Electoral college | American civics | US History | Khan Academy
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Electoral college | American civics | US History | Khan Academy

In the US, we
don’t directly vote for our president
or vice president. Instead, we use something
called the Electoral College. So when you show up to vote on
Election Day– and an election day will happen in November
of an election year. And it could happen as
early as November 2, and it could happen
as late as November 8. And it’s going to be the
Tuesday after the first Monday in the month. So it’ll be November 2 if the
first Monday is November 1, and it’ll be November 8 if the
first Monday is November 7. And so you go on
election day, and you will see a ballot that will have
the presidential candidates. It’ll have their parties there. It will have the vice
presidential candidates, and you’ll vote for one of them. But in actuality, when you
are voting for Candidate A– and let’s say Candidate A is a
Democrat– you’re not actually voting for Candidate
A. You’re actually voting for a slate
of electors who promise to vote
for that candidate. And it isn’t in most
states proportional based on what
proportion of people vote for one
candidate or another. In most of the states, except
for Maine and Nebraska, it is a winner take all system. So what do I mean by that? So right here, you have the
breakdown of the United States, by state, of how many electors
words each state gets. And the number of
electors is essentially the number of congressmen
that that state has. For example, California
has two senators. Every state has two senators. California has two senators
and 53 congressmen. And those of you who aren’t
familiar with it, every state gets two senators, and the
House of Representatives is dictated by population. California is a huge state, two
senators, 53 representatives. You have Texas, two senators
and it has 32 representatives. You go to Louisiana,
you have two senators and you have seven
representatives. So the electors
per state is based on the total number
of congressmen, so the number of senators plus
the number of representatives. That’s what gives us 55 in
California, nine in Louisiana, 34 in Texas. But what’s interesting
here is it’s a winner take all
system in every state except for Nebraska and Maine. In every other state, if I
get 51% of the vote in Texas, I get all 34 electoral votes
in the Electoral College. If I get 51% or even
if I get 50.1%, just a slight majority of
the votes in California, I will get all of the
votes for California in the Electoral College. And in general, or in
actuality, the president is whoever gets the majority
of the electoral votes in the United States. And right now,
that threshold is, or that magic number–
you could think of it that way– is 270
Electoral College votes. If no candidate is able to hit
this threshold of 270 Electoral College votes, then it
will go to the US Congress. And in the US Congress,
it’s interesting, because it isn’t one
congressman, one vote. Or actually, I should say the
US House of Representatives. It’ll go to the US House
of Representatives. And it won’t be one
representative, one vote. What will happen is
the representatives in each state will
vote together, and each state will
get only one vote. So in a tiebreaker,
the big states really, really lose out,
because in a tiebreaker, Texas will get only one vote. California will get one vote. And Alaska will get one
vote, and Rhode Island will get one vote. So Rhode Island will have just
as much say in a tiebreaker as California will over
who will be president. Then they’ll just keep
voting until someone gets a simple majority
of the votes by state. Now, there’s one
other twist here. It’s that the District of
Columbia– Washington, DC right over here– in Congress
gets no representatives. They have no senators, and
they have no representatives. But they do get
three electoral votes when it comes to deciding
who is going to be president. Now, you might already
be getting a sense here that maybe this winner
take all system might lead to some distortions, and the
biggest distortion of all is you can imagine a candidate
who wins the popular vote and loses the election or
loses in the Electoral College. And you might think, well,
gee, how can that happen? And the way to think about
it is, imagine someone– let’s say someone
gets– with the states that they win, they
get huge majorities. So let’s say there’s a
conservative candidate, and he or she gets
huge majorities in the states they win. 80% in Texas. They get 80% in Mississippi. They get 80% in Oklahoma. The get huge majorities in
the states that they win. And the states that they
lose, they barely lose. And they barely lose
those really big states. So let’s say in Florida, that
candidate gets 49% of the vote. So they had a lot
of votes in Florida, but not enough to win it. The other person,
let’s say, gets 51%. All 27 go to the
other candidate. Let’s say the same thing
happens in California. That candidate got
49% of the vote. The opponent, let’s say,
gets 51% of the vote. All 55 go to California. You get no credit for that 49%. You get no credit for
that 49% in Florida. So in this situation,
this candidate might actually end
up with the majority, barely losing the
states they lose, and trouncing the other
candidate in the states that they win, but despite
that, actually getting fewer Electoral College votes. Now, there’s a few
