The history of American presidential elections


The truth about who chooses American Presidents is a matter of historical record. The following information may surprise, or even shock you.

Below is excerpted from the last chapter of my book Political Challenges in the New Millennium. Of course, it will only appeal to those whose mind is not already made up. 😉

Chapter 30: Withdraw support for “the tyranny of the majority”

Though this phrase was originally used by President John Adams, it has been cited repeatedly by the foremost political thinkers ever since. Perhaps the most thorough definition was written by Britain’s Lord Acton.

The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections. ~ Lord Acton-The History of Freedom in Antiquity, 1877

To further understand the meaning and importance of this notion, consider a normal American presidential election in which the popular majority is not the same as the electoral college vote. Or how about an election in which, for both the popular and electoral vote, the margin of victory is 51 percent to 49 percent. In the latter case it means that very nearly half of the people who voted might just as well not have, as far as the ultimate outcome is concerned. Situations such as this are so frequent that, minor complaints notwithstanding, they are largely tolerated and even expected. In other words, we have become inured to them. The absurdity, especially its degree, is virtually invisible. But it gets even stranger.

Suppose that only 60 percent of eligible voters actually vote, and that the winner garners only a 51 percent margin. That means that 30.6 percent of registered voters will now make decisions for everyone. Are they a majority? They are, if and only if you consider only the majority of those who voted. What it really means is that less than one third of the registered voters has essentially hijacked the government. Legally. Even honestly. This is exactly what Lord Acton had in mind. Of course, it couldn’t really happen. Could it?

Actually, not only could it happen, it does over half the time. In all forty-eight presidential election since John Adams (1824) the average number of people who actually voted for the president was just 32.3 percent of registered voters. That’s right, less than a third of all registered voters choose the president over half the time. In fact, only McKinley, Lincoln, Grant, and Harrison were over 40 percent. That means that at best, historically, only two out of five Americans choose the president.

So it seems that tyranny of the majority, at least as far as presidential elections are concerned, is most often even worse than that: it is tyranny of a minority, and sometimes that minority can be as small as one out of three, and can be less than 10 percent! But wait! There’s more!

Typically, only somewhere between a third and half of the total population is registered to vote, and they are the only ones considered in recording voter turnout. So that means that over half the time fewer than one person out of six (from the total population) chooses the president! At best it is still less than one in five. You don’t even want know what the worst case is.

What do these facts mean? To bring the picture more into focus, consider the following. In the 2012 presidential election, of all the American citizens living at that time, around one in five voted for Barack Obama. This amounts to just over five million people. Can you imagine how many special interest groups have that many members? This includes clubs, fraternal organizations, religious groups, and countless others. Any one of which, if they mobilized their constituencies, could outvote virtually any other presidential candidate, even if their candidate didn’t get a single vote from anyone else! Scary, isn’t it? Yet there is still more.

The laws passed by politicians are binding on everyone, citizen and non-citizen alike. So the duly-elected representatives of one person out of five pass laws that are binding not only upon themselves, but on four of their neighbors, too. Not exactly what they taught you in school. And these are not just opinions. They are based entirely on numbers history has recorded for us all. Nor is it something new or even abnormal. It has been business as usual in the U.S. of A. for almost 200 years now.

All of which begs the question of what democracy really is. Is it really majority rule? If so, then we not only don’t have a democracy in these United State, we never actually have had one! But it is what it is. Now let’s look at the consequences.

Any well organized group, or even just a bunch of disorganized citizens who agree on certain political premises, has the opportunity to hijack our government, or at least a major part of it, every couple of years. Sometimes they do, but mostly they don’t.

In the mean time, the concept of justice for all gets a little muddier than we thought it was. For example, take the hot issues like abortion, capital punishment, gay marriage, nuclear energy, making war, making peace. All of these issues have serious, even grave consequences for a great many people both in and out of the United States. And a small fraction of our population is choosing the people who control all of them. It is hard to believe that this is exactly what the founding fathers had in mind when they cooked up this whole package. But it sure is what we live with, and pretty much always have.

So there is clearly a challenge here. Not just in America, but in every country in the world where government is run like this, or even worse. The obvious question is what, if anything, can we do to at least blunt the effects of this tyranny of the majority? Here are some ideas.

  • The ultimate solution is, as was mentioned in a previous chapter, some form of anarchy. But that is almost certainly a long way off. In the meantime, we can do very little to make inroads into the potential for abuse laid in the lap of tyrannical majorities (a.k.a. minorities). Here are a few ways we can minimize their effects.
  • Pay more attention: If you are reading this book, it’s a pretty good bet that you’ve been ignoring the facts just presented for a good, long time. You are, of course, free to continue that. But please don’t! Watch what’s happening and look for ways you can keep it from getting worse than it absolutely has to be.
  • Support better elected officials: Here, better just means less likely to permit tyranny, whether of the majority or minority, from getting outrageously out of hand. They may not be totally free of tyranny, but at least they’re your choice, not someone else’s.
  • Pass the word: Tell others the facts you now know. They may also want to do something to make it harder for majorities and minorities to cut too wide a swath.
  • Meanwhile, try to stay out of their way: If you go head-to-head with an organized group who is trying to aggressively assert their agenda, you are almost certain to be sorry. If you hit them, they are inclined to hit you back harder. Better to take a more low key approach that at least could work.

If this doesn’t sound terribly encouraging, that’s because there isn’t much to feel cheered about in the near term. In the long run, however, things look better. Once we start approaching a sane populace, we can make some inroads into a working anarchy. In the interim, we can take care of our own lives and pass the word. It could have effects sooner than expected. Remember, in 1993 hardly anyone had ever heard of the Internet. But 20 years later, the lives of nearly the entire human race benefit from it every day. In other words, never say never.

If you would like to read Political Challenges in the New Millennium in its entirety, click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *