Currently, 74 percent of Americans think the arcane Electoral College we use to elect our President should be abolished. That’s the finding of a poll by Penn Schoen Berland about what Americans think of the Constitution. From Mark Penn:

When it comes to fixing the system, voters zero in on the judiciary branch as most ripe for extensive changes. 69 percent call for a mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court justices and 66 percent favor term limits. Most significantly, by a margin of 51 to 34 the public favors popular election of Supreme Court justices, which follows the recent trend in some states that have chosen to elect their top justices. It is the most dramatic change to the system that the poll respondents favor.

74 percent agree it is time to abolish the Electoral College and have direct popular vote for the president. The public also favors by 49 to 41 holding national referenda for constitutional amendments.

Of all the possible Constitutional changes polled, abolishing the Electoral College scored the highest. The interesting thing is that unlike the other possible reforms, such as term limits for Supreme Court justices, which would require the significantly high hurdle of ratifying a Constitutional amendment, putting in place direct popular vote for the President is relatively easy.

The strategy for getting a national popular vote is both clever and simple. It is being advanced by National Popular Vote and several good-government/political reform groups. Their plan is:

Under the U.S. Constitution, the states have exclusive and plenary (complete) power to allocate their electoral votes, and may change their state laws concerning the awarding of their electoral votes at any time. Under the National Popular Vote bill, all of the state’s electoral votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538).

While this would not technically abolish the Electoral College, it would have the same effect and create a de facto direct popular vote once enough states enter into a multistate compact. And for it to take effect requires only that roughly half of the states pass a bill, a much lower hurdle than a Constitutional amendment.

What is surprising, given its overwhelming support, is that the national popular vote plan has not already passed in a sufficient number of states. So far, it’s succeeded in only five. The effort to enact it has been under way for several years. This shows the power of status quo bias, making it hard to get systematic change even when it is popular. This poll may encourage several state legislatures to act quickly so we can finally reform our 19th-century system for choosing our President.

The American people want this straightforward reform, but we will see how long, if ever, it takes them to get it.