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The U.S. Electoral College and Spatial Biases in Voter Power


Barney Warfa a Department of Geography, University of Kansas, Online publication date: 01 December 2008

To cite this Article Warf, Barney(2009) 'The U.S. Electoral College and Spatial Biases in Voter Power', Annals of the

Association of American Geographers, 99: 1, 184 204 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/00045600802516017 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00045600802516017

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The U.S. Electoral College and Spatial Biases in Voter Power


Barney Warf
Department of Geography, University of Kansas The United States does not provide for direct election of its chief executive but utilizes the Electoral College to represent voter choices. Central to this institution is the winner-take-all model by which electoral votes in all states but two are awarded to the candidate who garners a plurality of that states popular vote. As game theorists have long pointed out, this system introduces several biases in voter power that differentially reward or punish voters based on each states population or electorate. This article offers a historical overview of the Electoral College and the geographic biases in voter power it introduces. It extends the inuential binomial model of voter power proposed by Banzhaf in the 1960s to include a multinomial approach sensitive to the presence of more than two parties, the absolute and relative margins of victories, and the number of electoral votes in each state. It then applies this approach to U.S. presidential elections from 1960 to 2004 utilizing a series of cartograms. Next, the article examines voter power differentials between the two major political parties, ve ethnic groups, rural and urban areas, and ten religious denominations in the 2000 and 2004 elections. Finally, it links contemporary discussions of voter power to theories of democracy, arguing that the electoral power can only be understood in contingent, temporally uid, and geographically specic terms. Key Words: elections, Electoral College, electoral geography, political geography.
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La elecci n del presidente de Estados Unidos no se hace por voto directo sino a trav s del Colegio Electoral, o e entidad a la que corresponde representar la elecci n hecha por los votantes. La esencia de esta instituci n es la o o regla de el ganador se lleva todo, seg n la cual los votos electorales en todos los estados, menos dos, se adjudican u al candidato que acumule una mayora relativa del voto popular de un estado dado. Como lo han indicado desde hace mucho tiempo los te ricos de juegos, este sistema comporta varios sesgos en el poder del voto, premiando o o castigando diferencialmente a los votantes seg n el tamano de la poblaci n o electorado del estado. En el artculo u o se presenta un recuento hist rico sucinto del Colegio Electoral y de los sesgos geogr cos que aqu l crea en el poder o a e del voto. Se extiende la discusi n hasta el inuyente modelo binomial del poder de voto propuesto por Banzhaf o en los anos 1960, para incluir un enfoque multinomio sensible a la presencia de m s de dos partidos, los m rgenes a a de victorias absolutos y relativos, y el n mero de votos electorales para cada estado. Luego, el enfoque se aplica a u las elecciones presidenciales de E.U. de 1960 a 2004, con la ilustraci n de una serie de cartogramas. El artculo o examina enseguida las diferenciales del poder de voto entre los dos principales partidos polticos, cinco grupos etnicos, las areas rurales y urbanas, y diez denominaciones religiosas, en las elecciones de los anos 2000 y 2004. Por ultimo, se relacionan las discusiones contempor neas sobre el poder del voto, con las teoras de la democracia, a
Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 99(1) 2009, pp. 184204 C 2009 by Association of American Geographers Initial submission, January 2008; revised submission, April 2008; nal acceptance, April 2008 Published by Taylor & Francis, LLC.

The U.S. Electoral College and Spatial Biases in Voter Power


arguy ndose que el poder electoral solo puede entenderse en t rminos contingentes, temporalmente idos y e e u geogr camente especcos. Palabras clave: elecciones, Colegio Electoral, geografa electoral, geografa poltica. a

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he impacts of individuals and groups of voters on national elections in the United States have been the object of enormous popular and academic scrutiny, in part because the forces that shape this phenomenon are institutionalized in highly uneven ways geographically through the Electoral College. This topic is richly deserving of the attention of anyone interested in the dynamics of American politics and the ways in which democratic politics are constituted over time and space. U.S. presidential elections have ranged from sweeping, decisive victories to excruciatingly close races decided by a handful of voters. Since World War II, the margin of victory has uctuated from 112,000 votes (or 0.1 percent) in 1960, when Kennedy squeaked past Nixon, to a resounding 15 million votes, or 27 percent, when Johnson trounced Goldwater four years later (Table 1). In the infamous election of 2000, the winner of the popular vote, Al Gore, nonetheless lost the Electoral College vote to George W. Bush. The outcomes of these elections reected the highly uneven distribution of votes among states as well as the temporally and spatially uneven web of capacities to shape national races as voter preferences were differentially magnied or reduced through the Electoral College. Despite a wide consensus that the Electoral College generates biases in individuals and states capacities to shape national elections, geographers have contributed remarkably little to the debate concerning this institution. Electoral geography, with a long and distinguished history (e.g., Prescott 1959), comprised the core of political geography in the 1980s but currently nds itself awkwardly poised between a tradition of uncritical, atheoretical empiricism on the one hand and a resurgent, theoretically self-conscious renaissance on the other. Classic works in this genre typically described how spatial variations in elections reect electoral apportionments, economic and demographic factors, and the campaign strategies of parties and candidates (Taylor 1973; Taylor and Johnston 1979; Swauger 1980; Johnston 1982, 2002; Archer, Murauskas, and Shelley 1985; Archer and Shelley 1986, 1988; Archer 1988; Johnston, Shelley, and Taylor 1990). A related approach reects the disciplines abiding concern with the state, social relations, and the sociospatial context of ideology, in which elections are seen as the exercise of subjectivity within structural constraints ranging from the local scale to the world system (Agnew 1996; Flint 2001; Johnston and Pattie 2003). The vast

majority of such works focused on the United States, with a few notable examples drawn from Europe (Agnew 1995; Johnston and Pattie 2006; Adams 2007). This literature has offered a rich, detailed portrait of the spatiality of elections at the national and local levels; redistricting and gerrymandering; shifts in voter preferences, turnout rates, and correlations with various socioeconomic variables; and neighborhood effects on political behavior. Despite this wealth of insights, the geographic literature specically concerning the Electoral College is dismayingly limited, although insightful analyses of its role in shaping the outcomes of the 2000 and 2004 elections were made by Johnston, Rossiter, and Pattie (2005, 2006), who observed the efciency with which the spatial distributions of votes for the candidates affected the outcome. This article examines the changing geography of voter power within the Electoral College system. It opens with a historical overview of the institution, how it shapes American presidential elections, arguments in its favor as well as for its abolition, and the alleged spatial biases it generates. Next, it offers a mathematical exegesis of a famous combinatorial approach to this issue, the Banzhaf model, and its descendents; it then extends this line of thought using a more complex multinomial model that incorporates more than two political parties and margins of victory in each state. Third, it presents a cartographic overview of the results of this methodology using data pertaining to presidential elections from 1960 to 2004, illustrating the changing distribution of relative voter power by state. Fourth, it utilizes this approach to examine potential biases induced by the Electoral College regarding political party, ethnicity, rural or urban residence, and religious denomination. Fifth, it embeds these topics within a wider conceptual discussion of power, democracy, and voting rights, arguing that elections and democratic processes cannot be fruitfully understood as an abstract, aspatial discourse but as one rooted in the constantly shifting, geographically differentiated web of relations through which voter preferences are manifested in republican systems of governance.

