Public Choice

, Volume 173, Issue 3–4, pp 251–265 | Cite as

Why noncompetitive states are so important for understanding the outcomes of competitive elections: the Electoral College 1868–2016



Brams and Kilgour (Public Choice 170:99–113, 2017) begin their recent essay on the Electoral College (EC) by pointing out the obvious, but nonetheless regularly neglected fact that noncompetitive states may have a decisive impact on EC outcomes and shape the electoral strategies of the candidates in the competitive states, especially if there is asymmetry in the partisan balances in the non-competitive states. Their contribution is to offer combinatorics insights into the implications of such asymmetries in the form of three new indicators: Winningness, Vulnerability, and Fragility. They then explore the magnitude and effects of these three measures for the presidential elections of 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. The major contribution of this note is to extend their analyses of these measures to an additional 34 elections: every election in the modern two-party post-Civil War era from 1868 to 2016. We find the Winningness measure to predict very well over the entire set of 38 presidential elections. Inspired by their work, we also offer a new and simpler metric for partisan asymmetries in noncompetitive states and show how it can predict the expected closeness of EC outcomes as well or better than the more complex combinatorics measures they propose.


Electoral College Non-competitive states Voting power Presidential elections 



The authors would like to thank Daron Shaw and Scott Althaus for their data and helpful comments. They would also like to express gratitude to the journal editors William F. Shughart II and Keith Dougherty, along with the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. Work on this project was supported by the Jack W. Peltason Center of the Study of Democracy at the University of California, Irvine. The first named author is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of California, Irvine. The second named author is a Professor of Political Science at UCI and the Jack W. Peltason Chair of Democracy Studies. Replication material can be found at

Supplementary material

11127_2017_474_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (98 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 99 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political Science, School of Social SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political Science, Jack W. Peltson Chair of Democracy Studies, School of Social SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA

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