Obama’s re-election prospects

by Joel on March 15, 2011

I’m sharing my arm chair opinion of Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election prospects, per the Electoral College vote. A lot rides on the Republicans’ choice of nominee and the state of the U.S. Economy at election time. As background I’ve listed the states and electoral votes JFK won in 1960, followed how those states voted in subsequent elections, excepting the landslide years of ‘64, ‘72, and ‘80, and excepting ‘68 because the electoral college votes George Wallace received don’t contribute, in my opinion, to understanding the voting trends over time. It can be seen how rather quickly winning coalitions can fall apart, requiring the formation of new ones. As well, the Kennedy states had 32 more electoral votes than those same states have today, and the declines mostly correspond to those states that still vote Democratic. (I was not successful in posting the data as a table, but if anyone wants it, they can email me at jtb21967[AT]aol.com.)

1960D, 1976D, 1988R, 1992D, 1996D, 2000R, 2004R, 2008D

AL-5* 9 (9-R) (9-R) (9-R) (9-R) (9-R) (9-R)
AR-8 6 (6-R) 6 6 (6-R) (6-R) (6-R)
CT-8 (8-R) (8-R) 8 8 8 7 7
DE-3 3 (3-R) 3 3 3 3 3
GA-12 12 (12-R) 13 (13-R) (13-R) (15-R) (15-R)
HA-3 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
IL-27 (26-R) (24-R) 22 22 22 21 21
LA-10 10 (10-R) 9 9 (9-R) (9-R) (9-R)
MD-9 10 (10-R) 10 10 10 10 10
MA-16 14 13 12 12 12 12 12
MI- 20 (20-R) (20-R) 18 18 18 17 17
MN- 11 10 10 10 10 10 10 10
MO-13 12 (11-R) 11 11 (11-R) (11-R) (11-R)
NV-3 (3-R) (4-R) 4 4 (4-R) (5-R) 5
NJ-16 (17-R) (16-R) 15 15 15 15 15
NY-45 41 36 33 33 33 31 31
NM-4 (4-R) (5-R) 5 5 5 (5-R) 5
NC-14 13 (13-R) (14-R) (14-R)(14-R) (15-R) 15
PA-32 27 (25-R) 23 23 23 21 21
RI-4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
SC-8 8 (8-R) (8-R) (8-R) (8-R) (8-R) (8-R)
TX-24 26 (29-R) (32-R) (32-R) (32-R) (34-R) (34-R)
WV-8 6 5 (*1) 5 5 (5-R) (5-R) (5-R)

Kennedy’s winning coalition relied heavily on taking several Southern states (*6 of the 11 Kennedy electors in Alabama cast their votes for Harry Byrd, instead and in 1988 one West Virginia Democratic elector declined to vote for Dukakis) and coupling them with several industrial states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, New Jersey and Ohio (though Nixon carried Ohio) and then hoping to score in California, which Kennedy lost narrowly. After passage of the Civil Rights bill in 1965 and with Democrats’ frequent support of matters such as desegregation, affirmative action, gun control, decreased military funding, and increased funding for federal social programs, and with Republican emphasis on “law and order,” Southern states that supported Kennedy mostly turned Republican in later elections, except that Jimmy Carter in 1976 won the great majority of southern states. Carter’s wins there helped to offset his loss to President Ford of industrial states such as Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey that Kennedy had carried in 1960; Carter did manage to carry Ohio, whose 1960 electoral votes went to Nixon. Bill Clinton, as compared to Dukakis, in ‘88, Gore in ‘00 and Kerry in ‘04, was able to win in some southern states: Arkansas, Lousiana, Georgia and Tennessee in ‘92 and Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Florida in ‘96.

More than 25 years (particularly beginning in 1992) after Republicans began dominating the southern states in Presidential elections, Democrats started to dominate or achieve parity as to states that had mostly voted Republican, going back to at least 1952. Those states include California, as mentioned, Oregon, Iowa, Vermont and New Mexico. As well, several states that often voted Democratic, but not consistently so, became reliable “blue” states beginning in 1992, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania, albeit not always by large margins for some states. One state, West Virginia, was fairly reliable for Democrats for many of the presidential election years starting with 1960, but now appears to have become reliable for the Republicans, with GOP wins there in ‘00, ‘04, and ‘08 and almost certain to be red in 2012. One likely reason it turned red is that much of the state has faced long-term employment woes with steep declines in traditional coal mining methods and sharp rises in strip mining, the latter practice opposed by many environmentally-focused Democrats, but supported by many West Virginians.

Obama, for his part, succeeded in carrying two Southern states that had mostly eluded Democrats for going on half-a-century, being Virginia, which Democrats had not been able to carry since 1964, and North Carolina, which Democrats had not carried since ‘64 with the exception of Jimmy Carter’s win there in ‘76.

