A prevailing argument by political supporters of the Electoral College system that is currently used for electing the President and Vice President of the United States is that replacing the Electoral College with some form of a national popular vote system for electing the President and the Vice President would make states with relatively little population, like Wyoming and Idaho, politically irrelevant, as well as make rural areas of the United States politically irrelevant.
In reality, the Electoral College does rural America a disservice.
The first thing one has to remember is that, due to the strong two-party system in this country, a high degree of political polarization, and most areas of the country being considerably more favorable to one of the major political parties than the rest of the country, there are entire states that are typically written off by the political media and the major political parties themselves as strongly favoring either the Democratic Party (examples including Massachusetts, New York, and California) or the Republican Party (examples including Wyoming, West Virginia, and Idaho) in presidential general elections. A lot of rural states are considered Republican strongholds in presidential elections, so, as a result, neither major party’s presidential nominee tends to actively campaign in those states. The major-party presidential nominees will focus most of their attention on the state(s) that they believe could provide the 270th electoral vote that is needed to win the presidency, as a minimum of 270 electoral votes are currently needed to win the presidency outright (if no presidential candidate receives at least 270 electoral votes, state delegations of the U.S. House would elect the President, and, if no vice-presidential candidate receives at least 270 electoral votes, the U.S. Senate would elect the Vice President).
If there was a national popular vote election for President and Vice President, there would be a ton of incentive for presidential candidates to visit areas of the country that tend to not strongly favor either major political party and/or have a higher than average share voters who are not strongly partisan. For the most part, these are not large urban centers, but instead suburban areas, many small-to-medium-sized cities, and some rural areas of the Upper Midwest. A common argument that Electoral College defenders will use is that, if the national popular vote decided the presidency, presidential campaigns would ignore rural areas in favor of large urban centers. That would be a completely foolish strategy, since most of the large urban centers in the United States are considerably more Democratic than the country as a whole. There would be considerably more incentive for major-party presidential candidates to visit places like Decorah, Iowa, Terre Haute, Indiana, and Fargo, North Dakota than places like New York or Los Angeles if the national popular vote decided the presidency, since those places tend to be relatively close to the political center of the country from a partisan preference standpoint.
Because of how many electoral votes each state currently has, it is possible for a presidential candidate to win the 11 most populous states in the country and win the presidency with the electoral votes of those states alone, if need be. The states in question are California (55 electoral votes), Texas (38), Florida (29), New York (29), Illinois (20), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Georgia (16), Michigan (16), North Carolina (15), and New Jersey (14), with a combined 270 electoral votes, exactly the minimum needed to win the presidency. While a few of the states (California, New York, Illinois, and New Jersey) are all Democratic strongholds in presidential elections, none of the 11 most populous states are Republican strongholds. The most Republican states of those eleven are Texas, Ohio, and Georgia, and Donald Trump barely got a majority of the vote in each of those three states in 2016. It would not be unthinkable for the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020 to win all 11 of the most populous states in the country in 2020, possibly with less than a majority of the national popular vote, and that would make a major flaw of the Electoral College system, that it usually benefits more populous states that do not strongly favor either major political party over less populous states regardless of their typical partisan leanings, very obvious.
Because of partisan political trends in this country, if the President and the Vice President were elected by the national popular vote as opposed to the Electoral College system that currently elects the President and the Vice President, rural America would actually be more empowered by a national popular vote system than by the Electoral College.