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The Electoral College: Strengths and Weaknesses in Historic Context


Unlike in most industrial democracies, voters in America do not directly choose a presidential

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Warf
Table 1. Margins of victory in U.S. presidential elections

Election 1960 1964 1968 1972 1976 1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 2004

Total votes cast (millions) 68.8 70.6 73.2 77.7 81.5 86.5 92.6 91.6 104.4 96.5 105.6 122.3

Margin of victory (thousands) 112 15,177 123 13,622 1,036 5,947 12,005 4,667 7,757 203 543 3,355

Margin of victory % 0.1 27.0 0.2 22.6 1.7 9.0 17.1 6.8 11.5 8.7 0.3 3.0

Electoral College vote margin 84 434 110 503 57 440 512 315 202 220 5 34

Victors % of Electoral College votes 56.6 90.3 55.9 96.6 55.2 90.9 97.6 79.2 68.7 70.4 50.4 53.1

Victor J. Kennedy L. Johnston R. Nixon R. Nixon J. Carter R. Reagan R. Reagan G. H. W. Bush W. Clinton W. Clinton G. W. Bush G. W. Bush

candidate, but rather vote for representatives to the Electoral College, the body that formally selects the new president and vice president. This fact is often lost on voters, who may be only dimly aware of the Electoral Colleges existence. The College exists only for one day following the election and never meets as a unied body; each states electors meet separately in their own capital on the rst Monday after the second Wednesday in December following a presidential election and send their votes to Congress separately. Electors are obligated but not technically bound to vote for the candidate who wins a plurality of the popular vote in their state (a tiny percentage have been unfaithful to their instructions and many states have penalties for violating a pledge). Should there be a tie in the Electoral College, the Constitution mandates that the choice falls to the House of Representatives, in which each state has one vote, a situation that occurred in 1800 and 1824 (Bickell 1968; Kimberling 1992; Adkinson and Elliot 1997). Enshrined in the Constitution during the Convention of 1787, the Electoral College marked a departure from parliamentary systems, in which the chief executive is chosen by the legislature, in favor of the separation of executive and legislative powers (Pierce and Longley 1981; Best 1996). The College draws on a long tradition of political representation that can be traced to the Centurial Assemblage system of the Roman Republic (Kimberling 1992). Its formation reected Federalist concerns over the geographic disparities and political tensions of the early union, particularly fears on the part of small states that their inuence in national elections would be nullied by a few populous ones as well as tensions between Northern states and Southern slave-owning ones. To mitigate such worries, the framers engineered the Connecticut Compromise between proponents of a decentralized

federal republic and those favoring a strong national government, which essentially permitted large states to control the House of Representatives and smaller ones to have disproportionate inuence in the Senate (Josephson and Ross 1996; Longley and Pierce 1996). The Electoral College struck an awkward balance between direct proportional representation, which favors large states, and equal representation by all states, which favors small ones. James Madison noted that the Electoral College was the result of compromise between the larger and smaller states, giving to the latter the advantage of electing a President from the candidates, in consideration of the former in selecting the candidates from the people (Josephson and Ross 1996, 153). The number of Electoral College votes for each state equals the size of its congressional delegation (i.e., the sum of its senators and representatives), with a minimum of three and the remainder allocated roughly but not directly proportional to its population as assessed by the decennial census. Thus, there are currently 538 electors corresponding with 100 senators, 435 representatives, and (since ratication of the Twenty-Third Amendment in 1961) three representatives from the District of Columbia. (Although Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands vote in primary elections, they do not participate in general ones.) The minimum number of electoral votes is three, and the maximum is a function of population size; currently California, with 36 million people (12 percent of the national population), has the largest number at fty-ve. To win a presidential election, a candidate must accrue at least half of the total Electoral College votes (i.e., 270). The emergence of political parties sharply raised the signicance of the Electoral College, particularly after the turbulent election of 1800, which produced a tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, who

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The U.S. Electoral College and Spatial Biases in Voter Power had seventy-three electoral votes each; after thirty-six rounds, the House chose Jefferson. This crisis led to the subsequent passage of the Twelfth Amendment in 1801, which requires presidential and vice presidential candidates to run on the same ticket, a measure that rst came into play in the election of 1804. The resulting institution has withstood two centuries of a rapidly changing nation, the expansion of suffrage, the rise of the party convention system, and the steady nationalization of politics through media such as television. The overriding characteristic of this institution is the winner-take-all, or unit rule system, in which candidates who receive a plurality of the popular vote in a state acquire all of its Electoral College votes (an analogous system is practiced in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom, although obviously without an electoral college). Article Two of the Constitution gives each state considerable latitude in deciding how its electors will be chosen. Virginia was the rst to adopt the winner-take-all system in 1800, and all but two states eventually followed suit. Maine, starting in 1972, and Nebraska, starting in 1991, are exceptions, giving two electoral votes to the winner of the statewide popular vote and allocating the remainder to the winner of the popular vote within each congressional district.1 Under the winner-take-all system, any vote exceeding the plurality necessary to win that state is effectively wasted, or made redundant. As Abbott and Levine (1991, 83) note, The only votes a winning candidate really needs are those necessary to guarantee that candidate an unchallengeable margin over the opposition. The unit rule has been declared unconstitutional for statewide ofces but not presidential ones (Josephson and Ross 1996). The relative merits and demerits inherent in the Electoral College have been hotly debated. Early advocates argued that it was necessary for a republican structure of government to have a layer of representation between the populace and the state. Less charitably, Elbridge Gerry, Massachusetts founding father of gerrymandering fame, noted the college was necessary because the people are uninformed and would be misled by a few designing men without it (quoted in Pierce and Longley 1981, 21). In this view, the Electoral Colleges electors are better informed than the average voter and are more capable of selecting the optimal candidate. Supporters maintain that the Electoral College forces presidential candidates to engage in state-by-state retail campaigns and remain sensitive to local political issues, in effect creating 51 separate races (Hardaway 1994; Best 1996). Indeed, the very origins

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of the Electoral College lay in attempts by the framers of the Constitution to overcome the nations deep geographical divisions by forcing candidates to construct geographically diverse bases of support. Candidates must win states, not simply votes, and winners must seek consensus by building broad coalitions of local interests that stretch across state boundaries. Defense of the Electoral College is thus predicated on a faith in federalism and the two-party political system as a guarantee of stability and continuity (Gregg 2001). Defenders argue that despite its imperfections, the system works as part of a broader web of subtle checks and balances. Elimination of the Electoral College, it is argued, would weaken the political party system, enhance the importance of television campaigning, promote splinter parties, trigger numerous contingency elections and interminable recounts, encourage electoral fraud, and undermine the electoral system (Adkinson and Elliott 1997). Abolition would facilitate presidential candidates who represent narrow geographical, ideological, or ethnic bases of support and reduce the inuence of small states and rural interests. Proponents argue that the Electoral College encourages a politics of moderation; under the direct vote alternative, minor parties could attempt to force runoffs to ex their political muscles. Abolition would also annihilate geographic diversity in state requirements governing challenges and recounts, centralizing control in a national presidential election commission. Thus, faith in the Electoral College also represents the abiding American concern with local control of government. The Electoral College has also been strongly criticized on several grounds, objections that underpin repeated attempts at its reform or abolition, including more than 700 proposals in Congress since its foundation to reform or eliminate it (Josephson and Ross 1996). Some argue that it unfairly forces presidential candidates to concentrate their campaign efforts on a few battleground states at the expense of voters elsewhere. Others maintain that it is an archaic, anachronistic institution that runs contrary to the principles of democratic government (Michener 1969; Abbott and Levine 1991; McCaughey 1993). Critics allege that the Electoral College may contribute to low voter turnout and reinforce one-partyism in selected states. Researchers (Longley and Dana 1984, 1992; Ross and Josephson 1996) note that the Electoral College generates four sources of systematic bias that distort the results of the popular vote: the allocation of a minimum of three electoral votes to states regardless of population, the winner-take-all or unit rule, the allocation of