As a casual observer of politics, I may be just taking a stab in the dark. But here goes: Absent a double recession, and assuming continued improvement in the economy (no certainty there!) and dropping unemployment, I think Obama has at least a 50-50 shot of being re-elected. My assessment of Obama’s prospects is much rosier than following the 2010 mid-term election landslide loss for the Democrats. My thinking is based in part on following the postings and analysis by pollsters Zogby and Rasmussen. I see a credible Obama winning coalition composed of (using the expected electoral college division following the 2010 census) first his solid base of California (55), New York (30), Illinois (21), Massachusetts (11), Connecticut (7), Rhode Island (4), Hawaii (4), Maine (4), Vermont (3), and the District of Columbia (3), for a total of 142 electoral votes. I add to that states where I think Obama is likely to do well, but may not win each and every one of them: Michigan (17), Washington (11), Minnesota (10), Wisconsin (10), Oregon (7), Iowa (6), and New Mexico (5), for a total of 66 electoral votes.

I would list the toss-up states as Florida (28), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (19), New Jersey (15), Virginia (13), Colorado (9) and Nevada (6), for a total of 110 electoral votes. Obama needs to win most of these, particularly the ones with more electoral votes. Adding together Obama’s near-certain 142 votes, his likely 66 votes, and 60-75 votes in the toss-up states, put Obama in the ballpark of the 270 votes needed to win.

Granting that things can change, and change quickly, I do not currently think Obama’s prospects are very good for repeating his 2008 victories in either North Carolina (15) or Indiana (11), with a total of 26 electoral votes. His prospects for New Hampshire (4) may not be that great, either. One minor uncertainty with respect to the Electoral College is that in recent years Maine and Nebraska have allotted some of their college vote to go by Congressional district wins; other states are still winner-take-all. Obama won one of 5 Nebraska electoral votes in what is overall a heavily Republican state.

The only states carried by McCain in 2008 that I believe could possibly, though not likely, flip from red to blue are Georgia (16), Arizona (11), and Missouri (11), for a total of 38 electoral votes. However, I think that at most, only one of these three states will be picked up by Obama.

If Obama were to win exactly the same states in 2012 as he won in 2008, his Electoral College margin would decrease by 10 to 12 votes nationally, based on the number of U.S. House seats projected to be allocated to the various states per the 2010 census. As to the 1960 Kennedy states won by Obama, there will be a net decline of 5 electoral votes, while the Kennedy states carried by McCain will have a net gain of 2. I expect a close 2012 race, but it might be noted that President Obama’s approval rating in 2011 has mostly been several points above what Ronald Reagan received at a similar point in 1983, during his first term. Reagan went on to win a landslide re-election in 1984 over Walter Mondale.

The overall voter turnout (as a percentage of voting-age U.S. Citizens) for 2008 was less than for the Bush-Kerry bout of 2004. Usually, lower turnout favors the Republicans, but in 2008, it seems to have been mostly Republicans or conservative independents that stayed home, while African-Americans voted in significantly greater numbers. As well, Obama got a higher percentage of the Black vote, as well as of the Hispanic and Asian-American vote. Depending on the nominee, Republican turnout for 2012 may be more in line with their turnout in 2004. For the Democrats’ part, while Obama retains considerable support, the “change” and “doing business a new way” themes of 2008 likely will stir fewer Democrats, particularly younger Democrats, for they have been reminded how “sausage” is made and they have also seen Obama’s failure to implement some changes, such as with Guantanamo detainees or U.S.-Cuban relations. His administration’s refusal to prosecute even those most responsible for the use of “water boarding” and “rendition” decisions has frustrated a number of his supporters. Still others, including myself, are disappointed with the continuing entanglement in Afghanistan. Further, many people are “single issue” voters who become disillusioned when a President either fails to bring about the change or policy they desire, or when a president switches position on a particular issue that drew many to the polls.

I’m using the table statistics to show that many states have “flipped,” some over a longer period and others over a fairly short period. Many states that were out of Kennedy’s grasp in 1960, such as California, Oregon, Washington, Iowa, Wisconsin, Maine, and Vermont have mostly been won by Democratic presidential nominees since 1992. It might be worth noting that while President Eisenhower significantly increased his winning percentage of the popular vote in 1956 as opposed to 1952, there were several individual states that gave a higher percentage of votes to Adlai Stevenson the second time around. In summary, as things stand now, Obama might be able to reach the Electoral College 200-mark with relative ease, but gaining the additional 70 electoral votes needed may prove to be a battle all the way up to Election Day, again, depending in large measure on how voters perceive the direction of the country and whom the Republicans nominate.

NOTE: Revised to eliminate some duplication and wordiness.

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }


Doug 03.15.11 at 9:02 pm

Well, I will definately be shorter and concise than the guy Joel.

One thing he forgot to mention is a fact that the difference in Illinois in 1960 was a difference of 8858 votes. Research has shown that dead people voted (Mayor Daley’s “Chicago Machine) and accounted for the difference. As well as other “voting irregularities” in Illinois and other states.

