Remember the 2000 election (sure you do), when Gore won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote? Well, it’s happened before, and it’s one of the strongest arguments that people use for abolishing the electoral college (an argument that I haven’t chosen a side on, to be honest). It got me thinking: how much could a candidate lose the popular vote by and still win the electoral vote? The candidate would have to get half (plus one) of the votes in “strong states”, and zero votes in “weak states”. In this case, a state’s strength is defined as electoral votes per voter.
A candidate could win the election with only 21.7% of the national popular vote by just squeaking by in AK, AL, AR, AZ, CO, CT, DC, DE, GA, HI, IA, ID, IN, KS, KY, LA, MD, ME, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NM, NV, NY, OK, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WV, and WY and getting no votes in any other states. You’ll note that CT, MD, and VA are “weaker” states than California, but since it has such a large population, including it instead of the three weaker states increases the final total quite a bit.
Note that I had to ignore Maine and Nebraska’s congressional district method, since it would add too many extra variables.
Update 10-15: I should probably point out that I used the turnout numbers for the 2000 election, since I assumed that was a good enough estimate, but the new electoral vote counts (i.e. 7 for CT instead of 8). You can check out my actual data.