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Diplomacy in Action

Covering the Election? Two Words You Need to Know: Electoral College

Jennifer Lawless, Professor, American University; Elizabeth Sherman, Assistant Professor, American University
Washington, DC
July 14, 2016

10:00 A.M. EDT


MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. My name is Mary-Katherine and I am the information outreach specialist here at the Foreign Press Centers. Thank you all for coming to today’s briefing on the mystifying process known as the Electoral College. We’re pleased to host American University professors Elizabeth Sherman and Jennifer Lawless today. Elizabeth Sherman has more than two decades of experience in American politics. She founded the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and was a research fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government Center for Public Leadership.

Jennifer (sic) Sherman is the director of the Women in Politics Institute at American University. Her research focuses on political ambition, and she is the author of several books, including “Women on the Run,” which you may have seen on the table as you came in. If you’d like to know more about either of our speakers, their biographies are available on the sign-in table. And at this point I’d like to ask all of you to silence your cell phones. You can leave them on if you’d like to tweet or take pictures or whatever; we just ask that they stay quiet for the duration of the program. And of course, I’d also like to remind you that the views represented here belong to the speakers and are not those of the U.S. Government. And with that, please help me in welcoming Elizabeth to the podium.

MS SHERMAN: Thank you. Thank you. Well, good morning. It’s a wonderful privilege and opportunity to meet with you today and to discuss this very complex topic of the Electoral College. And let me start by saying that the Electoral College is really a misnomer. First of all, it’s not a college; and second of all, it’s not an entity in and of itself. So let me explain to you what I’m going to be talking about today.

I’m going to be telling you about how the Electoral College works, which instead of being a college really is just a group of electors divided among the states and the District of Columbia. So 50 states and the District of Columbia have so-called electors. And I’m going to tell you about what they do, what their function is, how they operate, and how they actually go about deciding who the president and the vice president will be.

Now, after that I’ll explain a little bit about the background of the Electoral College, or the electors – I’ll be calling them the electors – to let you know how they began and how this system is rooted in our constitution, and certainly was decided in 1787 at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

After that, I’ll go on and give you a little sense of how these electors function today, all right, and how these electors actually go about deciding who our president and our vice president will be.

All right. How is the U.S. president elected? That’s the key question for today – not so much what is the Electoral College, but what we need to realize is that it’s these electors who decide who the president will be and who the vice president will be. In short, the electors make the decision; the people do not make the decision.

So how does this work? Voters do not elect the president and the vice president. The electors in every state elect the president and the vice president. So the electors are the intermediaries between the people and the decision. They hear the voice of the people, but then they are in a position to actually cast the electoral votes that will decide who the president and the vice president will be.

So who are these people? Who are the electors who actually choose our president and vice president? Well, they are ordinary citizens, just like you and me. But they have been chosen by the parties, by the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, to be the electors who will choose who the decision makers will be, who the leaders will be. Now, citizens in every state choose these electors usually in a convention. So members of the Democratic Party will get together and they will have a convention, and they will say, “All right, who’s interested in being an elector? Would you like to be an elector? Would you like to be an elector?” They have to be outstanding people. But as the Constitution says, you may not be a federal office holder or in a federal position. So in other words, a person who is in the Health and Human Services Department, in the State Department, someone who is an elected member of Congress may not be an elector, all right?

Now, who did the electors vote for? So they are in a position to make the decision about whether the president will be Obama or Romney or this time probably Trump or Hillary Clinton. So how do they decide, once all the votes have been – all the citizens have voted in a given state, how do they decide who they’re going to vote for? Well, obviously the voice of the people will come through. The people in every state, let’s say Virginia, will vote for their choice. And if – and whoever is the choice of the citizens of Virginia is a message, a very powerful message, to the electors: We in the majority have decided to vote – or not the majority, the plurality actually – the plurality of voters have decided to vote for Trump or for Hillary. And then the electors understand that to be true, so it is their obligation to vote – to award their electoral votes for the winner of the popular vote.

Now, what’s interesting is that it doesn’t have to be a majority of voters in any given state. It’s only a plurality of voters. So if there are five candidates on the ballot in Virginia for president and vice president, the person who has the most votes wins, does not have to be over 50 percent. So that’s important to remember.

