How does the electoral college work within a state?
How is it determined who wins a state? Is it strictly based on the popular vote within that state, or is it more complex, like each state has its own electoral college type system with certain geographic subregions winning a set number of votes if the candidate wins in that subregion?
I always assumed it was just based on total popular vote within the state, but during an election when they zoom in on a state they always show the individual counties colored red or blue. Do these county-level results actually mean anything, or are they just interesting to look at?
And do all states work the same basic way?
Neither answer explicitly says this, but each state can determine for itself what rules to follow. That's why two states are different than the others.
It depends if you're talking about Maine and Nebraska, or every other state.
In most states, the county-level maps are just so people can see what areas of the state supported which candidate. The entire slate of electors goes to whoever has the most votes in the state, even if every single one of those votes was cast in a single city. County-level results are like when newscasters report support for candidates by demographic (based on exit polls): it gives viewers more information about who's voting for which candidate, but as far as the results go it doesn't matter.
In Maine and Nebraska, electoral votes aren't winner-take-all. They give one electoral vote per congressional district a candidate wins (including two EVs for whoever has the most statewide votes, because there are two senators). County results don't matter there either, but congressional district results do.