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Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Electoral College Favors the Democrats

Every four years it seems harder and harder for the Republicans to win an electoral majority. Republicans can fondly recall a generation ago when Ronald Reagan won 49 states in 1984, or Richard Nixon winning 49 in 1972.  Democrats have not had anything close to that kind of blow out unless you go back to 1964 election, the hear after Kennedy was killed, when Lyndon Johnson racked up a 44 State victory.  It is hard to imagine such a blow out on either side today.  Anything is possible, however, given the right candidate.

Electoral victories are looking harder for Republicans these days.  If we look at the last four elections, we have had two Republican victories (George W Bush) and two Democratic victories (Barack Obama).  If we assume that the states which have voted Republican or Democrat in all four of those elections are likely to vote that way in the next election, we end up with the following:  Democrats: 242 electoral votes.  Republicans 179 electoral votes.  That means that the Democrats are only one swing state away (Florida) from winning a 270 vote majority.  Republicans must win Florida and each of the other swing States to reach victory.

In order of votes, those swing states are:

  • Florida (29)
  • Ohio (18)
  • North Carolina (15)
  • Virginia (13)
  • Indiana (11)
  • Colorado (9)
  • Iowa (6)
  • Nevada (6)
  • New Mexico (5)
  • New Hampshire (4)

As I said, with 29 electoral votes, Florida is an absolute must-win for the Republicans.  Without that, the Republicans could win every other State on this list and still lose the election.  Republicans have won Florida in 6 of the last 10 elections over 40 years.  The results in Florida tend to match the overall victor.  Florida has only backed a loser once, 1992 when it supported the first President Bush over Bill Clinton.  Florida often sides with the winner because it is so decisive.  You may recall the 2000 elections when the too close to call Florida results determined the election of George W. Bush over Al Gore.  In three of the last five elections, Florida has gone Democrat.  With a growing Hispanic population and more conservative seniors moving to the southwest for retirement, Florida seems to be trending Democrat lately.  But it remains a swing state with the outcome decided by less than 5 points either way.  But this is an absolute must win for any Republican who cannot flip one of the other traditionally Democratic states.

Even if a Republican wins Florida, the Democrats still win if they can win any two of the next three swing States on the list.  Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia are critical to any win.  The largest of these,  Ohio, is a true swing state, with five of the last ten elections going Republican and five for the Democrats.    It has followed the national results perfectly for the last ten elections.  Going back further, Ohio has only backed a losing candidate twice since the beginning of the 20th Century.

Good news for the Republicans in North Carolina which leans strongly Republican.  Democrats have only won it twice in the last 10 elections.  One was way back in 1976 when Jimmy Carter was running and the South had not yet entirely given up on the Democratic party.  The other was 2008 when Barack Obama  eked out a victory by less than 1/2 of 1% in a year when Republicans were taking a beating.  NC definitely trends Republican,  

Virginia has historically been a strong Republican State.  Eight of the last ten elections have been Republican.  But of concern for Republicans, the two Democrat victories have been the two most recent, both going to Barack Obama.  Growing Democratic influence in the DC suburbs has put the state into play.

Among the smaller swing States, Indiana has traditionally been a Republican stronghold in the Midwest.  Nine of the last ten elections have seen Indiana in the Republican column.  Only Obama in 2008 broke that streak.  Along with North Carolina, it was one of two states that jumped back to the Republicans, opposing Obama's reelection.

Colorado also leans Republican, with seven of the last ten elections.  But again, Obama won it twice by more than 5 points each time.  Republicans definitely cannot take this for granted.  A growing Hispanic population, which leans Democrat, means this state seems to be shifting to the left from its traditional solid Republican roots.  This state will be an real fight.

Iowa leans Democratic, with 6 of the last ten elections going Democrat.  More tellingly though, Republicans have had only one win out of the last seven.  Obama won easily by more than five points each time. Iowa seems to be trending more and more Democrat with each election.

Nevada tends to be another bellwether State, matching the national results in nine of the last ten elections.  It only bucked the national trend back in 1976.  Based on passed results, this truly is a swing state with no clear advantage to either party.

New Mexico is another State that is strongly trending Democratic.  Although each party has won five of the last ten elections, the five Democrat victories have all come in the last six elections.  A growing Hispanic population in the state has moved it solidly into the Democratic camp.