Now, do the electors have to vote for the choice of the people? In 25 states, yes; in 25 states and the District of Columbia, no. So this is an important thing to understand about those electors. They are in a position to decide, in 25 states and the District of Columba, whether they actually want to vote for the people – for the person who has been chosen by the people. So that’s important to keep in mind. In other words, the electors, according to our Constitution, provide a firewall between the people and the person who is going to be chosen. So they are the actual decision makers.

Now – the next. These electors, as I said, decide the U.S. elections. Now, each state has a number of electoral votes, depending on how many representatives and senators are awarded in that state. Now, we all know that the House of Representatives is based on population, whereas every state has two senators. No matter how small the state, they have two senators. So automatically, every state will have two electoral votes, and they will also automatically have one electoral vote because they will have one representative. So a state like Wyoming, which has very little population – about 600,000 people live there – they only have one member of the House of Representatives and they have two U.S. senators. So altogether they have three electoral votes: two for the senators, one for the member of the house. A very large state like New York has 35 electoral votes. Florida has 27 electoral votes, because it’s such a huge population.

Now, what we see is that when you add up the electoral votes from every state, we see various numbers of electoral votes. For example, I think Obama won about 332 electoral votes. Adding up all the victories in the – in his states – he won many, many states – 332 electoral votes, so he’s the winner. Well, the magic number is 270.

Here’s where the issue of majority rule comes in. The person who wins the presidency and the person who wins the vice presidency must get a majority of the electoral votes. Now, how many electoral votes are there? There are 538 – all of the states plus the District of Columbia, so it all comes to 538. So the person who gets 270 is going to be the winner.

Now, what happens if no candidate gets to 270? Fortunately, the framers of the Constitution figured out that could happen, because they expected that there would be many, many candidates every four years for president and vice president. I think they would be probably surprised today to see there’s only two usually – two realistic choices. But our two-party system has developed as it has, so there’s only two choices. So they expected that no one would get a majority of the electoral votes and therefore, as they wrote in the Constitution, the decision goes to the House of Representatives.

Now, as you know, the House of Representatives is based on population. So there are 435 members of the House, but wait a minute. Are they all going to be voting? No. Every state gets one – and the District of Columbia will get one vote only. So you can see if this election or any election goes into the House, it could get very, very complicated, because in the House the winner will be the person who gets a majority of the votes. So they would have to get 26 votes in the house, all right? That might be very difficult. The framers recognized that. So they said if the person – if there’s no decision on the first ballot, then the top three winners will be considered by the House.

Now, the framers of our Constitution expected that this would happen very, very frequently. But in fact, it hasn’t happened frequently; it’s only happened two times in American history that the decision has been made in the House of Representatives. But as we can see, it’s a possibility. It’s always going to be a possibility if you have a lot of candidates, because if you have a lot of candidates, probably no one would get to 270, and then it would go into the House.

So why is this system so complicated? Let me just give you a little bit of history. Those who wrote the Constitution could not agree on how to decide on who would be the president and vice president. They had many discussions; they had many debates. They had over 30 votes on how shall we decide who our president and vice president will be.

So finally, at the end, they had three choices. One, the president and vice president will be decided in the Congress. The members of Congress will choose among themselves a president and vice president. They rejected that option after many discussions. They said, okay, let’s have direct elections of the president and vice president – James Madison was in favor of this – where people just cast a vote and whoever gets the majority of all the votes cast in the United States among the citizens is the winner, and many favor that today. But they said, no, we are going to have elections based in the states.

So today we have 51 elections – 50 states plus the District of Columbia. They wanted to give the states the power to decide. But once the states had the power to decide, they were prohibited from having direct elections. No state can have a direct election. Every state must select electors. They will make the decision.

Now, of course, you’ll probably be wondering, is this democratic? Is this a good example of American democracy, which was considered, certainly at the time of the Constitution was written, to be a radical experiment that people would be deciding who their representatives would be? So at the time, certainly, it was considered to be very democratic but it was based on representation. So I don’t know who’s planning on voting in this election coming up, but it is a system of representation. Those electors I told you about – they represent you. So our system is very much based on representation, but there are always these intermediaries who try to express the will of the people, all right? The will of the people – direct democracy – is not part of our system.

The second reason why we have this system is because there was fear of radical candidates. So there was a distrust of the people. They were afraid that the people might be swayed by a radical. They were also afraid that some sections of the country might have more power than others and dominate them. So they wanted – they were worried that the smaller states would be ignored. And so when you look at our system, you realize that the small states kept pressuring those who wrote the Constitution to make sure that they had a very powerful say in who our leaders would be.