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188 electors on the basis of population rather than voter turnout, and the delays in electoral vote allocation induced by decennial censuses. The conversion of popular votes to electoral votes for presidential candidates is far from straightforward. In the political science literature, this phenomenon is labeled disproportionality, in which the winners proportion of electoral votes is disproportionately large in comparison to the proportion of the popular vote (Tufte 1973; Grofman 1983). Clearly the Electoral College exaggerates the strength of the winner of the popular vote by giving him or her a disproportionately large share of the electoral vote, creating false mandates to rule. It is also possible to have a wrong winner, for a presidential candidate to win a majority of the popular vote but lose in the Electoral College, and hence the election, by winning small states by large margins but losing large states by slim margins (Abbott and Levine 1991; Ball and Leuthold 1991). Four times in American political history the Electoral College has allowed losers of the popular vote to win the presidency. In 1824, John Quincy Adams, with 30.9 percent of the vote, defeated Andrew Jackson, who drew 41.3 percent; in 1876, Rutherford Hayes, with 47.9 percent, defeated Samuel Tilden, who drew 50.9 percent; and in 1888, incumbent Democratic president Grover Cleveland, who polled 48.6 percent, was defeated by Benjamin Harrison, who received only 47.8 percent (Best 1996; Archer and Shelley 1988). Of course, most recently, in 2000 George W. Bush received 50.46 million popular votes (47.9 percent) compared to 51 million cast (48.4 percent) for Al Gore, but nonetheless won the Electoral College vote in a hotly disputed legal contest that was ultimately resolved by the Supreme Court. All of these outcomes and more reect the profoundly spatial biases that the Electoral College generates (Hinich and Ordeshook 1974; Shelley 2002). It is not simply how many popular votes a candidate receives that matters to the outcome of the election but where those votes are cast. As Johnston, Rossiter, and Pattie (2005, 2006) demonstrate, in the 2000 and 2004 races, it was the efciency of the spatial distribution of Democratic and Republic votes, the number located in states with closely contested popular vote races, that played a signicant role in electing and reelecting George W. Bush. Finally, critics note that a tie in the Electoral College poses the threat of a paralyzing constitutional crisis if the election were thrown to the House of Representatives, where the equal representation of states in this matter gives undue inuence to smaller ones at the expense of larger ones.

Warf Debates over the Electoral College in the political science literature often point to the relative degree of inuence it accords small and large states (Sterling 1978, 1981; Smith and Squire 1987; Gelman and King 1994). Lightly populated states, with a minimum of three electoral votes, are frequently held to be disproportionately represented when compared to their share of the population, enjoying an undeserved bonus (Abbott and Levine 1991). Thus, states such as Alaska, Wyoming, and Vermont, with 0.6 percent of the electoral votes, have only 0.2 percent of the national population each and are overrepresented by a factor of three. Based on a simple ratio of popular votes cast to electoral votes, clear spatial biases are found in voter power among states (Figure 1). It appears in this case that relatively lightly populated states, such as Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota, enjoy the advantage of having to cast a relatively small number of popular votes (i.e., as few as 67,000) to secure the vote of one elector; conversely, relatively urbanized and more populated states, such as Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, or Pennsylvania, may cast as many as 296,000 votes, or as high as 441 percent more than the least populated state, to procure the same leverage. Such a perspective seems to afrm accusations that the Electoral College is systemically biased in favor of smaller, typically more rural states. Conversely, the winner-takes-all strategy has been argued to favor large states; as the number of electoral votes increases, so does the importance of individual votes within those states, an issue explored in depth momentarily. This process is intimately associated with social, ethnic, and political variations among voters, mainly because larger, urbanized states, which tend to have more diverse voting populations, also often exhibit more vigorous two-party competitions than do smaller, rural, more homogenous ones. Socially as well as spatially, the Electoral College allegedly gives disproportionate representation to ethnic voting blocs (e.g., Jews, Italian Americans) concentrated in key swing states while disadvantaging those populations located in states that consistently throw their electoral votes to one party or another (e.g., blacks, Latinos; Abbott and Levine 1991, 81); however, this type of analysis fails to take into consideration a key issue that shapes the power of voters to inuence national elections: the margin of victory in each state. A more sophisticated approach is therefore required to appreciate the complexities of this issue. Of course, the absolute number of voters in each state is also critical to this process. The number of ballots cast is a function of a states population, voter

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The U.S. Electoral College and Spatial Biases in Voter Power

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Figure 1. Spatial biases in the Electoral College as measured by popular votes cast per Electoral College vote, 2004.

registration, and turnout rates. Voters in states with low turnout rates are effectively rewarded by the Electoral College compared to those with high turnout rates, as measured by the ratio of electoral to popular votes in each. States with rapidly growing populations, whose number of electoral votes reects census statistics up to a decade old, may also have a representation in the Electoral College smaller than they deserve. Although extended discussion of alternatives to the Electoral College is beyond the scope of this article, it is worth noting that the most commonly suggested substitute is the direct vote plan, which would abolish the institution and provide for the election of the president by a plurality of the popular vote, the system used in gubernatorial and senatorial races. Appealing in its simplicity, in such a system each vote is equally inuential regardless of where it is cast. Repeated opinion surveys indicate that the voting public would prefer it to the system currently in place (Longley and Braun 1972; Ball and Leuthold 1991; Best 1996). Others argue that direct voting would reduce the inuence of lightly populated states, undermining federalism, or fall victim to state variations in voter registration requirements based on age, length of residency, and citizenship qualications (Zeidenstein 1973; Best 1975). Alterna-

tive, less well-known approaches include the district and proportional election plans, which would retain the Electoral College but allocate electoral votes on the basis of congressional districts within each state or as a reection of each candidates share of the popular vote, respectively (Amy 1993). Under such systems, large states are likely to lose inuence as their electoral votes are split among different candidates. Yet another alternative suggests retaining the 538 Electoral College voters but adding an additional pool of electoral votes awarded to the candidate who wins the largest share of the popular vote (Twentieth Century Fund Task Force 1978). No alternative, however, has yet mustered the political support required for passage of a constitutional amendment necessary to change the current system. This article is not concerned with such issues, important as they are, but rather their consequences given the current system of electoral representation in U.S. presidential elections. How does the Electoral College generate spatial biases in the power of voters in different states to affect national races? Within any given state, voters by denition have equal power to inuence races (although obviously political preferences vary markedly by age, ethnicity, religion, class, and gender), but given

190 the uneven distribution of voters among states, as well as profound spatial differences in statewide margins of victory, the ability of voters to shape national outcomes by throwing their states electors to one party or another is highly variable geographically.

Warf convenience, Banzhaf assumed that for a voter to make a difference, votes must be equally split between the two major parties, a view that allows the use of a binomial model of voter power. By measuring the factorials of state votes, he calculated voter power in state s as VPs = ns ! EVs , (n s d s )!d s ! (1)

Voter Power and the Mathematics of the Electoral College


The power of voters to shape national outcomes is notoriously difcult to estimate. In the simplest, random case, one can take a single vote and divide by the total number of votes cast. In the 2000 presidential election, for example, in which roughly 100 million votes were cast, the probability that any one of them decided the outcome is about .00000001. Mulligan and Hunter (2003) note that a single vote is almost never pivotal in an election: In more than 40,000 elections they analyzed in the twentieth century, comprising one billion votes, only seven races were decided by a single vote. Indeed, given the extremely low impact that individual voters have on races and the time and effort involved, it is remarkable that as many people bother to cast ballots as they do: Anthony Downs (1957), in his famous treatise An Economic Theory of Democracy examining the costs and benets of voting, concluded that under some circumstances it is not rational to vote. Such a view, however, does not take into account the complex dynamics of the Electoral College and how it may amplify some voters abilities to sway national outcomes. Starting in the 1960s, game theoreticians and mathematicians became intrigued by this very issue (Riker 1962; Mann and Shapley 1964). Drawing heavily on these works, the most famous and inuential analysis of this topic was proposed by Banzhaf (1968), who introduced combinatorial analysis to the study of voting. Banzhafs approach viewed voter power as a function of possible voting combinations that voters in a given state could achieve by throwing their states electoral votes to one candidate or another. Thus, voter power was a function of (1) the probability that a citizens vote could change a states votes for a given candidate, and (2) the probability that the states electoral votes could decide the outcome of the national election. Voter power was thus held to be the chance that any voter has of affecting the election of the President through the medium of his [sic] states electoral votes (Banzhaf 1968, 313); that is, the leverage enjoyed by voters purely due to their geographic location of residence. For analytical

where VPs is voter power in state s, n s is total votes in state s, d s is votes for one political party in state s , and EVs is electoral votes of state s . This approach holds that distribution of votes follows a binomial distribution with a mean of 0.5. For large populations, the central limit theorem allows the binomial to be approximated accurately using a normal distribution with the same mean and variance, which, when simplied, can be stated as VP = sqrt(2/n ). (2)

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Banzhaf (1968) argued that voter power rises roughly as the inverse of the square root of the size of the state population. Contrary to widespread impressions that the Electoral College favors small states, the system actually rewards their counterparts in larger ones. Although the smaller states have more electoral votes per resident, this does not give them a net advantage under the existing system because the unit-vote rule measures voters choices in each state to vote as a group. The decrease in each individual voters effectiveness as a member of a large electorate was more than offset by the larger number of electoral votes he or she can affect. The title of his article, One Man, 3.312 Votes, reected his nding that a voter in New York State had 3.312 times more ability to affect the outcome of presidential elections than did a voter in the least powerful state. Banzhaf (1968) concluded that the current Electoral College system falls short of even an approximation of equality in voter power (306). He concluded by calling for direct presidential elections. Banzhafs paper was enormously inuential. Several state legislatures adopted it as the criterion for establishing the existence of equitable voter power among local legislative districts as well as the validity of different weighted voting systems under the one man, one vote principle (Grofman 1981). In 1970, Indianas scheme of singleand multiple-member districts for its state legislature was challenged in the Supreme Court, which, in Whitcomb v. Chavis, decisively rejected Banzhafs argument

The U.S. Electoral College and Spatial Biases in Voter Power on the grounds that its simplifying assumptions were absurd: Of particular concern was the assumption that voters must tie for marginal voters to have any effect at all; with n voters in the district, this situation would occur only once out of 2n possible coalitions of voters. Justice Harlan noted that even minor departures from the assumption that p = 0.5 could produce dramatically different results. The key weakness to Banzhafs (1968) original formulation, therefore, is that it does not sufciently account for the relative closeness of races within each statethe margin of victoryin effect assuming that voters are effective only when the two parties are effectively tied. As noted earlier, however, the probability of exact ties in the popular vote is extremely remote, a fact that renders his portrayal of voter power inconveniently unrealistic. Banzhafs work unleashed considerable criticism (e.g., Margolis 1983) as well as extensions and modications. It is also important to note that a disadvantage of this approach is that it is strictly post facto in its approach and, because the outcomes of electoral contests are contingent and highly variable over time, this method offers little utility as a tool to predict voter power in the future. Because some states are more closely contested than others, a more accurate reection of the power of voters must include the distribution of votes among parties within states, a view that incorporates the power of swing voters to decide outcomes. Ceteris paribus, voters in close races will exercise more inuence over electoral outcomes than do those in races in which one candidate is far ahead of his or her opponent. Political parties recognize this fact by allocating disproportionate shares of their limited resources (i.e., television advertising funds, candidate campaign time) to inuencing voters in battleground states, especially large ones, that are up for grabs, because the outcome is too close to predict accurately or there is a reasonable likelihood of swaying undecided voters (Colantoni, Levesque, and Ordeshook 1975; Shaw 1999). In some races, the margin of victory may be less than the margin of error introduced by awed voting technologies (Warf 2006). Conversely, states with lopsided support for either party can safely be ignored by both. Merrill (1978) overcame the critical, unrealistic assumption of the Banzhaf model that voters are tied in each state by reformulating the binomial approach to measure voter power using differential percentages of votes cast for political candidates. For example, in a two-party presidential race (i.e., Democrats and Republicans), VPs = ns ! d p s q sr EVs (n s d s )!d s !

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(3)

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where VPs is voter power in state s , n s is total number of popular votes in state s, d s is votes for Democratic political candidate in state s, r s is votes for Republican political candidate in state s, p s is proportion of total popular vote for Democratic political candidate in state s , q s = proportion of total popular vote for Republican politician candidate in state s, and EVs = electoral votes of state s. Critically, in this approach the magnitude of voter power is inversely related to (but not entirely determined by) the margin of victory in a given state, and loosely proportionate to the number of electoral votes involved. To illustrate this concept, consider the race between Republican George H. W. Bush and Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988. In New York, with thirty-six electoral votes, Dukakis took 2,974,190 votes out of a total of 6,201,708, or 48 percent, leaving 3,227,518 (52 percent) to George H. W. Bush. In this case, the power of each New York voter to shape the national election was VP = 6,201,708! (.48)2,974,190 2,974,190! 3,227,518! (.52)3,227,518 36 = .011542 (4)

In contrast, in the same race in a small state, Wyoming, with three electoral votes and 173,891 popular votes, in which George H. W. Bush won by a signicant margin (106,814, or 61 percent), each voters relative inuence in the national presidential contest may be estimated as VP = 173,891! (.39)67,077 106,814! 67,077! (.61)106,814 3 = .00590. (5)

In this situation, the VP of New York voters is 1.95 times that of voters in Wyoming; that is, each New York voter was almost twice as likely to inuence the national presidential contest. The VP measure signies little as an absolute number in and of itself; rather, its meaning becomes clear only in a relative context comparing two or more states. Merrill (1978) found that the disparities in individual voter power varied among states by as much as a factor of ten, with the highest values found in large,

