Americans reached a new high in support for having presidential elections based on the popular vote instead of the Electoral College, according to a new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute.
There has long been support for using the popular vote over the Electoral College, but this recent poll marks its highest level of support in recent years with two-thirds who said the US should use the popular vote and the other third who believe in the Electoral College.
But there’s a catch. Recent polling seriously depends on question wording.
Only one poll since 2012 shows more people who would prefer the current Electoral College system to the “popular” one. That poll was a Suffolk/USA Today poll, conducted in December 2016 and it showed 42% who wanted to switch to the popular vote and exactly half who wanted to keep the Electoral College.
A possible explanation for this outlier is question wording. Suffolk asked respondents, “Do you believe the United States should change the Constitution so the President is elected by the popular vote, not through the Electoral College?”
The idea of “changing” the constitution received the lowest support of any of the recent polls. Interestingly, Pew asked a similar question in 2018 but used the wording “amending the Constitution…” Worded that way – “amending” instead of “changing” – yielded a preference for changing to the popular vote (55% to 41% for the current system), but not as strong as this most recent poll, which included neither “changing” or “amending’ language.
Gallup polling going back to 2000 shows overwhelming support for getting rid of the Electoral College to adopt the popular vote, with especially strong support after Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 and President Bush won the Electoral College and the White House.
Changing the US system from the Electoral College to popular wouldn’t be easy for those who are in favor of it.
Actually amending the Constitution would be a very long and difficult process and require overwhelming support.
A number of states have signed onto something different, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, by which states would essentially agree to use the popular vote. It’ll take effect when states totaling 270 electoral votes sign on. But it would certainly face court challenges and most of the states that have signed on tilt toward Democrats. Republicans have won the White House twice since 2000 because of the existence of the Electoral College. So don’t look for a change anytime soon.