Based upon recent polls, the possibility of President Barack Obama winning reelection without winning a plurality of votes appears more likely than usual.
As of Sunday evening, the current Real Clear Politics average of national polls shows Obama's challenger, Republican candidate Mitt Romney, ahead by 0.9 percentage points (47.7 to 46.8). The Real Clear Politics "no toss ups" map, which shows the electoral college vote based upon the averages of recent polls, shows Obama winning with 290 electors to Romney's 248 electors; 270 electors are needed to win the presidency.
Four presidents have won an election without winning a plurality of the popular vote: John Quincy Adams (1824), Rutherford B. Hayes (1876), Benjamin Harrison (1888), and George W. Bush (2000).
"That's not a bad record, 52 out of 56. So I wouldn't worry about it so much. If one wins the electoral vote and loses the popular vote," conservative Washington Post columnist George Will said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
Others worry, though, that a split decision would have dire consequences.
"I think 2000 was a moment of great crisis in this country and I think a lot of the polarization in this country, with that [split decision in the presidential race], with 9/11, it's what's caused this country to be, what I would call, a cold civil war, and would become even worse," said Andrew Sullivan, a conservative Obama supporter, on the same show.
Speaking earlier in the broadcast, Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House who also has a Ph.D. in history, said he does not believe a split decision is likely, but Republicans would not challenge it if it happened.
"We're a nation of law, we're going to obey the law," Gingrich said. "I think it's very unlikely, as a historian, that ... [Romney] could win a significant popular victory vote and not carry the electoral college."
During the Constitutional Convention, the authors of the Constitution decided against having a popular vote for president and having Congress choose the president. The Electoral College was designed as a hybrid system between those alternatives: voters would choose electors, equal to the number of senators and representatives for each state, who would then vote for the president.
In an October 2011 interview with The Christian Post, George C. Edwards, distinguished professor of political science at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, argued that the electoral college should be abolished and replaced with a popular vote.
"It's a violation of the most fundamental principles of democracy, meaning equality in voting. Under the Electoral College, every citizen vote does not count the same. As a result, the candidate who gets fewer votes can win the election. I can't see how that's a good idea under democracy," Edwards said.