So finally, as you probably are wondering – this is so complicated – we thought Americans elected their president, but they don’t. Electors elect the president. So can the system be changed? Many people think it should. In 2000, we had a very contested election. It was the fourth time in our history where the person who lost the popular vote won the presidency because the electors chose this person. But changing the system would be very difficult. Why? Because it would require a constitutional amendment, and as probably you know, to amend the United States Constitution is very difficult. It would also require tremendous support in Congress – two-thirds of each House. Three-quarters of the state legislatures would have to favor a change. This is highly unlikely. The small states, again, would not be in favor.

But there is one thing I want to mention before I leave, and that is that there are two states who have a very unique, different system from all the other ones, and those states are Nebraska and Maine. Now, the state legislatures in Nebraska and Maine passed a law that said when – after we have an election – let’s say it’s 60/40 in favor of Candidate A against Candidate B – it’s not going to be winner take all in Nebraska or Maine, no. We are going to award our electoral votes on the basis of congressional districts. So in this congressional district, there might be – there would be obviously one electoral vote in District 1. All right, did District 1 go for Trump or did District 1 go for Hillary? Maybe they went for Hillary. But what about District 2? They went for Trump. So as you could see, that would divide up the electoral votes in that state. So it’s not winner take all in Nebraska and Maine.

Now, well, what about the senators? Whoever wins the statewide election in Nebraska – let’s say Trump wins Nebraska 52/48 – those two electoral votes will go to Trump because he wins statewide. So two for the statewide and one for each district – one electoral vote. So as you can see in Nebraska and Maine, when – on election night, we’re watching TV and everyone is saying, okay, 27 votes in Florida for Hillary, 27 votes in Florida for Trump – who knows what it will be – but what you want to keep in mind is that when you watch Nebraska or you watch Maine, it could say three electoral votes for Hillary Clinton and two electoral votes for Donald Trump. You see? They divide up their electoral votes. They’re the only ones where it is not winner take all. So that’s going to make it very interesting.

We have an incredibly exciting election coming up and I hope I haven’t gone on too long, but I’ll be looking forward to your questions. Thank you.

MS LAWLESS: Great, thank you very much. Elizabeth had the difficult part. I’m just going to talk about the politics of the Electoral College and what this means for the next couple of months, so I probably won’t speak as long.

What I want to do is briefly highlight what the electoral maps have looked like over the course of the last several decades and then explain why, starting in about 1992 and then certainly in 2000, what has happened is that most states are not even in play. And so the election – the presidential election, when we get to the general, is really taking place just in a handful of battleground states.

So if we look at the Electoral College map from 1972, it was mostly red. You’ll see that Richard Nixon won 520 of the electoral votes compared to George McGovern, who won only 17. He won Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. It’s virtually impossible to envision an electoral map that would look like this in today’s day and age. If we move to 1976, a little bit more like what we’re accustomed to, where Ford lost to Carter – keep going – Reagan beat Carter, though we’re back to the 1972 kind of look. In 1988, if we move forward to Michael Dukakis, again – like, these are states that in today’s day and age, there’s no way that Republicans would win. Keep going.

And then Bill Clinton – this is 1992 – we start to see an electoral map that begins to look like the graphics that we see pretty much in every newspaper and every newscast when we’re talking about the election. Bill Clinton beat both – it’s okay – both George Bush and then Bob Dole the following year with virtually the same map. And then in 2000, which was Bush v Gore, remember that George Bush barely eked out a victory there and that’s pretty much the map that we’re accustomed to today. In 2004 against Kerry, he did a little bit better. And then in the most two recent elections, Barack Obama defeated both McCain and Romney.

But what’s important to keep in mind, if we go to the next slide, is that since 2000, the Democrats have consistently won 18 states that total 242 electoral votes, which gets them almost 90 percent of the electoral votes that they need. And those states as a result are not even considered in play. Those are states that we know the Democrat will win unless something absolutely crazy happens. I’ll talk about how this election cycle might represent that something crazy, but generally speaking, the Democrats start out almost 90 percent of the way to 270. The Republicans have consistently won since 2000 21 states totaling 179 electoral votes. Those states are smaller in population, so that only gets them 66 percent of the 270 votes that they need. But what’s important to keep in mind here is that on the Democratic side, we’re talking about a candidate trying to get 10 percent more votes, and on the Republican side, the Republican candidates are already two-thirds of the way there as well.