192 urbanized Northeastern states and the lowest ones in rural, Southern ones. He noted that voter power also reected the internal homogeneity or heterogeneity of states: Large states with relatively diverse, metropolitan populations tend to exhibit increased voter power, and smaller, homogeneous ones had lower degrees of inuence; however, his analysis was conned to two political parties. Subsequent mathematical treatments attempting to demonstrate the degree to which the institution differentially rewards or punishes voters across geographic space have not deviated substantially from Banzhafs and Merrills approach (Hinich and Ordeshook 1974; Owen 1975; Levesque 1984; Enelow and Hinich 1990; Garand and Parent 1991; Natapoff 1996; Grofman, Brunell, and Campagna 1997), most of which mutate into various game theoretic approaches. The focus of such works is primarily on the elegant mathematics rather than empirical applications; moreover, they hold little regard for issues of spatiality. Surprisingly, there has been no attempt to date to apply this line of methodology geographically, that is, to the spatial dynamics of the Electoral College over multiple presidential elections. A key limitation to both Banzhafs and Merrills work is the assumption that only two political parties are operative. Despite the predominance of the two major parties in the United States, the binomial representation of the power of voters to affect national elections is too simple because third political parties and candidates can and do often play important roles, taking a signicant part of the popular vote and on occasion even winning the electoral votes of some states. For example, in 1968 George Wallaces American Independent Party secured 13.5 percent of the popular vote and forty-ve electoral votes in ve Southern states. Ross Perot, in 1992, acquired 19 percent of the vote but no electoral votes because he did not carry a plurality in any given state. To incorporate differential probabilities based on respective party shares of the votewhich weights the power of voters for the winning party so that their supporters are more likely to cast the deciding votesomewhat more elaborate mathematics are required; that is, a multinomial model, of which the binomial is a simplication: VPs = ns ! x1 x2 xk p 1 p 2 . . . p k EVs , x1 ! . . . xk ! (6)

Warf political party i in state s , ks is number of political parties in any given election in state s , p i is proportion of total popular vote in state s accounted for by party i, and EVs is electoral votes of state s . This approach improves on Banzhafs original conception in three ways. First, following Merrill (1978), it incorporates the closeness of political races in each state (i.e., the margin of victory), whereas Banzhaf assumed the distribution of votes between them to be equal (i.e., p = q = 0.5). Second, whereas Banzhaf used state populations, not voters, in his calculations, this article utilizes the electorate. Third, whereas Banzhaf and Merrill limited their approach to two political parties, this method allows for multiple candidates in one state. Because the measurement of voter power has little intuitive appeal, in this analysis absolute estimates of this variable were converted into relative ones, or relative voter power, by dividing each states estimated voter power by the national average for the year involved. Thus, RVPs t = VPs t /VPus.t 100, (7)

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where VPs is voter power in state s , n s is total number of popular votes in state s , xi s is number of votes for

where RVPs t is the relative voter power in state s at time t, VPs t is the voter power in state s at time t as dened in Equation 6, and VPus.t is the weighted national average voter power in the United States at time t. Because relative voter power is central to the empirical analysis that follows, it is important that its meaning and signicance are clear. Relative voter power reects the inuence on the national election of the voters who provided the margin of victory for a given presidential candidate in a given state in comparison to the average voter nationally. This measure of voter power suffers from the fewest simplifying assumptions and yet allows for a reasonable approximation of the biases generated by the Electoral College. To what extent is the measure of relative voter power utilized here real, or, conversely, to what extent is it simply an artifact of the methodology? In other words, can the measure of relative voter power proposed here serve as a reliable indicator of spatial biases in the Electoral College, or is it simply a proxy for other forces? On the basis of the approach outlined earlier, the relative power of voters to sway elections may be expected to be a function of two variables, the margin of victory in each state in each presidential election and the number of electoral votes involved. As Figure 2 indicates, as predicted, relative voter power is indeed correlatedbut not synonymouswith the margin of victory in each

The U.S. Electoral College and Spatial Biases in Voter Power

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Figure 2. Scattergram of margin of victory and relative voter power, 19602004 presidential elections.

state during each presidential election (r = 0.75, signicant at the 0.95 condence level).3 Thus, roughly half of the variance in relative voter power is explained by the margin of victory. Relative voter power, however, is only marginally related to each states electoral votes (Figure 3). This observation casts doubt on Banzhafs assertion that the Electoral College is automatically biased in favor of voters in more populous states, a conclusion he based on the dubious assertion that votes were equally split between the two major parties. As Table 2 indicates, the overall distribution of voter power among states changes only marginally across election cycles, although individual states may vary signicantly in their relative importance. Relative voter power can vary widely in time and space, ranging from

a low of 0.08 in Alabama in 1960 to a high of 20.2 during the highly visible and very close race for Florida in the 2000 election, which George W. Bush won by the extremely slender margin of 537 votes. In these two extremes, Alabama voters in 1960, who gave Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy 84.8 percent of their votes, generated such a large margin of victory in a relatively small state that their votes inuenced the national election only 8 percent as much as did average voters nationally; conversely, Florida voters in 2000, creating a minuscule margin of victory in a sizable state that determined the presidential race, enjoyed a leverage 20 times greater than did voters nationally. Typically, landslide elections generate relatively modest outcomes, whereas close elections produce a few states in which voter power surges (e.g., in 2000). Voters in Washington,

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Figure 3. Scattergram of electoral votes and relative voter power, 19602004 presidential elections.

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Table 2. Summary of distribution of relative voter power (RVP) by election cycle
Number of states with RVP <1.0 1.01.9 11 16 10 13 15 13 10 13 13 13 3 15 2.02.99 2 2 4 2 1 2 2 5 5 5 1 3 3.03.99 0 1 1 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 > 4.00 2 0 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 2 0 Minimum .08 (AL) .34 (DC) .24 (DC) .50 (UT) .20 (DC) .19 (UT) .33 (DC) .30 (DC) .29 (DC) .28 (DC) .12 (VT) .30 (DC) Maximum 5.45 (HI) 3.05 (AZ) 3.39 (TX) 2.36 (CA) 6.13 (OH) 5.98 (MA) 7.85 (MN) 2.90 (CA) 2.55 (GA) 2.79 (GA) 20.2 (FL) 3.73 (WI)

1960 1964 1968 1972 1976 1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 2004

35 32 36 36 33 34 37 33 33 33 45 32

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DC, often suffer from being the least inuential in the country in that they tend to cast their votes for Democratic candidates by large margins and offer only three electoral votes. Finally, the distribution of relative voter power for ve populous states over time reveals the oscillations that occur over successive election cycles (Figure 4). Although the capacity of voters in large states with abundant electoral votes to inuence the national outcome usually hovers between one and three, the notable exception of Florida in 2000 reveals the dramatic increase in the capacity of the razor-thin group that provided the margin of victory to shape the presidential

race. Notably, even in large states when one candidate wins by a large margin (e.g., Texas in 1980), the relative voter power is below unity, indicating that the more homogeneous voters tend to be in their political preferences, the less likely they are to be inuential nationally.

Voter Power and Presidential Elections: An Abbreviated Cartographic History


Cartograms based on each states Electoral College votes that depict relative voter power in presidential elections held between 1960 and 2004 reveal a

Figure 4. Relative voter power for ve large states, 19602004 presidential elections.

