3Qs: Will Sandy have an impact on the election?

Nov 05, 2012 by Matt Collette
Michael Dukakis, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, discusses what the devastating hurricane might mean for the presidential race — and how the Electoral College factors into the equation. Credit: Brooks Canaday

Just five days remain until the nation elects its next pres­i­dent. But Michael Dukakis, Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Polit­ical Sci­ence and the 1988 Demo­c­ratic nom­inee for pres­i­dent, says the flawed Elec­toral Col­lege system could pre­vent Hur­ri­cane Sandy's after­math from having any major impact on the pres­i­den­tial race.

How might Hurricane Sandy, which arrived just over a week before Election Day, sway the outcome of the presidential race?

I didn't think at first that it would have any great effect, but now that New Jersey's gov­ernor has weighed in with high praise for Pres­i­dent Obama, it may well make a dif­fer­ence. It's an oppor­tu­nity for the pres­i­dent to show how effec­tively he can manage a crisis like this, and people are paying atten­tion. The failure of both Bushes to handle a major storm well had a very serious impact on their polit­ical futures —espe­cially Bush One, who badly han­dled Hur­ri­cane Andrew in south Florida just before the 1992 elec­tion. More­over, Romney was the guy who said that most of the respon­si­bility for responding to dis­as­ters should be left to the , not the fed­eral government.

is going to have a lot to do with the field oper­a­tions each cam­paign has on the ground, and I don't know if either cam­paign has a major pres­ence in either New York or New Jersey; both of those states were sup­posed to be safe states for Obama, and not much cam­paigning was going to be able to swing them the other way. It could bring Penn­syl­vania back into play, where Romney has returned and Obama has a major field oper­a­tion. Super PACs could make a real dif­fer­ence. They are pouring money by the mil­lions into these states and buying ads where a lot of people—those with elec­tricity—don't have much to do but watch tele­vi­sion and wait for the worst to be over.

How might the storm's political impact be different if the presidency were decided by the popular vote rather than the Electoral College?

The pop­ular vote doesn't mean much any­more. I think that's a tragedy. The can­di­dates are spending all of their time in about seven states 'while 85 per­cent of the nation is standing by as spec­ta­tors. There's no incen­tive for the can­di­dates or the major par­ties get out the vote in the rest of the country. If every vote counted the same, things would be very dif­ferent. The state par­ties would be extremely moti­vated across the country to get every voter to the polls. But that's not what's hap­pening. Our cur­rent system is a dis­tor­tion of what ought to be a healthy, active and demo­c­ratic process.

We should have abol­ished the Elec­toral Col­lege 150 years ago. It's absolutely ridicu­lous that we're still picking pres­i­dents this way.

How might the American presidential election process be changed?

The National Pop­ular Vote is the mech­a­nism that would be able to change things. The idea is to get enough states whose total elec­toral votes rep­re­sent the majority a can­di­date would need to win the Elec­toral Col­lege. Then, on a state-​​by-​​state basis, pass leg­is­la­tion that would compel their elec­tors to vote in what­ever way reflected the national pop­ular vote, even if it goes against how that par­tic­ular state voted. Mass­a­chu­setts has already signed on to it, as have eight other states. Under this system, every vote in every state would count the same,.

A lot of Democ­rats already sup­port moving toward using the pop­ular vote to decide the pres­i­dency. And if Obama won the Elec­toral Col­lege but lost the pop­ular vote to Romney, that cer­tainly could get many Repub­li­cans thinking along the same lines. Cer­tainly, many of them are fond of the Elec­toral Col­lege after the 2000 elec­tion, but if a Demo­crat could win the Elec­toral Col­lege without a majority of the pop­ular vote, it just might change their thinking.

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