clarifications I want to make, especially ones that have
confused me in the past. One of them is because you have
the same number of Electoral College votes as you have US
representatives plus senators, there’s kind of this feeling
that maybe each district sends its own elector
to the state capital to decide who the president is. And it doesn’t
quite work that way. So this right here is
the panel of electors for Louisiana in 2008. And you can see right over
here, each of the parties have their own
slate of electors. And these are either decided
by the party themselves, or they’re decided by
the candidates’ teams. And even though you have
someone here for each district and then you have these
at-large candidates, it’s not like– let’s
take a situation. This actually
happened in Louisiana, where John McCain got a
majority of the state. So John McCain and Sarah Palin
got a majority of the state. It’s not the case
that– let’s say in the second district,
which is New Orleans, let’s say that the second
district, a majority of the people actually
voted for Barack Obama. It is not the case that
Kenneth Garrett in 2008 would have been
the chosen elector. Even though they divide
things by district and they have these
at-large candidates, it is actually a
state-wide election. So they don’t look at who
won each of the districts. They just say, look,
John McCain and Sarah Palin won the entire state. So all of these
electors are the ones that are going to go to the
state capital in December and decide who they want
to pledge their vote for. So even if Obama won just the
Second Congressional District, that’s not how it’s thought
about in the Electoral College. It’s just a state-wide election. McCain got the
majority of the state. All of the electors will be
chosen from McCain’s slate or from the Republican
Party slate. And then they’re going to
go to the state capital. In the case of Louisiana,
it would be Baton Rouge. And they will decide who they
want to pledge their votes to. And all of the electors
in all of the states go to their designated location,
usually the state capital, on the same day. And usually that is
some day in December. And they pick the president,
although by that point, everyone knows who
the president is, because the actual election
was in early November. And people know which
way the votes went and which way the actual
Electoral College votes went. Now, I did mention that
there are two states that don’t do this winner take
all, Nebraska and Maine. And in Nebraska and
Maine, when you go vote, it really is by
congressional district. Nebraska has three
congressional districts. So in those three congressional
districts, if one of them goes to the Democrat and
two goes to the Republican, then they’ll have one
electoral vote for the Democrat and two for the Republican. And then they have
two at-large votes that are decided the same
way, in kind of the winner take all basis. If you get 51% of the
vote on a statewide basis, you get the two at-large votes. Same thing for
Maine, but Maine has two congressional districts. So two of the congressional
districts could go either way. And then the at-large are
based on a state-wide vote. Now, you could imagine the
other kind of unfair thing here, other than the popular
vote versus the Electoral College vote. You could imagine it makes
some states better represented than others. So if you just divide population
by the number of electors, you see the larger
states, each elector is representing many,
many more people. This is California right here. Each elector is representing
over 600,000 people. And in the smaller states–
this is Wyoming right here– each elector is representing
under 200,000 people. So in Wyoming,
people are getting kind of three times the
representation as they would in California on
a per capita vote. But what makes it even a
little bit more skewed, because it’s winner take all
and the candidates aren’t silly and they want to make
sure that they spend their money and their visits
and their time in the most leveragable way, it actually
creates this weird scenario where candidates
will often ignore huge parts of the population. And they ignore them
because those huge parts of the population are unlikely
to swing one way or the other. So for example,
California is very reliably Democratic and Texas
is very reliably Republican. So this right here– this is
a fascinating graph, at least in my mind– it shows where
George W. Bush and John Kerry spent the last five
weeks of the 2004 election. Let me close that right there. This top graph shows where
they actually spent their time, so each of these
little hands here is a visit in those
final five weeks. And each of these
dollar signs is a million dollars spent on
marketing and advertising, on ads and whatever
else, in those states. And you can see, California and
Texas, the two biggest states, they didn’t spend enough
money to the threshold to get dollar a
sign written there. So they didn’t even
spend $1,000,000 on these huge states. They only had a few
visits to California, and Texas had no visits
in the final five weeks. So what happens
is that candidates spend a disproportionate
amount of attention and money in the states that are
more likely to swing one way or another. So the people in
Florida or in Ohio– so this is Ohio and Florida–
got a ton more attention, especially on a per person
basis, than the people in Texas did.