The U.S. Electoral College and Spatial Biases in Voter Power complex, shifting landscape in which voter power was not concentrated in a single group of stateslarge or smallbut alternated among them (Figure 5). These cartograms represent two variables simultaneously: The size of each state is proportional to its total electoral votes, whereas its shade represents relative voter power. It is worth emphasizing that the results portrayed here do not measure the popularity of particular candidates or parties; rather, they reect the relative ability of voters in different states to shape national elections as the dynamics of statewide voting margins are reected through the peculiarities of the Electoral College. Thus, in the extremely close race of 1960, John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon by 34,220,984 to 34,108,185, a mere 112,827 votes, or 0.16 percent of the total cast. Voters in Illinois, which gave its twentyseven electoral votes to Kennedy by a 0.19 percent margin of victory, enjoyed a leverage ve times greater than their average counterparts did nationally (however, contrary to much received opinion, Kennedy, with 303 electoral votes, would have won even without the twenty-seven votes from Illinois). In the 1964 race, in which Lyndon Johnson soundly defeated Barry Goldwater, voters in Florida and Idaho, which Johnson won by a hair, and Arizona, Goldwaters home state (which he carried by 1 percent), were roughly three times as inuential as those nationally. The Arizona case is illustrative of the counterintuitive notion that even voters in states that support losing presidential candidates may enjoy high levels of inuence; voter power in this context is not synonymous with support for the winner. The 1968 presidential election, complicated by George Wallaces American Independence Party victories in much of the South by large margins, simultaneously reduced the relative inuence of those states nationally (although Texas and Arkansas were particularly inuential) and elevated the power of votes cast in Ohio, Missouri, and California to double the national level. Nonetheless, a broad coalition of states united behind Richard Nixon led to his victory over Hubert Humphrey. The 1968 election initiated a longterm shift of the region away from the Democratic Party in the wake of the Civil Rights Act and led the South, which gave successive Republican candidates large margins of victory, to become relatively marginal in terms of voter power until Bill Clintons campaigns in the 1990s put several states back into play. In 1972, Nixon trounced George McGovern by 18 million votes, or 22.6 percent, carrying every state except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. Voter power shifted toward the Northeast and Mid-

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west, in which the margins of victories were smallest and large electoral blocs were at stake: New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Illinois, as well as increasingly important California, all large states in which Nixons margins of victory were lower than average, saw their relative voter power rise to 1.5 to 2.4 times that of the national average. In Jimmy Carters successful 1976 bid for the presidency, a 0.2 percent margin of victory in Ohio over Gerald Ford, coupled with twenty-ve electoral votes, elevated the signicance of voters in that state to a level six times higher than the national average; California and Oregon were also important in this regard. Throughout the 1970s, the lightly populated states of the Midwest and intermountain West, which generally gave large margins of victory to Republican candidates, receded signicantly in voter power. By 1980, when Carters reelection bid was defeated by Ronald Reagan, the latters slim margins of victory in New York, Massachusetts, Arkansas, and Tennessee raised voters relative power in those states to levels two to six times as high as nationally. In 1984, Reagans landslide reelection victory over Democrat Walter Mondale made the voters of Minnesotathe only state (other than the District of Columbia) to vote against himenjoy a leverage 7.85 times greater than the national average, an indication that voters may be relatively inuential even if they cast their votes for a candidate who loses. California, despite its enormous size, endorsed Reagan twice with such large margins of victory that its electoral votes were never in doubt, greatly reducing relative voter power there. The victory of George H. W. Bush in 1988 over Michael Dukakis, the rst by a sitting vice president since 1837, likewise conferred considerable relative voter power to states that opposed him, such as New York, as well as some that supported him, albeit by thin margins, such as Illinois and California. Two victories by Bill Clinton, in 1992 and 1996, produced almost identical maps of voter power, with the highest levels of relative voter power found in Texas, Georgia, Virginia, and Kentucky (which opposed him), and Nevada (which supported him by a very narrow margin), indicating that his base of support remained remarkably constant in size and spatial distribution during that period. The 1992 race, of course, was complicated by Ross Perot, who did not win electoral votes but was a signicant presence in some states. A Southerner, Clinton managed to attract sufciently large support throughout the South to erode or even overcome Republican margins of victory, greatly elevating relative

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Figure 5. (Continued on next page)

The U.S. Electoral College and Spatial Biases in Voter Power

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Figure 5. (continued.) Cartograms of relative voter power, 19602004 presidential elections. (Note: Size of states is proportional to the number of Electoral College votes.)

voter power in the region (e.g., in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana). The 2000 election, of course, stands in a class by itself, not only because the Electoral College victor, George W. Bush, failed to acquire the majority of the popular vote, but also because the extremely close margin of victory in Florida (537 votes amid a hotly contested recount), with twenty-seven electoral votes at stake, elevated voters relative power there to a level twenty times greater than voters nationally, an unprecedented, unique maximum of inuence in American political history. Likewise, voters in New Mexico were also more powerful than voters nationally by a factor of almost ve. The presence on the ballot of Ralph Nader, who won 2.8 million votes (2.7 percent), and Pat Buchanan (448,000, or 0.4 percent), likewise was critical to the outcome in several key states. By 2004, Bushs reelection victory focused enormous media attention on Ohio, which he won by 2 percent, generating relative voter power 3.8 times as high the national average; Wisconsin, Iowa, New Mexico, and California were also signicant in this regard. Conversely, in both 2000 and 2004, large Republican majorities throughout the Great Plains reduced voter power there to levels less than one-half of the national average.

What do these maps tell us? Clearly the spatial biases generated by the Electoral College extend well beyond the simple dichotomy of large versus small states, as theorized by Banzhaf and others, as well as the popular red versus blue bifurcation utilized by the media. Neither are these maps simply reections of popular margins of victory, for small margins in states with few electoral votes fail to generate substantial increases in relative voter power. Rather, these patterns speak to the complex interplay of voter preferences and the distortions created by the Electoral College, in which relative voter power is produced in ways that are contingent, spatially uneven, and often unpredictable.

Is the Electoral College Biased for or Against Particular Social Groups?


In addition to the spatial biases that the Electoral College generates for and against individual states, there are grounds for suspecting that these tendencies play differentially to the advantage or disadvantage of particular social groups of voters as dened by political party, ethnicity, urban or rural location, or religion. Following Longley and Dana (1984), the relative voter power

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Figure 6. Relative voter power of Democratic and Republican voters, 19602004.


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in the Electoral College of a particular social group may be calculated by multiplying each states relative voter power by its number of residents in that group, summing the resulting products, and dividing by the national population of that group. The relative voter power of different groups is thus the weighted average of their distribution among states. Perhaps the most obvious application of this technique is to the analysis of Democratic and Republican voters. Given that lightly populated states in the Midwest and West frequently vote for Republican presidential candidates, a common allegation is that there is a Republican lock on the Electoral College, such that even large increases in Democratic votes elsewhere will fail to sway the outcome (Schneider 1988). This issue may be analyzed empirically by examining the relative power of voters for each party, which may be calculated as RVP p = (RVPs P ps )/P pus , (8)

where RVP p is the relative voter power of party p, RVPs is the relative voter power of state s, P ps is votes cast for presidentialcandidate in party p in state s, and P pus is total votes cast for candidate in party p in the United States. When this method is utilized for data from the elections from 1960 to 2004 (Figure 6), the results indicate that for the most part, the relative power of voters in

either party oscillates only mildly, within a 5 percent range. The notable exception is the election of 1968, which appears to have greatly enhanced the inuence of Republican voters by as much as 40 percent and, correspondingly, decreased that of Democrats; however, this anomaly is readily explained by the success of George Wallaces American Independent Party, which took many votes away from Democrats in the South and enhanced Republican or diminished Democratic margins of victories elsewhere. It was not the Electoral College that generated this outcome, therefore, as much as it was the presence of a viable third-party candidate (an outcome that dichotomous models of voter power cannot predict). Thus, fears of a Republican lock appear to be misplaced, a conclusion echoed by Garand and Parent (1991). Given the importance of race or ethnicity to national elections (Mayer 2002), this issue is nontrivial in signicance. Conventional analyses of this issue long assumed that because the Electoral College ostensibly favored more populous, urbanized states with large numbers of ethnic minorities and immigrants, voters in those states would enjoy disproportionate advantages and shape presidential agendas toward their own interests (Yunker and Longley 1973; Pierce and Longley 1981). For this reason, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) favors retaining the Electoral College on the grounds that the current system allows minorities to have an impact on