And so if we move to the next slide, we see this is the current electoral map. Now, the dark blue states are states that Clinton is projected to definitely win. We wouldn’t expect any campaign there, although I’ve got to say, I was just in New York and she was all over the New York City TV media market buying ads. So you have to wonder about what’s going on in that strategy. I think it’s because Donald Trump thinks that he has a shot at winning New York even though the polls suggest that that’s not the case.

The light blue states are the states that Clinton will probably win, so these are not considered tossup states. They’re just – they are states that have a little bit less support. Those two – the dark blue and the light blue – bring Hillary Clinton to 214 pretty much guaranteed electoral votes. The dark red and the pink bring Donald Trump to about 85 votes. What’s important are the two shades of beige. Hillary Clinton is likely to win the darker shades. Donald Trump is likely to win the lighter shades, which means that Hillary Clinton only needs a sliver of those remaining votes where she’s projected to win in those states to become the president. And so this is a map that’s four months out from the election, and you’ll notice that really not much is up for grabs.

So let me just now speak about three broad implications of what this means. The first thing it means is that campaigns do not take place on the national scene. Now, you might not realize this when you talk to people, because most of them don’t know everything that Elizabeth just told us about the Electoral College. Reporters also, as you know, find it more interesting to report on what people all over the country care about. But it’s only in a handful of states that what people care about really matters, so it’s only in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and Florida where we’ve got real contests. So the campaigns in those states – the resources spent by the candidates in those states – are going to be exorbitantly higher than the resources and the attention spent in the states that are already guaranteed or virtually guaranteed to vote for those candidates, which means that the way that we think about and talk about the national campaign operates very differently from what the campaigns are actually doing in trying to secure the votes that they need.

The second reason that this is important is because it speaks to vice presidential selection and these short lists. Now, a large set of political science studies make it pretty clear that the vice presidential pick is not very important. It doesn’t deem a candidate more or less likely to win an election. But you want to pick a vice president that can supplement your credentials or your electoral gravitas, and often that means selecting somebody from one of these battleground states so that that state could be moved from the probably category into the definitely category. If Hillary Clinton selected as her vice presidential candidate a member of Congress from Texas, it’s very unlikely that Texas, which is a heavily red state, would wind up voting for Hillary Clinton. But if Hillary Clinton selected, for example, Sherrod Brown, who’s the senator from Ohio, Ohio, which is a battleground state, would probably then move into the category of likely Democratic. So that plays a role because you want to find somebody if you can who can deliver a state that would otherwise probably require you to invest a little bit more time and more resources.

The second reason it matters is because you want to demonstrate that you care about the interests of people throughout the country, which is why a lot of people are saying that it’s unlikely that Donald Trump will actually choose Chris Christie as his running mate. Tomorrow at this time we’ll know for sure, but a New Yorker and a – and somebody from New Jersey doesn’t necessarily resonate with the rest of the country. Of course, we also know that Donald Trump is a little bit different and thinks outside the box, and everything that any conventional wisdom has told us so far has been completely wrong. So it may very well be the case that Donald Trump decides that we’re going for a New York/New Jersey ticket.

The third reason that this matters is because it demonstrates that national polls are virtually useless, yet they are what we almost all depend on. And if there’s one thing that you take away from all of my remarks today, it’s that you should ignore the national polls. And let me explain why. There are two basic reasons. The first is simple statistics. A national poll is based on roughly 2,000 people, and a national random sample means that the 2,000 people in that poll represent a diverse array of Americans. So the popular states generally have more people represented in that sample of 2,000; the low-population states have fewer people. But what that means is when you’re talking about 50 states, that some of these polls only have four or five residents of a given state. As a result, what you get is a good snapshot of national public opinion, but it can’t tell us anything about what’s actually happening in these battleground states. So what winds up happening is that the high-population states are significantly overrepresented and more so than how overrepresented they are in terms of their electoral votes.

