How California Could Help Save America on Nov. 6

The Electoral College clobbered Democrats in 2016, but California's surplus votes could translate into huge gains in the race for control of the House of Representatives.

This is what the House of Representatives might look like if only nonwhite Americans voted. (FiveThirtyEight.com)

FiveThirtyEight had a series of fascinating maps out Friday, looking at how the midterm elections for the House of Representatives might play out if only certain sets of voters turned out. The most eye-catching one is what would happen on Nov. 6 if only nonwhite Americans voted. Because a statistically terrifying number of white people have officially gone cuckoo-bananas, this condition that would yield an almost New Deal-esque 388-47 Democratic hyper-majority if you applied a uniform standard nationwide.

If you factored in local demographics, you’d probably get a different set of results, however. Nerd out with me a sec: Overwhelming Republican Wyoming has such a small population (579,000) that the entire state is one Congressional district. It’s also 95 percent white, but if that five percent of the population that is nonwhite constituted the entire electorate, it’d be surprising if Wyoming still saw a Republican win. In the other direction, there are probably enough Republican-leaning Cuban-Americans in at least a handful of South Florida districts that if you subtracted all white people from the equation, you’d still end up with a Republican victory. A similar situation is also plausible in some parts of Orange County, where Vietnamese-Americans make up a significant part of the GOP.

Let’s look more closely at California, though. If only nonwhites voted, the state’s entire Congressional delegation would consist of 52 Democrats and a single Republican who would represent the 8th District, covering the rural High Sierra. But that 52-1 ratio isn’t terribly far off from what could happen on Nov. 6. Right now, California sends 39 Democrats and 14 Republicans to the House of Representatives. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report lists one of those 14 GOP-held seats as “Lean Democratic,” five more as a “Toss-Up,” one as “Lean Republican,” and two as “Likely Republican.” (UPDATE: On Tuesday, Oct. 30, Cook downgraded two Safe Republican seats to Likely Republican.) In other words, only three Republican seats are safe. FiveThirtyEight ranks only four as safe. 

It is possible — although it is by no means the likeliest outcome — that in a genuine Blue Wave scenario, Democrats could pick up as many as 10 House seats in California alone. A range of four-to-seven is more likely, but since Democrats need 24 seats to win back the majority in the House, this state could provide as much as 40 percent of what’s needed for Democrats to put that gavel back in Nancy Pelosi’s grip. If the rest of America voted the way California did, it would go a long way toward neutralizing some of the damage the nation has sustained over the last 21 months.

This would right one very particular wrong — although it’s something that’s not California’s fault. Instead, the electoral college is to blame. In 2016, Hillary Clinton famously won the nationwide popular vote by a margin of almost 2.9 million votes. She also won California by a much greater margin of 4,269,978 people. Although it pains me to say that a vote is ever “wasted,” that’s effectively 4,269,977 surplus votes. If you peeled off even one-20th of them and strategically reallocated them to Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, Donald Trump would not be president today.

Let’s play a thought experiment, and treat those surplus California voters in a similar way to how the way FiveThirtyEight looked at nonwhite voters. Let’s say Hillary Clinton’s 2016 national total were exactly the same but she had won California by a single vote, allowing us to bank her votes and “spend” them elsewhere. What would the maximum electoral return be?

Surplus Votes Remaining State Electoral Votes Clinton-Trump Running Total
4,269,977 232-306
3,462,799 Texas 38 270-268
3,349,888 Florida 29 299-239
3,305,596 Pennsylvania 20 319-219
3,294,892 Michigan 16 335-203
3,272,144 Wisconsin 10 345-193
3,098,819 North Carolina 15 360-178
2,887,678 Georgia 16 376-162
2,786,444 Arizona 11 387-151
2,339,603 Ohio 18 405-133
2,192,309 Iowa 7 411-127
2,145,376 Alaska 3 414-124
1,929,793 Mississippi 6 420-118
1,893,433 Maine-02 1 421-117
1,593,417 South Carolina 9 430-108
1,491,886 Montana 3 433-105
1,373,440 Wyoming 3 436-102
1,168,885 Utah 6 442-96
1,058,622 South Dakota 3 445-93
814,609 Kansas 6 451-87
328,609 Missouri 10 461-77
24,013 Arkansas 6 467-71
17,479 Nebraska-02 1 468-70

We’d start with Texas, because it’s a juggernaut that Clinton lost by a comparatively close 800,000 votes — and because its 38 votes would have put her over the finish line. (Yep: Had Clinton won Texas and nothing else changed, she’d be president.) Then we would move on to the electoral vote-rich purple states she lost by tiny margins: Florida, Pennsylvania, and the like. But even after plowing through those and giving Clinton an Obama-esque victory, we’d still have more than 2 million votes left to burn. That’s how asymmetric California was in 2016.

We start to get into some ruby-red territory pretty quickly, like Alaska, South Carolina, Utah, and Kansas — states that haven’t voted Democratic in decades. As Maine and Nebraska are the only two states that allocate electoral votes based on Congressional district, we could also grab the vote that Trump won in Maine’s second district and the one that Obama managed to wring out of Nebraska in 2008. At the end, with 17,000 votes to spare, the election would have been an Reaganesque electoral rout, 468 votes for Clinton and 70 for Trump, scattered through very red Heartland states he won by huge margins.

This is what the 2016 election could have looked like if you took Hillary Clinton’s surplus votes and strategically redistributed them. (270towin.com)

Neat, maybe, but hardly realistic. And why is this important now? (Or, rather, why re-litigate that still-smarting 2016 loss for the umpteenth time?) There are several answers. First, California’s uselessness in 2016 will translate into utility in 2018, in terms of restoring sanity to the country. Second, Californians would do well to be aware of just how diluted this state’s political clout is under the current electoral college system. Third, it makes you realize that no matter how crazy the rest of the country has become, liberals truly do outnumber conservatives.

Instead of a constitutionally dubious #CalExit in which the entire state secedes, we might consider #CaliforniansExit, in which reliably Democratic surplus voters from the Golden State relocate to flippable red states states in 2019-20, registering to vote and thereby saving the Republic. (Just a suggestion.) The business-friendly press constantly touts a semi-fictitious “Bay Area exodus,” but if it were to happen, it could do a lot of good. 

But no matter what, vote!

 

View Comments