America’s modern day Presidential elections look nothing like what they once did in the past. In 1960, 20 of 50 states were decided by less than 5% points. The same phenomenon occurred in 1976. We really don’t have many elections like 1960 and 1976 anymore. In fact, starting with 1988 the electoral map started to contract. This would be the last time the GOP would ever carry electoral rich California and the first time they would lose New York state since 1976.
Since 2000, 40 of states have voted for the same party’s candidate in every election. Further examination of these results suggest some state contests were fluky at best. New Mexico went for Gore in 2000 but narrowly swung to Bush in 2004. Indiana and North Carolina, states that swung to Obama in 2008, have since returned to their solidly Republican roots. Other close calls abound. In 2004 Bush won Iowa by less than 1% but since then the state has been Democratic by over 5%. Wisconsin, once a solid battleground in 2000 and 2004, went for Obama by 14% and 6% in 08 and 012.
This leaves just seven true swing states when fundamentals are discounted; Nevada, Virginia, Colorado, Ohio, Florida, Iowa and New Hampshire. Not all of these seven swing states are fully equal shots for either party however. Nevada and Colorado’s burgeoning Hispanic population gives Democrats an edge but their turnout rates give the GOP a chance if they perform strongly with whites. Ohio and Florida have traditionally been more Republican than the nation as a whole exemplified by Obama winning 4% nationwide in 2012 but winning Ohio by a mere 2% and Florida by less than 1%.
Iowa and New Hampshire have supported Democrats three times since 2000. But this was before many of both states blue collar voters really soured on Democrats. Lastly, we come to Virginia. Solidly Republican in 2000 (52%) and 2004 (53.5%) the state swung to Democrats in both 2008 and 2012. However, in both elections the state almost perfectly mirrored the national vote. Obama won by 7% nationwide and Virginia by 6% in 08. Obama won by 4% nationally in 012 and Virginia by 3.88%.
If one were to only count these seven states as the true contests in 2016 Democrats would start out with 247 electoral votes to the GOP’s 206. In essence, due to past elections Democrats would have an edge to retain the White House in 2016. But the past is usually not a good predictor of future elections. For example, Democratic romps in 2006 and 2008 did nothing to predict the GOP wave of 2010. