up the electoral college for Massachusetts
any student of civics knows, the presidential candidate who wins the
greatest share of Massachusettss popular vote gets all 12 of her
Electoral College votes. Unfortunately, since Massachusetts is reliably
more Democratic than the rest of the nation (in 2000, Gore did 12% better
in Massachusetts then he did overall), the choice of Massachusetts voters
cant affect the outcome of presidential elections.
Judging by history, a close presidential election would find Massachusetts voting overwhelmingly for the Democratic candidate, so both Republicans and Democrats believe that courting Massachusetts voters is a waste of time. If the Democratic candidate leads the national polls, he would easily win Massachusetts in a landslide and so again neither Republicans nor Democrats would worry about Massachusettss electoral votes.
if Republicans are sufficiently ahead nationally to have a chance at
winning Massachusetts, then the Republicans would necessarily be doing
so well in so many other states they wouldnt need Massachusetts
votes. Consequently, under all reasonable circumstances, wooing Massachusetts
voters wouldnt increase a presidential candidates chance
of winning. Theres a way for Massachusetts to make her electoral
college votes matter.
should abandon her winner-take-all Electoral College allocation. Although
47 other states have identical electoral allocation mechanisms, the
winner-take-all arrangement isnt mandated by the U.S. Constitution.
Indeed, Maine and Nebraska use a different proportionally-based system
in which its possible (although it has never actually happened)
that multiple candidates could receive some of the states electoral
would boost her political influence by adopting proportional representation
under which the number of electoral votes a candidate received was proportional
to the share of the popular votes he wins. So, for example, if you win
70% of the popular vote you would get 70% (with some rounding) of the
Electoral College votes. Under such a system both major parties would
fight for Massachusettss votes even if the Democrats were assured
of getting at least 51% of Massachusettss popular vote.
representation would help Massachusetts attract more federal dollars.
Imagine that polls give the Democratic presidential candidate a 12%
lead in Massachusetts. Further imagine that a Republican president is
considering awarding Massachusetts a $1 billion grant, and that this
grant will win the Republicans 20,000 extra Massachusetts votes. Under
our existing winner-take-all allocation, these extra 20,000 votes would
provide no help to the Republican president, so politically he would
be inclined to give the $1 billion to a more politically balanced state
like Florida. In contrast, if Massachusetts had proportional representation
it would be more competitive winning an extra 20,000 Massachusetts
votes might give the president another Electoral College delegate.
moving to proportional representation would help Republican and third
party presidential candidates who now have almost no chance at capturing
any of Massachusettss electoral votes. However, while Democratic
presidential candidates would suffer, state Democratic officials would
increase their influence because the national Democratic Party would
now be in greater need of their support.
Massachusetts, a state like Florida wouldnt increase her political
influence by adopting proportional representation. If the national polls
give either major candidate about an equal chance of capturing Florida,
then under a winner-take-all system a few thousand extra popular votes
could cause a candidate to capture all of Floridas electoral votes.
Consequently, under winner-take-all both major parties should spend
heavily to bribe Floridians to vote their way. In contrast, if Florida
used proportional allocation, then winning a few thousand more popular
votes would at best win a candidate one more Electoral College vote.
Therefore, even under proportional representation, a Massachusetts voter
wont be nearly as important as a Florida voter, but at least presidential
candidates would put some effort into earning our support.
James D. Miller is an assistant professor of economics at Smith College and the author of Game Theory At Work (McGraw Hill, 2003). He thanks Craig M. Nakashian for contributing ideas used in this article.
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Posted on 07-Nov-2003 1:11 PM
Revised on: 05-Feb-2007 4:49 PM