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 (as explained previously). 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 Electoal College votes from being counted in Congress- President Trump also tried to persused 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.

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 form 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.

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.