Shortly after major news outlets officially called the Presidential election between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump in Mr. Biden’s favor, Democrat and Republican party officials began opining what went right or wrong for them this election. Republicans, though they lost the White House pretty decisively, are favored to retain control of the Senate, and unexpectedly cut into the Democrats’ house majority by ousting many first time Democrat nominees, and flipping competitive house districts. Still, Mitch McConnell lamented the party’s poor showing in the suburbs, with women, and with college-educated voters, echoing the Republican Party’s infamous “autopsy” after Mitt Romney’s failed Presidential bid in 2012.

Centrist Democrats were quick to hang their poor showing in House races on the party’s progressive wing. Blaming someone else’s platform for your own political shortcomings is a tenuous excuse for underperforming in an election — especially one in which progressive candidates won elections in battleground states like Arizona and Pennsylvania, and progressive organizers played a crucial role nationally by raising turnout in states like Nevada, and cities like Milwaukee, Detroit, and Philadelphia.

In-fighting between the Moderate and Progressive wings of the Democratic party reached a public crescendo when representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez NY-14, and Conor Lamb PA-17 traded interviews in The New York Times following a contentious party meeting. When asked to diagnose Democrats’ shortcomings in House races, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez wondered how moderates could blame progressives after failing to run a “full-fledged campaign,” and cited Mr. Lamb’s $2,000 spent on Facebook advertising the week before the election as evidence of digital advertising incompetency and “malpractice.” Mr. Lamb insisted Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, “doesn’t have any idea how we ran our campaign, or what we spent […] her statement was wrong,” and remained unconvinced that progressive policies like single-payer health insurance and the Green New Deal were winning strategies in swing districts: “people are not clamoring for [those] two policies.”

In a democracy with stabler, more electorally proportional institutions, the outcomes of Ms. Ocasio-Cortezs’ and Mr. Lamb’s races would have little to do with Democrats’ national showing. Yet, intraparty squabbling between the moderates and progressives is almost inevitable given the current Republican bias of the Electoral College. Scaling moderate campaign strategies that succeed in swing state districts like Mr. Lamb’s up to the national stage, the thinking goes, is a party’s best shot at capturing the White House. Failure to fall in line with the moderate messaging is viewed as a threat to the party’s national success.

Historically, both Democratic and Republican Presidential candidates have benefited from an unbalanced electoral map, but according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Republicans’ current advantage is unmatched in modern elections. In today’s polarized political environment, the Republican electoral college advantage is turning into a deep partisan one. Take a look at this chart, showing the partisan lean of reliably Republican states, according to FiveThiryEight’s partisan lean ratings, and their electoral college vote share.

 

To win the support of their base, a Republican presidential candidate must appease a group of voters that, on average, votes 24 points more Republican than the rest of the country. Any Republican presidential candidate can run to the far right, and still comfortably appeal to their base, netting about a quarter of the total electoral college votes along the way.
Democrats, on the other hand, though they have more reliably blue electoral votes, do not enjoy as much partisan latitude as Republicans.

Democrats’ average reliably blue state is seven points fewer partisan than the average safely Republican state, meaning Democratic Presidential candidates face centrist pressure when campaigning to their base. That pressure only intensifies as they consider electoral strategies in swing states. Below are the twelve states The New York Times considered tight contests in the 2020 Presidential election, along with their partisan lean and electoral college vote share.

The average 2020 swing state votes five percentage points more Republican than the rest of the country — which leaned four to five points more Democratic for President this election, a sizable ten point swing — and together, the states account for over a third of the electoral college. While these partisan trends are almost always in a small state of fluctuation, they’re unlikely to swing from red to blue any time soon. Democrats retaining Georgia and Arizona in future elections could restore some partisan balance to swing states, but, in Georgia at least, the long term reliability of the state’s leftwards shift is unclear. For the foreseeable future, any presidential candidate will need to appease a comparatively small demographic of voters who are more inclined to vote Republican than the national electorate. Troublingly, candidates running to the far right need only water down, or in some cases maintain, their hyper-conservative messaging in a handful of swing states to win the White House, while losing the popular vote.

