Immediately following the U.S. presidential election on November 8, anti-Donald Trump demonstrations sprang up in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles—cities that vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The protesters felt robbed: Hillary Clinton had won the majority of voters nationwide. But, like Al Gore in 2000, Clinton was hamstrung by the Electoral College, an institution designed to ensure a voice for sparsely populated states in America’s early years—and one that, of late, has spelled doom for candidates with urban-based coalitions.
The outsized influence of rural voters may seem like a unique feature—or bug—of the American political system. But a similar story recurs in places around the world. In over 20 countries, from Argentina, to Malaysia, to Japan, the structure of the electoral systems gives rural voters disproportionate power, relative to their numbers, over their more numerous urban-dwelling counterparts. And on certain issues, this can shift national priorities in favor of rural ones. In the United States in 2016, for example, the Republican platform called for eliminating federal funding for public transit, arguing that it “serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities,” implying that Trump’s expected infrastructure bill could focus on highways rather than on urban transit networks. Global warming, of special concern to urban coastal voters, has been described essentially as intriguing speculation by the president-elect.