A general vote looks to see which candidate is supported by more Americans. The Electoral College has a different function; it looks to see which candidate has a broader base of support.
The weakness of the Electoral College is that it allows a candidate to with with less than half of the popular votes. The strength of the Electoral College is that although the winning candidate has less than half the votes, he will have more than half the states (weighted by population).
He is an example I had wondered about for years. Under the Electoral College system, candidate A can win with just 51% of the electoral votes. That can happen by getting 51& of the popular vote in those specific states, and no votes at all in the other states. In other words, by getting 26% of the popular vote, a candidate can theoretically capture most of the electoral votes.
Even the smallest states have at leat 3 electoral votes, giving the voters of those states a disprportionately strong voice in the Electoral College. Going over the figures from the 1996 election, I found that if a candidate would concentrate on the smallest states, and would be satisfied with getting 51% of the votes in them, he could become President with only 23.5% of the popular vote.
In actual practice, however, this is not going to happen.