About James Carlton

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100 thoughts on “Electoral college | American civics | US History | Khan Academy

  1. You know I personally think that it should be more simpler and that every person should get a say in who they want to run there country.

  2. I don't care what anyone says, this doesn't sound like democracy to me! A candidate should be elected by popular vote in each state, the direct number of people who voted for the candidate to be President.

  3. The system works, an example would be Al Gore, he had more votes, but most of his votes were concentrated in 1 region where a huge majority of the people voted for him, where as Bush was more popular in the other regions by a small amount, so Bush was more popular to not the majority of people, but to the majority of the other regions.

  4. @Mwaterfall They are elected in each state by popular vote. Whoever wins the popular vote in your state gets the electoral votes delegated by your party. The democrats hate it because they do not get enough votes that way. But it is a representative republic and how the constitution sets it up.

  5. @Mwaterfall it is democracy coz they accepted it before by majority. and they still accepting coz nobody protested against it by large numbers in streets or media or anywhere.
    *me just arguing 🙂

  6. @juliebork – That is why I honestly beleive that representational democracy should be replaced for direct democracy. We have the technology… let us have congress replaced for the people who all they have to do is go on their computers or through their cell phones, electronically vote for bills, et cetera… We have the technology and we are sitting on it! With a representational democracy, once someone is elected they forget the people and money is all they think about. America needs change!

  7. @Mwaterfall That would be fine and good if it actually turned out like you said, but it never has. History tells us that mob rule comes in so quickly that people never get to experience the true democracy part. We are naive to think we could somehow do it differently. You know. Like the definition of Insane? Same thing over and over expecting different results?

  8. One of the consequences of the system is that if you live in Texas of California your vote is pretty useless as the outcome of the state election is already fixed. I think it's pretty obvious the system is really undemocratic and arbitrary. Looking at wikipedia it seems like the rules are the result of a compromise between popular vote and congressional vote, unfortunately this way you get neither the democracy of the former, nor the (arguably) more informed vote of the latter.

  9. One obvious consequence of the winner-takes-all rules of most states is to very strongly penalise any candidate other than those from the major party. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as it's under the assumption that the candidate doesn't have enough support to win anyway. The most democratic system would be either popular vote based either using a two-round system or preferential voting.

  10. The electoral college system is stupid…it adds complexity to what should be simple.

    *Note that I didn't say I was confused by it nor did I say it was too complex. But it is more complex than a popular vote and I've never heard a good reason as to why we do it.

  11. This goes against everything we've learned about "our vote" actually counting. I can live with not having a voice, but at least tell us that from the beginning.

  12. Now if you want to add some REAL confusion to it all, imagine that the media is owned lock stock and barrel by the corporations and military industrial complex that fund the po"LIE" ticians. And ask why we can never investigate the diebold (vote counting machines)? Nor are we allowed to even ask who tally's the votes.
    Just sayin..

  13. You don't care what I say but I'll tell you anyway.You obviously don't know about true democracy's then. They are dangerous and true democracy's FAIL! "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."
    – John Adams

  14. Winner takes all rocks! You need to understand why they set it up the way they did before you speak up and sound uneducated.

  15. Your right, it isn't democracy. However we aren't technically a democracy, we are a republic, or sometimes called a "representative democracy" (which aren't really the same thing but are used interchangeably often). That doesn't make this right, but to argue against it on the terms that its not a democracy doesn't mean much.

  16. Winner takes all in addition to the uneven vote distribution of the electoral college makes it theoretically possible to elect the president with only 22% of popular vote. The reasoning behind it is to cause the candidates to have to focus their efforts over a larger area rather than simply trying to win a large number in a small area. However, it fails miserably at this, as most presidents focus on the "battle ground" states, they have no reason to notice the states that already favor them.

  17. (you can win with 22% of the vote by winning just over half of small states that have a greater number of elector votes their population should imply, without winner takes all its still winning with less than 50, but its much less extreme)

  18. I think the electoral college no longer works effectively today. We should definitely revamp to the system for more fluidity. I still hate how it is only A B or other. Two options definitely doesn't make an election system fair.

  19. The system was meant to give small states a disproportionately larger say in the Presidential election, because the President's constituents really are 50 in number and not 300,000,000, and therefore the mere fact that a state is one of the 50 sovereign states counts for something. However, the freezing of the size of the House of Representatives at 435 has skewed the numbers far beyond what was intended, because it is now impossible for the House members to represent equal size districts.

  20. Quick question, is the winner take all part based on a percentage of the total votes counted by the whole state or is it based on how many candidates won. For example if a state had 10 electors and 6 of them from one party won but that party didnt get the popular vote in that state. Would that party get the electors or not?