This is from a person who is actually a Democrat:

I think Joel if you are going to compare the 2012 Presidential election to 1960 then you have opened “pandora’s box”. I don’t think you want to bring up this. I pray that 2012 isn’t 1960. Especially since Obama is from Chicago and Daley’s son is still around as well.


Richard 03.15.11 at 9:14 pm

Doug — I haven’t read the post yet but “the guy Joel” is one of my friends. If it isn’t concise, I can predict that it will at least be coherent. Let the reader understand.


Doug 03.15.11 at 9:57 pm

Richard, I meant no disrespect. If it came across as such I totally apologize. I only meant this as a respect of “warning” toward Joel for the information regarding the 1960 election is one of “suspect” in nature and the comparison of 2012 to 1960 is one that doesn’t favor his or other peoples predispositions of acceptance of Obama and the party therein.

I understand: While what I wrote was “concise”, I wanted efficiency by not having someone tell me “prove it” and then I have to reference the url that I previously posted and it makes for a lot longer thread than needed to be. Sorry if the url is long. However, it is coherent at least better than a few of my writings from years back.

Kim? :)


Joel 03.15.11 at 11:33 pm


It could have been shorter, As for Illinois, there have been many stories about voting irregularities in parts of Nixon-friendly downstate counties.

I chose 1960 for comparison because it provides about the starkest contrast between what a winning Democratic coalition was in former days compared to what it has been become in recent years.


Richard 03.16.11 at 12:11 am

Now that I’ve had chance to read it — thanks for your post Joel. It’s good to have you back. I’d like to think that you’re right about Obama’s re-election prospects. Some of us might be disappointed with him but he has to be better than any of the Republican alternatives.


Bene D 03.16.11 at 7:32 am

Welcome back Joel, nice birthday pres for Richard.:^)


Creed Pogue 03.16.11 at 1:25 pm

While it is interesting to look at 1960 and try to predict 2012, it is more useful to look at the past five elections (1992-2008).

While some voting patterns can be said to go back to the Civil War, staying with the last 20 years allows for more focus.

There are 18 states plus DC that voted Democratic in each of the five elections for a total of 243 electoral votes (CA, CT, DE, DC, HI, IL, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, NJ, NY, OR, PA, RI, VT, WA, WI). Another three states went four for five for a total of 15 electoral votes (IA, NH, NM). And two states went three for five for a total of 24 electoral votes (NV and OH). All of these states voted for President Obama in 2008 and total 282 electoral votes which is more than the 270 needed.

Out of the remaining states, two states voted Democratic two out of the last five including 2008 totalling 37 electoral votes (CO and FL) and three states cast their only Democratic votes in 2008 (IN, NC, VA) for another 39 electoral votes.

The Republicans start with a secure base of only 102 electoral votes and add another 78 that supported McCain. But, an argument can be made that in a high-turnout presidential year that states like Arizona and Louisiana become winnable.


oldgulph 03.16.11 at 4:39 pm

By 2012, The National Popular Vote bill could guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote, everywhere would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Elections wouldn’t be about winning states. Every vote, everywhere would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

In the 2012 election, pundits and campaign operatives already agree that only 14 states and their voters will matter under the current winner-take-all laws (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state) used by 48 of the 50 states. Candidates will not care about 72% of the voters- voters-in 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and big states like CA, GA, NY, and TX. 2012 campaigning would be even more obscenely exclusive than 2008 and 2004. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes–enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The Electoral College that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers but, instead, is the product of decades of evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: CO - 68%, FL - 78%, IA 7-5%,, MI - 73%, MO - 70%, NH - 69%, NV - 72%, NM– 76%, NC - 74%, OH - 70%, PA - 78%, VA - 74%, and WI - 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK - 70%, DC - 76%, DE - 75%, ID - 77%, ME - 77%, MT - 72%, NE 74%, NH - 69%, NV - 72%, NM - 76%, OK - 81%, RI - 74%, SD - 71%, UT - 70%, VT - 75%, WV - 81%, and WY - 69%; in Southern and border states: AR - 80%,, KY- 80%, MS - 77%, MO - 70%, NC - 74%, OK - 81%, SC - 71%, VA - 74%, and WV - 81%; and in other states polled: CA - 70%, CT - 74%, MA - 73%, MN - 75%, NY - 79%, OR - 76%, and WA - 77%.

The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in AR, CT, DE, DC, ME, MI, NV, NM, NY, NC, and OR, and both houses in CA, CO, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA ,RI, VT, and WA . The bill has been enacted by DC, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, and WA. These 7 states possess 74 electoral votes — 27% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.



Doug 03.16.11 at 9:53 pm

Joel, the voting irregularities were WAY more dramatic and more prominent in Illinois AND in other states. You may think there were “irregularities” in Nixon area but the fact remains that the difference in the election was decided by so few votes and those can be accounted for by the not just irregularities but illegalities of votes for Kennedy. If one reads the article one can see. Slates view is one where he refutes it but then points out where thousands of votes in multiple states went to Kennedy that should have been for anyone thus making the difference to Kennedy.

