Some people bemoan the fact that not every state in every presidential election is a toss-up, or battleground. But that’s political reality down the ballot, too. And the cost of seeing fewer television commercials is more than made up by the benefits of checks and balances.
The nature of any contest where one candidate will win (a winner-take-all election), is that sometimes one candidate gets way ahead. In that case, political parties as well as pundits and voters may shift their attention elsewhere. It isn’t that the voters in such an election don’t matter—it’s just that they’ve already made up their minds.
Consider the eleven states holding elections for governor this year. Just one of those elections is considered a toss-up: Montana. The other ten elections are either leaning or all but in the bag for one of the candidates. The same thing is true in elections for U.S. Senators and Representatives, for state legislators, and any other office where just one candidate wins.
The Electoral College forces any serious candidate to have support from millions of Americans. And they must be spread out across the country. Winning massive margins in the biggest states, or dominating one region, is not enough. Just ask Grover Cleveland, who lost reelection in 1888. He got the most popular votes (48.6%) because he won so big in the South, particularly in South Carolina (82%), Mississippi (74%), Louisiana (73%), and Georgia (70%). The victor, Benjamin Harrison, won his most decisive victory in tiny Vermont (69%). His support was more geographically diverse, thus he won an Electoral College majority and the White House.
The Electoral College rewards geographically broad coalitions. And because candidates need to win states, it amplifies the voices of minority groups that may form the “swing vote” in a particular state. The American Founders knew that raw majority rule is not always the best way to ensure a stable government that respects minorities’ rights. That’s why they created the Electoral College.