Finally, we are left with tiny New Hampshire.  This is another state that has gone for five Republicans and five Democrats in the last ten elections.  But again, it is trending Democrat, with the five Democratic wins coming in the six most recent elections.

Ok, so what does all that mean?  Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  But it does show us the leanings of these important swing states.  If we assume that States that have gone three out of four of the last elections to one party, we get the following:

  • Democrats win Iowa, New Mexico, and New Hampshire
  • Republicans win North Carolina and Indiana
  • Still undecided are Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada

Under this scenario, Republican must win Florida, Ohio, and Virginia or it's game over.  Even if they win all three, if the Democrats win Colorado and Nevada, we still see a Democratic victory.

What then is the Republican path to victory?  The swing states are spread all over the country so appealing to any particular region will not help.  Pollsters often put Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in the swing state column, even though Pennsylvania has not voted Republican since 1988 and Wisconsin has been solidly Democrat since the Reagan 49 state tidal wave of 1984.  That said, putting Pennsylvania and or Wisconsin in play would certainly give the Republicans more wiggle room.

On the other hand, some pundits say that solidly Republican Texas could become a toss up due to a growing Hispanic population in the State.  With nearly 40% of the State now Hispanic, combined with about 12% of the States black population, it is foreseeable that the State could be moving toward becoming less solidly Republican despite nine of the last ten elections going Republican.  Jimmy Carter was the last Democrat to win the State.

Both of the last two Democratic Presidents won each of their two terms easily with the closest of those elections (2012) resulting in a Democratic victory margin of 126 electoral votes.  By contrast, George W. Bush won reelection by only 15 electoral votes, and of course won is his first election with a whopping 1 electoral vote victory.  You have to go back to his father's 1988 victory on Ronald Reagan's coat tails to see a major electoral victory for the Republicans.

Republicans clearly need a game changer.  Some see Donald Trump as that candidate.  He seems to appeal to white working class voters, the so-called Reagan Democrats that fueled the Republican glory-day elections of the 1980's.  The minority vote, however, has become much more important since then.  A Trump candidacy would likely rally Hispanics to the Democratic camp, not only for this election but for future ones as well.

John Kasich opens up some possibilities as a popular mid-westerner.  He helps to secure his home state of Ohio, and might even put Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and possibly even Michigan away from a Democratic opponent.  Some think he is too moderate to get hard core Republicans to turn out on election day.  But his voting record in Congress was very solidly conservative.  He is only moderate in the same way Ronald Reagan might be considered moderate by today's standards.  I suspect eight years out of power and opposition to the Democratic nominee might be enough to get conservatives to the election booth.

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are both native Floridians.  It is unclear, however, if either can take for granted winning their home State.  Neither has shown much gravitas or support in other regions of the country either.

Ted Cruz along with Marco Rubio are both Hispanic, which could help them with that demographic.  But to the extent one's national origin matters, I don't know that Mexican Americans get particularly excited about a Cuban American candidate.  Further, both have had to take such extreme anti-immigrant positions, very unpopular in the Hispanic community, that I don't know that their family background would carry much weight with voters.  Since there are rumors that the Democrats might pick a Mexican American Vice President, that would blunt any ethnicity advantage that might exist.

Ironically, the best hope for the Republicans seems to be the Democrats.  Hillary Clinton seems to be the favorite for the nomination.   However her high negative numbers may hurt the chances of the Democrats in key swing states such as Ohio, Virginia, and Florida.  Similarly, her main opponent for the nomination Bernie Sanders who is running openly as a democratic socialist and ultra liberal may hurt Democrat chances in many swing States, especially Florida.

One pattern working in the Republican's favor.  Since WWII, the electorate has consistently given two terms to a Republican followed by two terms for a Democrat.  The only exception to that was the 1980 election when Jimmy Carter lost out to a second term against Ronald Reagan.  If that had gone the other way, the two in, two out pattern has matched perfectly.  If this pattern holds, the two Democratic win will be followed by a Republican victory.

There is still too much unknown to see how the candidate choices may sway the voters later this year. But based on the historical voting records, the Democrats have a clear electoral advantage.

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