Electoral Vote vs. Popular Vote

In a presidential election, the popular vote simply means an aggregate of all voters from all states in America. It is quite possible that a candidate wins the popular vote (i.e. gets more votes over all) and yet loses the presidential election. This is because although Americans vote directly for their chosen candidate in the presidential election every 4 years, the president is elected by the institution called the Electoral College. In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney won 48% of the popular vote but only 38% of the electoral vote.

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Electoral Vote

Popular Vote

Political Structure Representative Democracy or Republic Direct Democracy or Republic
Progression of Vote Citizen votes for delegate or representative, generally in accordance with their allegiances. Delegates convene and vote. Winner of that vote is elected for the position in question. Citizens vote for their choice of official for the position being elected. Votes are counted. Majority of votes is elected to that position.
Bureaucracy Requires formation of some form of committee, college, or council to vote after they've been elected. May also have government oversight organizations. Requires no formation of such groups, nor the election of such groups. May also have government oversight organizations.
Establishment of Voting Districts Mandatory, regional delegates run for given district's delegate locations via their party or individually. Not required.
Gerrymandering Present and created as a result of voting districts. Not created due to lack of need for voting districts.
Party Benefits Favors majority parties, as they can concentrate resources, change bureaucracy, establish and gerrymander voting districts. Favors no party size in particular, though greatly improves potential for minority parties.
Modern History More efficient and helpful prior to modern transportation and communication. These benefits are no longer in place for developed nations. Harder to accomplish beyond geographically-close groups prior to modern transportation and communication. These hindrances are no longer in place for developed nations.

Contents: Electoral Vote vs Popular Vote

edit The Electoral College

There are 538 total electors in the Electoral College, who are chosen by each state of the United States and by the District of Columbia (but not by other territories like Puerto Rico). The number of electors for a state is based upon the voting membership of that state in Congress i.e. the number of representatives in the House plus the number of senators. There are a total of 435 Representatives and 100 Senators in Congress; so along with 3 electors from the District of Columbia that brings the total number of electors to 538. A presidential candidate needs 270 (just over 50%) electoral votes to win.

Here is a list of the number of electoral votes for each state:

StateElectoral Votes
Alabama9
Alaska3
Arizona11
Arkansas6
California55
Colorado9
Connecticut7
Delaware3
Washington, D.C.3
Florida29
Georgia16
Hawaii4
Idaho4
Illinois20
Indiana11
Iowa6
Kansas6
Kentucky8
Louisiana8
Maine4
Maryland10
Massachusetts11
Michigan16
Minnesota10
Mississippi6
Missouri10
Montana3
Nebraska5
Nevada6
New Hampshire4
New Jersey14
New Mexico5
New York29
North Carolina15
North Dakota3
Ohio18
Oklahoma7
Oregon7
Pennsylvania20
Rhode Island4
South Carolina9
South Dakota3
Tennessee11
Texas38
Utah6
Vermont3
Virginia13
Washington12
West Virginia5
Wisconsin10
Wyoming3

edit How Electoral Votes are Awarded

In all states except Nebraska and Maine, electors are awarded on a winner-take-all basis. This means that in a closely contested election like 2000 (Bush v. Gore), when George Bush won Florida with a roughly 50-50% split of the popular vote in that state, he won all 27 electoral votes for Florida.

Maine and Nebraska use a slightly different method for allocating electoral votes. In the "Congressional District Method", one elector within each congressional district is selected by popular vote in that district. The remaining two electors (representing the 2 U.S. Senate seats) are selected by the statewide popular vote. This method has been used in Nebraska since 1996 and in Maine since 1972.

edit Disadvantages of the Electoral College

Critics of the system that uses the electoral vote to choose a president argue that the system is unfair. They say that the system is undemocratic because the number of electoral votes is not directly proportional to the population of the state. This gives smaller states a disproportionate influence in presidential elections. For example, Hawaii has a population of only 1.36 million but has 4 electoral votes while Oregon has a population 3 times that size (3.8 million) but only 7 electoral votes.

Another criticism is that the electoral vote system does not penalize a state for low voter turnout or for disenfranchising its citizens (such as convicted felons, or, historically, slaves and women) The state gets the same number of votes regardless of whether voter turnout is 40% or 60%. In a popular vote, states with higher turnout will directly increase their influence in the outcome of the presidential race.

Yet another criticism is that it discourages voters in states where one party holds a substantial majority i.e. Republicans in Red states and Blue states list|typically blue states like California or Democrats in red states like Texas. Since electoral votes are awarded on a winner-take-all basis, even a significant minority of contrarian votes will not make any impact on the outcome of the election. On the other hand, if a popular vote were to be used then every single vote has an impact.

edit Advantages of the Electoral Vote over a Popular Vote

Supporters of using the electoral vote argue that it protects the rights of smaller states and is a cornerstone of American federalism. States can design their own mechanism -- without federal involvement -- for choosing their electors.

Another advantage is that the impact of any state-level problems, such as fraud, is localized. No political party can commit large-scale fraud in any one state to dramatically influence an election.

It should be noted that the Electoral College merely follows from state influence in Congress, which enacts laws and acts as an inherent checks-and-balances mechanism for the president's administration. That is to say representation for various states in Congress is also not directly proportional to their population.

edit Different Winners of Electoral and Popular Vote

The biggest criticism of the electoral vote system is that it is possible for a presidential candidate to win the popular vote and lose the electoral vote. That is, more Americans voted for the candidate but he or she still lost. While this is rare, it has happened 4 times:

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Comments: Electoral Vote vs Popular Vote

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Anonymous comments (1)

November 11, 2013, 4:03am

Sorry Joseph Winter, but 314 million isn't one seventh of 7.1 billion

— 132.✗.✗.65
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