Is the Electoral College More Strongly Supported by Those it Benefits the Most?

Each presidential election draws great attention to the Electoral College, a political institution that was born from a clash between large and small states.  The perennial question of whether the Electoral College system is “fair” becomes especially germane in the cases of a split vote (i.e. when one candidate wins the popular vote while another wins the electoral vote).  The possibility of a split vote exists currently, with the election prediction blog, FiveThirtyEight, currently estimating that the probability of such an occurrence is 7.6%.

The architects of the US Constitution created the Electoral College with the intention of balancing the interests of large states (those preferring a population-weighted vote) and small states (those preferring equal votes for each state).  Although the “Connecticut Compromise” appeased small and large states over 200 years ago, small states enjoy greater advantages under the Electoral College system to this day.  We can measure electoral advantage as the number of electoral votes per capita, as shown in the chart below:

Generally, the smallest states have more electoral votes per capita while the largest states are most disadvantaged.  The nation’s smallest state, Wyoming, has about 4 times as many electoral votes per capita when compared to states like Texas, Florida, and California.  Put differently, a Wyomingite has four times the voting power of a Texan.

In light of this small-state advantage, are voters in California overwhelmingly clamoring for a move toward the popular vote while the citizens of Vermont are holding on tight to the status quo?  Surprisingly, the answer is no.  Based on state-by-state polling data conducted by Public Policy Polling and cited by “National Popular Vote Bill”, support for the popular vote isn’t stronger within electorally-disadvantaged states. This scatterplot, as well as a simple regression, show this non-relationship:

The trend line generated by the regression barely fits the data any better than a simple average, as demonstrated graphically and confirmed by the extremely low R-squared of 0.0116.  Moreover, the slope coefficient is not statistically significant at any conventional levels.

According to polls, Californians and Wyomingites support the popular vote almost equally: 70% and 69%, respectively.  It’s hard to say whether more Wyomingites oppose the Electoral College than “should” or if more Californians “ought” to oppose the Electoral College. Nevertheless, this observation and the results shown above suggest that voters don’t base their preferences towards the Electoral College on the relative electoral advantages it creates for them.

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