Russell Goodman. (Central College photo)

A Central College math professor has updated work that figures the lowest amount of the popular vote a candidate would need to win enough electoral college votes to become president.

Professor Russ Goodman says the work was first done in 1961 and then updated in 2012.”So we’ve had a few presidential elections since then, and we’ve had a census since then, also, so the number of representatives per state has changed. And so I really familiarize myself with what their model looked like, and it was just interesting and timely, and I just wanted to push it forward a little bit,” Goodman says.

His work shows you could theoretically win the presidency with only 20 to 24% of the popular vote depending on the year. The modern day strategy has been to win the states with the most electoral votes — but Goodman says winning with the fewest number of votes goes completely against that plan.

“Overall, the mathematical model says the exact opposite. What a candidate should do is actually stock up on all of the small states and not get any votes at all from the big states,” he says. Goodman says a candidate would stay away from states like Texas, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that have the most electoral votes.

“If you stock up on the states, like Maine and Iowa, you know, all the smaller states, if you accumulate those electoral votes, and you get to 270, and you only earn half of those votes, like you just barely win the majority and each of those states, that’ll actually get you more easily to the minimum percentage of the popular vote. Because remember, those big states have lots of people voting,” Goodman says.

Goodman says the proposal is based solely on the mathematics of winning one particular way and doesn’t figure in politics. “So if a candidate wanted to look at this, and think of it as a particular strategy, I don’t know that our current national politics would work all that well,” Goodman says. “Because a state like Maine is very different from a state like Iowa, politically.”

He says it’s fun to figure out the mathematics of the problem — but he says the odds are stacked against it ever happening.
“Virtually zero. I mean, in reality, it’s virtually zero,” he says. Goodman says anyone who’s campaigning, probably is using data to help them make good decisions, and using this strategy is not one they would use to give themselves the best chance to win.

Radio Iowa