The U.S. Electoral College and Spatial Biases in Voter Power


Table 3. Relative voter power (RVP) of ve ethnic groups, 2000 and 2004
RVP RVP 2000 White Black Latino or Hispanic Asian Native American 0.98 1.02 0.64 1.19 0.69 2004 1.00 0.87 1.77 0.95 1.34 % of voters Region 74.3 11.6 9.5 3.1 1.5 Metropolitan Nonmetropolitan 2000 1.10 0.60 2004 1.03 0.87

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Table 4. Relative voter power (RVP) of voters in metropolitan and nonmetropolitan counties, 2000 and 2004 elections

% of voters 80.4 19.6

the electoral process by being the deciding factor in selected states (Best 1996). The relative voter power of ve major ethnic groups may be estimated as RVPe = (RVPs Pes )/Pe us, (9)

ral areas, which tend to support Republicans, are among the central differences in recent presidential elections (Fife and Miller 2002). The voting power of populations residing in metropolitan and nonmetropolitan counties may be estimated using the relation RVPm,nm = (RVPs Pm,nm.s )/Pm,nm.us , (10)

where RVPe is the relative voter power of ethnic group e (whites, blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, Asians), RVPs is the relative voter power of state s, Pes is the population of ethnic group e in state s, and Peus is the population of ethnic group e in the United States. The results of this exercise for the 2000 and 2004 elections are indicated in Table 3, using 2000 Census data. Whites, who comprise the vast majority of the population and voters, exhibited relative voter power roughly equal to the national average. African Americans enjoyed approximately the national average relative voter power in 2000, but a decline to 87 percent in 2004, reecting their concentration in states with relatively little impact, including much of the South. Native Americans and Latinos and Hispanics revealed substantial uctuations in power over the two elections: They were by far the most relatively disenfranchised groups in 2000 (with 69 persent and 64 percent of the national average, respectively), only to witness a rise in 2004 to 1.34 and 1.77, respectively, in large part because they were clustered in battleground states such as California and New Mexico. Finally, Asian American voters, who enjoyed an average 19 percent more political leverage in 2000 than the national average, returned to roughly the average in 2004 as the sites of maximum voter power shifted to states with relatively smaller proportions of voters in that group (e.g., Ohio). In short, ethnic minorities do not appear to enjoy any consistent advantage in the Electoral College, a conclusion that mirrors similar analyses of ethnicity and voter power (e.g., Longley and Dana 1984). Voting differences between large, highly urbanized counties, which lean Democratic, and smaller, more ru-

where RVPm,nm is the relative voting power of metropolitan or nonmetropolitan populations, RVPs is the relative voter power of state s, Pm,nm.s is the population of metropolitan or nonmetropolitan areas in state s, and Pm,nm.us is the population of metropolitan or nonmetropolitan areas in the United States. The results (Table 4) indicate that in the 2000 election, voters in metropolitan areas were almost twice as inuential as those living in nonmetropolitan areas, in large part due to the extremely relative voter power in highly urbanized Florida, in which 93 percent of the population lives in metropolitan areas. By 2004, this discrepancy decreased slightly, although voters in large metropolitan regions still retained a slight edge (3 percent); the change reected the decline in relative voter power in Florida but a rise in Ohio, Minnesota, New York, and California. In the same vein, the relative power of different religious denominations may be calculated. Organized religion plays an increasingly important role in American presidential politics, a phenomenon of which the recent rise of politically conservative Protestants within the Republican Party is perhaps the most visible face (Fowler et al. 2004; Green, Rozell, and Wilcox 2006; Wald and Calhoun-Brown 2007). The source of data regarding membership in religious denominations was the 2000 census published by the Glenmary Research Center (2002); nondenominational and nonreligious voters were excluded from this analysis. The voter power of different religious groups of voters may be estimated using the equation RVPr = (RVPr s Pr s )/Pr
us,

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(11)

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Table 5. Relative voter power (RVP) of major religious denominations in 2000 and 2004 elections
RVP Religion Catholic Orthodox Methodist Presbyterian Episcopal Baptist Pentecostalist Latter-Day Saints Jewish Muslim
a Excludes

Warf popular will was predicated on the equal voice for all involved. Habermas (1975) reiterated that the legitimacy of the state is predicated on its ability to adjudicate among competing interests and maintain at least a veil of detached objectivity through a fair system of representation. Following Dahl (1989), there is no single, unied theory of democracy, only a range of theories that stress, to varying extents, the importance of justice, freedom, equality, diversity of interests, majority rule, and the protection of minorities. Regardless of this conceptual heterogeneity, elections are the benchmarks and hallmarks of democratic political systems. Since the eighteenth century, elections have been widely held to be the embodiments of democratic political processes because each individual has, ostensibly, an equal opportunity to inuence the outcome. In this light, equal voter power among groups and regions is the basic requirement and denition of a democracy. The validity of democratic political systems is therefore dependent on the presence or absence of legitimate voting systems that accurately reect the publics preferences for particular candidates, an issue that speaks directly to the nature of democracy (Rogers 1992; Brennan and Lomasky 1997; Keyssar 2001). As Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren (1964) noted, To the extent that a citizens right to vote is debased, he is that much less a citizen. The fact that an individual lives here or there is not a legitimate reason for overweighting or diluting the efcacy of his vote (584). Contemporary extensions of this line of thought are to be found in the rational choice models currently hegemonic in political science. In this tradition, which views voting in terms essentially derived from neoclassical economics, self-interested voters purchase political power much as consumers choose goods, putting into ofce candidates who generate the maximum voter utility on the basis of their campaign appearances and promises (Laver 1997; Blais 2000; Brams 2008). Rational choice models thus posit voting as a purely individual matter, abstract the issue from wider concerns of social or spatial context, and remain utterly silent about irreducibly social categories such as class, ethnicity, or gender. This conception is awed precisely because it is so ahistorical, asocial, and resolutely nongeographical. Thus, although political scientists have certainly examined the spatial dimensions of elections (e.g., Poole and Rosenthal 1984), spatiality in such approaches amounts to little more than a backdrop to aspatial voter utility functions. Contrary to this line of thought, democracy does not function as a set of abstract ideas oating

2000 0.95 1.43 0.85 0.97 1.21 1.03 1.16 0.53 1.70 0.61

2004 1.16 0.75 1.09 1.06 0.82 0.81 0.82 0.68 0.64 1.69

% of votersa 25.9 0.6 4.3 1.3 1.0 10.0 3.2 1.8 2.6 0.7

nondenominational and nonreligious voters.

where RVPr is the relative voter power of religion r, RVPs is the relative voter power of state s, Pr s is the population of religious group r in state s, and Pr us is the population of religious group r in the United States. The results (Table 5) reveal the shifting abilities of different denominations to affect the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004. In the close election of 2000, the greatest relative voter power was with Jewish, Orthodox, and Pentecostal voters, although they make up small shares of the electorate, largely because they are clustered in populous states such as New York and California. Larger, less spatially concentrated denominations, such as Catholics and Baptists, enjoyed relative voter power roughly equal to that of the nation as a whole, as one might expect, given their distribution among many states with a wide range of voter powers. In 2004, however, Catholics experienced a rise in relative voter power largely due to their presence in California and New Mexico, as did Methodists in Ohio, and Muslims concentrated in Michigan and New York likewise witnessed a signicant increase.

