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Election of 1860 Counterfactuals

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Election of 1860 Counterfactuals"

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Seth Masket is doing some mythbusting with reference to the electoral college:

Lincoln only won in 1860 because the Democratic Party was fragmented. Actually, Lincoln won 180 electoral votes — almost 60% of the Electoral College. Even if all three strains of the Democratic Party had somehow unified behind one candidate, Lincoln still would have won. There were just far more voters in the free states.

Indeed, the fragmentation of the opposition had almost no impact on the outcome. Lincoln won two states—California and Oregon—by mere plurality. But those two contained only seven electoral votes at the time. He won fully 173 electoral votes by majority, more than enough to win.

The key thing, though, is that in the Unified Democrats counterfactual Lincoln is elected President even though sixty percent of the country voted for his opponent. We’re lucky that sort of extreme outcome is rare in practice, though of course a version of it arose in 2000 and we’ve been paying the price for the past ten years. In the specific case of Lincoln, we can deem his democratic legitimacy intact on the theory that the country’s African-American inhabitants would have voted Republican had they been allowed to. But the fact of the matter is that the underlying method of picking a president is ridiculous and really ought to be done away with.

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