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So should we keep the Electoral College? Poll finds voters divided

Understanding the Electoral College: 'A process not a place'

It’s time for America to get up to speed again on the Electoral College, that oddball way the nation selects its president every four years.
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It’s time for America to get up to speed again on the Electoral College, that oddball way the nation selects its president every four years.

Democratic voters are much more inclined than Republicans to relegate the Electoral College to the trash heap of history, according to a new national survey.

That’s apparently what happens when you lose the electoral vote count despite winning the popular vote in two of the last five presidential elections, which leaves your party outside the White House looking in.

That’s been the fate of two Democratic presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton last month and Al Gore in 2000. Her lead over Donald Trump is approaching 3 million votes. But he won more electoral votes: 306-232.

A McClatchy-Marist Poll found that more than half of registered voters – 52 percent – think the winner of the popular vote for president should determine who becomes the leader of the free world; 45 percent think the Electoral College has worked out just fine.

But breaking the sentiments down by party reveals a partisan gap.

Among Democrats, 78 percent support using the popular vote as the measure, compared with 29 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of independent voters.

“I just feel like it doesn’t work the way it should,” said Jason Torian, 34, a baker from Roxboro, North Carolina. “I think the electors are going to vote just like they always have. More than one Republican elector knows Donald Trump is unqualified to be president. But they feel like for whatever reason, they should continue to support him.”

On the other hand, 67 percent of Republicans like the system as it is, along with just 19 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independents who prefer to keep the Electoral College as the final arbiter.

“It’s not a popularity contest,” said Beverly Olson, 64, a supermarket worker from Fort Walton Beach, Florida. “The way the Founding Fathers put the Electoral College, they had to get so many votes from all the states to make it fair. We know California has a lot more people and New York has more people.”

The Electoral College is not actually a place, but a set of electors from each state, whose number is based on population. There are 538 electors; 270 are needed to win. It was a compromise between direct election of the president by the then-fledgling nation’s citizens, which some of the Founding Fathers fretted about, and having members of Congress decide. In practice, it attempts to better equalize the influence of every state.

“We do need the checks and balances in place,” said Samantha Myers, 27, a social worker from Houston, Texas, who supported Clinton, but thinks the electoral college should remain in place. “With the populations of New York, California and Texas, we do have to make sure every state’s issues and concerns are heard.”

The electors will meet Monday to cast their ballots and, presumably, affirm the election of Trump. It’s generally a pro forma exercise, devoid of drama.

But not this year. An effort is underway to persuade Republican electors to reconsider their support for Trump in light of the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that the Russian government tried to influence the presidential election through hacks into the Democratic National Committee.

The Washington Post has reported that the CIA believes that the purpose was to damage Clinton and help elect Trump. NBC News reported that intelligence officials believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin was involved. Trump critics have said the electors should be given access to the intelligence behind the Russian hacks before they vote to affirm the election results.

Trump has called the notion of Russians trying to undermine the election “ridiculous” and has publicly disparaged the U.S. intelligence community. During the campaign, he praised Putin, a former Russian intelligence operative who rules like a dictator, calling him “a leader far more than our president has been.”

Vera Bergengruen and Anita Kumar contributed.

David Goldstein: 202-383-6105, @GoldsteinDavidJ

The poll’s methodology

This survey of 1,005 adults was conducted December 1st through December 9th, 2016 by The Marist Poll,sponsored and funded in partnership with McClatchy. Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the contiguous United States were contacted on landline or mobile numbers and interviewed in English by telephone using live interviewers. Landline telephone numbers were randomly selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation from ASDE Survey Sampler, Inc. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. Respondents in the household were randomly selected by first asking for the youngest male. This landline sample was combined with respondents reached through random dialing of cell phone numbers from Survey Sampling International. After the interviews were completed, the two samples were combined and balanced to reflect the 2013 American Community Survey 1-year estimates for age, gender, income, race, and region. Results are statistically significant within ±3.1 percentage points. There are 873 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within ±3.3 percentage points. The error margin was not adjusted for sample weights and increases for cross-tabulations.

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