There is a lot of talk within the conservative community about the impact of California secession on the Electoral College. To be honest, I am somewhat reluctant to publish this post because it disproves the conclusion they have come to. Conservatives believe if California secedes, it will guarantee Republican presidents forever. We have crunched the numbers and did some historical analysis of presidential elections, and that just isn’t the case.
California has 55 electoral votes, a sum of its congressional representatives (53) and senators (2). The House of Representatives has 435 members. These members represent 435 congressional districts across the country. Given that each state must have at least one congressional district, the remaining 385 seats are appropriated by the method of equal proportions. Starting with the fifty-first seat, there’s a complicated process for determining how many seats go to each state and you can read about that here.
Lucky for you, we have done the work and produced this graphic to demonstrate where California’s 53 congressional districts will go after Calexit (click to enlarge).
As you can see, two states – Texas and New York – gain the most. Red-state Texas gains four new seats but so does blue-state New York. New York State has been losing congressional seats since the 1950s after it peaked at 45 from 1932-1948. Calexit would return influence in Congress that New York has not enjoyed since 1988. As for Texas: they have been growing in population and congressional districts since forever and Calexit would simply continue that trend.
A few states would gain three new congressional districts as a result of Calexit – Florida, Illinois, and Ohio. A red state, a blue state, and swing state. Like Texas, Florida has been gaining congressional seats since forever and Calexit would continue that already-existing trend. However, Illinois has been losing congressional districts since the end of the second world war. Today Illinois has 18 congressional districts down from its peak of 27 in the 1940s. Calexit would give them three new congressional districts, bringing the state influence in Congress it has not had since the 1970s.
A handful of states after Calexit gain two new congressional districts: Georgia, North Carolina, Missouri, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Virginia. Generally speaking, that’s three red states, three blue states, and a swing state. Many other states gain just one additional congressional district, and 15 states gain none at all. Would any of this have an impact on the national legislative agenda in Congress?
Well, due to the evil political tool of gerrymandering, that’s difficult to say. Texas has 35 congressional districts and Democrats represent 11 of them. It would be an unfair over-justification to assume that all four of their new congressional districts would elect Republicans just because Texas is a red state. Whether red-state Texas gaining four new seats in Washington as a result of Calexit will make Congress more conservative depends on how and where the congressional lines are redrawn to incorporate four new congressional districts in Texas. Indeed, it would be theoretically possible to gerrymander four new democratic-leaning districts there.
However, in the Electoral College it’s not so political and not reliant upon the gerrymandering variable. The redistribution of California’s 53 congressional seats to 35 other states would also mean that those states gain 1, 2, 3, or, in the case of Texas and New York, 4 new votes for president in the Electoral College. We have also put together a graphic depicting the new Electoral College after Calexit (click to enlarge).
So if California wasn’t in the Union, would that have made an impact on previous presidential elections? It would be a very tedious endeavor to go back through all U.S. history and crunch the numbers since the allocation of congressional seats changes every ten years with the Census Report, but we’ve taken a look at the past two presidential elections which have taken place since the most recent Census Report.
Would Donald Trump have been elected in 2016 if California were an independent country then? Yes. Donald Trump wins with or without California in the Union. The difference is the margin of victory. With California, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton 306-232 in the Electoral College. Without California, he simply would have won by a larger margin: 340-198. However, without California in the Union, Donald Trump would have also won the popular vote and that’s optically a good thing for the United States – it’s confusing when the winner of the popular vote loses the election.
We also examined the 2012 reelection of Barack Obama. In that election, Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney 332-206 in the Electoral College. Had California been an independent country or otherwise taken out of the equation in 2012, Barack Obama would still have been reelected, but by a different margin: 309-228. In an election where you need 270 votes to be elected president, having 332 votes or just 309 is an insignificant matter – you still win. And it’s safe to assume that since Barack Obama won by even larger margins in 2008 against john McCain that he still would have been elected president without California in the Union (even though Texas, for example, would have had more votes).
So what’s the bottom line?
California secession does automatically usher in an eternity of Republican control of Congress or the White House. Ultimately, the future direction of the country’s politics will depend more on how the individual states redraw their maps to incorporate the new congressional districts they receive as a result of Calexit. Gerrymandering we must assume will be the deciding factor in how Calexit will impact the balance of power in Washington, D.C.
In the past two presidential elections, the Calexit scenario gave the Republican candidate for president 34 electoral votes in 2016, and 22 in 2012. Before that alarms you, consider this: Barack Obama defeated John McCain by 192 electoral votes in 2008. George W. Bush won in 2004 and 2000 even with California’s electoral votes going to the Democrat. Bill Clinton defeated Bob Dole in 1996 by 220 electoral votes and unseated George H. W. Bush in 1992 by 202 electoral votes. The 1988, 1984, and 1980 elections were landslides for the Republicans and California’s electoral votes went along with virtually every other state to elect Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush in those elections. In 1976, Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford by 57 electoral votes, and Richard Nixon won every state except Massachusetts in 1972.
The point is that the Electoral College results are rarely close – even when the national popular vote is. Take the 1960 presidential election where Kennedy won the popular vote by just 120,000 votes. He defeated Nixon in the Electoral College by 84 votes. Secondly. there are more landslides (1964, 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988, 2008) in the Electoral College than close calls (2000). In the 2000 election, George W. Bush won by 5 electoral votes and that’s the only time since 1876 that the vote margin in the Electoral College has been less than 20.
When Democrats win the Electoral College, they win by big margins – and when they lose, they lose anyway. California has nothing to do with it.