Size Matters: Electoral Votes vs. Population



There has been no shortage of complaints and comparisons regarding the electoral college since the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Based on the tally of individual votes, Donald Trump took 30 states totaling 306 electoral votes–more than the 270 needed out of 538. Hillary Clinton won 20 states plus the District of Columbia earning 232 electoral votes. An argument for wanting to get rid of the electoral college is the disproportionate representation of electoral votes from larger states versus smaller states in relation to population. But how much of a difference is it when you look  at the U.S. map? Refer to the two maps below for a comparative illustration between population-sized states and electoral-sized states (states won by Trump are represented in red; states won by Clinton are represented in blue). Overall, there is not much difference.



Based on 2015 U.S. Census Bureau data, California is the most populated state with approximately 39.1 million people. Wyoming is the least populated state with an estimate of 586,000 people. Consequently, California has the most Congressional districts (U.S. Representatives) plus two U.S. Senators giving it 55 electoral votes. Wyoming has the minimum number of electoral votes with three: one U.S. Representative; two U.S. Senators. If the total of 538 electoral votes were adjusted to population per state, California would get 65.5 (10.5 more votes than represented in the electoral college); and Wyoming would get 1.0 (2.0 less votes than represented in the electoral college).

Montana has almost twice as many residents as Wyoming, yet it has the same minimum number of three electoral votes. Washington state has approximately 7.2 million people with 12 electoral votes. This means each electoral vote counts for 597,500 residents in the state. If the electoral votes in the ‘Evergreen State’ is adjusted to population, it would still calculate to 12.0 electoral votes. However, Wyoming gets over three times more weighting per electoral vote than Washington, because each vote from the ‘Cowboy State’ accounts for one in every 195,369 residents. The aforementioned figures are pulled from 2015 U.S. Census Bureau data. The KUOW graphic below is based on 2014 U.S. Census Bureau data. It’s close enough to illustrate the point.


Had this presidential race been decided by popular vote, Clinton would have won by a margin of at least 1.5%, having gained two million plus more votes (64.6 million) than Trump (62.4 million). If the race was to be determined by electoral votes proportional to population, Trump’s lead would not be much different at 303.6 to 234.4. Clinton would still need to win the closely contested swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which she narrowly lost. Hence, the slightly disproportionate electoral votes compared to population by state did not effect the outcome of the presidential race. This is not surprising given the similarities between the two maps shown above, distorting U.S. states by population and by electoral votes. The ultimate question for future presidential elections is whether we move to abolish the electoral college without doing away with Congressional districts. Congress should also do away with gerrymandering.



References (November 16, 2016),_2016


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