I think you should have refrained from comparing to 1960 for it just points out how a majority of people actually wanted Nixon as opposed to Kennedy. I don’t think you want 2012 to be one where illegal votes are counted when they shouldn’t have been in 1960 and thus allowing Kennedy to win. The problems were way more than a “both had problems in 1960″ type attitude.

I don’t see a situation where Obama wins in 2012. Especially from the 2010 midterms which had changes that haven’t happened since the 1940’s. I put the odds of Obama winning at 60/40 NOT 50/50


Doug 03.16.11 at 9:57 pm

We should NOT do away with the Electoral College. It does away with the balance of power with the states, it will make for candidates to not go to the smaller states. All of the candidates would ignore the small states because they would not have as many popular votes as the bigger states.

So if one sees this one can see that we need all areas of the country involved not just the big states where there are more people.

We must protect the soverignty of the states. This undermines what the Founding Fathers desired. If they knew that this would change they would roll in their grave. To compare woman being able to vote to accept a national popular vote is an attempt to disgrace the value of woman voting. The electoral college is there as the proper balance of power between small and large states.


Joel 03.17.11 at 7:01 am

Doug, I’m not going to spend any more time than I already have about Illinois and 1960 because (1) Kennedy would have won the election without Illinois, and (2) my post had two themes, the main one being Obama’s 2012 prospects, and (2) shifting allegiances requiring the deveopment of new coalitions.

oldgulph, the individual states can enact laws that require winning electors to vote for the party/candidate under which their names appear and the states may enact laws wherein if a sufficient number of states to make a majority of electors enact legislation to require their state’s electors to vote for the the candidate winning the popular vote, but they cannot enforce such laws if electors choose not to follow, and some might not. Almost without exception, constitutional law experts say that the individual states cannot enforce (except as to procedural voting matters) anything regarding electors that is not contained in the U.S. Constitution. States may be able to make winning electors sign an oath that they will vote for the candidate they are pledged to, but at most, the states might be able to impose a civil penalty for defecting. Only a U.S. Constitutional amendment could force winning electors to vote according to the dictates of state law.

In 1960 in Oklahoma, an elector running under the Nixon/Republican identification chose to vote for segregationist Democrat Harry Byrd for president and Republican Barry Goldwater for vice-president.
That elector’s defection did not affect the outcome of the race.

And commenting generally, not directed to anyone in particular, I note that some have suggested that the presidential election be decided by which candidate carries the most Congressional districts. From the sources I have reviewed, Obama won between 240-242 districts and McCain won between 193 and 195, and thus the outcome wouldn’t have been the same. Since that isn’t close, I’m not going to do further digging. Anyway, going by Congressional district could see several states of either party being taken to court for trying to “Gerrymander” in attempts to gain larger pluralities of winning districts over losing ones. And in close elections, whether modestly or extremely so, the candidate with the largest popular vote might not carry either a majority or plurality of the Congressional districts.

I do see that a real problem exists, but I’m not satisfied with the solutions. On the bright side, eliminating the electoral college and going by popular vote, states that rarely see presidential candidates or their ads because they are considered unwinnable by one party or the other could be brought into the picture more. John McCain had millions of supporters in California but couldn’t afford to spend any real time or money there because his advisors told him that at best he could come within 8-10 points of Obama there. And Obama could allot much time to Texas in the fall, even as he had millions of supporters there, because his advisors told him that at best, he could come within 5-6 points of McCain.

The authors of the Constitution, and the states as they ratified it, contemplated that electors would use their individual judgment in voting. It does not appear that they seriously considered the consequences that came with the deveopment of the political parties, or that one day a state such as California would have more than 20% of the number of electors needed to win and that all the electors would vote one way or another.

Others have complained about the small states, with the smallest 11 states and the District of Columbia having around 7.6% of the electoral vote, but only about 3.8% of the national population.

Still others complain that states with high numbers of illegal immigrants receive undue electoral votes since the electoral college is based, to by far the largest degree, on the number of congressional districts a state has, which in turn is determined by the tenth year census of each state’s population, whether those counted are in the country legally or not. The differences in number of congressional districts wouldn’t be great. Absent the undocumented, California would lose 2-3 seats and the same number of electoral votes, while Texas would lose 1-2 electoral votes, with New York, Georgia, Florida, Arizona, Illinois, New Jersey and North Carolina in the category where some might lose one seat, but most would probably lose none.

