Update 11/9/2016: Of course, no one can blame you for thinking that.
This is a sketch of a few possible arguments for voting in presidential election, despite the often heard claim that voters in predetermined, non-battleground states are, in some sense, disenfranchised. It’s a grating argument, too clever by half.
We customarily presume that a presidential election two distinct electorates: the minority of voters who live in swing states, and everyone else. As of August 1, three quarters of all Americans who live in a state where the leading party has an 80% or greater chance of winning. Voters in the swing-less states won’t directly influence the final outcome. You’ll hear that We sometimes like to think of these voters in these states as disenfranchised.
To be certain, the individual experience of a presidential election is heightened in a contested swing state. Candidates spend more time and money, and the media focus is sharpened. Turnout is greater. Voters are less likely to stray from two major parties.
But it doesn’t necessarily follow that a voter in a reliably red or blue state has no influence on a presidential election, or at least, has diminished influence because the state’s winner is known in advance. And living outside of a swing state does not give a voter an additional excuse to sit out an election. A vote for a Democrat in Idaho or a Republican in California has importance, and I want to sketch a few supporting points suitable for further development.
Suppose we believe that Clinton’s victory over Trump becomes a foregone conclusion. We can safely argue that the reward of your vote is reduced, but is it reduced to zero.
Something else has to be at stake.
1. The old argument about the miniscule marginal effect of your individual vote has just as much relevance in a swing state as it has anywhere else. An election in a swing state isn’t going to turn on your individual decision to vote.
2. The nationwide popular vote doesn’t determine the winner, but it has meaning. I’m willing to assert that the first Bush 43 amendment, despite its unapologetic public face, really would have preferred a popular vote plurality. The reasons have nothing to do with the strategic choices required in a presidential election.
3. Mandates aren’t the only reason to run up the score, or close the margin in an election that will be lost. The notion of a policy mandate is an idea that political science has discredited. Surprises in the margin of victory can affect strategy for upcoming elections, create a sense of vulnerability or security for the future.
4. Legitimacy of the outcome. The more decisive a victory becomes, the more difficult it becomes for the challenger or the media to wonder about its legitimacy. This year, a resounding defeat of Trump will mean more than a comfortable but lackluster victory.
For now, this is a sketch for a larger argument that we have good reasons to vote when the outcome in a state is predetermined. This is particularly so when the overall outcome is in doubt, or if people are paying attention to the size of the victory.