The other reason that these polls are not particularly useful – excuse me – is because people across the country are not exposed to the same campaign. The way that we are able to micro-target voters now – the way that campaigns can actually identify you by the newspaper subscriptions you have, by the catalogues that come to your home address, by the email preferences that you have given to different companies when you’ve purchased products online – mean that they know exactly what you like and exactly what appeals to you. They also know that in some states it’s worth it for them to advertise on TV and in others it’s not as important. They know that in some states a message about issue X is going to resonate more than a message about issue Y. The people that are not living in these battleground states are not experiencing these campaigns. They’re just experiencing the campaigns that the national news media are telling us are happening. They’re watching some of these high-profile speeches, they’re watching some of these events on TV, but they’re not seeing them in their own hometowns. So we’re really comparing apples to oranges when we’re looking at people who are in battleground states versus people who are not.

So what I would say is the most important thing to do is consider what’s happening at the state-level polls. Now, the tricky part here, though, is that a good national – a good state sample – you still need between 1,200 and 2,000 people. But what a lot of these states do is they figure, well, if a national poll only requires about 2,000 people, we’re just a small state. We can go and survey 117 people and that’ll tell us what we want to know. That’s not how statistics work. And the fewer people that you have, the more uncertainty you have in your predictions. So what you want to do is you want to look at the state polls. You want to see what’s happening in these battleground states. You want to see which candidate is up and which candidate is down.

But you also want to be cognizant of two things. The first is: How big is this sample size? If we’re talking about fewer than 500 people, I would be very leery to believe exactly what these polls are telling you. The second thing is: What is this margin of error? Often, headlines say things like “Clinton down, now up in the poll,” because she had been at 49 and now she’s at 51. Those two numbers are statistically indistinguishable from one another unless you have a margin of error which is less than one percentage point, and no poll is going to have a margin of error like that. But Clinton and Trump in a dead heat or in a tie is not a very interesting headline to read day after day after day. So I would say take into account the sample size and also take into account that margin of error, but what New Yorkers are thinking or what people in California are thinking or what people in Oklahoma are thinking are probably not as relevant as what the people in Florida and Pennsylvania are thinking.

The one point I want to end with is this time around, it’s a little bit different, because there are states that are in play for Hillary Clinton that have traditionally not been before for the Democrat, and there are some states that Donald Trump believes that he can win that Republicans have traditionally not been very successful winning. And this is for a couple of reasons. The first is that a state like Arizona has a high level of immigration and it also has a high level of animosity towards some of these immigration policies that Donald Trump has been favoring. As a result, that state and the people in that state are going to be more inclined to vote for Hillary Clinton than they’ve been inclined to vote for Democratic candidates in the past. Similarly, because of his policies regarding trade, Donald Trump thinks that he could be quite competitive in a state like Michigan, a state that Democrats have traditionally won. Now, whether this actually happens or not is – we still don’t know. But it does suggest that the map this time around might look a little bit different. The overall numbers probably won’t, and 90 percent of the electoral votes that both sides generally get will probably still be what we see, but there could be a little bit more variation.

I do think it’s pretty safe to say, though, that regardless of the fact that Donald Trump is not a conventional candidate and regardless of the fact that he’s not running a very conventional campaign, we are not going to see anything like a solid blue map. We’re beyond those times, and after 2000, it’s hard to imagine any scenario where we’re going to have the kind of Electoral College blowouts that we saw in 1972 or 1984. And now we’re happy to answer any questions you have.

MODERATOR: Anyone have any questions?

QUESTION: I’ll ask a question.

MODERATOR: When you guys ask questions, if you could please state your name and your outlet.

QUESTION: Hi. Allen Abel from Maclean’s Magazine in Canada. Let me ask Professor Sherman – you had a slide up there that said electors have the opportunity to prevent the election of, quote, “bad candidates.”


QUESTION: I’m assuming that’s never happened. Could they – could the electors in one state say yeah, we went Republican, but we think Donald Trump is a bad candidate, and propose someone completely out of the blue?

MS SHERMAN: They absolutely could, depending on one caveat, and that is the state law. Half of the states say you – that the electors are bound to vote for the winner who wins the plurality. So in a given state, if, let’s say, Donald Trump wins 50 percent; Hillary Clinton wins 45 percent; and a third party or fourth party wins the other. So he won the plurality. If they’re in a state where the electors are bound, they must vote all their electoral votes for Donald Trump. If they’re in a state, which is half of the other states, where they are not bound, they could say, “We’re not doing that. We’re going to cast our electoral votes for John Kasich.” They could do that.

