Why do some right-wingers want to take away your right to elect U.S. senators?
One hundred years ago this past May 31, a 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was officially adopted, changing the method by which U.S. senators are elected.
Prior to 1913, senators were elected not by popular vote but by state legislators, per the original Constitution. But the potential for — indeed, the reality of — political corruption prompted a long-term and widespread movement for change. By 1910, most state legislatures had passed resolutions calling for reform of the system.
Nary a complaint about the popular-vote arrangement was heard until the rise of the Tea Party movement a few years ago. But, as we see HERE, a new poll shows that even most Republicans are opposed to repeal of the 17th Amendment:
Repealing the 17th Amendment — and returning to the days when U.S. senators were elected not by the people but by state legislatures — is an idea that has gained popularity in some right-wing circles in recent years. This week the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council may throw its support behind model legislation that would dramatically weaken the amendment.
But according to a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll, attacking the 17th Amendment has little appeal outside the most conservative circles. It’s even very unpopular among Republicans as a whole.
Conservative advocates argue that taking the selection of senators away from state legislatures improperly shifted power to the federal government. ALEC is considering backing draft legislation that would chip away at the century-old amendment by letting state legislatures place Senate candidates on the ballot along with those candidates nominated by the political parties through their primaries or conventions.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll found that, so far at least, Republicans have not been persuaded: 83 percent of them said they preferred the popular vote for Senate elections (only 12 percent favored election by state legislatures) and 73 percent of them said the 17th Amendment should remain in place (18 percent favored repeal).
Support for repealing the 17th Amendment was higher among self-identified “very conservative” respondents and those who consider themselves members of the tea party.
Very conservative Americans were the most likely to favor allowing state legislatures to elect senators, with 31 percent saying they preferred the idea. Still, 41 percent said they preferred direct election of senators. Very conservative respondents also said the 17th Amendment should remain in place by the same 41 percent to 31 percent margin.
Likewise, 31 percent of those involved in the tea party movement said that it would be better for state legislatures to elect senators, although they were still outnumbered by the 61 percent who said the popular vote was a better system. Forty percent of tea party respondents said the amendment should be repealed, while 49 percent said it should remain in place.
More than 70 percent of conservative, but not very conservative, Americans said both that the popular vote was the better way to elect senators and that the 17th Amendment should remain in place.
Republicans as a whole were stauncher defenders of the 17th Amendment than Democrats or independents were. Compared to those 83 percent of Republicans, lesser majorities of 71 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of independents said they preferred direct election of senators. Democrats and independents were somewhat more likely than Republicans to say they weren’t sure, not to say they preferred election by state legislatures.
Overall, only 11 percent of Americans said they think senators should be elected by state legislatures rather than by popular vote, while 71 percent said they preferred the status quo. Sixty-four percent said the 17th Amendment should remain in place, and 16 percent said it should be repealed.