Over the course of the next few weeks, I plan to post several myths about the Electoral College, along with the reasons that they are wrong. I will try to do at least a few every week until the election, but if I don’t quite hit that goal, you’ll know that it has something to do with the two little kids that I have at home (both aged 5 and under).
Myth: Most states are ignored by presidential campaigns because of the Electoral College. Only swing states matter. A direct election system would fix this.
Fact: There are two reasons why this perception is incorrect.
First, an honest assessment of American history shows that no state is permanently “safe” or “swing.” The identity of these states changes all the time. This year, we are hearing about all sorts of “new” swing states, such as Virginia, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. Texas used to vote Democratic. California used to vote Republican. A whole slew of southern states voted for Bill Clinton, but would never dream of voting for Barack Obama. Even if “only swing states matter,” these states are constantly changing.
Second, presidential elections are not only about the TV commercials and campaign visits in the final weeks and months leading into Election Day. Presidential elections are as much about the four years of governance before the election as they are about the final commercials. How did California voters react when President Barack Obama decided not to allow construction of the Keystone Pipeline? How did Texas voters react when President George W. Bush issued his executive order prohibiting the use of federal funds for certain types of embryonic stem cell research? How many voters will not vote for Obama under any circumstance because of Obamacare? How many voters will love him forever for the same decision? Such decisions and their ramifications are part of governing, but they are also at least a part of “campaigning.” They do as much as a TV commercial (if not more) to influence voting decisions—as candidates and incumbents certainly know.
In short, “safe” states are not being ignored. They have simply already made up their minds based upon the years of decisions that preceded the election. When a state ceases to be satisfied, it quickly lets its political party—and the world!—know. Such states either become safe for the opposite political party (as West Virginia did following the election of 2000) or they become a new swing state (as Virginia recently has).
At the end of the day, political parties and presidential candidates can’t ever ignore any state unless they want to risk losing that state’s electoral votes.