Presidential Elections

Unlike local and state elections where citizens directly elect officials, voters in the United States indirectly elect the President and Vice President by casting ballots for members of the Electoral College. Members of the Electoral College (as determined by Article Two of the Constitution) directly elect the President and Vice President on Election Day. While these members, called electors, are free to vote for the candidate of their choosing, typically they are designated to vote for one particular candidate.

The presidential nomination process is a combination of presidential primaries and caucuses in each state and political party nomination conventions.

FairVote's analysis of presidential elections has found that a majority of states have become more and more predictable, to the point that only ten states were considered competitive in the 2012 election.

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The Electoral College

The Electoral College was established in Article II, Section I, of the United States Constitution, and was later modified by the Twelfth and Twenty-third amendments, which clarified the process.

When U.S. citizens vote for president and vice President every election cycle, ballots show the names of the presidential and vice presidential candidates, although they are actually electing a slate of "electors" that represent them in each state. The electors from every state combine to form the Electoral College.

Each state is allocated a number of electors equal to the number of its U.S. Senators (always two) plus the number of its U.S. House representatives (which may change each decade according to the size of each state's population as determined in the census).

Learn more about The Electoral College

Reports and Analysis

Presidential Elections Inequality: The Electoral College in the 21st Century

The Electoral College is more than just an antiquated anachronism that can misfire and elect the candidate who loses the national vote; it has come to establish and entrench political inequality. If not reformed, the Electoral College will relegate two-thirds of Americans to the sidelines during presidential elections for years to come.

Read Presidential Elections Inequity Report

The Shrinking Battleground: The 2008 Presidential Elections and Beyond

The Shrinking Battleground uses a model of “state partisanship” to explain why the United States has experienced a decrease in the number of competitive battleground states in presidential elections, how these partisan divisions are hardening and what impact they have on American democracy. The fundamental reality is that fewer and fewer Americans play a meaningful role in electing the president – and that the major party campaigns act on that understanding with utter disregard for the interests and views of most voters outside of swing states. The result is a two-tiered system for voters, with damaging impact on voter turnout, racial fairness, political equality and the future of American democracy. The mounting evidence makes it clear that the solution is to establish a direct election of the president so that all votes count equally and the principles of majority rule and one person, one vote are respected.

Read Shrinking Battleground Report

Presidential Elections State-by-State: Hardening Partisanship

Over the last few decades, presidential election outcomes within the majority of states have become more and more predictable, to the point that only ten states were considered competitive in the 2012 election. Due to the state-by-state winner-take-all method of allocating Electoral College votes, competitive states receive much more campaign attention than their non-competitive counterparts. 

The table below provides a state-by-state review of presidential outcomes and competitiveness. It shows how some states have not been competitive for than a half-century and how most states now have a degree of partisan imbalance that makes them highly unlikely to be in a swing state position for at least a decade. Additional information is available for download in PDF and Excel formats.

Highlighted Findings:

  • Number of States Won by Same Party, 2000-2012 = 41 of 51 states (counting D.C)
  • Number of States Won by Same Party, 1992-2012 = 32
  • Number of States Won Only by Republican Party, 1980-2012 = 13
  • Number of States Won Only by Democratic Party, 1992-2012 = 19
  • Number of Safe Democratic States Not Swing State since 1988 = 7
  • Number of Safe Republican States Not Swing State since 1988 = 16

View full analysis

Presidential Tracker

The Presidential Tracker provides information on where the candidates have been holding campaign events since the end of the Democratic National Convention. As is to be expected, there has been a marked focus on swing states. In fact, in 2012 after the Democratic National Convention, the candidates only held campaign events, defined as events meant to court voters in the place where the events are held, in 11 states. However, they have been fundraising heavily in places where they are not campaigning, such as New York, California, Texas, and Georgia.

In addition, since 2009, FairVote has been tracking the movements of the President Obama using data from the Washington Post's ‘POTUS Tracker' in order to examine the effect of battleground status on presidential attention. Fairvote's analysis of Presidential visits and events shows a significant emphasis on the declared 'battleground states' for the 2012 election and, in the period before the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, a heightened attention to states with high donation rates in the 2008 election. We have also tracked where Mitt Romney has spent his time campaigning since he became the presumptive Republican nominee on April 24, 2012. 

View Latest Tracker

Presidential Election Resources and Links

National Popular Vote

The inequality perpetuated by the winner-take-all rule has inspired FairVote to advocate for direct election of the president and support the National Popular Vote plan, which ensures that every vote for president is equally valued no matter where it is cast. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and the District of Columbia). Under the U.S. Constitution, the states have exclusive and plenary (complete) power to allocate their electoral votes, and may change their state laws concerning the awarding of their electoral votes at any time. Under the National Popular Vote bill, all of the state's electoral votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes - that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538).

Learn More about National Popular Vote

Fix the Primaries

Vigorous discussion is needed to determine the best alternatives to the current primary system. FairVote also supports alterations to the nation's current primary system.

Go to Fix the Primaries


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