With a daunting election looming this November, a common question has been whether to cast a vote for either Trump (R), Clinton (D), Johnson (L), Stein (G), or another viable candidate. In this edition, we take a look at the weight of your vote.
Votes are apportioned by a mixture of the population size of the state and a requirement that each state obtains a required minimum of three electoral votes. Each electoral vote is given to a state for the number of senators and house of representative members. There are a total of 538 total electoral votes for the presidential election. With a 2010 Census of 308,745,538 persons in the United States, the number of electoral votes are the 435 congressional seats multiplied by the proportional population. Here, we obtain exactly that breakdown, except that for Missouri (population of 5,988,927) there are an expected 10.44 electoral votes; whereas Texas (population of 25,145,561) has an expected 37.43 electoral votes. These should round to 11 and 37, respectively (as they are the splitting line for 538 total electoral votes; 435 house seats). In reality, Missouri has 10 votes while Texas has 38 votes.
How to Win a Presidential Election
In order to win a presidential election, a candidate does not need a majority vote, but rather a total of 270 electoral votes. In the odd case, a candidate only has to win California (55 electoral votes), Texas (38), Florida (29), New York (29), Illinois (20), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Georgia (16), Michigan (16), North Carolina (15), and New Jersey (14). These 11 states can guarantee the presidency. For a two candidate process in 2012, this would amount to requiring a minimum of 60,303,256 votes out of the 217,650,097; or a mere 27.7% of the popular vote! Luckily, these states tend to conflict with each other and it is rare that a majority vote winner loses an election. In fact, this has happened only once. I bet you think it’s Al Gore’s loss to George W. Bush. Think again. It was Rutherford B. Hayes victory over Samuel Tilden in 1876! In that election, Tilden secured 50.92% of the popular vote, however he received the wrong 50.92%. Hayes captured narrow victories in states where the votes were weighted more. For instance, Hayes won Illinois by a mere 19,621 votes to take 21 electoral votes. Meanwhile, Tilden trounced Hayes in Arizona and Alabama by 34,281 and 19,437 respectively for a lead of 34,093 vote lead but was losing by 5 electoral votes!!
What about those who had the most votes but lost? This has happened four times in all 57 elections. Those poor losers? Al Gore (48.38% vs. 47.87% to George H.W. Bush), Grover Cleveland (48.62% vs. 47.82% to Benjamin Harrison), the aforementioned Samuel Tilden (50.92% to 47.92% vs. Rutherford B. Hayes), and Andrew Jackson (41.35% vs. 30.92% to John Q. Adams).
The last example is also the only example of a candidate that lost despite having the largest number of electoral votes!!! This is due to the requirement to obtain a majority electoral college, which Jackson did not do. In this election, Jackson secured 99 of the 261 electoral votes; a mere 37.93%. John Q. Adams finished with 84 while William Crawford and Henry Clay snagged 41 and 37, respectively. Under the laws at the time a contingent election held by the House of Representatives were cast for Jackson, Adams, and Crawford (a result of the twelfth amendment). With heavy petitioning by Henry Clay (who detested Jackson), Adams went on to secure the Presidency by a Adams-Jackson-Crawford vote of 87-71-54, respectively.
Finally, how many of the 57 presidents have been elected despite having majority of the nation vote against them? This has happened 18 times! You read that right Of the 57 U.S. Presidential elections, a person who has had majority of the nation vote against them has won presidency 18 times. (Not all the same person, that would be a record.)
Before we go into dissecting how much your vote is worth, one last stat thread to digest. Of the 44 Presidents, 39 have been elected (2 assassinations, 2 death, 1 resignation for the remaining five). Of the 39 elected president, 15 were elected despite not having majority vote. This means that nearly 40% of our presidents have been elected with majority of the nation voting against them. The worst of the lot?
- John Q. Adams (1824) – 30.92% of the vote
- Abraham Lincoln (1860) – 39.82% of the vote
- Woodrow Wilson (1912) – 41.84% of the vote
- Bill Clinton (1992) – 43.00% of the vote
- Richard Nixon (1968) – 43.42% of the vote
Not quite the 27% mark, but a hefty amount of folks that did not want these guys as their president. So…
How Much Is Your Vote Worth?
