Over the weekend I came across two interesting interpretations on the electoral college and 2016. The first, written by Dan Balz over at WashPo (an excellent reporter I might add) argues that the GOP climb to 270 in 2016 is steep. The other, written by John Sides (okay, on a Monday), argues that this may not be so much the case. Rather, Sides sees that the economic and political fundamentals of the race will matter more than Balz’s hypothesis that demographics are making it harder for the GOP to occupy the White House. So who is right?
In actuality both are to a degree. Balz’s hypothesis that demographics help the Democrats in 2016 is certainly true. Especially if the GOP struggles among minorities in 2016 like they did in 2012. But candidate quality will also matter as Balz states. Romney and McCain were both terrible candidates to appeal to minorities. The likely field for the GOP in 2016; Christie, Paul, Rubio, Walker, Jindal, etc. will be much better positioned to appeal to minorities. Also, in many of the swing states that Balz states are swinging away from the GOP the party still does not need to win a majority of minorities as long as they maintain their massive leads among whites. A slight increase in minority support in Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia for the GOP would put these seats out of play for Democrats for at least another several years.
Sides also makes a strong argument that economic and political factors will play heavily into 2016. Consider Obamacare. If the law is still a nightmare by 2016 it will damage Democrats and likely Presidential nominee Hilary Clinton’s candidacy. If the economy continues to sputter into 2016 it will give the GOP a chance to argue to new and current voters that a different course is required. Yes, Democrats will argue these are the tired old arguments of Republicans since Reagan but after 8 years of Obamanomics voters might want to try Reaganesque ideas again.
It does need to be said that both these arguments are a 40,000 ft view of the electoral college in 2016. The only difference is on what will have a greater impact that year. No swing state, heck no partisan state, is similar. Just because some swing states are becoming more diverse does not mean they are becoming more uniformly Democratic or vice versa. Sean Trende has looked at this trend in-depth and finds that in some states Democrats hope to crack such as Texas and Georgia there has been minimal popular vote gains in a decade for as minorities have increasingly turned to the Democrats whites have flocked to the GOP. Also, in the majority white Midwest states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa that Democrats usually/consistently win these states have become slightly more Republican over time.
In states such as North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado that have either slipped to the Democratic column in 08 or 012 it is not so much that Democrats have made inroads with white voters per say as much as the GOP has alienated minorities. Consider that while Democrats now win the Denver suburbs, Northern Virginia and the Research Triangle in NC the GOP has increased its margins in increasingly white and rural areas of each state. Of course Democrats are aided by the fact that the suburbs/urban areas carry more voters but this also hints at the supposition that if the GOP stops alienating minorities the Democratic gains in these states could be halted or at least slowed until 2016. Enter GOP nominee!
Certainly there is no guarantee this will happen but there is also no guarantee that Democrats will continually increase their margins in swing states that are becoming more diverse. And if Democrats do it also might portend that they are playing more to their urban base and leaving the opinions and views of suburban and rural voters behind, alienating these voters and making them even more friendly to the GOP. Indeed, this is the predominate theme of the 2012 election. Obama won large cities by massive margins and some inner suburbs while Romney and Republicans racked up not big enough margins in rural and smaller suburban counties across the country.
A deeper analysis of each battleground state and their fundamentals can wait until 2016 but no party has a lock on the electoral college in 2016. If one wants one could extrapolate that states like Michigan and Wisconsin have become even friendlier to the GOP since 2012, likewise Florida and Texas, etc. while Virginia has moved more towards the Democrats. This analysis by 2016 would very likely be out of date however.
The one thing I do wish that these analyses focused on was candidate quality. Democrats have Clinton or bust but once again the GOP field will be wide open and for the first time they have candidates that can appeal to voters not just on the issues but also culturally (see Jindal, Walker, Rubio, etc.). This might make arguments about demographics largely moot in 2016 if the Democratic demographic advantage suddenly shrinks or disappears. Chris Christie in New Jersey late last year showed how devastating that would be for the Democratic Party.