burden or cost-benefit evaluation of environmental regulations, but I was hoping for some good old fashioned working class anger. Ultimately, I do think the rage of working class whites tipped the election by hurting Clinton in WI, PA, and WV. That said, Trump also gained lots of motivated support from people primarily concerned with the things above. I want to scream.

EDIT: I should point out that there were also a fair number of people who said things like “He can’t be worse than her” or “We’re fucked either way, but a least we don’t know what he’ll do” or “If he fucks us at least we can say we tried”. So there’s that.