National Popular Vote, Electoral college reform (title)
"Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors ..." -- U.S. Constitution
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In addition to 829 state legislative sponsors (shown above), 948 other legislators have cast recorded votes in favor of the National Popular Vote bill.
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The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee a majority of the Electoral College to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The bill would reform the Electoral College so that the electoral vote in the Electoral College reflects the choice of the nation's voters for President of the United States.   more
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John Anderson (R-I–IL)
Birch Bayh (D–IN)
John Buchanan (R–AL)
Tom Campbell (R–CA)
Tom Downey (D–NY)
D. Durenberger (R–MN)
Jake Garn (R–UT)
70% Public Support
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The candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states.
The current Electoral College system.

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7. Myths about Big States and Big Cities




7.1    MYTH: Only the big states would matter under a national popular vote.

Critics of a national popular vote sometimes argue that the smallest 39 states will be ignored in a nationwide vote for President because candidates could win the White House by winning 100% of the popular vote in the 11 largest states (and 0% in the 39 smallest states).

It is true that the 11 most populous states contain 56% of the population of the United States. However, the big states rarely act in concert on any political question. In terms of the 2004 presidential election, five of the 11 largest states voted Republican (Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia) while six voted Democratic (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey).

The notion that any candidate could win 100% of the vote in one group of states and 0% in another group of states is far-fetched. In the 2004 presidential election, the 62% share of the vote that the Republican Party won in Texas was the highest percentage level of popular support among the 11 most populous states. These percentages were (in descending order):

  • Texas (62% Republican),
  • New York (59% Democratic),
  • Georgia (58% Republican),
  • North Carolina (56% Republican),
  • Illinois (55% Democratic),
  • California (55% Democratic),
  • New Jersey (53% Democratic),
  • Florida (53% Republican),
  • Michigan (52% Democratic),
  • Pennsylvania (51% Democratic), and
  • Ohio (51% Republican).

If anyone is genuinely concerned about the possibility that a candidate could win the Presidency in a nationwide popular vote by winning 100% of the popular vote in the 11 largest states, they should note that the situation is even worse under the current system. Under the current state-by-state winner-take-all system, a candidate could win the Presidency by winning a mere 51% of the popular vote in the 11 largest states. That is, under the current system, it is possible for a candidate to win the Presidency with a mere 26% of the nation's popular votes.

Moreover, the margins generated by any of the nation's largest states are not overwhelming in relation to the 122,000,000 votes cast nationally in 2004. Among the 11 most populous states, the highest margins were generated by the following seven non-battleground states:

  • Texas — 1,691,267 Republican
  • New York — 1,192,436 Democratic
  • Georgia — 544,634 Republican
  • North Carolina — 426,778 Republican
  • Illinois — 513,342 Democratic
  • California — 1,023,560 Democratic
  • New Jersey — 211,826 Democratic

To put these numbers in perspective, among the four largest states, the two largest Republican states (Texas and Florida) generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for George W. Bush in 2004, while the two largest Democratic states generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for John Kerry.

Moreover, the largest popular vote margins are not necessarily generated by the largest states. For example, Utah (with only 5 electoral votes) generated a margin of 385,000 votes for Bush in 2004—larger than the margin generated for Kerry by New Jersey, the 9th largest state (with 15 electoral votes). Oklahoma (with only 7 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 455,000 votes for Bush in 2004—larger than the margin generated by either New Jersey and North Carolina, the 9th and 10th largest states (each with 15 electoral votes).

The most important point is that, under a national popular vote, every vote would be equal. There is nothing special about a vote cast in a big state versus a vote cast anywhere else.

Although Kansas will probably continue to deliver a statewide majority to the Republican presidential candidate in the foreseeable future, a Democratic presidential candidate running under a national popular vote system could not afford to ignore Kansas (as is currently the case). The Democrat would care if he lost Kansas with 37% of the vote, versus 35% or 40%. Similarly, a Republican presidential candidate could no longer ignore Kansas (as is currently the case), because it would matter to him if he won Kansas by 63% or 65% or 60%. Under a national popular vote, a vote gained or lost in Kansas would be just as important as a vote cast anywhere else in the United States.

