Not all votes are created equal. Some votes carry more weight than others simply because of the somewhat complicated way our voting system is organized. Members of Congress are elected by direct popular vote. But the president is chosen by the Electoral College, a group selected by voters when they cast a ballot for commander-in-chief.
In a presidential election, voter power varies widely by state. While all votes are theoretically counted equally — one person, one vote — the choices of swing-state citizens are more influential. It’s safe to assume that Alabama will vote Republican and California will vote Democratic in the upcoming election. In contrast, the electoral results of swing states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan are up in the air, giving their voters more impact.
The same principle applies to voter power in the Senate. For example, it’s extremely likely that a Republican senator from Kentucky and a Democratic senator from Delaware will both be re-elected. But voters’ choices for senators in swing states hold much more power because they determine which political party controls the Senate.
So which states will decide the outcome of the upcoming election? As American voters head to the polls on Nov. 3 to elect the next leader of the free world as well as new senators in certain states, WalletHub compared the relative influence of voters in both the presidential and Senate races. In order to make such a comparison, we calculated a Voter Power Score for each state and for each type of election. Continue reading below for our findings, additional election commentary and a full description of our methodology.
Presidential Election - States with the Most & Least Powerful Voters (No. 1 = Most Powerful)
|36||District of Columbia||5.19|
Note: Maine and Nebraska are the only two states that allocate votes proportionally (based on the congressional district allocation approach), but the outcome of the last elections has been similar to the one of a winner-take-all state.
Senate Elections - States with the Most & Least Powerful Voters (No. 1 = Most Powerful)
Ask the Experts
Time and again, the American voting system has been a target of criticism both domestically and overseas. In order to expand the discussion, we asked a panel of experts to weigh in on the problems with the current U.S. voting structures and procedures. Click on the experts’ profiles to read their bios and responses to the following key questions:
- Do you think it’s fair that each state is represented by only two senators, regardless of population?
- What are the consequences of having so many gerrymandered, uncompetitive House districts? How does this impact governance?
- Should we reform the Electoral College system? If so, how?
- Should we reform how votes are apportioned in Congress (both the House and the Senate)? If so, how?
- What reforms should be considered to make elections fairer?
- Should there be a nonpartisan Federal Commission that would organize and supervise the voting process or should voting procedures be left to the states?
Ask the Experts
In order to determine the states with the most and least influential voters, WalletHub calculated the Voter Power Scores for both presidential and Senate elections in each state.
For presidential elections, we used the “win probabilities” calculated by fivethirtyeight.com and graded each state election on a 100-point scale, with 100 points being awarded to the states with literally a 50 percent chance of swinging either Red or Blue (50-50) and 0 points to the states with zero chance of one party determining the election (100-0).
We then multiplied the win probability score by the number of electors of a given state and divided the product by the state’s population aged 18 and older. Finally, we multiplied the result by 1,000,000 in order to calculate the Presidential Election Voter Power Score for that state.
We applied the same approach to calculate the Senate Election Voter Power Score for each state. In this case, however, we multiplied the win probability score by the number of Senate seats up for election in 2021 for a given state instead of its number of electors.
Our calculations are expressed in the following formulas:
Presidential Election Voter Power Score: [(Win Probability Score x Number of Electors) / Total Population Aged 18 & Older] x 1,000,000
Senate Election Voter Power Score: [(Win Probability Score x Number of Senators) / Total Population Aged 18 & Older] x 1,000,000
In our calculations, we counted only the population aged 18 or older to represent the electorate. However, we were not able to account for the limited number of state laws that allow the population aged 17 to vote and/or bar prisoners or felons from doing so.
Sources: Data used to create these rankings is courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau, fivethirtyeight.com and archives.gov.