POLI 309   Selected Topics in Political Science: How Should We Elect the President?

NOTE WITHIN COURSE: This course will examine the evolution of the U.S. Presidential selection system and analyze the operations of the present Electoral College system, proposed modifications of it, and the national popular vote alternative. The course will also consider the properties of election systems more broadly. Prerequisite: POLI 100 or Junior standing.


OFF: 35          LEC MWF     10:00am-10:50am      PUP 206              MILLER, NICHOLAS R.

Required Books for Fall 2006:

George C. Edwards, Why the Electoral College is Bad for America, Yale, 2005, paperback  (ISBN 0-300-10968-7) $18 

Tara Ross, Enlightened Democracy: The Case for The Electoral College, Colonial Press, 2004, paperback, ISBN 0-9770722-0-7, $14.95

John R. Koza et al., Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote, National Poluar Vote Press, 2006, free on web at http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/npv/
There will an optional review session on Wednesday, December 13, at 12:30PM.  Come to PUP 321.  [NOTE: This was previously listed incorrectly as 2:30PM]

The In-Class Final Exam will take place on Monday, December 18, 10:30-12:30, in PUP 206.  

The Final Take-Home Assignment is due by Wednesday, December 20, at 5:00PM. 
Question (from student email):  Could you go over the distinction between "political landscape" and "political ties?

I used the term "political landscape" to refer to the shape and character of the "PVEV function."  More generally, knowing the political landscape allows us to say not only something like "Maryland is more Democratic than Virginia" but also, and more precisely, "Maryland is (say) 7 percentage points more Democratic than Virginia," e.g., if the Democratic ticket gets (say) 47% of the vote in Virginia, it will get about 54% of the vote in Maryland.

While the "political landscape" no doubt changes at least a bit from election to election, what may change much more dramatically from one election to the next are the "political tides," i.e., how well the Democrats are doing in an election overall, compared either with the Republicans in the same election or themselves in the last elections.  Thus, the political tides were clearly more favorable to the Democrats in 2006 than in 2004.   Or, returning to the VA vs. MD, comparison, if political tides are highly favorable to the Democrats, they would carry both states, by (say) 52% and 59% respectively; if tides are highly unfavorable, they might lose both, by (say) 41% and 48% respectively.

While the political landscape usually changes only a little from one election to the next, occasionally it changes quite dramatically -- namely (and by definition), in a realigning election.  Also realignments may occur only over the long term, so the landscape today may be very different from that some decades ago (even though no single election along the way greatly changed the landscape by itself).  A dramatic example would be the position of the South in the political landscape today and 50+ years ago.  In the earlier period, the South was about 25-35% more Democratic than the rest of the nation; today, it is about 5-10% more Republican than the rest of the nation.

Two other ways to characterize an unchanging political landscape:
(a)   in terms of set theory, the set of states carried by the Democrats in one election is always either a subset set or a superset of the set they carry in any other election; and
(b)   in statistical terms, if the landscape never changes from election to election, the Democratic popular vote percent across states in one election is perfectly correlated with the Democratic popular vote percent across states in any other election.

Syllabus (with links to website readings and to PowerPoint slides)

Handout on Variants of Runoff Elections

Problem Set #1: Apportionment [PDF]
Problem Set #1: Answers and Discussion    [Worksheets]

Problem Set #2: Voting Rules  [PDF]    
Note:   Preference Profile 4 in PS#2 (p. 3) should read
This is shown correctly in the posted PDF file but incorrectly in the hard copy distributed in class.
Problem Set #2: Answers and Discussion   [Corrections from hard-copy version highlighted in red]  [Chart for Question VII]


United States Elections Project: Voting Turnout (Prof. Michael P. McDonald, George Mason University)

N. R.  Miller, Popular Votes and Electoral Votes Webpage