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Curious About The Electoral College

2 minutes to read.

Starting note: I by no means claim to be any kind of political expert. I’m just a guy who was curious and did some research to try and learn more about a subject.

 

There have been 57 elections and the 5th was flipped this past election because of the electoral college. Meaning 11% of elections have gone to the person who won the electoral college but lost the popular vote.

After discovering how high the percentage flipped was I grew curious and wondered, “What is the purpose of the Electoral College?”

 

The most common answer I found was to take power away from larger cities giving smaller cities more representation. (I first saw this argument in this video on Facebook with nearly 50 million views)

This made sense but I’m weary of pretty much anything I see on Facebook–so I decided to look into how much power these large cities actually have.

I looked at census data for population by city and the country as a whole. The latest compete set I could find was from 2015.

I summed up the top 100 cities in America.

I stopped at 100 because that’s when the population per city dwindled down pretty small, and it’s also outside of the range of cities a single candidate can focus on and expect to win.

Where I expected to find the answer, Instead things got more confusing.

In 2015 there were 320 million people in the United States. [1]

And if you summed up all of the people in the top 100 cities you would have 64 million people. [2]

Meaning if a candidate somehow focused solely on 100 cities throughout their campaign and happened to win every single vote in those cities, they would only have 20% of the popular vote.

So not only is this scenario impossible, but if it were possible they would still lose the election by up to 60 points.

 

“But the electoral college must have a lower margin of error, right?”

Apparently that’s also wrong.

Because our elections are First Past The Post oppose to the Alternative Vote (also referred to as Ranked Voting) you win all of the electorates from a state whether you have 100% of the popular vote or 50.1% of the popular vote.

And since smaller states votes are worth more per person (eg. Someones vote in Wyoming is worth 4 times more than someone’s vote in California.) it is possible to becoming President with only 22% of the popular vote if you focus on the right states. And since some states always vote the same way that creates even less states candidates have to focus on (AKA Swing States). [3]

 

I am not claiming to have proved we should get rid of the electoral college. However, my initial question still remains, “What is the purpose of the Electoral College?”

 

 

[3] I couldn’t find an official source that says this explicitly but I have found multiple sources that show relative weights and I’ve done the math myself.

2 Comments

  1. Charles Charles April 13, 2017

    The Electoral College originally was intended to act as protection against mob rule. The Founding Fathers were wary of the general public being swayed by demagogues and having a sweet shop owner as opposed to a doctor be chosen for President. The Electoral College was their answer to prevent this.

    Unfortunately, the original Electoral College died hundreds of years ago. In the original vision, the general public would vote for an Elector, who would then vote for the President. It might appear like we still do this today, but there’s a critical difference: the people the Electors voted for weren’t supposed to be tied to a specific candidate. The Electors were supposed to be chosen for their values and knowledge, with which they would then use to determine a suitable President.

    Ever since parties formed, the Electoral College has done little but skew the popular vote in arbitrary ways. It’s led to the absurd concept of “swing states” and has caused the people’s vote to truly not matter at all.

    While restoring the Electoral College to what it was supposed to be would be ideal, the next best thing is to destroy it entirely by supporting the National Popular Vote.

    • Gil Gil April 13, 2017

      I’ve read a lot that touches on some of those things but you summed it all up great. It’s a little discouraging to learn that it’s known that it’s all wrong with no clear way to fix it. But it makes more sense now. Thank you!

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