Presidential Elections Are Decided By These 3 States

Ever since 1996, every presidential election in the US has been decided by only three states! If this doesn’t make you question the utility of the Electoral College, I don’t know what will.

Methodology

I took the electoral results of every election from 2000 to 2020 and began eliminating states. First, I got rid of every state that was never decided by a margin of less than five percent, so they’d all be competitive.

Next, I got rid of every state that’s stayed the same since 2000, since although they might be close, they don’t fluctuate enough to matter.

Then, I began eliminating states until only three remained: Arizona, Florida, and Pennsylvania — these three states have determined who became President for over two decades!

(The 1996 presidential election wasn’t considered until after I came up with the three states above, but it’s when the ‘rule’ actually started.)

I should note that this trend can easily be overturned in 2024, since there are plenty of other states with slim margins (like North Carolina).

Analysis

Florida is little surprise, considering how it’s determined the winner of every election between 1996 and 2016 (if you needed to loose any more faith in the Electoral College). It’s also one of the — if not the — most competitive state.

Pennsylvania is little surprise, since it’s sided with the victor five times out the past seven elections and has quite a large number of electoral votes (although that number’s shrank every census).

Arizona, like Pennsylvania, has sided with the victor five times out of the past seven elections. It’s small electoral vote count and Republican lean, however, make this the most surprising state to make the list.

Don’t believe me? Check for yourself! You can play around with electoral maps at yapms.com (which has killed more of my time than I care to admit). 270towin is another option, and they have maps showing the margins of victory in each state.

The Electoral College Is Broke

I’ll dedicate an article to this eventually, but the fact that only three states can decide a presidential election should make you reconsider your support for the Electoral College.

Republicans argue the Electoral College helps smaller states, which seems true on paper, but in reality: smaller states like Vermont, and my home state of Arkansas, get ignored in favor of the three I mentioned above (plus a few other swing states).

I’m not arguing we should abolish the Electoral College, just that it needs reformed to stay true to it’s original purpose of giving a greater voice to small states like mine.

Regardless of your opinion about the Electoral College, and whether or not this article influenced that, it’s still quite interesting to learn which three states matter the most on election day.

Share