The incredible shrinking electoral battleground

Love this National Journal piece on the incredibly shrinking electoral college map.  I especially appreciate the historical perspective in this (and the implicit criticism of the electoral college):

And other than on a debate stage, it’s certainly not being waged in New York, the nation’s third most populous state. Or in California or Texas, the two biggest states. That’s 82.8 million Americans who are just bystanders in the most hotly contested presidential election in a decade…

Much has been written about the hardy band of “battleground states.” But little has been written about why the American electoral map has shrunk so dramatically, what it tells us about the nation and what it means for future elections.

That shrinkage has been historic. Not since 1980 has any election seen more than 10 states with winning margins under 3 percent. Not since 1992 has any election seen more than 11 states finish with margins under 5 percent. In 2008, only six states were as close as 5 percent. Contrast that to 1960. Seventeen states that year were decided by less than 3 percent; 20 were less than 5 percent; 34 were under 10 percent. And it showed in the candidates’ travel itinerary. Richard Nixon campaigned in all 50 states; John F. Kennedy campaigned in 45.

No chance of that with Obama and Romney. Since June 5, the last big day of primaries, each candidate has campaigned in only 10 states…

If you doubt the change after 1988, look at the big states and their electoral behavior in the last 15 presidential elections. California went Republican in nine of 10 elections from 1952 to 1988. It has gone Democratic in all five since. New York was a competitive state, splitting 5-5 from 1952 to 1988, but then Democratic in all five since. Pennsylvania went 6-4 Republican through 1988, then 0-5 since.Illinois was the same: 6-4 Republican through 1988, then 0-5. Ohio was even more lopsided Republican, going 8-2 Republican through the first 10 elections, but splitting 2-3 from 1992 to 2008.

Plenty more good stuff if you read the whole link.  And, seriously, just stop and think about how incredibly absurd it is that our national election should come down to an election basically being contested in only 8 states.  It is an affront to the vast majority of Americans outside of these states.  It makes for fun political watching, but the electoral college is an anachronism that has completely outlives its time and is now simply a massive insult to the ideas of democracy, fundamental fairness, and one person- one vote.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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