Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Vote efficiency in the Electoral College system, or why national polls only tell part of the story

In the news today were stories that Obama did poorly in Democratic primaries in the traditionally conservative states of Kentucky and Arkansas. In Kentucky he took just 57.9% of the vote to 42% who cast a vote for "uncommitted." In Arkansas, with 70% tallied he was beating some no-name by a 59% to 41% margin. The challenger promised to repeal Obamacare.

These are states that McCain took easily in 2008, and in which Hillary Clinton won in the Democratic primaries that year.

They are conservative states, the primary was meaningless so only those with an axe to grind would be highly motivated and Obama has never felt the love in this part of America anyway.

What is interesting about this, though, is the concept of "vote efficiency" that it brings too mind.

Even though national polls have Romney and Obama within the margin of error, it is possible that in many states that Romney takes in November, he will win by a large margin. It is also possible that in many states Obama wins, Romney will be more competitive.

In an Electoral College system which is mostly "winner-take-all" on a state-by-basis, Obama's vote is far more likely to be efficient, meaning he can win more states with less national vote.

Put a different way, 50% plus one of the vote wins you all electoral votes in each state (mostly). And every vote you get over 50% plus one is, in a sense, wasted. Similarly, every vote you get in an attempt that falls short of 50% plus one, is a wasted vote.

Take all the votes in Kentucky and Arkansas. I don't care.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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