  21. this winner takes all system and electoral college is completely unnecessary. It should just be by popular vote, what the majority of Americans want.

  22. um yeah, the usa isn't really a democracy, never really has been, more accurately it's a republic democracy (which many historical people have called it so). a republic in structure with democratic thinking. an indirect democracy. the founding fathers never wanted a direct democracy because it would give too much power to the majority, which is dangerous, now i'm not a big fan of the '51% takes all' deal.

  23. 1. Direct democracy is hard to achieve in a country with lots of people, you have to have high tech software to fight the millions of hackers and you'll have to worry about corruption (which is already a problem).
    2. The electoral college gives smaller states a bigger voice (I disagree to a point on the 'winner takes all' though.
    3. Without state rights there wouldn't be any states. The gov't could control everything WHICH IS WHAT THE FOUNDING FATHERS WERE AVOIDING!

  24. so wait, the people vote for the electoral and then the electoral votes for who they want to vote for? Why are the people voting for anyone at all? Won't the electorals vote for who they already were going to vote for? How does our vote change their minds?

  25. Pretty much. The only reason this system is in place was because of the fear that smaller states would get outclassed by the bigger ones back when the US first started.

    It's obsolete now that we have the technology to count every citizen's vote.

  26. but, I don't understand then why do the candidates spend so much time and money on pandering to the citizen votes? When they talk about "hispanic, black, etc. votes" why are these politicians spending money on all that if it's the electoral that matters? This is so confusing.

  27. Basically, citizens vote to win over senators who will, in turn, vote for the president. The reason why candidates spend so much time in the states listed in the video. They don't need to worry about California because it's reliably democratic, and Texas is reliably Republican. They need to win over the "swing-states" so they can win the election.

  28. Oh, and getting the votes of minorities and social groups is so they can get a higher percentage of people voting for 'em so they can win over the state. Simple as that.

    Well, not really simple at all :V

  29. they can win over the state, but the winning of state depends on the electorals and not those minorities and social groups right? So why spend millions on convincing those regular citizens to vote? Khan needs to explain this system further.

  30. Actually, the original intent was for each delegate to vote for who they felt was best. The founding fathers didn't like the idea of citizens directly electing people.

  31. WELL, given the scenario with Obama vs. Romney. Obama basically won with a popular, un-educated vote. Fair? Unfair? Should the Electoral College have stepped in more?

    Just my observation.

  32. that's exactly how it seems on the surface, and i see your point. BUT, if states like New York and California, and other states with high populations, were all totally red or blue, then those states would have an unfair advantage over lower population states.

  33. You poor thing, Ben Franklin once said " a republic, if you can keep it" shortly after the last Constitutional Convention, it's a Republic, not a democracy, glad you noticed it's not a democracy tho

  34. thanks!..so does that mean that the US constitution allows for creation of new political parties…??..and technically it is also a multi party state in that sense??

  35. The US Constitution never even mentions the forming of political parties. It was an issue that the founding fathers never really thought to address. The parties can out of people taking sides on different opinions. We technically do have many other parties but their presence is really little and the US is still really bi partisan.

  36. Your vote still counts. The electors in the electoral college are required by law to vote with their states.This also was never withheld from you. it's common knowledge.

  37. Actually, can you confirm that. From the several videos I've watched, the electors are NOT REQUIRED BY LAW to adhere to their state's decision. I'm not American btw….

  38. Hi, with all due respect, they say the name you choose is the reality or identity you mirror yourself to. I am very curious to this. Could you advise me if the following be true:
    Would notenslavedandoppressed not really be more you, as slaves or oppressed people certainly would never have been able to comment ! and yet you have. Pierre

  39. Oppression and enslavement are relative. A sharecropper giving 70% to his landlord may either consider himself a slave, due to the financial oppression imposed upon him, or free, because he may leave if he chooses (though he would likely starve)

    I don't deny the great freedoms and liberties I have at the present. But I also see great infringement on my rights and liberties, as well as on those of others.

    I call it economic slavery with regulatory oppression, though not as great as it could be.

