Like many political issues today, North Carolinians have divided opinions about the way we elect our presidents. A Civitas poll released in March revealed that 47 percent of those polled statewide believe a popular vote model is the best outcome to determine the winner, while 43 percent favor the Electoral College.
Perhaps more notable, a substantial majority of North Carolinians (55-29 percent) polled rejected SB 104 when explained to them. That bill would bind North Carolina’s electors to the popular vote winner, known more popularly as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). The polling suggests that voters may be more apt to support the Electoral College when offered more information, proving their instincts about the superiority of our current system are correct.
The Electoral College model, enshrined by our Founding Fathers, is advantageous to North Carolina for a number of reasons. One of the main benefits is that North Carolina is now a perennial swing state. While Democratic presidential candidates have only won the state once since 1980 — Barack Obama in 2008 — many of those races remained competitive, particularly in years where the election was close. Presidential candidates pay special attention to North Carolina because its electoral votes are up for grabs. The Civitas poll notes too that voters seem to be aware of this benefit for North Carolina.
Compared to most every state, North Carolina is relatively rural. Only Texas has more rural residents, and proportionally North Carolina has a larger rural population. This matters in terms of switching to a popular vote because candidates for president would spend the bulwark of their time campaigning in major media markets and primarily focusing only on urban residents and their preferred issues. The top media markets in North Carolina do not even rank in the upper 20 nationally, with Charlotte at 23, and Raleigh (Fayetteville) at 25.
At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a direct popular vote election was the least popular consideration and was immediately scrapped. After all, our nation is a republic and not a pure democracy. Initially, delegates seemed to be settling on the idea of the U.S. House of Representatives selecting our president, given they were considered to be most in tune with the electorate. But smaller states realized this would put them at a disadvantage and a compromise was reached to have states vote as a single bloc through their electors.
In the modern era of presidential elections, North Carolina has never gone with the loser when the winner secured a victory in the Electoral College but lost the popular vote. Since 1892, there have only been two occurrences when the winner of the popular vote for president lost the Electoral College: 2000 and 2016.
A popular vote winner-take-all election would only cater to urban interests and pull candidates further and further to the left. Centrist and conservative states like North Carolina would quickly be left behind to the whims of the largest media markets and packed urban enclaves. Worst of all, a president could easily be elected with 30 percent of the popular vote in a crowded field, further alienating more and more Americans.
Our state and nation need to do a better job of teaching these truths in schools and reminding the citizenry, while the American Founders were not perfect, they left us a model intent on empowering states’ rights and preserving liberty. North Carolina should be leading the charge in the expansion of those ideals, not looking for ways to dismantle the Republic that has lasted for over 230 years.
This piece was originally published in the Fayetteville Observer.