Small States Are Not Helped by Current System

We've all heard that low-population states are especially influential in electing the President because each state gets extra electoral votes corresponding to their Senators.

However, the political reality is that the current system decreases the political clout of small states in presidential elections.

The eight least populous states (i.e., those with three electoral votes each) together received just one general-election campaign visit in 2008, 2012, and 2016 combined. Meanwhile, the closely divided battleground state of Wisconsin (with about the same population as the eight smallest states combined) received 40 visits. Wisconsin received more attention despite having only 10 electoral votes -- compared to the total of 24 for the eight smallest states. 

Presidential candidates ignore the smallest states—not because they are small—but because they are predictable one-party states in presidential elections. Under the current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes, political power and attention comes from being a closely divided battleground state -- not from a state's number of electoral votes. Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes attract 40 times more attention than the 24 electoral votes of the eight smallest states. 

Contrary to myth, the small states (the 13 states with only three or four electoral votes) are not predominantly Republican in presidential elections. In fact, they are substantially tied. The 13 smallest states have split 7-to-6 (or 8-to-5) in favor of the Democrats in all but one presidential election since 1992. They have split 6-to-7 in favor of the Republicans once.

 

 

And, despite what you may have heard, President Trump did not win the Electoral College in 2016 because of small states. All of the 13 smallest states were won by the same party in 2016, 2012, 2008, and 2004. Among the 25 smallest states, Iowa was the only state to switch parties between 2012 and 2016, and Iowa's six electoral votes did not elect Trump.

The current state-by-state winner-take-all system actually shifts power from small and medium-sized states to an accidental handful of closely divided battleground states. 

The fact that the small states are disadvantaged by the current state-by-state winner-take-all system has been long recognized by prominent officials from these states. In 1966, Delaware led a group of 12 predominantly small states in an unsuccessful lawsuit to get state winner-take-all laws declared unconstitutional. 

Another indication that small states do not benefit from the current system is that Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia are among the 16 jurisdictions that have enacted the National Popular Vote interstate compact into law.

A nationwide vote for President offers a way for small states to make every one of their voters count directly toward the presidential candidate of their choice. It would make each of their voters as influential as a voter in Wisconsin or elsewhere. 

Click here for detailed memo on small states.