(This entire essay will be posted again in order on Wednesday, April 1.)
The last two questions of the Hillsdale College survey on the Electoral College were not about the constitutional provision but were meant to promote Hillsdale’s outreach efforts. However, the last question about the Electoral College, was, in technical polling terms, a doozy. It said I could check any or all the answers to the question, “Why do you think the movement to do away with the Electoral College has been so successful as it is?” You might wonder about their definition of “successful.” The Electoral College is with us. No constitutional amendment to abolish it recently has even passed Congress and been sent to the states. The odds that the Electoral College will not be with us for our next presidential election are about as large as me winning the 100 meter race at the Olympics. Or me being mistaken for Marilyn Monroe. (I’ve been thinking about Rudy Giuliani again.)
The answers, however, were doozier than the question. First, I could pick that civics education has been neglected. I can’t tell if Hillsdale thinks American civics has always been deficient or if they think that is a recent phenomenon. If recent, then views about the EC should vary significantly by age, and those of us of a certain age should have markedly different views of the Electoral College from those whose knees still work because our civics education was not neglected. Although there are many reasons why views of the Electoral College might differ by age besides changing civics courses, Hillsdale might have found it useful or at least interesting to capture the age differences of the respondents. However, the poll, while asking for my name and email address (Why? They already have that information or I would not have gotten their poll. Or did they want my name and email for some big brother thing? Cue Jaws music again.), did not ask for my age.
The second choice for explaining why the movement to rid us of the Electoral College had been so successful is that because “too many Americans are so overcome with partisanship that they forget how the Electoral College works to unify the country” and ensures representation of all regions and interests. On the one hand, according to this answer, the Electoral College unifies; on the other, the country is split by forgetful partisans. They are going to need to explain to me that positive unification function again because they have told me in the same sentence that it is not working.
The third choice offers me an explanation that all of the left-wing media and in particular “The New York Times’ ‘1619 Project’” has undermined “informed patriotism by promoting a biased distortion of our nation’s history and our Constitution.” I wondered how many Kevin Bacon degrees of separation it takes to get logically from The 1619 Project to efforts to reform the Electoral College. It can’t be a straight (nor logical) path. In addition, those Times articles are eighteen months old, and almost all adults surely must have formed impressions of our presidential selection process long before that. Efforts to change the Electoral College existed well before The 1619 Project was published or printed. And surely, if The Project caused this reaction to the Electoral College, Hillsdale must think that since the 1776 Commission report is now available to all, everything is looking rosy. (Cue “Put on a Happy Face.”)
I then came to the fourth and last option for an answer to why Electoral College reform proposals have been so successful. It allowed me to check off “Unsure.” There were no more responses. I was not given any options such as the movement to change the Electoral College has been “successful” because a) it is a good idea; b) because “the people” want a more democratic country; c) because the Electoral College was an unfortunate historical accident; d) because each vote in our country should count equally; e) because each voter in the country should have an equal incentive to vote; or f) any other reason. I was reminded of Stephen Colbert’s regular shtick a decade ago when he would ask liberal guests whether George W. Bush was merely a great president or whether he was the greatest.
The Hillsdale poll is not a serious one even though it purportedly “will help Hillsdale College more clearly understand the views of mainstream Americans concerning this issue—views we will make available to policymakers and opinion leaders.” Apparently if I fill it out, I can now count myself for one of the few times ever as a mainstream American. That is a mighty incentive to do so, but I need a few more options in the answers than the ones I am offered, and any American, mainstream, sidestream, slipstream, upstream, or downstream, should feel the same if they do a modicum of thinking or research about how we select our president.
I have gotten and seen other polls that are equally as partisan as this one, but almost always these are from overtly advocacy groups. (I have been approached on the street by solicitors for the American Humane Association, for example, with, “Do you love animals?” They never seem to think mine is the right answer: “I love to eat them.”) I am not surprised when political parties or other partisan groups send me senseless, leading questions. Hillsdale College, however, claims not to be an advocacy group or a clown show. It claims to be an institution dedicated to upholding and promoting the standards of a rigorous education, and therefore it should be held to different standards from partisan or advocacy groups. It should be seeking to enlighten not indoctrinate with shoddy history and worse logic.
However, if this drivel on the Electoral College is meant as an example of the historical knowledge or critical thinking Hillsdale imparts, this conservative college is failing its students and, sadly, the country. And my ladies and lassies, perhaps you can join me in shedding a few more tears for the further dumbing down of America.
On the other hand, some of the Hillsdale online lecture offerings still intrigue me.