Electoral College's Republican Bias Smaller Than When Trump Won 2016 Election: Study

The Electoral College has historically favored the Republican party, but this year the bias towards the GOP may be smaller than when President Donald Trump won the 2016 election, according to a new study.

The research comes with just over a week to go until the election day. Polls indicate a win for Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Researchers at Columbia University used the results of the nine U.S. presidential elections from 1984 to 2016 to create a simulation to predict how the Electoral College vote may factor into the results of the upcoming 2020 election.

They noted that the system has favored the Republican party for a number of reasons, but found that the bias towards the Republican Party in 2020 will likely be "about half as severe" than it was in 2016.

"The Electoral College distortion in 2020 will probably tilt in the Republicans' favor as it did in 2016 but to a lesser degree of magnitude, more in line with other recent elections," the authors wrote in their paper published in the journal PNAS.

According to the simulation, there could be a range of outcomes this year. The team wrote that their model suggests "Trump would have a remote chance of winning even if his support is as slim as 48 percent of the popular vote."

However, it is also possible that if the popular vote is tied, or Trump has a slight lead, "Biden would have a remote chance of winning, overturning the narrative that the Electoral College favors Republicans," they said.

Co-author Karl Sigman, professor of industrial engineering and operations research at Columbia Engineering, said in a statement: "We found that Biden probably does not need as big a popular vote margin as Hillary Clinton did.

"If the vote were 51-49, as it was with Hillary Clinton, that would be the tipping point, and the Electoral College could go either way rather than a certain Trump victory."

Co-author Robert Erikson, professor of political science at Columbia University, said in a statement that the 2016 election emerged as a "statistical outlier."

He said: "The Democratic versus Republican divisions in the prior election have mattered, but only up to a point. That is why the same national popular vote as 2016 could have a different Electoral College outcome."

The Electoral College system gives each state plus Washington, D.C. a number of votes in a presidential election up to a national combined total of 538. Presidential candidates compete for at least 270 Electoral College votes in order to win the White House.

How many Electoral College votes, or electors, each state has reflects its number of congressional districts, with an additional two votes for its Senate seats. The number of congressional districts in each state is relative to its population size.

So states with larger populations have more congressional districts and therefore have more votes in the Electoral College. Typically, whichever candidate wins the state also takes all of its Electoral College votes.

California, for instance, the largest state by population, has 55 votes, more than any other. Wyoming, the least populated state, only has three electors.

The system's quirks mean that Electoral College votes are not cleanly proportionate to state populations, reducing the voting power of larger states in particular. The additional two votes for Senate seats give smaller states greater relative voting power.

As seen in the 2016 election, the Electoral College system, which is designed to empower individual states, means a candidate can become president without winning the popular vote.

Darrell West, vice president of governance studies at the Brookings Institution think tank, who did not work on the study, told Newsweek the team that conducted the research is among the leading analysts of elections and their methodology was sound.

"Their study is important because it shows that right now, Republicans hold an advantage in that Biden could win the popular vote by 3 to 4 percentage points and still lose the Electoral College," West said.

"If that happened, it would be the third time in the last six presidential elections where that happened. It would undermine public confidence in government and lead to much more active efforts to get rid of the Electoral College."

William D. Blake, assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, who also did not work on the paper, told Newsweek: "If their projections are accurate, the likelihood of Donald Trump winning the Electoral College while losing the popular vote becomes high only if the national popular vote is quite close.

"This is not good news for the Trump campaign, as the national polls are not close at all."

However, Blake said the study was limited because it only employs one definition of Electoral College bias. "Another way to understand the imperfection of the Electoral College is to look at which states get more electoral votes per person," Blake said.

"My own research has demonstrated that states with whiter populations consistently receive more electoral power because of the Electoral College's small-state bias."

2020 election, stock, getty
A stock image shows buttons reading "Vote 2020" ahead of the presidential election on November 3. Researchers have simulated the part Electoral College votes may play in the election. Getty