electoral college: Objections to the System
Only at the very outset did the electoral college function as planned, and there often has been widespread dissatisfaction with the institution. The outstanding objection is that it has given the nation many so-called minority presidents, i.e., presidents who had a majority in the electoral college but lacked it in the total national popular vote—James Polk (1844), Zachary Taylor (1848), James Buchanan (1856), Abraham Lincoln (1860, but not 1864), Rutherford B. Hayes (1876), James A. Garfield (1880), Grover Cleveland (1884 and 1892), Benjamin Harrison (1888), Woodrow Wilson (1912 and 1916), Harry S. Truman (1948), John F. Kennedy (1960), Richard M. Nixon (1968, but not 1972), Bill Clinton (1992 and 1996), George W. Bush (2000, but not 2004), and Donald J. Trump (2016). Only Hayes, Harrison, Bush, and Trump, however, failed to win a plurality of the popular vote.
Since the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment, numerous attempts have been made to alter the electoral college and to change the method of presidential election, but none has succeeded. The popular-vote loss and narrow electoral-college victory of George W. Bush in 2000 again led many to question the appropriateness of the institution in a modern representative democracy. Others continued to voice strong support for the electoral college and its enhancement of the importance of less populous states (by basing the number of a states' electors on its U.S. representatives and senators), fearing that otherwise presidential candidates would focus on more populous states and on the issues important to their voters. Since 2007 a number of states have joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would require a state's electors to vote for the winner of the popular vote nationwide; the compact would only become effective after states with a total of 270 electoral votes join.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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