Defending the current structure of the Electoral College is a difficult task. The winner-take-all method–in which states allocate all their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate carries the state–is still used by the vast majority of states today. Its apologists, struggling to make this outdated and unfair system appealing to Americans, have tried to make it seem quintessentially American by comparing it to the most quintessentially American thing possible: baseball’s World Series. This analogy, introduced by MIT researcher Alan Natapoff in the 1990s and widely circulated after the controversial presidential election of 2000, is still commonly cited today as a defense of a winner-take-all Electoral College. It should not be. If anything, comparing these two American institutions perfectly illustrates we why we need to get rid of the winner-take-all Electoral College rules and establish a fairer system of electing the president based on a national popular vote. The basic argument goes like this. The World Series is divided into seven games. The winner of the World Series is the team that wins four out of the seven games, not the team that scores the most aggregate runs over the course of the series. Likewise, the winner of the Electoral College is the candidate that wins the majority of electoral votes through winning states, not the candidate that receives the most aggregate votes in the total population.
In both cases, teams or candidates must concentrate on the close games or states in order to win. A team would not waste its best relief pitcher in a blowout game; similarly, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are not going to waste any of their time and money campaigning in blowout states like Texas, New York, Vermont, Idaho, and dozens of others. The analogy works so far. In terms of structure and strategy, current Electoral College rules and the World Series share some similarities. Every true-blooded American loves the World Series. Does that mean that, since it’s structurally similar to the Electoral College, every true-blooded American should love our winner-take-all Electoral College as well?
Of course not. The argument falls apart when you stop to consider the purpose of these two competitions. The World Series exists to crown the champion of baseball in each year. But as any baseball scholar knows, the World Series is a terrible means of determining what the best baseball team in a given year actually is. It’s a seven game series–in baseball terms, a tiny sample size. In any World Series, there is always a significant chance (usually at least 40%) that the inferior team will defeat the superior team.