By this set-up, how much is your vote truly worth? Which states does your vote make the most impact? To determine this, we take the number of electoral votes and divide them by the number of eligible voters. This shows that since it’s not your single vote that means the most, but rather the weight of your vote with respect to the electoral vote, we list the ten states with the most weight per vote for a person.
Here we see that the weight of a vote is dominated by the small states. That is, the states with the smallest population. This is expected as the minimum threshold for representation is 3 electoral votes (2 senators and 1 representative). This is expected. Afterwards the weights tend to drive down as the states get bigger and, more interestingly, as the states become more of a battleground state. For instance, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have the lowest voting weights.
What this means here is that despite the population driving the number of electoral votes; the proportion of voting eligible citizens is much higher in theses states. In total, 70.49% of the United States population are deemed voting eligible. Many states are either younger, have more felons, or have more non-registered voters than other states. These states are
- California (55 electoral votes) – 63.57%
- Texas (38 electoral votes) – 64.11%
- Utah (6 electoral votes) – 66.33%
- Nevada (6 electoral votes) – 66.69%
- New Jersey (14 electoral votes) – 67.31%
The states with the highest percentages are states that tend to have a primarily older (many persons with no kids) generation of voters. These states are
- North Dakota (3 electoral votes) – 80.16%
- District of Columbia (3 electoral votes) – 79.37%
- Vermont (3 electoral votes) – 78.84%
- Maine (4 electoral votes) – 78.74%
- Montana (3 electoral votes) – 78.28%
However, Pennsylvania ranks 8th and Ohio ranks 12th on this last list. This means that these states don’t suffer from vote skewing due to minimum requirements and have large generational gaps.
So What Does This Mean?
While your vote may seem completely insignificant, (my vote in this upcoming 2016 election bears 0.0000023225 of the electoral vote) the aggregate total decides who receives your states’ votes. The most jarring statistic out there shouldn’t be the weight of the vote but the overwhelmingly 40+% of voters who refuse to vote!!!!!
I don’t know if there’s exclamation points to drive this point home. Let’s take for instance the state of California. Yes, only 63% of the state can vote. However, only 55.06% of all eligible voters voted in 2012! This means that less than 35% of California actually dictates who receives the 55 electoral votes… TWENTY PERCENT OF A WIN!!!
Consider the fact that Obama defeated Romney by 5 million votes in California; there were still over 10 million votes left on the table for the 2012 election. This means the final vote could have been either a 15 million vote win for Obama all the way over to a five million vote win for Romney. Postulations may occur, but we will never know the true result.
In a much more important state, Ohio saw Obama win 18 electoral votes off of a 166,277 vote win over Romney in the 2012 election for 18 electoral votes. Consider the fact that Ohio left 3.1 million votes uncast! The results in Ohio may be greatly different if another million voters made it to the polls.
Similarly, Florida saw Obama win by a margin of 74,309 votes for 29 electoral votes. All this despite 4.9 million voters taking the day off and neglecting to vote!
Take just these two states and the results may not have been 332-206; but rather 285 – 253. One more state… say Pennsylvania in another close contest? Obama won by a margin of 309,840 votes for 20 electoral votes. In this state, over 40% of the state refused to vote, leaving 3.9 million votes on the ground.
Given these three states, the final tally could have been 265 – 273 in favor of Romney in the 2012 election. It could be said that the 2012 election was theoretically decided by these 550,426 votes.
So what’s the moral here? VOTE. While in the aggregate total, your vote may be worth 10E-6 in weight, the state may come down to just a handful of votes.
Think of this:: In the above illustration, we aren’t looking for a reason for the Republican party to win; but rather how close the election truly was. In fact, the election came down to 550,426 of the 217,650,095; or 0.25%.
At that point, your vote doesn’t seem so insignificant anymore, does it?
To leave you with some extra data, here are the past results of the previous 57 Presidential elections. Bold selections indicate the candidate received majority vote.
Note: Updates to put tables in as pictures as wordpress.com does not fully support table features and I have received multiple requests for tables to fit on mobile devices. (wordpress.org does but requires a SQL server).