Election coverage: Winning states?

Why does the media focus on what states are won when the number of electoral votes varies so widely from state to state? If a candidate won California by a landslide he could effectively cover a loss in 10ish other small states, correct? Does the unit of “state” have any influence on elections other than their contribution of electors?

I’m not sure exactly what you mean by the second part. It’s winner-take-all, though, so if a candidate wins California by 500 votes he can cover a loss in many other small states (e.g. 11 or 12 of the interior states west of Minnesota, excluding Texas) just as easily as if he wins by a landslide.

The media focuses mostly on states with an uncertain outcome – on large states with close races because they’re worth a lot of electoral votes, and on small states with close races because they just might be a deciding factor if the EV race ends up being close.

I had no idea it was winner-take-all. So then a candidate could conceivably win not only the popular vote and still lose the election, but the (sub)electoral vote as well. What is the point of winner-take-all?

Yup - look at the 2000 election results - Algore had more popular votes, but GW squeaked ahead in the electoral college.

I think winner-take-all predominates because it’s easy. (In fact, two states - NE and ME - don’t use a winner-take-all system for their electoral votes, and CO is considering changing.)

The theory behind the electoral college (or at least what I was told in grade school) was that it was a compromise to ensure that smaller states don’t get ignored in national elections. Of course, that was 215 years ago, when there were only 13 states and the relative sizes were much closer (i.e., there weren’t states with 25 or 50 times the population of other states).

Well I knew that a candidate could win the popular vote and still lose the election but I didn’t know that he/she could also win the actual electoral vote and still lose.

Roches made a slight misstatement: awarding electoral votes is winner-take-all in most states. However, states can award electoral votes however they see fit. Thus, Maine and Nebraska award individual electoral votes based on the outcome in different districts in the state (cite), and Colorado currently has a proposal on the ballot to change their system from winner-take-all to a proportional allocation. Colorado’s initiative is back-dated, so if it passes, it will apply to today’s votes (and if that makes the difference in this year’s race… oooooh-ee!).

I’m not really sure what you mean by “(sub)electoral” vote, but a candidate could conceviably win by commanding margins in half the states, lose by a whisker in the other half, and lose the election while still winning 60 or 70 percent of the popular vote. Extraordinarily unlikely, but still.

I’m not quite sure what the point of winner-take-all is, factually, but I’d guess that it makes states more attractive to candidates. If you were a candidate, would you campaign in a proportional state, where you’d pick up maybe one or two electoral votes, or in the winner-take-all state, where you stood to gain all 17 or 21 or whatever? That’s a no-brainer.

In any case, like I said, it’s up to the states themselves to define their method of choosing electors. There’s not even a requirement that a state’s electoral votes be tied to any popular vote, so a state could choose electors based on a vote in the state legislature, or appointment by the governor, or what-have-you. I seem to recall some states early in the nation’s history using such methods, but I’m too lazy to look up a cite, so perhaps someone else will happen along with the dope on that.

Hm? What leads you to believe that? I think you’ve misinterpreted something.

Well if a state like California is winner take all but the vote was close to a tie, a candidate is picking up 20-something votes that weren’t really “his.” Those 20 something votes dwarf the contribution of the smaller states, so if you add up all the actual electoral votes individually rather than by state, a candidate can win the electoral vote but lose the election because of the winner-take-all system. You must realize that my surprise is because I didn’t know states were winner-take-all. I thought that was the case of electors, but not states.

Ah. OK. Your phraseology is a little misleading, though, because the “actual electoral vote” is defined as the votes that the candidates actually receives, which is, in most states, winner-take-all. You’re comparing that to a proportional distribution, but that’s a little misleading, also, because there’s more than one way to apportion electoral votes in a state. Could be by geographic district within a state, could be propartional to the popular vote in the state as a whole, could be a combination thereof. Could be a threshold for third-party candidates. The resulting EV breakdown for any election would vary depending on what scheme you adopted.

This doesn’t make any sense. You either have won the electoral votes or you haven’t. The electoral vote determines the winner. There is no such distinction between “actual electoral votes” and electoral votes “by state.”

You actually could become president without winning a majority of the electoral votes. If you had 3+ candidates receiving electoral votes, it’s possible that nobody would get the 270 EV’s needed. If that happens, then the election goes to Congress. The House of Representatives picks the President from among the top 3 finishers, and the Senate picks the VP (with voting being done by state delegations).

The 1824 election is the best example of this happening. John Quincy Adams was selected as president despite having received fewer votes and fewer electoral votes that Andrew Jackson.

I was actually just thinking about this…is this proposal likely to pass? I mean, has there been any polling on the matter? This would obviously be a benefit to Kerry, as Colorado is pretty solidly a red state, but I haven’t heard any of the political pundits explore this issue.

The latest poll results I’ve seen have Colorado’s proposal going down to defeat, 60-32.

Thats why I originally used the term (sub)electoral votes.