One way to make the electoral college more representative would be to increase the size of the U.S. House, say from its current 435 to 535 or 635. No constitutional amendment is required for that as Congress itself sets the number of seats. The down side there is that the larger states, under the winner-take-all system that applies to all states, except Nebraska and Maine (unless others change prior to 2012), would have an even greater (although only modestly so) electoral college power. With a U.S. House consisting of 535 members, California would have around 65-66 electoral votes, and at 635 members, it would have around 75-77 electoral votes (the numbers have to be crunched more carefully than I plan to do because each state and DC are entitled to a minimum of 1 Congressional seat and 3 electoral votes without regard to population.

Some people favor a run-off if the top candidate fails to win a majority of the popular vote. I would have some concerns there because it is possible/likely that Democrats would have a harder time getting their voters to return to the polls. Many would say “so what” but if the idea is to elect a president in accordance with popular sentiment, then a “run-off” would defeat that idea. Another potential problem would be multi-candidate ballots where the top vote-getter has 19% of the popular vote and the next candidate 18%. A run-off there could lead to the nation electing a president voters greatly dislike, but as the lesser of two evils (I realize some people see things as such already).


oldgulph 03.17.11 at 5:53 pm

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The bill PRESERVES the Electoral College, while assuring that every vote is equal and that every voter will matter in every state in every presidential election.

The bill would take effect when enacted by states that have a majority of the ELECTORAL COLLEGE VOTES–that is, enough ELECTORAL COLLEGE VOTES to elect a President (270 of 538). Then, all the ELECTORAL COLLEGE VOTES from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).


oldgulph 03.17.11 at 5:54 pm

The current system of electing the president ensures that the candidates, after the primaries, do not reach out to all of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the state-by-state winner-take-all method (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

Presidential candidates concentrate their attention on only a handful of closely divided “battleground” states and their voters. In the 2012 election, pundits and campaign operatives agree already, that only 14 states and their voters will matter. Almost 75% of the country will be ignored –including 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and big states like CA, GA, NY, and TX. This will be more obscene than the 2008 campaign,, when candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their campaign events and ad money in just 6 states, and 98% in just 15 states (CO, FL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WI). Over half (57%) of the events were in just 4 states (OH, FL, PA, and VA). In 2004, candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their money and campaign visits in 5 states; over 80% in 9 states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states.

2/3rds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential elections.

Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.


oldgulph 03.17.11 at 5:54 pm

Under National Popular Vote, when every vote counts, successful candidates will continue to find a middle ground of policies appealing to the wide mainstream of America. Instead of playing mostly to local concerns in Ohio and Florida, candidates finally would have to form broader platforms for broad national support. It would no longer matter who won a state.

Now political clout comes from being a battleground state.

Now with state-by-state winner-take-all laws presidential elections ignore 12 of the 13 lowest population states (3-4 electoral votes), that are almost invariably non-competitive, and ignored, in presidential elections. Six regularly vote Republican (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota), and six regularly vote Democratic (Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC) in presidential elections. Nine state legislative chambers in the lowest population states have passed the National Popular Vote bill. It has been enacted by the District of Columbia and Hawaii.


oldgulph 03.17.11 at 5:55 pm

The 11 most populous states contain 56% of the population of the United States and a candidate would win the Presidency if 100% of the voters in these 11 states voted for one candidate. However, if anyone is concerned about the this theoretical possibility, it should be pointed out that, under the current system, a candidate could win the Presidency by winning a mere 51% of the vote in these same 11 states — that is, a mere 26% of the nation’s votes.

The political reality is that the 11 largest states rarely agree on any political question. In terms of recent presidential elections, the 11 largest states include five “red states (Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia) and six “blue” states (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey). The fact is that the big states are just about as closely divided as the rest of the country. For example, among the four largest states, the two largest Republican states (Texas and Florida) generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Bush, while the two largest Democratic states generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Kerry.

Moreover, the notion that any candidate could win 100% of the vote in one group of states and 0% in another group of states is far-fetched. Indeed, among the 11 most populous states, the highest levels of popular support , hardly overwhelming, were found in the following seven non-battleground states:
* Texas (62% Republican),
* New York (59% Democratic),
* Georgia (58% Republican),
* North Carolina (56% Republican),
* Illinois (55% Democratic),
* California (55% Democratic), and
* New Jersey (53% Democratic).

In addition, the margins generated by the nation’s largest states are hardly overwhelming in relation to the 122,000,000 votes cast nationally. Among the 11 most populous states, the highest margins were the following seven non-battleground states:
* Texas — 1,691,267 Republican
* New York — 1,192,436 Democratic
* Georgia — 544,634 Republican
* North Carolina — 426,778 Republican
* Illinois — 513,342 Democratic
* California — 1,023,560 Democratic
* New Jersey — 211,826 Democratic

To put these numbers in perspective, Oklahoma (7 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 455,000 “wasted” votes for Bush in 2004 — larger than the margin generated by the 9th and 10th largest states, namely New Jersey and North Carolina (each with 15 electoral votes). Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 “wasted” votes for Bush in 2004. 8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659).


oldgulph 03.17.11 at 5:56 pm

There have been 22,000 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 10 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector’s own political party. The electors are dedicated party activists of the winning party who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges. Faithless electors are not a practical problem, and most states have complete authority to remedy any problem there could be, by means of state law.

