The U.S. presidential election: understanding the electoral college

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The Canadian and American electoral systems are vastly different. In Canada, the candidate with the highest number of votes in each electoral district wins. That person is later sworn in as a member of parliament. The party with the most seats in parliament forms the government and the government chooses the prime minister.

In the United States, an electoral college chooses the U.S. president. There are 538 electoral votes. Each state has the same number of electors as the number of members of Congress, while the District of Columbia gets three electors. The electors are usually elected officials of the state, party leaders, political activists or people with a strong affiliation with the presidential candidates. 

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Data Source: House of Representatives Official Website

In order to win the election, the presidential candidate needs 270 votes out of the 538 available. So when the American people go to the polls in November, they are actually telling the electors for their state who they want the electoral vote to go to. photo elect vote1 2_zpseydjox4i.jpg

The electoral college versus the popular vote

It is exceedingly rare for a candidate to win the electoral college but not the popular vote. The most recent example was during the 2000 presidential election. George Bush won the presidential election with more electoral votes. He lost the popular vote to Al Gore.

A look at this year’s polls suggests it may be another close vote. The New York Times and other news organizations have predicted that Hillary Clinton has a better chance of winning more than 270 electoral votes and becoming the next president.

However, Clinton’s national lead over Donald Trump has narrowed significantly in recent days. According to national polls conducted by Bloomberg and the New York Times, Clinton only leads Trump by three points. There is still a chance that Trump could win the popular vote if he attracts more Republicans to vote in historically blue states, but still lose the presidency because he doesn’t get enough electoral votes.

Swing states

Swing states are those states where the two major political parties have similar levels of support among voters. Some states, such as Alabama and Mississippi, are predominantly Republican, while some others like California and Massachusetts are known as Democratic states. Swing states, or battleground states, are harder to predict and could reasonably be won by either major-party candidate.

In 2016, both candidates have spent significant time in the following swing states:

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Data Source: CBS News

Winner-take-all system

In most states, the candidate who wins the majority of the popular vote wins all the electoral votes of that state, known as the ‘’winner-take-all’’ system (Maine and Nebraska are the exceptions). An example of this can be seen in Florida. In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama only won the popular vote by a small margin, yet still received all the electoral votes:

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Data Source: Washington Post