Now, has this ever happened? Not on a very large scale, but I will give you an example. In 1912, Woodrow Wilson was running for president and Woodrow Wilson won the popular vote in West Virginia, and the electors didn’t like Woodrow Wilson so they cast all of their electoral votes in West Virginia for Charles Evans Hughes. And that was their right to do so.

Now, this is such an unusual election you have to ask yourself: Will the states change their laws and release the electors from being obligated to vote for the winner of the plurality? States could do that. The state legislatures could change their state laws, the governors could approve those changes, and that could go right through, and the delegates could be unbound. But I think that the founders were very, very afraid that the people would be swayed by a bad candidate and that they might vote for a bad candidate, and they wanted those electors to be there to make the ultimate decision.

QUESTION: Have those 25 and 25 been locked in for decades?

MS SHERMAN: No, I don’t think so. I really am not sure exactly when each state made the decision, but I think over time, gradually these states made decisions about how they wanted to award their electoral votes. And I think some states certainly feel, like, for example, Massachusetts, the voice of the people will rule and we’re not going to allow those electors to have any power whatsoever. And then other states say no, we’re going to maintain it that way.

I think there has been, in the past year, a very strong push for many other states to move towards the plan and the system in Nebraska and Maine because – and that would be very interesting. If that ever happens on a very large scale, I mean, you would have seen a state like Florida, for example, might have given 10 votes for Governor Bush and maybe 12 votes for Vice President Gore and some others for a third party. And so you would have seen the states – it’s possible in the future the states will divide up those electoral votes. But for now, 48 states and the District of Columbia have winner-take-all, based on the plurality – that’s important to remember – the plurality, not the majority, in those states.

QUESTION: Thank you. Let me ask Professor Lawless – your book says, quote, “When it comes to casting a ballot, candidate sex never matters.”

MS LAWLESS: In congressional elections.

QUESTION: Congressional elections. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: How relevant is that to Mrs. Clinton?

MS LAWLESS: I think it’s relevant for a couple of reasons. The argument that Danny Hayes make in this new book “Women on the Run” is that two factors have rendered the sex of a candidate in congressional elections virtually moot. The first is party polarization. It’s gotten to the point where the media cover candidates based on a battle of the parties, not a battle of the sexes, so the volume and substance of coverage that candidates receive is based on their party affiliation, not on their sex. Voters assess candidates based on their party affiliation. Whether people think that the candidates running in their district are strong leaders, are competent, are empathetic, or have a high level of integrity maps almost perfectly onto whether they share the candidate’s party ID, not whether they share the candidate’s sex or what the sex of the candidate is. And the candidates communicate based on the national party’s messages in general and not based on their own individual characteristics.

The second reason that sex isn’t particularly relevant is because in congressional elections it’s no longer novel to have a female candidate. Women are only 20 percent of the United States Congress, but every state, except Rhode Island, in the last 20 year has had a female general election congressional candidate; 24 states have had female senators; 26 states have had female governors. And so even though women are still an underrepresented group, people have become accustomed to electing them, so it’s just not that newsworthy.

For Hillary Clinton’s case and at the presidential election level, the polarization argument still holds; the novelty argument does not, because we are at a time where this would be breaking a glass ceiling. It is novel to have a female presidential candidate. This is the first time a woman has won a major party’s nomination. So to the extent that our argument rests on the novelty piece, it doesn’t apply. The polarization piece though does.

And what that means ultimately, I think, is that people who are Democrats or leaning Democratic will vote for Hillary Clinton, even though they don’t like her very much; and people who are strong Republicans will vote for Donald Trump or they will stay home because they don’t like him very much. We have gotten past the point now where people who are partisans and who identify as strong or leaning partisans will cross party lines either because of the sex of the candidate or because of some unappealing feature. The question is now that sliver of Independents.

But it’s not only the sliver of Independents; it’s smaller than that. It’s the sliver of Independents who live in battleground states. So we’re talking about a very, very small percentage of the population. And for them, the sex of the candidate could potentially matter. But again, it seems to be that that’s only the case if the sex of the candidate is cued is particularly relevant. Donald Trump has tried to make it relevant. He’s tried to impugn Hillary Clinton’s abilities, her competence, her integrity, and has linked it to the fact that she’s only doing as well as she is because she’s a woman; otherwise she wouldn’t even be getting 5 percent of the vote, he said. That has opened Hillary Clinton up to be able to say Donald Trump is a sexist.