If a Democratic presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state’s dedicated Democratic party activists who have been chosen as its slate of electors become the Electoral College voting bloc. If a Republican presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state’s dedicated Republican party activists who have been chosen as its slate of electors become the Electoral College voting bloc. The winner of the presidential election is the candidate who collects 270 votes from Electoral College voters from among the winning party’s dedicated activists.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld state laws guaranteeing faithful voting by presidential electors (because the states have plenary power over presidential electors).


oldgulph 03.17.11 at 5:57 pm

The congressional district method of awarding electoral votes (currently used in Maine and Nebraska) would not help make every vote matter. In NC, for example, there are only 4 of the 13 congressional districts that would be close enough to get any attention from presidential candidates. A smaller fraction of the country’s population lives in competitive congressional districts (about 12%) than in the current battleground states (about 30%) that now get overwhelming attention, while two-thirds of the states are ignored Also, a second-place candidate could still win the White House without winning the national popular vote.


Joel 03.17.11 at 8:20 pm

In paragraph 4 of my long comment, I meant to write the “outcome would have been the same” instead of “wouldn’t have” with respect to the number of Congressional districts carried by Obama and McCain. So sorry.


Doug 03.17.11 at 8:38 pm

Joel, my comments go beyond just Illinois but all of the other states where illegalities in voting occurred. To bring up 1960 election and compare it to potentially how 2012 will be brings up things which show things opposite of what you are concluding.

With regard to electoral college, I have no problem with a candidate having more popular votes and not winning the election. The fact is and the point of ther electoral college is to 1) protect the proper balance of power between smaller and larger states and 2) have a greater incentive with the electoral college for candidates to campaign in smaller states as compared to a popular vote where no candidate would ever step foot in places where there are so few popular votes.


Doug 03.17.11 at 8:42 pm

The idea is not to elect a president with “popular sentiment” but to elect a president that carries the greatest number of state electoral votes. I’m totally against any change from the electoral college to a popular vote system. When you have 350 million people can you imagine all of the recalls and the complexity therein? With states you can “fine tune” it to specific states and thus narrow down for a proper recall of the election when it is close. That is where the proper authority relies on the Secretariies of State of the specific states.


Joel 03.17.11 at 8:54 pm

With respect to “faithless electors” I should have distinguished between qualifying and certifying electors on the one hand, and invalidating “faithless” votes on the other hand.

States on their own, or acting through the political parties, may require an oath or pledge for electors and remove them as unqualified if they refuse to sign the pledge or oath, but with very few exceptions, once electors actually vote, it is a done deal and recourse falls to the individual states as to the punishment for disobeying state law in breaking their oath. I believe only about half the states have “faithless elector” laws.

It does appear that in Michigan the law provides that the vote of a faithless elector be invalidated and the elector replaced. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on that, as the Ray vs. Blair decision only held that it is constitutional for the states or the parties to require an oath or pledge and provide penalties for defecting. A great many learned Constitutional law experts believe Michigan’s law is unconstitutional as to invalidation and replacement and that electors may only be removed up until the time they actually vote.


Richard 03.17.11 at 9:05 pm

Every time I get to thinking that I understand the US electoral system, someone comes along and disabuses me!


Joel 03.17.11 at 9:27 pm

Doug, the validity of votes in a number of states that Kennedy carried were investigated and outside of Illinois (where there appears to have been fraud with respect to both parties) no legally credible evidence, or any evidence that would stand up in a court of law was found. For the sake of argument, even if states such as Illinois, Missouri and Texas would have gone for Nixon if an honest counting of ballots by your reckoning had been done, my comparisons would not be invalidated because the movement over time still holds of the South becoming more Republican oriented, New England (excepting New Hampshire in part, which has moved from reliable Republican to competitive), the Pacific Northwest becoming strongly reliable for the Democrats, and Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin becoming more competitive and thus more winnable for Democrats. New York alone shows an important trend because it once was a tremendous battle for Democrats to win, if they did win it. Republicans have not carried New York since 1984. Illinois, regardless of 1960, has changed from being a very competitive state to one that Republicans find extremely difficult to win. Eventually, many of the states that have moved one way or another and stayed that way for a long time will move again, slowly in some cases and quickly in others. In my view, you are “missing the forest for the trees.”


Doug 03.17.11 at 9:49 pm

Joel, it was because of the predisposition of the “venues” that were reviewing the problems in those states. With regard to fraud in Illinois, it wasn’t both parties but Democrat where there was an issue and if it were on both sides (but there wasn’t on both sides) the shear amount of difference between was enormous in Chicago that Illinois should have went to Nixon even if the fraud occured on those areas in Illinois in favor of Nixon.