It is sometimes argued that some states are too small to attract the attention of presidential candidates. However, the reality is that presidential candidates currently go after every vote that matters. For example, even though the 2nd congressional district of Nebraska (the Omaha area) contains less than Ό% of the nation's population, the Obama campaign operated three separate campaign offices staffed by 16 people in the 2nd district in 2008. Vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin visited the 2nd district during the post-convention campaign. Both campaigns spent considerable money in the 2nd district. Both campaigns paid attention to the 2nd district because Nebraska awards electoral votes by congressional district and the 2nd district was closely divided.45 Needless to say, the Obama and McCain presidential campaigns did not pay the slightest attention to the 1st and 3rd congressional districts of Nebraska because they were not closely divided. They similarly ignored all the congressional districts in the adjacent states of Kansas, Wyoming, and South Dakota.46 When votes matter (even in an area representing only 1/4% of the nation's population), presidential candidates vigorously solicit those areas for votes. When votes don't matter, they ignore those areas.

Although no one can predict exactly how a presidential campaign would be run if every vote were equal throughout the United States, it is clear that candidates could not ignore voters in any state. The result of a national popular vote would be a 50-state campaign for President. Any candidate ignoring a state would suffer a political penalty there.



7.2    MYTH: Only the big cities, such as Los Angeles, would matter under a national popular vote.

The fact is that a candidate cannot even win a statewide election in California by concentrating on Los Angeles. When Ronald Reagan, George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson, and Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor, Los Angeles did not receive all the attention, and Los Angeles certainly did not control the election's outcome. Indeed, none of these recent Republican California governors ever carried Los Angeles. There are numerous other examples of Republicans who won races for governor and U.S. Senator in other states that have big cities (e.g., New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts) without ever carrying the big cities of their respective states. The biggest cities in those states typically voted Democratic, but the suburbs, exurbs, small towns, and rural parts of the states often voted Republican. If big cities controlled the outcome of elections, there would be Democratic governors and U.S. Senators in virtually every state with a big city.

When presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of a closely divided battleground state, the big cities do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami certainly did not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida in 2000 and 2004. The Democrats carried both cities, but the Republicans carried both states.

The fact is that there is nothing special about a vote cast in a big city. When every vote is equal, candidates of both parties know that they must solicit voters throughout the state in order to win the state. A vote cast in a big city is no more (or less) valuable than a vote cast in the suburbs, exurbs, small towns, and rural parts of the state.

It should be noted that the populations of the nation's five biggest cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia) together constitute only 6% of the nation's population of approximately 300 million. Even if one makes the far-fetched assumption that a candidate could win 100% of the votes in the nation's top five cities, that candidate would have only 6% of the national popular vote.

The populations of the nation's 25 largest cities together constitute only 12% of the nation's population. To put this group of 25 cities in perspective, Denver is the nation's 25th largest city (with an estimated population of 558,000 in 2005).

The populations of the 50 largest cities together constitute only 19% of the nation's population. Arlington, Texas is the nation's 50th largest city (with an estimated population of 363,000 in 2005).

Further evidence of the way a nationwide presidential campaign would be run comes from the way that national advertisers conduct nationwide sales campaigns. National advertisers seek out customers in small, medium-sized, and large towns of every small, medium-sized, and large state. National advertisers do not advertise only in big cities. Instead, they go after every potential customer, regardless of where the customer is located. National advertisers do not write off a particular state merely because a competitor has an 8% lead in sales. Furthermore, a national advertiser with an 8% edge in a particular state does not stop trying to make additional sales in the state.



7.3    MYTH: Candidates would "fly over" most of the country under a national popular vote.

This criticism applies to the current system of electing the President—not a national popular vote.

Under the current system, two-thirds of the states are indeed "fly-over" country. In 2004, the presidential candidates concentrated two-thirds of their campaign visits and money in just five states, 80% in just nine states, and 99% of their money in just 16 states. As early as the spring of 2008, the major political parties acknowledged that there would be only 14 battleground states in 2008.47 In 2008, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their campaign events and ad money in just states, and 98% in just 15 states.48

Table 10.1 shows the states in which the 2008 presidential and vice-presidential candidates held their 300 post-convention campaign events. The table is organized according to the size of the jurisdiction, with the smallest state (Wyoming) shown at the top. Campaign events were held in only six of the 25 smallest jurisdictions (the first half of the table). These events were heavily concentrated in four closely divided battleground states, namely New Hampshire (12 events), New Mexico (8), Nevada (12), and Iowa (7). Campaign events were held in 12 of the largest jurisdictions (the second half of the table). As can be seen, two-thirds of the states were "fly over" country in the 2008 election.

