Jonathan Bernstein in TNR is a lot less enthusiastic about the Electoral College then he used to be, which is good, because the EC sucks and he used to be wrong-er then he is now. But on his own blog he weirdly undercuts himself, especially with this claim:

Basically, the states that matter per the EC system are those that are big and close. And that’s good — because Congress rewards small states (in the Senate) and one-party states and districts (to the extent that seniority matters). Which means that large cities, in particular, have traditionally been helped by the EC.

This just seems totally off-base. Here are the 20 largest MSAs in the United States by population:

1 New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA MSA 18,897,109
2 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA MSA 12,828,837
3 Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI MSA 9,461,105
4 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX MSA 6,371,773
5 Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD MSA 5,965,343
6 Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX MSA 5,946,800
7 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV MSA 5,582,170
8 Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL MSA 5,564,635
9 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA MSA 5,268,860
10 Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH MSA 4,552,402
11 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA MSA 4,335,391
12 Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI MSA 4,296,250
13 Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA MSA 4,224,851
14 Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, AZ MSA 4,192,887
15 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA MSA 3,439,809
16 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI MSA 3,279,833
17 San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA MSA 3,095,313
18 St. Louis, MO-IL MSA 2,812,896
19 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL MSA 2,783,243
20 Baltimore-Towson, MD MSA 2,710,489

Notice something? In terms of “swing-state-y-ness” you have basically:

· Pennsylvania

· Missouri

· Florida

· New Hampshire?

· Indiana?

· Virgnia?

But as far as presidential campaigns go the people in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington DC, California, Illinois, Texas, West Virginia, Georgia, Massachussets, Michigan, Arizona, Washington, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are all but ignored. And those states contain most of the people in America’s 20 largest metro areas. Indeed, California, New York, and Texas alone contain 81.78 million people, more than a quarter of the country.

I think the thing that Bernstein seems to weirdly elide over in his thinking about this is the issue of structural bias:

As far as I know, however, there’s no systematic reason why things have changed; it could just be a fluke that will reverse itself soon enough. After all, the logic for big states (with their varied interests) tending to be more competitive than small states makes sense, and even now large states still remain somewhat more competitive. It’s hardly impossible to imagine California reverting to the competitive state it was up until the 1990s, or Democratic dreams of a demographic revolution making Texas a swing state coming true.

Indeed, it’s not hard at all! But it’s also not hard to imagine, well, the present – the vast majority of the nation’s population being rendered essentially irrelevant in choosing the President. If the Electoral College used to be good for New York but is now bad for New York then who is to say which is the “fluke?”

I think the real issue is that we should think about how to represent people, not states – any attempt at the latter will be less democratic and representative than attempts at the former, regardless of the structural flaws inherent in any democratic system.

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