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Discussion: Democracy, Social Theory, and the Electoral College


Liberal political philosophy has long been predicated on the notion of equal individual rights and representation in government, a view that mirrors Enlightenment individualism and renders class, gender, and other social divisions largely invisible. In 1762, for example, Jean Jacques Rousseau argued in Social Contract that the legitimacy of the state as the embodiment of

The U.S. Electoral College and Spatial Biases in Voter Power in the minds of individuals inhabiting some ahistorical, aspatial vacuum but as complex, contingent, and power-laden networks deeply rooted in social relations constituted at multiple spatial scales. Elections are embedded in a broader civic epistemology, the cultures and practices of knowledge production and validation that characterize public life and civic institutions in modern democratic societies (Miller 2004, 1), a web of formal and informal relations that extends beyond the voting booth to the judiciary, election bureaucracies, schools, and the media. The analysis offered here indicates that the ability of American voters to inuence the outcome of presidential elections is intimately bound up with the geographic dynamics of the Electoral College. Spatial biases are not idiosyncratic but generic to its organization. Where voters are located, the size of their electoral blocs, and the statewide margin of victory in presidential races are all central to shaping the relative power of voters in different states to inuence the choice of the chief executive. To the extent that the Electoral College generates uneven geographies of voter power, therefore, it is a fundamentally antidemocratic and antiliberal institution. Moreover, because power is such a notoriously slippery phenomenon to measure empirically, this approach offers a means to operationalize it mathematically, lending methodological rigor to the analysis of an issue that has enjoyed little such advantage in the literature. Clearly the assessment of power is highly contingent on its specication via a particular model. The most successful approach to this issue to date, the Banzhaf model, does not take account of the political competitiveness of the states (Rabinowitz and MacDonald 1986, 77.) In contrast, by introducing the margin of victory into this issue, the approach advocated here signicantly amplies the differentials in voter power among states. Voter margins of victory reect the collective preferences of large groups of people whose intentions (as manifested in the popular vote) are funneled into the winner-take-all system that ultimately determines the winning candidate for the presidency; thus, electoral geography can engage productively with the analysis of voter subjectivity, incorporating contingency into its analysis of electoral outcomes and avoiding the mechanistic stance that long plagued the eld. In short, the legacy of an eighteenth-century political system that tried to accommodate small and large states, the happenstance of voter location, and the unintentional production of margins of victory all conspire within the Electoral College to produce relative voter power in

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spatially uneven ways, generating geographies of inuence that uctuate markedly from one election cycle to another. Such a critique allows the liberal view about equal access to state power to be reconceptualized in a manner that complements, but does not substitute for, predominant Marxist and Foucauldian notions, which tend to ignore electoral politics. In this reading, the ability to shape the power of the national government via elections is far more unstable, ephemeral, and contingent than that generated by relations of class, ethnicity, and gender, which tend to be deeply embedded in arenas outside of the state, such as the division of labor and cultural norms.

Concluding Thoughts
The Electoral College is an institution that reects the unique historical and political circumstances of the United States. Critics maintain that it systematically distorts the meaning of the popular vote, to the extent that more than once candidates have won the presidency without winning a majority of ballots cast. Presidential political campaigns are acutely sensitive to the uneven landscapes of power that the College generates and structure their spatial allocations of limited resources and candidate time accordingly. Popular understandings of this topic simplistically point to the overrepresentation of lightly populated states in the Electoral College. Conversely, game theorists, seeking to shed mathematical light on this issue, have consistently maintained that voters in larger states hold relatively more power to sway the national race by virtue of the large blocs of electoral votes they control. Drawing on the seminal work of Banzhaf (1968), who introduced game theory in the form of a model of two political parties that split the popular vote evenly, this analysis offered an empirically tractable, multinomial extension of his model of relative voter power, which reects the total number of votes cast in each state in each election, the number and proportion of votes cast for each candidate, the margin of victory of the winner, and the number of electoral votes at stake. Applying this analysis to U.S. presidential elections from 1960 to 2004 reveals that relative voter power varied markedly among states and over time. Unexpectedly, voter power was not consistently related to the size of states but reected a complex interplay shaped by the margin of victory in each state and the winnertake-all dynamics of the Electoral College. Utilizing

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202 the same framework to analyze the abilities of the two major political parties, ve major ethnic groups, rural or urban residence, and ten religious denominations to shape national elections likewise indicates that the Electoral College does not consistently exaggerate the voter power of any single group, with the exception of voters in metropolitan regions, who tend to be concentrated in large states that are often electoral battlegrounds. Thus, allegations that the Electoral College exhibits a Republican lock that it is weighted in favor of large states, or that it protects the interests of white men, or, conversely, allows minorities to shape presidential priorities, are all equally unfounded. Voter power is much more complex than any simple or simplistic assertions will admit. Rather than the portrait of power as stable and durable across time and space, a concept found throughout many conventional treatments, this analysis indicates that voter power is highly contingent, ephemeral, transitory, and unpredictable. Such a conclusion speaks to the role of elections as the embodiment of popular political preferences (e.g., via margins of victory), yet acknowledges that the winner-take-all system that is the dening feature of the Electoral College imparts spatial distortions that differentially enhance the power of voters in some states at the expense of others.

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3. The regression equation was ln(RVP) = 0.733 0.409 ln(margin of victory), r 2 = 0.569, N = 611.

References
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Acknowledgment
The author thanks Shawn Lewers and Darin Grauberger for their assistance with the graphics.

Notes
1. Although Maine and Nebraska do not strictly abide by the winner-take-all system, for analytical convenience in this analysis they are considered to operate on that basis. For more on the MaineNebraska or MundtCoudert system, see Johnston, Rossiter, and Pattie (2006). 2. The empirical calculation of large factorials such as those involved in the application of Equation 5 to voting data presents a formidable methodological obstacle. Fortunately, factorials may be estimated closely using Sterlings formula, which holds that for any number m, m! = e m m m sqrt(2 m). For numbers larger than 100, this formula is accurate within 0.1 percent; for very large numbers, such as the ones used here, the difference between the estimated and actual factorials is innitesimally small. Banzhaf (1968) used Sterlings approximation throughout his paper. Even this estimate may be challenging for all but the most sophisticated of computers, however. An easier approach is to use natural logarithms: Ln m! = m + m * ln m + ln sqrt(2 m). This technique is employed throughout this article.

The U.S. Electoral College and Spatial Biases in Voter Power


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Correspondence: Department of Geography, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045, e-mail: bwarf@ku.edu.