RankStateElectoral votesCampaign events
51 Wyoming 3
50 District of Columbia 3 1
49 Vermont 3
48 North Dakota 3
47 Alaska 3
46 South Dakota 3
45 Delaware 3
44 Montana 3
43 Rhode Island 4
42 Hawaii 4
41 New Hampshire 4 12
40 Maine 4 2
39 Idaho 4
38 Nebraska 5
37 West Virginia 5 1
36 New Mexico 5 8
35 Nevada 5 12
34 Utah 5
33 Kansas 6
32 Arkansas 6
31 Mississippi 6
30 Iowa 7 7
29 Connecticut 7
28 Oklahoma 7
27 Oregon 7
26 Kentucky 8
25 Louisiana 9
24 South Carolina 8
23 Alabama 9
22 Colorado 9 20
21 Minnesota 10 2
20 Wisconsin 10 8
19 Maryland 10
18 Missouri 11 21
17 Tennessee 11 1
16 Indiana 11 9
15 Massachusetts 12
14 Arizona 10
13 Washington 11
12 Virginia 13 23
11 New Jersey 15
10 North Carolina 15 15
9 Georgia 15
8 Michigan 17 10
7 Ohio 20 62
6 Pennsylvania 21 40
5 Illinois 21
4 Florida 27 46
3 New York 31
2 Texas 34
1 California 55

The reason that presidential candidates ignore two-thirds of the country under the current system is the state-by-state winner-take-all rule (awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state). Presidential candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise in, organize, or pay attention to the concerns of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. Instead, candidates concentrate their attention on a small handful of closely divided battleground states.

Under the current system, Idaho (with four electoral votes) receives no attention from either party because the Republican candidate has nothing to gain in Idaho, and the Democratic candidate has nothing to lose in Idaho. Although Idaho will continue to deliver a statewide majority to the Republican presidential candidate in the foreseeable future, every vote in Idaho would suddenly matter to both the Democrat and Republican nominee under a national popular vote. It would be folly for the Democratic nominee to write off and ignore Idaho because he would want to narrow his loss there (227,000 votes in 2004) or, failing that, avoid losing Idaho by an even larger margin. Similarly, it would be folly for the Republican nominee to take Idaho for granted because he would want to expand his margin there or, failing that, maintain his party's historical margin. In short, every vote would matter in Idaho because a vote in Idaho would be as important as a vote anywhere else in the United States.

Under a national popular vote, every vote would be equally important and relevant. There would be nothing special about a vote in a big state or a small state. There would be nothing special about a vote in a big city, suburb, exurb, small town, or rural area.



7.4    MYTH: Candidates would only campaign in media markets, while ignoring the rest of the country.

First of all, every person in the United States lives in a media market, including a media market for television, radio, newspapers, magazines, direct mail, billboards, and the Internet. Focusing specifically on television (still the largest single component of spending in presidential campaigns), everyone in the United States has access to television. Thus, no one in the United States will be left out of a presidential campaign because he or she doesn't live in a media market.

People are left out of presidential campaigns, under the current system, because of the state-by-state winner-take-all rule. Candidates have no reason to pay any attention to voters who do not live in closely divided battleground states. Under a national popular vote, every vote would be equal, and every vote would matter.



7.5    MYTH: Candidates would concentrate on major metropolitan media markets under a national popular vote.

In A Critique of the National Popular Vote Plan for Electing the President, John Samples of the Cato Institute writes:

"NPV will encourage presidential campaigns to focus their efforts in dense media markets where costs per vote are lowest.…

"In general, because of the relative costs of attracting votes, the NPV proposal seems likely at the margin to attract candidate attention to populous states."49

The defect in Sample's argument is that television and radio time are premium-priced in the larger media markets. Television and radio time is far less expensive, on a per-impression basis, in small towns and rural media markets than in larger media markets. It is, for example, considerably more expensive to buy television or radio time to reach Ohio's 11 million people than to buy television or radio time to reach the 11 million people who live in the 12 smallest non-competitive states (i.e., the six "red" states of Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota and the six "blue" states of Hawaii, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, Delaware, and the District of Columbia).




45 The outcome was that Barack Obama carried the 2nd district by 3,378 votes and won one electoral vote in Nebraska.

46 In 2004, both presidential candidates visited the 2nd congressional district of Maine (which awards electoral votes by district) when polls briefly suggested that one electoral vote might possibly be in play. Of course, neither campaign paid any attention to nearby Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, or Connecticut.

47 "Already, Obama and McCain Map Fall Strategies." New York Times. May 11, 2008.

48 http://fairvote.org/tracker/?page=27&pressmode;=showspecific&showarticle;=230.

49 Samples, John. A Critique of the National Popular Vote Plan for Electing the President. Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 622. October 13, 2008.


Reform the Electoral College so that the electoral vote reflects the nationwide popular vote for President