So they’ve both injected gender into the race in some of these battleground states, but because they’ve both done it and they’re both talking about it, it’s unclear how these argument will actually resonate. If anything, Clinton probably has the upper hand, because people don’t want to admit to being card-carrying sexists, even if they happen to be.

QUESTION: Would you say the same thing about race?

MS LAWLESS: Race is a little bit different because more than 95 percent of voters tend to –who are African American, for example, tend to reliably vote for the Democratic candidate. And turnout is particularly high in that group when you have a non-white man as the candidate. So because African Americans don’t live across the country and they’re not split up in every congressional district the way that men and women are and because their voting preferences are far more homogeneous than women’s are, there doesn’t seem to be that much give and take. They’re already highly, highly likely to vote for the Democrat, whoever that candidate would be. With women you have a little bit more flexibility to pull or not pull.

MODERATOR: We’ll take one in the back and then go to New York, please.

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Henrique from O Globo from Brazil. I have two questions, one for Professor Elizabeth about – I have it out – the people from Puerto Rico, Samoa, vote in the primary but don’t vote in the presidential election?

MS SHERMAN: No, they are not states. They are commonwealths or they are territories of the United States, so they’re really colonies of the United States. Now, the District of Columbia was in that position for a very, very long time and could not vote for the president of the United States. I grew up here, so I remember my parents couldn’t vote. But a law was passed, the Constitution was amended so that yes, the District of Columbia can vote. But the other, Guam and places like that, cannot vote in the election – in the presidential election.

QUESTION: Okay. And for Professor Jennifer, how did the level for the participation in the election can be change the map? How – if the high participation can change the electoral map?

MS LAWLESS: So higher voter turnout tends to favor Democrats, but when we’re talking about higher voter turnout, it usually means that you’re building a cushion for the popular vote but not necessarily the electoral vote, right? So this could potentially be important. When you have a very close election, if you can generate heightened levels of voter turnout in a battleground state, that could get you those electoral votes. And this is a way that the sex of the candidate actually could matter. We know that among women over 40 and then particularly among women over the age of 55, there is a very, very high level of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton.

So what I would expect is in battleground states, the Clinton campaign is going to be targeting time and time and time again women over the age of 50, let’s say, to make sure that their voter turnout is through the roof, because those are very reliable voters and they know that those are voters that are going for Clinton. What that could do is build a cushion so in a state where there would ordinarily be uncertainty, turnout can offset that uncertainty.

But generally speaking, Republicans don’t benefit from that in presidential election years. High voter turnout in congressional election years has been a way for Republicans to win some districts, because the electoral vote is not relevant there.

MODERATOR: Let’s take a question from New York please.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for being here. My question is for either of the speakers. My name is Silvina Sterin Pensel. I’m from Argentina. And this is going to be my first election, but you just kind of kill the emotion for me, because I vote here in New York. (Laughter.) But my question is: Why do we hear all the time that get out, vote, your vote is important, but on the other hand, it is pretty clear that the vote is really important in battleground state. So how do you explain that contradictory message that we hear – it’s important, we need to – you need to get your voice heard, but then if you live here in New York, for example, it doesn’t really matter? Thank you.

MS SHERMAN: Well, I’ll just add some thoughts to that. And I think that is a very realistic perspective. I don’t think that Massachusetts is going to be voting for Donald Trump, but I think in New York, people could say, well, this – for the first time, New York might be in play. I rather doubt it, but why could it be in play? It could be in play because if the people who think “My vote doesn’t count, so why should I vote; I’m not going to go to the polls, New York is obviously going to be voting for the Democrat,” if all of those people decide to stay home, then obviously, the Republican will win.

So I think one has to look at the enthusiasm gap. If there’s high, high level of enthusiasm for one of the candidates, then – in a given state, then that person could actually defeat the person who would be considered to have the highest chance of winning on a normal election.

QUESTION: Thank you, Professor. For both of them, both of you – my name is Bingru Wang with Hong Kong Phoenix TV. Since you just mentioned there are 25 states which the electorals doesn’t – don’t really represent the voice of people, then why for those states – why people would care to vote in those states?

And the second question is: Now we obviously only have two nominees in the future, so is it guaranteed one of them will win the majority of the electorals?

And if I could, the third question is: Since the convention is coming up and we know who is going to be nominated, so what should we expect? Is this going to be a fun party or does it carry any significance into the future race? Thank you.

