Impacts of Tying Minnesota’s Electoral Votes to the National Popular Vote

A bipartisan group of legislators thinks Minnesota should cast its electoral votes for the candidate who wins the most electoral votes nationally rather than who wins the most votes in Minnesota. Interesting concept.

Rep. Pat Garafalo mentions that the benefit of this model is that “it would guarantee that every vote is of equal value in our process.”

While that may be true, presidential campaigns don’t treat every voter equally. Under the current electoral college winner takes all by state (for the most part) system, candidates tend to ignore states where they’re confident that they’ll win or lose. The exception being visits for fundraising. This makes states like Ohio and Florida battleground states while candidates ignore Texas (easy R win), California (easy D win), and Minnesota (2012 would have been a lot closer election if Minnesota was in play).

Here is how extreme this has become as campaigns work to win the potentially winnable.

This year, the candidates for president and vice president made 253 post-convention campaign stops in just 12 states. The other 38 states got none.

Regardless of the voting model, campaigning comes down to a return on investment of limited resources.

A national popular presidential vote would force the candidates to quit ignoring states that aren’t battlegrounds, Garofalo said. Every vote in every state would matter.

If every vote from every state is counted equally, campaigns would change their strategies overnight. Instead of focusing on a dozen battleground states, campaigns might focus their attention on playing to their bases by getting out the vote in states that favor them. Dems would focus on major cities on the coasts while GOP candidates would focus on the Carolinas through Arizona.

Advertising tactics might vary. Dems tend to gain more votes in urban areas, so flooding local TV markets where they can increase turnout would benefit them. GOP candidates might rely more on radio to reach suburbanites during longer commutes and people in more rural areas. Direct mail targeting infrequent registered voters in states that aren’t currently battleground states would ramp up substantially.

Would Minnesota see move visits from candidates? Not necessarily. Minnesota has high voter turnout from a national perspective. Candidates would likely have more to gain by boosting turnout in states where they are favored. For example, if a Dem could get Californians to turn out at the same rate as Minnesotans, a candidate could pick up as many new votes in that one state as are cast in Minnesota.

It can be frustrating at times listening to presidential candidates debate these days. Neither will touch topics like global warming because they’re dependent on votes from states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Colorado and can both ignore New York or California. If we switched to a national popular vote, we may see two candidates talking past each other as they become more polarized. Dems would start talking about global warming, transportation, gun control, and other urban issues in order to increase turnouts in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Boston. The GOP might double down on their support for pollution industries and minimum wage powered companies while inserting even more religion into politics. The GOP would also move their voter suppression efforts to California and New York from Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Would this be a better system? To me, it seems like it favors the Democratic Party since it’s likely easier to reach and GOTV large numbers of left-leaning urban-living voters compared to right-leaning suburban/rural-living voters. The country would likely become more divided as both parties choose to ignore moderates in the Midwest. I do like that candidates would campaign on issues relevant to voters outside Cuyahoga County, but the costs may outweigh the benefits.

2 thoughts on “Impacts of Tying Minnesota’s Electoral Votes to the National Popular Vote”

  1. I just spent the last semester doing a project on compulsory voting. In a compulsory voting scenario, the newly enfranchised will be the voters who felt like their issues were not addressed (in the case of the societally marginalized) or that the issues were not addressed to their satisfaction (independents), and hence that their vote didn’t matter. So one of the arguments in favor of compulsory voting is that is has a similar impact on campaigning as you’ve described in this popular vote scenario.

    Whether this all makes sense is obviously an entirely different question than whether it’s feasible.

    If you need to expand GOTV, I’d think this requires even more campaign infrastructure than already exists, which is saying a lot, considering how Organizing for America works. As long as the current campaign finance situation remains, all that money will be there, though. It might encourage even more money to flow in than was going to in the first place, if that’s possible.

    Is it better? Without a clear picture but with no obvious red flags, I think it’s worth a try. The collateral impact on congressional/senate/state/local races would be interesting to see. The 3rd party candidate effect would get a lot more attention.

  2. Looks like there’s a flub in your introductory sentence — we can’t really cast our electoral votes for the way the electoral college has voted. A little chicken-and-egg problem there.

    Anyway, I hadn’t really been convinced about the value of tying electoral votes to the popular vote until watching this conversation on “Up with Chris Hayes” from October 28th. (There was also a good follow-up piece from Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker.) I think they had some graphics attempting to show how the swing states were completely flooded with money this year, and they pointed out that even within those states, the advertising and campaigning was targeted at a small subset of the population. The political conversation also gets limited to the small set of issues that those swing voters in those swing counties of those swing states care most deeply about (or at least what the small subset of them who respond to pollsters say they care about).

    Prior to watching that, I mostly just felt that the electoral college was not so bad since it tends to act as an amplifier of the result of the popular vote — usually it swings in the same direction as the popular vote, but not always. But after watching those points be made, it explained so much about why people don’t get interested in politics. It was really compelling to think about all of the deeply important topics that get tossed aside just because someone in suburban Ohio is sitting there in denial of reality.

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