Paths to victory in presidential elections: the setup power of noncompetitive states

Steven J. Brams, D. Marc Kilgour

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    In US presidential elections, voters in noncompetitive states seem not to count—and have zero power, according to standard measures of voting power—because they cannot influence the outcome in their states. But the electoral votes of these states are essential to a candidate’s victory, so they do count, but in a different way. We propose a simple model that enables us to measure the setup power of voters in noncompetitive states by modeling how these states structure the contest in the competitive states, as illustrated by the 2012, 2008, 2004, and 2000 presidential elections. We define three measures of setup power—winningness, vulnerability, and fragility—and show how they pinpoint the advantages of the candidate who leads in electoral votes of noncompetitive states. In fact, this candidate won in all four elections.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)99-113
    Number of pages15
    JournalPublic Choice
    Issue number1-2
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


    • Electoral College
    • Measure of voting power
    • Presidential elections
    • Setup power of noncompetitive states

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Economics and Econometrics


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