National polls will tell you which candidate has more support in general, but in the U.S., each and every citizen does not vote on a national level, but on a state-by-state level. In other words, if one resides in California, they will influence which candidate will win in their state alone.
This might create a situation where the popular vote, which is the candidate who gets the most total votes, does not become president.
John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, George W. Bush in 2000, and Donald Trump in 2016 all won despite losing in the popular vote.
This system, where each resident can only influence locally, is called the electoral college, and it is only practiced in the United States, even though surveys show that between 60% and 80% of Americans don’t approve of it.
WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT THIS WAY OF CHOOSING A POLITICAL LEADER?
- This system is based on the number of congressmen that serve in the House of Representatives.
Each state also gets to send two senators to the Senate.
Here’s how this works in real life: in Texas, there are just over 25M residents, so it has 36 congressmen in the House. A state like Vermont is tiny, with less than 650,000 residents, so it has one congressman. The way the electoral college works is Texas gets 36 votes for each congressman and two for its Senators, so it’s worth 38 votes in Tuesday’s elections, compared with Vermont’s 1 congressman + 2 Senators, which gets them 3 votes on Tuesday.
This is just one example. What this does is make it so that each vote is not equal to another due to the number of residents each delegate ends up representing.
Take Oregon, which will vote for Biden. It is worth seven votes. Its population is 4.2M, so it means each delegate is in charge of 600,000 voters (4,200,000 / 7 = 600,000). In other words, every 600,000 people are worth one vote. In red-voting Montana, there are 1.07M residents, which influence three votes, so every 356,000 voters are worth a delegate. This makes their votes more valuable.
- Swing states: in areas that are known for changing their minds between Democrats and Republicans, therefore, the two candidates campaign, rally, blow their ad budget, and put in the effort, whereas in states they are comfortably in the lead in or have no prayer of winning, they would not spend a second.
In 2016, in New York, a blue state, 2.8M people voted for Trump, but since Hillary got 4.5M votes, those people’s political opinions got buried.
This system goes back to the early part of the United States, when it made more sense, but it seems to be inefficient for the 21st century.
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