I think one needs to look more toward the Reagan election in 1980 and see that Obama more of an uphill road and than one thinks if one looks at the dramatic historical changes from the 2010 election in addition.


oldgulph 03.17.11 at 9:59 pm

I find it hard to believe the Founding Fathers would endorse an electoral system where 2/3rds of the states and voters now are completely politically irrelevant. Presidential campaigns spend 98% of their resources in just 15 battleground states, where they aren’t hopelessly behind or safely ahead, and can win just one more than 50% of the vote to win all of the state’s electoral votes. Now the majority of Americans, in small, medium-small, average, and large states are ignored. Virtually none of the small states receive any attention. Once the primaries are over, presidential candidates don’t visit or spend resources in 2/3rds of the states. Candidates know the Republican is going to win in safe red states, and the Democrat will win in safe blue states. So they are ignored.

Under a national popular vote, with every vote equal, candidates will truly have to care about the issues and voters in all 50 states. A vote in any state will be as sought after as a vote in Florida. Part of the genius of the Founding Fathers was allowing for change as needed. When they wrote the Constitution, they didn’t give us the right to vote, or establish state-by-state winner-take-all, or establish any method, for how states should award electoral votes. Fortunately, the Constitution allowed state legislatures to enact laws allowing people to vote and decide how to award electoral votes.

Most voters don’t care whether their presidential candidate wins or loses in their state or district . . . they care whether he/she wins the White House. Voters want to know, that even if they were on the losing side, their vote actually was counted and mattered to their candidate.


Earl 03.17.11 at 11:40 pm

“By 2012, The National Popular Vote bill…” etc. Dream on. The npvb will be passed and signed into law the day pigs fly. Idealism aside, the current system well serves the interest of voters and the nation. If the broad majority of voters want to change, they will elect representatives who will act accordingly.


oldgulph 03.18.11 at 1:43 am

2,011 state legislators (in 50 states) have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.


Doug 03.18.11 at 3:40 pm

Oldgulf, every vote is NOT considered equal let alone each individual is NOT considered equal under a national popular vote 1) No candidate for President would ever step foot in the small states due to lack of “popular votes which promotes the greatest disconnect between a candidate and the smaller states.

The Founding Fathers were the ones who inacted the Electoral College and for man many strong reasons. You say candidates would go to the smaller states but that is fact not true. Candidates would go where there are the most votes the bigger states.

“Most voters don’t care whether their presidential candidate wins or loses in their state or district . . . they care whether he/she wins the White House. Voters want to know, that even if they were on the losing side, their vote actually was counted and mattered to their candidate.”

Well then change the attitude of the voters but don’t enable the “dumbing down of the electorate” by going to a popular vote.


oldgulph 03.18.11 at 4:29 pm

Again, Oklahoma (7 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 455,000 “wasted” votes for Bush in 2004 — larger than the margin generated by the 9th and 10th largest states, namely New Jersey and North Carolina (each with 15 electoral votes). Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 “wasted” votes for Bush in 2004. 8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659).

evidence of the way a nationwide presidential campaign would be run comes from the way that national advertisers conduct nationwide sales campaigns. National advertisers seek out customers in small, medium, and large towns of every small, medium, and large state. National advertisers do not advertise only in big cities. Instead, they go after every single possible customer, regardless of where the customer is located. National advertisers do not write off Indiana or Illinois merely because their competitor has an 8% lead in sales in those states. And, a national advertiser with an 8%-edge over its competitor does not stop trying to make additional sales in Indiana or Illinois merely because they are in the lead.


Earl 03.18.11 at 4:38 pm

“2,011 state legislators (in 50 states) have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.” How very underwhelming.


Doug 03.18.11 at 5:22 pm

You can’t look at a specific state vs. a specific state. One must look at states vs. states. West Coast/Northest, etc. etc.

Earl, you are correct. Very underwhelming.


Joel 03.19.11 at 12:57 am

I do not think there will be a significant movement toward popular vote election until or when (and it could happen) that the nominee of one party carried the popular vote by, let’s say, 10 million or more votes but the nominee of the other party carried the electoral vote. Even then, a good majority of states with, say, 9 electoral votes or fewer, might fiercely oppose abolishing the electoral college (just for you, Richard, you might want to know that “electoral college” is a “coined” term that appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution). :-) Unless I missed one here or there, for 2012 there are 30 states in that category: Minnesota (9), Colorado (9), Alabama (9), South Carolina (9), Oregon (8), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (8), Oklahoma (7), Connecticut (7), Kansas (6), Utah (6), Iowa (6), Nevada (6), Arkansas (6), Mississippi (6), Nebraska (5), West Virginia (5), New Mexico (5), Hawaii (4), Idaho (4), Maine (4), New Hampshire (4), Rhode Island (4), Alaska (3), Montana (3), North Dakota (3), South Dakota (3), Wyoming (3) and Delaware (3), for a total of 163 electoral votes, or about 30.3% of the total of 538 electoral votes. (The District of Columbia is excluded because it is in a separate Constitutional elector amendment and has limited self-government.) The combined population of those states is around 74.93 million, or around 24.2% of the total population of 309.18 million. If the electoral votes of these states were proportionate, the states as a group would have 130 electoral votes instead of 163.

