- Dr. Tim Blessing, professor of history and political science at Alvernia University:
In the 2008 election the Democrats won 365 electoral votes; in 2012, with much of the excitement of “hope and change” gone, the Democrats won 332 votes. In order to win the presidency in 2016, the GOP has to pick up sixty-three votes somewhere, someplace.
Can it be done? Can the GOP actually pick up those sixty-three votes? A list of the “swing states” would normally include, in no particular order: Michigan (16 electoral votes); Florida (29 electoral votes); Ohio (18 electoral votes); Virginia (13 electoral votes); Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes); Nevada (6 electoral votes); Minnesota (10 electoral votes); Iowa (6 electoral votes); New Mexico (5 electoral votes); Colorado (9 electoral votes); New Hampshire (4 electoral votes); and North Carolina (15 electoral votes). The reader is invited to try to put together a winning combination of states noting that North Carolina could swing away from the GOP but in all the other states it is the Republicans who have to move the state. In short, the Democrats have to merely hold on to what they already have while the Republicans have to actually move votes from one column to another.
Now before you begin this task, let us take a look at the margin-of-victory in each state in 2012. If we list them by GOP margin of victory or defeat as compared to the Democrats. First, of course, is North Carolina, which the Republicans won by 2.04 %—a squeaker, but not quite at the desperation level. The next was a very narrow Democratic victory in Florida of .88%—a true nail-biting margin and 29 electoral votes that the Republicans desperately need. The next state where the Republicans need only to move a “small” percentage of votes is Ohio at 2.98%—the home of 18 electoral votes. Now note that the Republicans carried North Carolina by less than they lost Ohio. In short, North Carolina is closer to being Democratic than Ohio is to being Republican. That, from the Republican point-of-view cannot be good. Meanwhile, the Democratic margin of victory in Virginia was almost a full percentage point higher than in Ohio at 3.87%. Let’s, for the sake of argument, as well as fantasy, assume that the Republicans can win all four states. But if the GOP manages to hold on to North Carolina and win back Florida, Ohio, and Virginia they still are four votes short of winning. Where would they get those four votes?
The next closest two states in terms of percentage of votes that need to be changed are Colorado (which gave President Obama a 5.37 victory margin) and Pennsylvania (which gave President Obama a 5.39% margin). Colorado is not just sliding leftward in presidential elections, it is lurching leftward. The suburban areas around the I-25 Corridor running north from Denver and the I-70 Corridor running east and west for Denver have become the home of very large numbers of social and cultural liberals. This trend has become so pronounced that a strong secessionist movement has blossomed in the rural northern sections of the state as social and cultural conservatives despair of ever again having an impact in Colorado politics. It is virtually impossible to see the heavily populated regions shifting rightward in a presidential election (congressional elections are a bit different) and the Denver region and its suburbs and exurbs dominate Colorado. Moreover, the Hispanic population of Colorado is very active and mostly committed to the Democratic Party. Colorado will most likely not shift back to the GOP.
Meanwhile, the chances of Pennsylvania switching to the GOP column are very small. Philadelphia and three of its four collar counties are resolutely Democratic and the margins of victory in those four counties total more than that by which President Obama lost the rest of the state. Add in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Lackawanna County (Scranton) and Erie County (Erie) and the fact that President Obama won only thirteen counties out of sixty-seven becomes meaningless. These counties will vote Democratic for the foreseeable future and, as a result, so will Pennsylvania.
Two other states might be reasonably considered in play: New Hampshire (President Obama’s 2012 margin of victory was 5.58%) and Iowa (President Obama’s 2012 margin of victory was 5.81%). In New Hampshire, Romney won only three of New Hampshire’s ten counties. This might not matter if those three counties held the bulk of the voting population, but they do not. Unlike Pennsylvania and Colorado, New Hampshire’s population is not concentrated into one or two areas or along suburban corridors. Rather, the whole state must be considered.
The western counties of New Hampshire have become Vermont—every western county gave Obama a landslide victory in 2012. The state’s most populous county, Hillsborough, gave the President a narrow victory. It is conceivable that the Republicans could narrowly carry Hillsborough (although that seems less and less likely as the county becomes an extension of the Boston metropolitan area) but it is hard to see Hillsborough being able to outweigh the rest of the state.
Iowa and its likely behaviors in future presidential elections can be summarized very tidily. The more populous eastern side of the state is blue and turning bluer; the less populous western side of the state is red and turning redder. Unless the Republicans can turn Iowa’s votes into votes by Congressional district, the electoral college’s “winner-takes-all” system means that Iowa’s votes will go to the Democrats for the foreseeable future.
There are no trends that favor the Republicans in the swing states. Indeed, the chance of a GOP presidential victory over the next several elections are low to very low. But what of the four foundation states (FL, NC, OH, and VA) just to get to the point where the other states could count? Exploring that next!