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The Electoral College And The Influence Of

California Essay, Research Paper

Peter Robinson

Examine the operation of the Electoral College in Presidential elections and consider the view that a candidate who cannot win California cannot win the Presidency. In what ways has the balance of power in the Electoral College shifted in recent years?

In the USA they have a separately elected leader that does not sit in either the Senate or in the House of Representatives. Presidential elections occur rigidly every four years and use the Electoral College system, which is a variation of the first-past-the-post system. In each of the fifty states a direct vote is held, there would normally be 2 or 3 candidates that would campaign in every state and some that would only campaign in certain areas e.g. George Wallace in 1968. The votes in each state are then counted and a winner for that state is declared. That candidate will then receive all the Electoral College votes allocated to that particular state. Electoral College votes are determined by the number of representatives that state has in the House of Representatives, which are allocated depending on the size of the state population. For example a large state like California has 52 representatives which means that it has 52 EC votes, plus 1 for each of it s 2 senators, making a total of 54 EC votes. Even the states with a relatively minute population, such as Alaska, receive 3 EC votes (one for its representative and 2 for its senators). When all the states have counted their votes and announced the state winner, then the EC votes for each winner are added up. The candidate that achieves more than 270 EC votes will become the next President. This electoral system has many critics, among the criticisms are that it is unrepresentative and gives smaller states too much influence. However there are also criticisms that the larger states have too much influence and that the smaller states become less important.

It has been said that a candidate that does not win California will find it very hard to win the presidential election. This has some element of truth in it because the 54 EC votes held currently by California equates to roughly one tenth of Electoral College votes. By not winning this state a severe handicap is placed upon the candidate, but it is obviously still possible to win the election as long as the majority of the other larger states are won, e.g. Texas (32 EC Votes), New York (33) and Florida (25). In recent years, however only Jimmy Carter in 1976 managed to win while not succeeding in California. This proves that while it is a big boost to win in California it is not absolutely necessary. It also shows that the smaller states are well protected under this system, as Carter would have had to win quite a lot of the smaller states to make up for the loss of California.

Every decade there is a national census in the US, and from these figures the number of representatives per state is calculated, any changes of which will also result in a change in the number of EC votes per state. As the US develops it becomes less reliant on industry, with most new jobs being created in the service sector. This gradual change has seen a migration of people from the industrialist north to the warmer climes of the south, where many of the new jobs are. While the general trend in the US is a growth in population, the northern states are not growing by the same amount as the southern states. This means that they lost representatives and therefore have also lost EC votes. Between 1970 and 1990 New York state s population grew by up to 15%, this is tiny compared to states like California which have seen population growth of over 50%. In Ohio, another state to lose votes, the population has actually decreased by up to 5%. Detroit is a good example of a northern industrial city, between 1970 and 1990 its population dropped by 31%, while southern cities such as Phoenix and San Diego have seen rises in population of 69% and 64% respectively. These population changes show that there is a growing divide between the prosperous south and the industrial north, this view is backed up by the reallocation of EC votes with many northern states losing votes to southern states. This shift in the balance of power means that campaign strategies for the two main parties in the US have now changed. Many northerners are traditionally Democrats, but with so many migrating to the more Republican south, it means that states such as California and Florida are now more likely to swing to the Democrats. Arizona is a fine example of these huge swings in voting behaviour, ever since the 1940 s it has been staunchly Republican, but in 1996 the Democrats won it. These changes have also gone in the other direction. States that used to have only a Republican minority now find that they are the majority because so many Democrats have moved south. States in the mid-west such as Kansas and Wyoming now tend to favour the Republicans instead of the Democrats. As a result of the changes to the population campaign strategies have seemingly been almost reversed, with Republicans now targeting the north for seats, while the Democrats are now campaigning more heavily in the south.

The balance of power in the Electoral College has now shifted away from the smaller populated northern states, such as Wyoming and Alaska, towards the larger southern states, such as California, Texas and Florida.

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