Whether or not moving to the center is the best way for Democrats to combat a partisan disadvantage advantage — especially one that leaves the door open for broadly unpopular, far-right candidates — is certainly worth considering, but, perhaps instead of debating a pivot to the center or a push to the left, progressives could help do away with the grounds for the conversation altogether.

I am speaking, of course, about eliminating the electoral college. A partisan advantage festering in one of the United State’s oldest institutions is untenable. Campaigns where one evenly weighted electorate chooses the President instead of fifty-one unbalanced, separate ones would be more democratic, would not favor either party, and would buoy the hopes of candidates from both parties who run on policies favored by a majority of voters. In other words, it should be higher on progressives’ wish list.

Totally eliminating the electoral college would require a constitutional amendment, but securing one would be no easy feat as Democrats’ control of the Senate rests on the outcome of the Georgia runoffs in January. While Democrats still have a shot at winning both seats, the outlook is not in their favor. Fortunately, there’s another path — one that skirts a constitutional amendment, and is within progressives’ organizing capabilities.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPV) is an agreement between state legislatures where electoral college representatives pledge their states’ electoral votes to the national popular vote winner only after states worth a minimum of 270 electoral votes have entered into the agreement. NPV organizers have been lobbying their interstate compact for decades, and to date, the group has secured just under seventy five percent of the requisite vote total. This year, Colorado voted to remain in the pact after critics of the bill garnered enough signatures to put together an oppositional ballot initiative; in March 2020, Virginia came tantalizingly close to joining the pact, before deferring the bill to the 2021 legislative session; in Nevada, Governor Steve Sisolak — a Democrat — vetoed the bill in May of 2019 after is passed Nevada’s House and Senate.

Seventy six electoral votes, enough to trigger the the interstate compact, come from seven states that went blue in 2020: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Minnesota and Michigan even have a slight Democrat partisan lean. These groups of states passing the NPV bill may be one of the quickest way to make the electoral college obsolete, but it is by no means the surest; Republicans currently control the state legislatures in all but one of those states — Minnesota’s state legislature is split. Only three Republican controlled state legislatures have ever passed the NPV.

Given how poorly Democrats did in state legislature races this year, and how the party in the White House tends to lose midterm seats in the House, Democrats must embrace a new strategy ahead of the 2022 election cycle if they want to flip state legislatures from red to blue. Fortunately, a variety of ballot initiatives from the 2020 election provide clues as to which types of policies win when every person’s vote is weighted equally: A $15 dollar minimum wage overwhelmingly passed in Florida, where voters handed Trump a three point margin of victory; in Arizona, a state which had not voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate since 1996, voters raised taxes on individuals making more than $250,000, and funneled the new revenue into the state’s public education system; voters in Arizona, New Jersey, Montana, and South Dakota — the latter two combine to vote forty-six points more republican than the rest of the country — chose to legalize recreational marijuana; Oregon decriminalized the recreational possession of most hard drugs and is using their tax profit from the recreational marijuana market to fund rehab programs for addicts. Progressive platforms should not be dismissed by centrists as viable electoral strategies in red states. If deployed with deft political acumen and keen attention to local causes, they could net Democrats new state legislative majorities in 2022, and bring the country closer to a NPV electoral system.

Irrespective of Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress, Passing the NPV may ultimately be the less partisan, stabler way to ensure every American’s vote is weighted equally. Instead of two Senators from every state deciding (most likely along party lines) to remove one of our oldest institutions, fifty states and the District of Columbia will each have the opportunity to decide whether or not to align their electorate with the NPV. If states worth 270 electoral votes (likely a majority, or close to it) choose to do so, the policy becomes law for the country. One state, one vote — sound familiar?

To check the status of the National Popular Vote bill in your state and find ways to contribute to the movement, click here.