“The Role of Cities in National Popular Vote Elections”


This report challenges the argument that a national popular vote for president would advantage Democratic or urban voters in three ways. First, we demonstrate that urban areas, when properly defined as metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), lean only modestly toward the Democratic Party. Using data from the 2004 presidential election (the closest of the last three presidential elections, in which Republican nominee George W. Bush won with 51.2% of the two-party popular vote), we show that: Democratic and Republican presidential nominees are almost evenly supported in metropolitan areas: Bush won a majority of MSAs; and the number of votes cast in the 100 largest cities proper and cast by voters living outside MSAs were comparable.

Second, we address the premise of a potential Democratic advantage in national popular vote elections due to the possibility of them focusing resources on large cities. Using data from the 2008 election (in which Democratic nominee Barack Obama won with 53.7% of the two-party popular vote), we show that even if the candidates were to focus their attention heavily on the nation’s largest urban areas (the 21 MSA with at least 2.5 million voters), thereby increasing their vote shares there, they would still need to earn almost as many votes in the rest of the nation in order to maintain their original national popular vote share. Simply put, when every vote is equal in a close election, candidates cannot afford to ignore large portions of eligible voters.

Third, we review evidence from presidential and gubernatorial elections to demonstrate how campaign strategy might work under a national popular vote system. Today, when campaigning to win the statewide popular vote in swing states, presidential candidates campaign in urban, suburban, and rural areas in proportion to those areas’ share of the swing state’s vote. This strategy is similar to those in gubernatorial elections, which Republicans are able to win in almost every state. Republican candidates, like Democrats, are able to earn votes across any state, demonstrating that in winning statewide popular vote elections, successful candidates need not, and do not, focus only on urban areas.

Our analysis confirms that the national popular vote has no inherent partisan bias.  With charges of partisan bias so effectively dismissed, it is time for both Democrats and Republican to come together in support of a reform that would make every vote equal.

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