Party Takes 77% of Popular Vote… and Loses Election!

Update: Be sure to join us for all day live-blogging of the election —

As you all know, our president is not chosen by popular vote, but by the Electoral College. People often complain that this is an unfair system, and as recently as the 2000 presidential election, a candidate (Al Gore) won the popular vote, but lost the election (to George Bush).

I never worried too much about this disparity, thinking we were dealing with terribly small percentages of the population, but then I did the math…

First, the amount of people represented by 1 electoral vote varies widely. Wyoming gets 1 electoral vote for every 175,000 persons, while Texas gets 1 vote for every 700,000 persons. I have split the election among two parties, Party A and Party B.

If Party A won each of the states below by 51% the results would look something like this (these are the states that have the least number of people represented by each electoral vote): 

As you can see, this is enough to reach the magic 270 electoral votes and win the election.

The next chart shows those states that have the most people per electoral vote. If these states voted for Party B by 99%, the results would look like this:

What does it all mean? Well… 

Party A had 66,677,053 votes, which represents 22.7% of the popular vote

Party B had 169,173,053 votes, which represents 77.3% of the popular vote.

Incredibly, the party that had 77% of the vote lost the election.

Now I realize that not all states allot their votes by a “winner take all” system (Nebraska and Maine), but most do, and the likelihood of the scenario I set up is so small as to be nonsense… but in an increasingly polarized society, it is realistic that a party could win the popular vote by 5% or even 10% and still lose the election… 

My reaction is simply this. Wow.


14 Responses

  1. Yes, a winner takes it all system is quite flawed imo. Not only does it shew the results, it partly moves the power so that states elect the president, not the people.

    Another effect is the enforcement of a two party system. Here in sweden we have currently seven parties in the parliament (riksdagen). This is possible because each vote is actualy worth one vote. With a winner takes it all it would require 51% of the votes in any given state to get any “point” at all. This means small parties have no chance.

    On a side note, there are actualy even better voting system than a traditional majority vote procedure. I will present this idea in detail in a separate post, it would be too lengthy to explain in a comment.

  2. Interesting phenomena you’ve observed here. However, it fails completely to take into account state demographics, voting trends, turnout and so on. While this would result in the wildest election ever, these particular state coalitions are not only unlikely, but virtually impossible.

    Still, its an interesting observation nonetheless

  3. 1) Not realistic.
    2) It’s how the founding father’s wrote it, they had their reasons. Balances state rights with the popular vote.

  4. You can make an EV victory with virtually 0% of the popular vote as well: just suppose that turnout is almost 0% in the states that party A wins, and nearly 100% in the ones party B wins.

  5. Hmm… yeah, I never thought of it that way. Turn-out has a lot to do with it…

  6. Thanks for the interesting analysis. Sure, it’s not plausible in and of itself, but it makes ya think…

  7. @Scott

    Actually, this is now how the founding fathers wrote it.
    This is what they were forced to change it to.

    They did not want “the people” voting for the President.

  8. […] I read an interesting article today. Here’s a link: Party Takes 77% of Popular Vote… and Loses Election! Truth Is a Woman This is the problem I have with the electoral college — a voter in Wyoming has more than four […]

  9. Another component to the underlying establishment of the Electoral College is that in 1781 citizens of, say, Virginia had absolutely no way to verify the population of voters in, say, Massachusetts. Instead of letting a representative of the leading party in one state waltz in claiming that their candidate won their state 300,000 votes to 14,000 votes, they instead would have an independent census estimate regional populations in non-election cycles and apportion representatives accordingly. There was concern of regional census fraud or population moves however and so the additional two votes per state would have the effect of marginally disincentivizing states of seeking political leverage by adopting such policies or tactics. This was also a power sharing gift to the lesser populated states to encourage their participation in the new republic. The idea, however is stale, and living in a less populous state really ought not entitle citizens to having more political leverage. Neither, for that matter ought living in a non-‘battleground state’ where a person’s vote is essentially worthless (and therefore disenfranchised) regardless of which party is favored.

    The Amar plan (a.k.a. National Popular Vote Interstate Compact) would solve that. It is a plan which if adopted by enough state legislatures (currently MD, IL, HI, NJ; pending in many others – must have EV total 270) would give all of those states’ EC votes to the winner of the national popular vote.

    Simple. – Disenfranchised Republicans in NY and CA have an effect on the election as do disenfranchised Democrats in TX. The campaigns have to talk about all our issues and reach out to all of us. The result: a better democracy.

    Everyone wins!

  10. If only I could find my old copy of Scientific American. There’s a book review in there about how our voting system is hugely flawed–in the sense you point out, not that evil voting machines are going to give the election to Nader. He advocates what I would call a kind of Heisman Trophy voting system-where candidates are ranked and he who gets more top quality votes, higher ranking wins. Not just quantity. So one could theoretically vote Nader without “messing up the election.” You just might not vote him first.

  11. Its all just farce. It seems to me…..and I’m just a dumb cook, that the system knows how many registered dems there are and the same with republicans. History tells us that voter turn out is a little over 50%. We know which states are going donkey and which elephant. Figure in the # of each parties registered voters bang,ev vs population you got yourself a winner………now how do I figure out those 6 #s for the mega millions.

  12. Another reflection of this same sensibility is found in the entire concept of the Senate. I often wondered how much easier it would make running my city council district in Los Angeles (@250,000 people) if we had our own United States Senator.

  13. The current system does not reliably reflect the nationwide popular vote. The statewide winner-take-all rules makes it possible for a candidate to win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

    In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

    Nationwide popular election of the President is the only system that makes all states competitive, guarantees that the candidate with the most popular votes nationwide wins the Presidency, and makes every vote equal.

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

    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). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 21 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


  14. […] I would like to continue the discussion of voting. One of Tyson’s previous posts illustrated the flaws of the electoral system, particularly the differences in “power” that residents of different states have. The […]

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