  40. EnslavedAndOppressed
    Thank you for your response, it was very decent of you. I realised afterward my error in geography and gov. system, as I am originally from the DRC where rights is not a term we did use at all and has gone even worse today. DRC generals have taken over as war lords and dispense law and order as they see fit or understand or care. I am not sadly enough im my country of birth. We cannot estimate anything properly but it's mayhem. Voila but thanks for your response. Pierre

  41. The electoral college is a briliant and mis understood system. Its purpose is not only to deliver the most popular leader but also the one who best represents us as a whole thus there are two goals of the electoral college.
    1) Ensure the winning candidate has enough popular support to govern.
    2) Ensure that support is widespread enough so that the candidate can effectively govern all 50 states.
    This prevents one or two populous regions from imposing their will on the rest of the states.

  42. This is not entirely correct. All a candidate needs to do to win all Electoral College votes in a given state — save for Maine and Nebraska — is to win the plurality of the popular vote, not necessarily the majority. Say, Clinton wins 40%, Bush wins 38%, and Ross Perrot wins 22%. It is clear that no candidate has won the majority. Nevertheless, having won the plurality of the popular vote, Clinton will win ALL of the Electoral College votes allocated to the state. Moreover, it is important to stress that 50% + 1 is majority, not 51%. 

  43. @ Luis Bazzoli: Of course it's not a direct democracy.That could lead to mob rule as seen by the French Revolution.

  44. FYI, you don't need a majority of the popular vote to win that state's electors. A plurality is all that is necessary.

  45. 9:34 'Because the candidates aren't silly…" Sal Khan had no idea five years ago Donald Trump and Jill Stein would be running

  46. If, in a particular state, there is a tie between the electors from different parties, in that they received 50% of votes in favor of candidate A and other 50% for B, will the "At large" votes come to the rescue to break the tie? For instance let's say there were 7 congressional districts in the state of Louisiana and electors A1, A2, A3 won their respective districts D1, D2, D3. Meanwhile, D4, D5, D6 got won by B4, B5, and B6 respectively. Now interestingly, district 7 had a tie in terms of the votes A7 and B7 earned, making them have 50% each. What happens now? You have 3 districts won by candidate A thru A1, A2, A3 electors, and 3 others for candidate B thru B4, B5, B6 electors. The 7th one being in a tie.
    Can someone help me understand on what happens in such a situation.

  47. But the EC is only used to elect the president of the executive branch, right? The legislative branch is elected by popular vote. I think they EC must be viewed in context with the other branches as well as the reasons for such a compromise. Say we elect an R president by popular vote, the both houses of the legislative branch could conceivably be controlled D and vice versa. The same if the elect an R president via EC, but elected D controlled houses of the legislative branch.

  48. Founders tried full democracy first. It failed. You see, the average person is too immature, emotional, selfish, hedonistic, and too embellished in group-think to leave it up to them. However, under a Democratic Republic, those who have risen above the average man, will vote/represent their society. This proved to be a life-saver in 2016. "Open borders?"Just plain suicidal nuts!! NOBODY except those born here, have a "right" to enter America. Europe served as a reminder of why borders are critical.

  49. I'm not smart enough to figure it out, but it seems to me that our election process is being gamed. The EC is supposed to follow the popular vote…but that doesn't happen. Money skews the system.

  50. My friend who's been a lawyer for almost 40 years now said the Electoral College came into existence in 1968 and was invented by some guy who recently produced a play on Broadway and that he brought the Electoral College into existence "for deeply elitist reasons."

  51. I still can't understand how the electoral college works. May be because I am an immigrant, had not been born in the US. I am trying to study more than required to pass citizenship test.

  52. My understanding of the reason we have an electoral college is because, in any election we always have MORE than two candidates, the two Major party candidates and how ever many minor party candidates that you most likely had never even heard of them until you saw your ballot. So, with a Popular Vote election, candidate A can get 46% of the vote, Candidate B gets 42% and Candidate C get 12% of the vote, that means that MORE people DIDN'T vote for candidate A than did and that means MORE people DIDN'T want Candidate A to be President than wanted him/her to be. So, The People have spoken and 54% of voters do NOT want Candidate A to be their President. So, how do you solve this problem. Electoral College. Where Electoral College goes off the rails is with the "pledged votes." It was NEVER meant or designed to work that way and should be absolutely against the rules, but it isn't.

  53. It is very important to go deeper into WHY our founders created this system and the need to understand the history of democracies along with human nature.

  54. for something that was supposed to be educational it was largely skewed. Again I rarely thumbs down anything, but you never discussed the original reason for the electoral college.

  55. Your argument about how candidates may spend their time and money in swing states can be countered by if there is NPV, they'll do the opposite in the coastal populous states and ignore the 'flyover' states.

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