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Americans' Support for Electoral College Rises Sharply

Americans' Support for Electoral College Rises Sharply

by Art Swift
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • 47% want to keep Electoral College, up from 35% in 2011
  • Republicans shift decisively in favor of Electoral College
  • Most Americans correctly answer that Hillary Clinton won popular vote

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' support for keeping the Electoral College system for electing presidents has increased sharply. Weeks after the 2016 election, 47% of Americans say they want to keep the Electoral College, while 49% say they want to amend the Constitution to allow for a popular vote for president. In the past, a clear majority favored amending the U.S. Constitution to replace the Electoral College with a popular vote system.

Preferred System for Electing U.S. Presidents

Donald Trump secured enough electors in the Electoral College to win the presidency, despite Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote. With Clinton's popular lead total continuing to expand, now at more than 2.5 million votes, there have been persistent calls since Election Day to abolish the Electoral College. Such sentiment has clearly prevailed when Gallup asked this question twice in 2000 -- after George W. Bush won the Electoral College while Al Gore won the popular vote -- in 2004 and in 2011. In each instance, support for a constitutional amendment hovered around 60%.

From 1967 through 1980, Gallup asked a slightly different question that also found majority support for an amendment to base the winner on the popular vote. Support for an amendment peaked at 80% in 1968, after Richard Nixon almost lost the popular vote while winning the Electoral College. Ultimately, he wound up winning both by a narrow margin, but this issue demonstrated the possibility of a candidate becoming president without winning the popular vote. In the 1976 election, Jimmy Carter faced a similar situation, though he also won the popular vote and Electoral College. In a poll taken weeks after the election, 73% were in favor of an amendment doing away with the Electoral College.

This year, for the first time in the 49 years Gallup has asked about it, less than half of Americans want to replace the Electoral College with a popular vote system.

The reason for this shift in opinion is clear: In the aftermath of this year's election, the percentage of Republicans wanting to replace the Electoral College with the popular vote has fallen significantly.

Currently, 19% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents favor basing the winner on the popular vote, down from 49% in October 2004 and 54% in 2011. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents already widely favored having the popular vote determine the winner and are slightly more likely to do so now than in the past.

Amending the Constitution in Favor of the Popular Vote to Determine Presidential Elections, by Political Party

Most Americans Know Hillary Clinton Won the Popular Vote

Because of the divergence of the Electoral College and popular vote, the popular vote is garnering particular attention this year. Two-thirds of Americans correctly name Clinton as the winner of the popular vote, while 15% incorrectly name Trump and 18% say they are unsure. Eighty-five percent of Democrats correctly name Clinton as the winner of the popular vote compared with 56% of Republicans.

Winning the National Popular Vote
From what you have heard or read, who won the national popular vote this year -- that is, the most votes in the country overall -- Hillary Clinton (or) Donald Trump, or are you unsure?
  Clinton Trump Unsure
  % % %
National adults 66 15 18
Democrats 85 8 8
Republicans 56 23 20
Independents 59 16 25
Gallup, Nov 28-29, 2016

Americans' ability to correctly identify the winner is similar to what it was after the disputed 2000 election -- 65% named Gore the popular vote winner, 16% said Bush was and 18% were unsure. The results by party in 2000 were also similar to what they are today.

Bottom Line

Despite some Democratic elected officials and media pundits calling for intensively studying, if not doing away with, the Electoral College, the country is now sharply divided on the issue.

In previous years, Americans preferred amending the U.S. Constitution to abolish the Electoral College, but not in 2016. One possible reason is that Republicans are aware that President-elect Trump would not have won the presidency without winning the Electoral College, and that Republicans possess a state-by-state advantage in this area, at least for now. Also, the popular vote is clearly advantageous to Democrats, who can accumulate big totals in heavily Democratic states such as California.

With two-thirds of Congress and two-thirds of states needed to pass this kind of constitutional amendment, it is unlikely the Electoral College is going anywhere.

These data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 28-29, 2016, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 1,021 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup U.S. Daily works.

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