The Presidential election in the United States is decided on the basis of the electoral vote. This OpinionFront article elaborates on the differences between popular vote and electoral vote.
The highest share of popular vote percentage (61.1%) belongs to President Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 elections. The popular vote percentage for Barack Obama was 52.93% in 2008 and 51.06% in 2012.
Democracies can be of two kinds: direct or representative. In both the forms, offices of the President, Vice President, or Prime Minister are filled upon elections. If it is a direct election, an office holder is elected directly by the people, and if it is an indirect election, office holders are elected on behalf of the masses. Then, how does one of the world’s oldest democracies, the United States, conduct elections for its President and Vice President’s post? The system of electoral college given by the U.S. Constitution is the key here. Thus, the concepts of popular vote and electoral vote stemming from this system are important in understanding the working of the American democracy.
It is the vote of all the enfranchised population or registered citizen-voters of a country. This decides who would be the representatives of the people (generally state-wise).
It is the vote only of the elected representatives, or the electors chosen by the citizens, who in turn elect further office holders on behalf of the common people.
How is the President Elected?
The electors further, in the second phase of elections, cast their votes (usually based on results of the popular votes in the state). Thus, the President is not chosen by the popular vote. It is rather the electoral vote that determines the winner.
Popular Vote Vs. Electoral Vote
|Popular Vote||Electoral Vote|
|Votes are cast by all the qualified voters (common citizens) in a country.||Votes are cast by the elected representatives, or electors of the electoral college.|
|It is a direct form of election where the voters elect the official directly.||It is an indirect form of election where the voters elect their state representatives.
|They do not elect the President though.||The electors, according to the electoral college system, elect the President.|
|It is the sum total of all the votes cast by all voters, of all states in the U.S.||It is the share of electoral vote of every state based on its population. So, each Congressional seat is equal to one electoral vote.|
|Popular votes do not decide the final result of the Presidential elections.||The number of electoral votes secured by the candidate ultimately determines who is elected as the U.S. President.
|No specific number, rather the maximum number of popular votes is required.||A majority of 270 electoral votes is necessary for a Presidential candidate to win.|
Number of Electoral Votes
All the 48 states, except Maine and Nebraska, follow the “winner-take-all” method of awarding the polled votes to the presidential candidates. As per this method, if a candidate secures the majority of the popular votes in a state, he becomes entitled to all the electors (or the entire share of that states’ electoral votes).
The states of Maine and Nebraska have a “congressional district” method. The winner of each congressional district receives one elector, and the winner of the popular vote receives two electors.
Popular or Electoral Choice?
The electors are not constitutionally obliged to vote according to the popular vote in their state; however, some states are bound by the State law or by pledges to political parties, and thus, they vote according to the state popular vote results. Also, due to the political affiliation, 99% of electors in the country’s history have voted as pledged.