Play presidential politics

Map of the United States with 5 states highlighted
Credit: National Atlas of the United States, June 2005,

We’ve created a miniature version of the US with 5 states. (Trying to simulate an election with 50 states would take more computing power than we have.)

Enter the population for each state and hit “Calculate.” The computer will look at every possible election outcome, and compare a voter’s power in a direct election to that same voter in a divided election.

Electoral College Calculator
State Voters
(enter a number 2-200)
Voting population Electoral votes State's crucial outcomes Voter influence,
direct election
Voter influence, divided election
Minnesota 1
Wisconsin 1
Iowa 1
North Dakota 1
South Dakota 1




You’ve given your country voters. In a direct election, each voter has 1/ of the electoral power.

In a divided election, votes don’t count at the national level—they only count at the state level. And one vote has more influence in a small state election than it has in a big national election. Combining your vote’s power within your state, and your state’s power within the nation, gives us the results in column 7. And it’s almost always bigger.

How does it work?

The computer looks at every possible way the election can turn out. There are 5 states and two candidates. That means the possible outcomes equals 2 5, or 32 different election results.

However, no state is crucial in every election. The state only matters if it has enough electoral votes to change the outcome.

Let’s look at Minnesota as an example. You’ve given Minnesota voters. Divide the national voting population of by the Minnesota voting population, and we find that one vote cast in Minnesota carries the weight of national votes.

However, Minnesota is not the only state. Other states also vote, and sometimes they line up in such a way that it doesn’t matter who Minnesota votes for. In your simulation, Minnesota determines the winner in only of the possible outcomes. So, we have to multiply Minnesota’s power by the number of times that power comes into play ().

When we do that, we discover that—over the long haul—each Minnesota voter has as much influence in a divided election as voters in a direct election.


Try some different arrangements and see what results you get.

* What happens if one state is a lot bigger than all the rest?

* What happens if one state is a lot smaller?

* What happens if all the states are exactly the same?

Can you create a simulation where some voters have less influence? (Hint: it will have to be a pretty lopsided country.)

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