Advantages and disadvantages of the electoral college

The final stage in securing the presidency is the general election day, in which candidates attempt to win a majority of Electoral College votes This system, designed by the Founding Fathers to indirectly elect the president as a safeguard against 'popular passion', has come under renewed criticism by some in recent years, especially since Bush's victory in the Electoral College in 2000 despite losing the popular vote. However, others are quick to advocate its advantages. 2016 Hilary won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College. In 2020 a mob of Trump supporters tried to prevent the Electoral College votes from being counted in Congress- President Trump also tried to persuade Congress and the VP Mike Pence to overturn the vote in Congress.

Documentary The Election of 2000 Bush v Gore

2016 US Elections results 


Respects the tradition of federalism By basing voting in individual states, the Founding Fathers emphasised the importance of states and state identity. Candidates are required to win the support of states. Smaller states are deliberately overrepresented to make sure they are not intimidated by larger states; California has 63 times the population of Wyoming but only 18 times the ECV. The system protects small state interests, which are over­represented with three electors. Thus candidates must achieve success across all states, as Obama did in 2012 when he won 26 states plus Washington DC.

Produces a clear winner The 'winner takes all' system helps to ensure that one candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the electoral college votes. This gives the elected president greater legitimacy, allowing them to govern more effectively. In 2012, Obama won 51 per cent of the popular vote, but received 332 of the 538 ECV — nearly 62 per cent. Even when there is a strong third-party candidate, one candidate typically receives an absolute majority. Despite the strong showing of Ross Perot in 1992 with 18.9 per cent of the popular vote, Clinton received 370 electoral college votes.The system encourages a two-horse race, which usually provides the winner with a secure mandate to govern. Even in the 2000 election, Bush achieved success in 30 states, with 271 Electoral College votes.

In 2000 because of the Electoral College, we did not have to recount the whole nation. Instead we could focus on a more manageable task—recounting the state of Florida. Imagine the problems that would arise, tensions that would exist, and the claims of illegitimacy likely to follow if the entire nation had to be counted, and then recounted to ascertain the results of the election. 

Protects low-turnout areas States are protected because they have a fixed value. In 2016 Minnesota had the highest turnout (74.2 per cent) and Utah and Hawaii had the lowest (46.4 and 42.5 per cent). Despite this, those who vote in Utah and Hawaii can still have an impact as their ECV values of 4 and 6 remain intact.

Ensures widespread support: Candidates must have depth and breadth of support in order to win. This was shown by Perot's failure to gain sufficient state support in 1992 to win any Electoral College votes. Another example is the limited national support for the pro-segregationist candidate George Wallace in 1968, which meant he failed to win any Electoral College voters outside the South.

Makes it difficult for extreme parties to succeed- The extreme right and left in the USA have almost no electoral success. To be successful the dominant parties have to appeal to the moderate centre of public opinion- this encourages the election of candidate who are willing to compromise and work with their opponents. (This argument has been seriously undermined by the polarisation of the dominant parties in recent decades) Critics also argue that since more extreme views are excluded from main stream debate they exist in the internet and in fringe conspiracy groups like Qanon


The loser wins It is possible for one candidate to get the most votes, but for the other candidate to get elected by winning the most ECV. The United States has elected a president who the majority did not support five times in total, twice of those in recent years. President George W. Bush received almost half a million fewer votes than Al Gore in 2000, and in 2016 President Trump was easily beaten by Hillary Clinton, who received almost 3 million more votes. Rather than being a historic aberration, presidents who lose the popular vote could become the norm and thereby usher in an anti-majoritarian era where small numbers of voters in a few states use their institutional clout in “left-behind” states to block legislation desired by large numbers of people. 

 Small states are overrepresented Regardless of its size, each state has two Senators, and a minimum of one congressperson — so a vote in Wyoming has greater value than one in California. This restricts the fundamental democratic principle of political equality. The system causes huge disparities in the level of representation between states, meaning larger states are under-represented. Thus if California were represented on an equal scale to Wyoming it would have 205, rather than 55, electors.

 Swing states are overrepresented Most states are normally safe Republican or Democrat states, so the remaining marginal states are the decisive ones — the 'swing' or 'battleground' states. Candidates concentrate time and money on these swing states where winning could give them the ECVs that push them over the 270 mark. This gives the swing states disproportionate influence in selecting the president, and encourages candidates to offer greater political benefits to those states. Non-competitive elections in California and Texas mean that there is little point voting as the result is already decided. This can depress turnout rates.

Voter apathy: The existence of safe States can further encourage low turnout. Turnout in the 2012 election was just 50.1% in Republican Texas, while the Democratic stronghold of Hawaii saw the lowest voter turnout of just 44.5%. (overall turnout 58% 2016) Hawaii 36.9 2016 Texas 50% 2016

Minor-party failure: The system disadvantages minor-party candidates, as seen with Perot's failure to win any electors in 1992 despite polling 18.9% of the vote.

Undemocratic: Too many elements of the system are said to be antiquated and undemocratic, as shown by Al Gore's loss in 2000 and the existence of faithless electors, who ignore the popular vote in their home state.

 The Faithless Elector American history, 157 electors have voted contrary to their state’s chosen winner. Some of these individuals dissented for idiosyncratic reasons, but others did so because they preferred the losing party’s candidate. The precedent set by these people creates uncertainty about how future Electoral College votes could proceed. In the 2016 election, seven electors defected from the dictates of their state’s popular vote. This was the highest number in any modern election. A Colorado lawsuit challenged the legality of state requirements that electors follow the vote of their states, something which is on the books in 29 states plus the District of Columbia. In the Baca v. Hickenlooper case, a federal court ruled that states cannot penalize faithless electors, no matter the intent of the elector or the outcome of the state vote. 

For years, a majority of Americans have opposed the Electoral College. For example, in 1967, 58 percent favored its abolition, while in 1981, 75 percent of Americans did so. More recent polling, however, has highlighted a dangerous development in public opinion. Americans by and large still want to do away with the Electoral College, but there now is a partisan divide in views, with Republicans favoring it while Democrats oppose it. 

Since 2008, 15 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws to adopt the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), which is an multi-state agreement to commit electors to vote for candidates who win the nationwide popular vote, even if that candidate loses the popular vote within their state. The NPVIC would become effective only if states ratify it to reach an electoral majority of 270 votes.