I am sharing facts mostly because I have no strong opinion on what, if anything, needs to be changed. I see benefits and problems both with keeping the electoral college as it is and with changing it. I think there is something to be said that the framers of the Constitution wanted to protect the rights and allow for the addressing of needs of smaller states. They certainly did that in allowing each state two U.S. Senators regardless of size. On the other hand, I’m quite sure the country’s founders didn’t consider either that electors would soon be chosen in a system that didn’t allow for the electors’ independent judgment or that there would come a day where, with 6 states, California (54), Texas 38, New York (30), Florida (28), Pennsylvania (20) and Illinois (20), with a combined 190 electoral votes, around 35% of the total electors and around 71% of the electors needed for a candidate to win would be cast as “winner-take-all.”

In the election of 1796, when John Adams defeated Aaron Burr, there were a total of 138 electoral votes, with Adams receiving 71 electoral votes and Burr 68. The allotment of electoral votes for that election among the 16 states was: Virginia 21 (at that time Virginia included that portion of the state was admitted in 1863 as a separate state because most of its residents were unhappy with Virginia’s Civil War era secession), Massachusetts 16 (at that time Maine, even though not contiguous with Massachusetts was part of it; Maine was admitted as a separate state in 1820), Pennsylvania 15, New York 12, North Carolina 12, Maryland 10, Connecticut 9, South Carolina 8, New Jersey 7, New Hampshire 6, Georgia 4, Kentucky 4, Rhode Island 4, Vermont 4, Tennessee 3, and Delaware 3. Thus, as far back as the first contested presidential election there were small states that had electoral college power far beyond their percentage of the population and that the three largest of the 16 states had 37.7% of the electoral votes and 72% of the electoral votes to win. It also good to remember that in 1796 slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person for census purposes, per the Constitution, even though they couldn’t vote. Women, of course, couldn’t vote either. Would there have been a gender gap back then? They did not, however have a vote at all. As well, if anyone is still reading comments on the post or reading this far down, some states limited voting to landowners.


bonncaruso 04.02.11 at 12:45 am

I think your assessment of Obama’s electoral base is too conservative.

Of the 29.25 states that Obama won (28 states, DC and NE-02), 23 of those wins were landslides of more than +10% margin. Two other states: IA and CO, were near landslides. VA was a solid win with +6.30% margin. His margin in OH was larger than both of Bush’s margins in 2000 and 2004.

In order to reverse those massive landslide wins, then GOP would have to shift the national tide by +16% to +20% over 2008, a very tall order when facing an incumbent.

Obama has an electoral firewall of between 252 and 259 EV at this point in time.

Considering the demographic shifts in the west and to some extent in the south (notably: NC, GA), the statistical probability is very, very high that Obama will add between 2.5% to 3.0% to his margin, which means he adds between 5%-6% to his winning margin. In that case, that narrowest of McCain states from 2008 are prime pick-up territory in 2012: MO, MT, GA, SC, ND, SD and AZ.

The statistical probability is over 80% that Obama will win more than 400 EV in 2012.

Statisticians on the GOP know this stuff just as well. This is yet another reason why potential candidates with name recognition have not yet entered into the race.

And just to be sure: I was within -0.09% of Obama’s percentage in 2008 and only missed MO in my calculations.


bonncaruso 04.02.11 at 12:46 am


“Considering the demographic shifts in the west and to some extent in the south (notably: NC, GA), the statistical probability is very, very high that Obama will add between 2.5% to 3.0% to his margin, which means he adds between 5%-6% to his winning margin. In that case, that narrowest of McCain states from 2008 are prime pick-up territory in 2012: MO, MT, GA, SC, ND, SD and AZ.”

Should read as:

“Considering the demographic shifts in the west and to some extent in the south (notably: NC, GA), the statistical probability is very, very high that Obama will add between 2.5% to 3.0% to his PERCENTAGE, which means he adds between 5%-6% to his winning margin. In that case, that narrowest of McCain states from 2008 are prime pick-up territory in 2012: MO, MT, GA, SC, ND, SD and AZ.”

Sorry for the typo.


George 09.02.11 at 7:25 am

Just a corrective for the comment that Kennedy’s 8800 plus majority was a result of stolen votes. Subsequent study has shown that where votes were stolen, it was to beat the Republican State’s Attorney, a more essential purpose to the machine than the White House. Vote stealing in DuPage County was as great as in County Cook, and where as C00k used voting machines, where one could stop a single vote from being recorded, DuPage used paper ballots, where a vote could be taken off one candidate with an eraser and added to the other, a difference of two.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>