MS SHERMAN: Okay. Well, first, to your first question, let’s just give an example of New York. Let’s say the decision there is that 60 percent of the people who voted in New York voted for Hillary Clinton, and let’s say 35 percent of them voted for Donald Trump. All right? Now, the electors are going to be – the winners on that race are going to see that New Yorkers want Hillary Clinton, therefore the 37 votes in New York are going to go for Hillary Clinton. Okay? They’re not going to say, “Well, I don’t know. Maybe we’ll just vote for Bernie Sanders.” No, they’re not going to do that. Only in a very, very, very unusual situation would the electors make the decision to go against the winner of a state. The winner of the plurality of votes is going to be the winner in that state. All right? So it’s state by state by state. The electors are not going to take away the election from the winner of the plurality.

But one could say that they have some power in 25 states to do that: If they wanted to, they could. They don’t do that. I gave you the one example of West Virginia. It’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen. But – now I think – now your second question was about?

QUESTION: So is it guaranteed (inaudible) Hillary Clinton the majority (inaudible)?

MS SHERMAN: Of 270? No, no, because we have an independent candidate who’s running and it’s possible that the independent candidate might get a very large vote. So suppose the person gets 20 percent of the vote and then Hillary gets 30 percent and Trump gets 30 percent – nobody gets 50 plus 1. If they don’t get a majority, if they don’t get to 270 electoral votes, it’s going into the House of Representatives. Now – and that’s where each state gets one vote. That’s important. Not every member, but every state gets one vote. Now what --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS SHERMAN: Yes, twice.


MS SHERMAN: Now, what was your last thing about the convention?

QUESTION: About the convention, so is it just going to be fun party or does it carry any significance into the future race?

MS SHERMAN: The conventions are extremely important. Now, why are they so important? Because that’s the kickoff for the ballgame, okay? (Laughter.) So people have been paying attention, but believe it or not, most Americans are just kind of listening to the radio, watching TV, going online, every once in a while going, “Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.” But when the conventions come on, that’s the most important event of all. They watch the conventions, they watch the speech, and very often after the convention, they make a decision.

The second-most important moment is the first debate. So we don’t even know if we’re going to have debates, but if there is a debate, people will be watching the debates. That’s when they make up their minds if their mind has not already been made up. As Jennifer pointed out, people who are registered Democrats are probably going to be voting for Hillary. People who are registered Republicans – maybe less so, but still probably voting for Trump. So no matter what, it’s going to be close.

MODERATOR: Let’s go to New York, please.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this. My name is Robert Poredos from Slovenian Press Agency. And I have a technical question. I mean, can any of the ladies please explain to me how is it you all – when the Electoral College comes together, is there a certain date that the guys come together and the girls and they talk, and then how do they vote and when do they vote and --

MS SHERMAN: That’s such a great question. Thank you for asking that question. First of all, whoever came up with the stupid name Electoral College did us all a very disservice. Because what we think is that, oh, everybody comes together in a room and they talk about it and they make a decision. No, that’s not what happens. Some person in the 19th century came up with this name – stupid name, Electoral College. You look at the Constitution, it says electors. There’s no word “Electoral College” in the Constitution.

Every state has a group of electors. They cast their ballots based on the outcome of the popular vote. So once they have cast their ballots, then those ballots are sent to Washington, D.C., and in December, those ballots will be opened up by the president of the Senate and they will be counted, and that is when the election will actually be validated.

So no, they don’t all get together. They just vote state by state by state. So you have electors in Utah and you have electors in Montana, you have electors in Louisiana, and you have electors in Connecticut and all the other states. And they are the ones who actually cast the formal ballots and they are the ones who say Connecticut awards all of its electoral votes to Candidate X.

MODERATOR: So thank you all for coming once again and thank you to Elizabeth Sherman and Jennifer Lawless. I have a few programming notes. First, we will be sending you the PowerPoints at the end of today, so you will have both of those for your reference.

Second, are any of you going to the RNC or the DNC, a show of hands? A few of you? Oh, a lot. Okay, well, we will have filing centers at both the RNC and the DNC, so please come see us. You can work on your stories there. We’ll be having regular briefings, but we’d love to see you and we’d love to help you any way that we can.

I think that’s it for today, but again, thank you all for coming. I hope you enjoy the rest of your afternoon.

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