Nicholas Malino’s March 29 op-ed in CTViewpoints said:
“Hillary Clinton received 2.8 million more votes than Trump (out of 129 million). She also won California’s 55 electoral votes by 4.2 million votes. To look at it another way, with the NPV, California calls the shots.”
It is a fact that California (with 37 million people) gave Hillary Clinton 62 percent of its vote and a margin of 4,269,978 votes. However, Malino’s “call the shots” assertion neglects to mention that both political parties have bases of support in different parts of the country. As political analyst Nate Cohn observed, an equally populous Republican base area with 37 million people gave Donald Trump 61 percent of its votes and a margin of 4,475,297 votes. Cohn gave the name “Appalachafornia” to this group of Republican states running from West Virginia to Wyoming.
In a nationwide vote for President, Clinton’s lead coming from California would be added to Trump’s (slightly larger) lead coming from Appalachafornia, and they both would be added to the much larger number of votes coming from the rest of the country to yield the national popular vote total for each candidate.
Malino’s misplaced concern about California “calling the shots” arises from an exaggerated view of how big California actually is, and how Democratic it actually is. In fact, one out of eight of the nation’s voters live in California and four out of 10 of them vote Republican. Out of the 137,125,484 votes cast nationwide for President in 2016, there were 8,753,788 votes for Clinton in California — hardly enough to “call the shots.”
Tellingly, Connecticut shares something noteworthy with California and Appalachafornia. All are politically irrelevant in presidential elections. Because of current winner-take-all laws for awarding electoral votes on a state-by-state basis, presidential candidates concentrate virtually all their campaigning and attention only on about a dozen closely divided “battleground” states. As Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said in 2015 while running for President:
“The nation as a whole is not going to elect the next president. Twelve states are.”
Connecticut, California, Appalachafornia — indeed a total of 38 states—are not members of the very exclusive club that actually elects the President of the United States.
In 2012, for example, all of the general-election campaign events and virtually all expenditures were concentrated in the 12 closely divided “battleground” states where Mitt Romney’s support was in the narrow 45–51 percent range. Two-thirds of the events (176 of 253) were concentrated in just four states (OH, FL, VA, IA). Thirty-eight states were ignored, including 12 of the 13 smallest states and almost all rural, agricultural, Western, Southern, and New England states (including Connecticut).
In 2016, almost all campaign events (94 percent) were in the 12 states where Trump’s support was in a similarly narrow 43–51 percent range. Two-thirds of the events (273 of 399) were in just six states (OH, FL, VA, NC, PA, MI).
Battleground states receive 7 percent more presidentially controlled grants, twice as many disaster declarations, and numerous favorable actions from presidents, as detailed in Hudak’s recent book Presidential Pork; Hecht and Schultz’s book Presidential Swing States: Why Only Ten Matter; Morrissey’s book, and Kriner and Reeves’s book The Particularistic President.
President Trump’s recently announced tariffs are examples of policy pork intended to benefit several of the closely divided battleground states that gave him an Electoral-College majority. Similarly, as described in “Obama showering Ohio with attention and money,” the Small Business Administration’s largest loan in history was to a ricotta cheese factory in Ohio. The University of Connecticut Health Center lost a $100 million grant for renovation to Ohio State University.
The National Popular Vote bill would change this by guaranteeing the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC. It would make every American’s vote equal throughout the country. It would ensure that every vote, in every state, will be politically relevant in every presidential election.
John R. Koza, Ph.D. is chair of National Popular Vote and lead author of the National Popular Vote interstate compact and the book Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote.