Voting in US presidential elections matters (even though the president isn’t quite directly elected)

Anonymous asked: Re: voting: Why does your vote for president matter when the electoral college chooses the president?

Realsocialskills answered: Your vote for President matters because the voters determine who the electoral college chooses in your state.

Each state gets a certain number of electoral college votes. After the state’s polls close and the votes are tallied, the electors meet. The electors vote for the presidential and vice presidential candidates the majority of voters voted for. So, the voters in your state, including you, determine how your state will vote.

(The legal mechanics of this vary state-by-state, and in some states they are technically not legally required to vote this way. But in practice there is a very, very strong tradition of always doing so, to the point that there may as well be a law.)

Your vote also matters even if it doesn’t influence the outcome of the election. It doesn’t just matter who wins, it also matters how much they win by. Because politicians and political parties want to keep winning elections, they pay close attention to what’s popular and unpopular with voters.

When a large majority of American voters vote for a particular candidate, it shows that their strategy for getting elected was really effective. Other politicians, and political parties, take this into account when they make decisions. Anything that wins a lot of votes will influence what politicians do to seek political power, and what they do with their power once they have it.

This means that presidents who win by a huge majority of votes have much more power to keep their campaign promises. Most campaign promises are in significant part about changing the law. There are some things the president can do unilaterally, but most of the really important changes require Congress to vote on new laws.

Senators and members of Congress can decide to support the change, oppose it, or remain neutral. When a president wins by a large majority, politicians have to consider the possibility that opposing the president’s agenda would cost them votes.

If the president didn’t win by so much or even lost the popular vote, senators and members of congress don’t have to worry so much about opposing them — and may even get the message that opposing them will get them votes. (It’s particularly important how people in their state or district voted, even if it doesn’t influence the outcome of the national election. Even if the candidate lost in your state, if they got more votes than expected, your politicians will notice.)

The outcome of the popular vote also influences how likely presidents are to keep the campaign promises that they *are* in a position to keep unilaterally. Presidents want to get elected for a second term, and they want candidates from their party to keep winning after they leave office. When they win a strong majority of the popular vote, it sends the message that keeping their campaign promises will help them to get reelected and will make their party stronger.

It also influences the positions and strategies of the political parties. When a president wins by a lot of votes, their political party will usually focus on continuing to appeal to the voters who voted for them. The other party will also usually try to figure out how to appeal to those voters more. This affects which candidates they pick, and which positions they support and oppose.

Politicians want to get elected, parties want to run candidates who can win. When appealing to a certain group gets a party a huge number of votes, they’re more likely to keep doing it. When it doesn’t influence the election much, they’re more likely to conclude that that group isn’t an important demographic for winning elections. When it makes them lose, they’re likely to distance themselves.

For instance, a political party may run a campaign based on appealing to marginalized groups. If this wins them the election by a large margin, they get the message that winning elections depends on continuing to work on issues those groups care about. That will influence how winning candidates vote, and it will influence how all candidates campaign.

Similarly, a party may run a presidential campaign based on appealing to xenophobic racists. If this causes them to lose an election by a wide margin, they’re more likely to distance themselves from xenophobic racists. Likewise, if a party’s position on immigration, education, taxes, or whatever else gets them a lot of votes or loses them a lot of votes, it will influence their choices about whether and to what extent they continue to promote that policy.

Also, your congressional representative, your senator, and your state officials are directly elected. So is your school board, your city council, your mayor, and probably your county sheriff. So if you’re going to show up and vote for them, you may as well also vote for president. Every elected office matters, and every vote ultimately counts.

Tl;dr The mechanics of voting for President of the United States are fairly odd, but your vote matters anyway. Scroll up for an explanation of why.