The Electoral College
The electoral geographies of campaigns in the United States are greatly impacted by the Electoral College system that was put in place by the founding fathers. The system was created as a compromise between the President being elected by Congress and the President being elected by popular vote (Offices).
The image to the right shows the distribution of electoral votes in the United States (The Electoral College). Each state is given one elector for each of their members in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Each candidate has their own group of electors who will vote for them should that candidate win the popular votes for the certain state they represent. Most states use a winner-take-all policy where a majority of popular votes for a candidate means that the candidate receives all the electoral votes in the state. Nebraska and Maine are the only exceptions to this policy, and these two states use a proportional representation system where a candidate is given the portion of the electoral votes for the state that corresponds to the percentage of popular votes that candidate received (Offices).
Candidates will choose to focus their time and money on certain states as a direct result of the Electoral College system. The states that are clearly leaning towards either the Democratic or Republican side are generally ignored during campaigns, along with state with smaller populations. The states that receive the most attention are those that are considered swing states where the state’s electoral votes are equally likely to go to either candidate, and those states with large populations that are given a comparatively large amount of electoral votes (Mayer).
The tremendous impact of the Electoral College system has on the electoral geographies of campaigns in the United States can be seen in the following maps (NPR). These maps show the results of the 2008 presidential election. In the first map, the breakdown of the election can be seen, with Democrat Barack Obama winning the blue states and Republican John McCain winning the red states.The next map has been altered to show the states resized, based on the electoral vote tally they have.
The final map shows the United States once again, but this time the states have been resized according to the amount of ad spending per state in millions of dollars.
It can be seen from the last image that the states that were considered swing states in the 2008 election received drastically more attention from the two candidates in the form of money for advertising. The Electoral College system is responsible for creating this image, as the two candidates fought over the electoral votes found in these swing states.
While there are many critics of the Electoral College system, and it is clear that the system does have its share of issues, it is unclear if an alternative system would work more effectively. Alternative systems could come in the form of a new system based off the proportional representation system found in both Maine and Nebraska or a new system based solely on the popular vote. Those that believe in the Electoral College system have found issue with both of these alternatives as well, and it is unlikely that the Electoral College system will change in the near future (Kimberling).
The Electoral College system does indeed have a direct impact on the campaign practices of presidential candidates. Swing states and those states with large populations clearly receive more attention through campaigning and advertising than other states as a result of this system. It is unclear if an alternative system would remedy these issues, however, as all proposed changes to the system would come along with entirely new issues.
Mayer, W. G. (2002). The Electoral College and Campaign Strategy. In Choosing a President: The Electoral College and Beyond (pp. 102–103). New York, NY: Chatham House Publishers.
NPR. (2012). A Campaign Map, Morphed By Money. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2012/11/01/163632378/a-campaign-map-morphed-by-money. Images
Offices of the Federal Register. What is the Electoral College? Retrieved from http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/about.html
“The Electoral College.” National Popular Vote. http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/pages/electoralcollege.php. Image