Electoral College remains controversial, but it sure made Florida a coveted prize this year
A map courtesy National Popular Vote shows the amount spent on advertising in each state (in millions) by Presidential candidates in the 2020 election cycle through mid-October.

electoral spending
More than a quarter billion in advertising money was booked in the Sunshine State.

For Florida residents, traffic disruptions and campaign visits from presidential contenders come every four years as reliably as snowbirds flocking to trailer parks in the winter. Even as a throng-diffusing pandemic kept crowds from NBA games and canceled major music festivals, Donald Trump rallies moved forward. So too did Joe Biden events, though in more cautious fashion.

That’s thanks to the esteem that comes with the Sunshine State’s enduring status as America’s eternal swing state.

Texas’ tight 2020 polls aside, Florida’s electoral votes for decades have had a reputation as the crown jewel of the Electoral College, the votes — 29 since the 2012 election — belonging to no party, the MacGuffin every consultant plots to steal.

The winner-takes-all rules for awarding the state’s votes for President only increase the intensity with which Democrats and Republicans alike seek out this prize, to the marked detriment of the political class in all other states. That’s demonstrated in detail in a study by National Popular Vote, an organization that wants to see the outsized influence enjoyed here to stop.

The group notes Florida saw a higher percentage of campaign events held and advertisements broadcast than other states.

And while that’s welcome news to professionals booking venues and airtime, the innate inequity of the Electoral College, a system which also significantly dilutes the significance of every voter in the state of Florida, also fuels an effort to fundamentally change the way in which America elects its President.

By the numbers

Through mid-October this year, about $1.015 billion worth of television advertising connected to the presidential election had been purchased. Of that amount, $258 million went for ads reaching voters in the state of Florida, more than a quarter of the nationwide total.

About $7 for every $8 spent on ads ended up booking time in just six states: Florida, Pennsylvania ($196 million), Michigan ($109 million), Wisconsin ($102 million), North Carolina ($111 million) and Arizona ($97 million).

Another $123 million were spent in another six states — Georgia, Arizona, Minnesota, Ohio, Iowa and New Hampshire. The remaining spending ended up scattered in national buys and smaller states.

But the nine-fold difference in spending between Florida and neighboring Georgia, where $29 million was spent on ad time, shows the massive difference in the priority campaigns place on winning the states.

To Barry Fadem, president of National Popular Vote, that shows the intrinsic problem with the way the nation decides the President.

“This leaves the majority of the country not participating in this presidential election,” he said.

As a California resident, that’s especially infuriating for Fadem. Hard as it may be for Floridians to believe, there are places in the country where viewers don’t see ads for President playing every time they watch broadcast television. The problem for democracy, Fadem says, is that if voters in lopsided states where one party holds a clear advantage are ignored by campaigns, they have no voice. Even if the candidate they favor is winning in their state, it’s not thanks to any effort the candidates themselves put in.

Indeed, Trump and Biden didn’t step foot in most states this campaign season. Out of 163 campaign events between Aug. 29 and Oct. 29 that featured appearances by Biden and Trump or their respective running mates, Kamala Harris and Mike Pence, a total of 158 of those took place in 12 swing states. They were the same dozen states gobbling nearly all the advertising dollars.

Pennsylvania tops this list, having hosted 30 events, but Florida with 27 comes in a close second. In the final days of the campaign, both Trump and Biden have rallied votes in person here, sometimes appearing in the same city on the same day.

Brilliant design or outdated dinosaur?

Rep. Bob Rommel, a Naples Republican, enjoys the stature Florida holds in presidential politics. While he lives in a strongly conservative part of Florida and worries little about his own job security come Tuesday, his vote and those of every one of his constituents remain coveted prizes for the men seeking the most powerful job in the world.

“To win a presidential election, you have to win Florida, pretty much,” he said. “We are not ruby red or deep blue.”

The last time a candidate made it to the White House without winning a majority of votes in Florida was 1992, when Bill Clinton defeated incumbent George Bush but lost the state, a situation the Democrat remedied when seeking reelection four years later.

It’s why Rommel this year filed legislation to affirm Florida’s commitment to the Electoral College and the winner-take-all system of awarding votes.

The legislation stood in contrast to a bill filed by Rep. Joe Geller, an Aventura Democrat, that sought to join the National Popular Vote covenant.

Already, 15 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation committing to award all their electoral votes to whomever wins the popular vote nationwide. None will start doing so until there are enough states signed on to ensure 270 votes go to whichever candidates earned the most votes in all 50 states combined. Geller notes the plan is not an abolishment of the Electoral College but rather a workaround to how it works today.

Geller, first and foremost, feels there’s an inequity that comes in awarding tiny states like Wyoming a guaranteed three votes while larger states see diminished returns as they grow.

In fact, a study published by The Conversation shows Florida voters individually have their vote count the least among any in the nation, with each vote counting about 65% of its value as part of a nationwide pool.

“Under a national popular vote, every Floridian’s vote would count more,” Geller said. “Under the current system, our vote is diluted.”

Fadem believes the winner-take-all system hurts voters everywhere. Florida, in 2000, had its election famously decided by 537 votes and every vote for Al Gore was tossed aside as the state’s full body of votes went to George W. Bush. But the same fate awaits thousands of Biden votes in Idaho and Trump votes in California this year.

The disparity in campaigning activity in Florida compared to 38 non-competitive states proves the Electoral College erases the influence of non-purple states, large and small alike, he said.

But Geller also questions what Florida gets out of the current deal besides a lot of cameos on national news.

“With such a diverse population we will continue to get a lot of attention,” he said. “We may get a lot of visibility, and that’s great, but I’m not sure what that accomplishes for us. We have very expensive media markets, which makes it difficult for some to campaign in the state unless they have large sums of money.”

Rommel said Florida enjoys plenty as a result of the role it plays in national elections.

“Not that any state is more important than another, but when you are running for President you have to think about Florida,” he said. “If you are a Democrat, you know you have New York and California before the game starts.”

With Texas as a toss-up, or at least a Lean Republican battleground this year, there are no large states Republicans can count in their column as guarantees in 2020. But that’s fine, Rommel said, because it shows campaigns need to win votes in every state as the map of swing states shifts over time.

But Rommel feels the Electoral College doesn’t benefit swing states alone. It assures voters, even in small states like Montana, South Dakota and Maine, that their votes play a role in selecting the President. The three or four votes decided in those states don’t draw the advertising dollars, but securing those builds toward a goal of 270 electoral votes more than an individual ballot among more than 250 million cast nationwide.

Geller feels the mere fact that two of the past five presidential elections put a President in office who did not win the popular vote shows enough of a flaw. That both of those, Bush and Trump, were Republicans may have also hardened partisan views on the issue. But Geller notes there were plenty of pundits in 2000 and 2004 who saw paths for the Democratic nominees those years to win the White House without the popular vote.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


  • Charlotte Greenbarg

    November 3, 2020 at 7:25 am

    Oh I see You’re carrying water for the Democrats who,would prefer to eliminate the Electoral College and have CA, NY and a couple of others choose the president Go back to school and learn why the Founders created it

  • DisplacedCTYankee

    November 3, 2020 at 10:30 am

    “National Popular Vote” has it exactly right. The “Founders” got it wrong with the Electoral College in 1887 and it’s just as wrong today. Charlotte, if we still followed everything the “Founders” cooked up you would NOT be allowed to vote. Or own property. Shall I go on?

  • James Robert Miles

    November 4, 2020 at 11:31 am

    Charlotte is a troll for the GOP! How much are they paying you, Charlotte?

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704