In the 1976 Presidential election, Republican President Gerald R. Ford almost closed a 34-point gap, losing to Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter by just two percentage points in the popular vote. Ford won 27 states, while Carter won 23. In the Electoral College, Ford lost by 47 votes. There were 20 states in that election where the winning candidate won with less than 5% of the vote. Ford made a herculean effort to capture Mississippi, losing it by less than 2% of the popular vote. Ford later lamented that had his primary opponent Ronald Reagan campaigned harder for Ford in the General Election in Mississippi, he would have eked out a victory. Reagan spent more time campaigning for Republican Congressional candidates than for Ford. Republican Political Consultant Ed Rollins maintains that had Ford selected Reagan as his Vice Presidential running-mate, “He would have carried key states like Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, which would have given him the election.”
Four years later, Mississippi was again a showdown state. Ronald Reagan delivered his first speech after securing the GOP Presidential nomination at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Reagan went on to win the state that year by less than two points.
Since then, Mississippi has been on almost no one’s electoral radar. Once a part of the Solid Democratic South, Mississippi did not select a single Republican Presidential nominee from 1876-1964. In 1936, the GOP nominee, Kansas Governor Alf Landon, literally mustered just 2.74% of the popular vote in the state. Today, Mississippi is a rock-rib Republican state at the Presidential level. It garners de minimus electoral attention. Even in 1992 and 1996, with Bill Clinton and Al Gore on the Democratic ticket, both from neighboring states (Arkansas and Tennessee), the Democrats made no effort to capture the state.
Magnolia state voters have no electoral leverage, meaning that Presidential nominees and incumbent Presidents have no electoral incentive to focus on issues specific to the state. Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the nation, yet the more than 20% of Magnolia State voters who subsist below the poverty line have no voice with Presidential candidates. By contrast, New Hampshire, which sports the nation’s lowest poverty rate, gets a plethora of electoral attention. Presidential candidates barnstorm the Granite state because of its current status as a “battleground state.” Former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar maintains: “people who are in elected office remember what they learned when they were campaigning.”
Presidential nominees do not address issues important to Mississippi voters, like the out-migration of residents from the Mississippi Delta. The state’s working poor, who are unable to procure a living wage, have no voice. Inhabitants of the state’s Gulf Coast, still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, have no voice, and the state’s struggling $7 Billion agricultural industry, worrying about overseas competition, have no voice.
In addition, the state has the nation’s largest African-American Population (37.18%). They regularly reward the Democratic Presidential nominee with over 90% of the vote. Yet their votes are nullified because of the winner-take-all approach that Mississippi employs. In 2008, a record 95% of Mississippi African-American voters marked ballots for the first African-American Presidential nominee of a major Party, Barack Obama. Yet, because Republican John McCain won the state, their votes were not even tabulated in the results. It would be no different had Barack Obama won no votes in the state. All six electoral votes went to McCain.
There is a method to make all Mississippi voters matter in all elections. That is by adopting the National Popular Vote Plan. The National Popular Vote Plan is an interstate compact, whereby participating states agree to allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the National Popular Vote, as opposed to the candidate who secures the most votes in their state. The compact would take effect when enough states (constituting the requisite 270 electoral votes required to win the Presidential election) agree to participate. Currently eight states and the District of Columbia, constituting 132 Electoral votes, have ratified the compact.
Under the National Popular Vote Plan, the state will avoid suffering what could be another generation in the electoral wilderness. Mississippi has partisan divisions: Caucasian voters overwhelmingly voting Republican and African-American voters overwhelmingly voting Democrat. The National Popular Vote Plan would benefit both races: Both races have a common bi-partisan interest in having their voices matter and heard. The alternative is to continue to live in an electoral universe where Presidential nominees allocate almost all of their time and resources to only about fifteen showdown states, while the majority of Americans, including Mississippi voters, are relegated to the electoral sidelines. In the 2008 Presidential Election, 98% of Presidential nominee visits were to just 15 states. This needs to change. A vote in Jackson, Mississippi should be as relevant numerically and as a vote in Jackson, New Hampshire. The National Popular Vote Plan will make every vote equal and will provide every voter with an equal voice in every Presidential election.