Editor’s Note: In anticipation of the November elections, Political Science Foundations Faculty member Mark Olson wants to help you see through the clutter by debunking a few election myths in this blog post. But he's not stopping there. Olson is also teaching a Special Topics course on Presidential Elections – GU 199. Contact your Grantham University admissions representative at (888) 947-2684 for more information or to enroll.
Myth #1 – The 2016 election is out of control and unlike anything we’ve seen before!
The 1800 election (the first election after President George Washington’s two-term tenure in office) sparked a bitter conflict between political rivals Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton that ended with Burr shooting Hamilton in a duel. Hamilton died the day after the duel.
That year also marked the beginning of negative advertising, as President Adams claimed that if his opponent, Thomas Jefferson, were elected, Jefferson would destroy the church and cause, “prostitutes … [to] preside in the sanctuaries now devoted to the worship of the Most High.”
During the 1836 election, conflict within the Whig Party made the 2016 Democratic and Republican primaries look tame. The infighting was so bad that the Whig Party nominated four presidential candidates instead of just one. This would be like if the GOP in 2016 had nominated Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Marco Rubio to face off against Hillary Clinton.
These are just three examples of the many chaotic elections in our nation’s history. In contrast, 2016 appears quite placid.
Myth #2 – The Electoral College is a secret group thwarting the will of the people.
On November 8, 2016 you will have the opportunity to vote. However, you will not be voting for the president directly. Your vote to choose your state's electors to the Electoral College, which will then elect the president in December. There is no problem with having a philosophical debate over whether or not the people should elect the president directly; however, the Electoral College is not some dastardly scheme. The Electoral College vote is public and a part of the official Congressional record. We know exactly who is on the Electoral College and how each member votes. With very few exceptions that have not impacted the outcome of past elections, the Electoral College members always cast each of their votes consistently with their respective state’s popular vote.
Myth #3 – America is a democracy and the Electoral College is undemocratic.
First, America is not a democracy. The founders believed that democracy was a tyrannical form of government. Majority rule (pure democracy) was no different than mob rule. Whomever had the most votes could oppress those that did not have the most votes. A foundational principle of our liberty is that those who were not in political power would be protected from the whims of the majority. It is easy to say the majority should win – but what happens when the majority wants to do something very terrible to the minority? History shows that we, as humans in power, tend to do terrible things to other humans.
The Electoral College was designed to balance population-based representation against geographic-and-regionally-based representation. Without the Electoral College, candidates would only need to campaign in the ten largest cities in America to reach a majority of the population. However, Americans who live in urban areas don’t have the same interests as Americans living in rural areas. For example, the many family farmers spread out across our rural states who produce so much of the food we all eat. It is important that the interests of regions with lower populations are also represented by a president. Thus, the Electoral College is not democratic and that is exactly why it was created.
Myth #4 – The two parties are dividing and destroying our nation.
It is easy to only see problems with the two major parties while overlooking that our two-party system has saved this nation several times. In reality, our two-party system moderates our politics by blocking third parties from winning seats in the government. In the context of world history, small third parties tend to be radical groups. To be clear, not all third parties are extremist groups. However, without our two-party system, groups such as the Nazi Party and the KKK would have won seats in our government throughout the last century. Instead, our two-party system prevents small radical and extremist interests from winning political power.
The Truth – After all the election myths have been debunked.
Regardless of who wins in 2016, on November 8 our world will change, impacting all of our lives. Eight years after we elected our first African American president, we may finally see our first female president. Regardless of who you vote for, this will be an important and historic moment for our nation.
Take a moment to think about how amazing our presidential elections are. Every four years, we go through the process outlined in our Constitution to see a peaceful transition of power in which the rights of both those that win and lose on Election Day are protected and valued.
Learn more about these election myths. As part of our commitment at Grantham University “To provide quality, accessible, affordable, professionally relevant programs in a continuously changing global society,” during the 2016 election, Mark Olson will teach a GU 199 – Special Topics course on Presidential Elections.
Current students, please contact your student adviser if you are interested in signing up for this special course. Or, if you're new to Grantham, contact an admissions representative at (888) 947-2684. In the meantime, check out a couple of Grantham's other election-oriented blogs:
About Mark Olson
Mark Olson teaches Political Science courses at Grantham. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and his master’s degree in political science from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He is a member of the American Political Science Association and the Midwest Political Science Association. His expertise is in campaigns and elections as he has worked on campaigns with candidates and organizations of both major parties for almost a decade.