Let’s say, gentle reader, that you are a political consultant hired to run a major presidential campaign. Your mission is to obtain over 50 percent of the voters in enough states to achieve 270 Electoral College votes. Given the current U.S. population of 317 million, that seems like a daunting task. But wait. You don’t really need to deal with 317 million people. Here is why.
Out of the 317 million people, many are not eligible to vote. If you factor out the ineligibles — illegal aliens, felons and minors — the voting universe is reduced by 30 percent. Thus, in a two-candidate race, the winner only needs 35 percent of the voting population, plus one. This is starting to look more doable.
But only 40 percent of eligible voters register to vote. In a two-candidate race, the winner needs only 20 percent of the registered voters, plus one. See how easy this is getting?
Only half of the registered voters bother to vote. So now, you need only 10 percent of the registered voters plus one. Easier yet!
Within the pool of actual voters, seven percent almost always vote Democrat and seven percent almost always vote Republican. You are not likely to change their minds. Don’t spend much time or money on them.
Six percent of those who vote are called “swing” voters. In a two-candidate race, the winning candidate must win his or her voter base plus half of the swing voters, plus one. Therefore, to win the popular vote — after you factor out the ineligibles, the non-registered, the registered non-voters and the hard-core partisans — you only need to focus on a very small fraction of our entire population. If you can do that successfully in the key Electoral College states and win 270 Electoral College votes, victory is yours!
Thus, today’s canny, wolflike political consultants target campaign advertising and candidate appearances on specific, small slices of the voting population. Those who do not participate in American’s exercise in self-government are left alone to enjoy their sheeplike existence.
Amazingly, Abraham Lincoln knew all this 174 years ago when he told his party workers to “Divide their county into small districts, and to appoint in each a subcommittee, whose duty it shall be to make a perfect list of all the voters in their respective districts, and to ascertain with certainty for whom they will vote. If they meet with men who are doubtful as to the man they will support, such voters should be designated in separate lines, with the name of the man they will probably support...”
Abraham Lincoln’s ideas of 1840 have come to mean “Call those you know will vote for you, the Saints. Call those who won’t vote for you, the Sinners. Call the undecided voters, the Savables. Keep your Saints with you. Waste no time on the Sinners. Focus your efforts on the Saints and Savables. Added together, the Saints and the Savables mean victory!”
Of course, that was Illinois in the 1840s. Today, by some miraculous process, even the dead in Chicago can vote early and often. So forget the math. Voter fraud is undermining the electoral process anyway.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, and the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame.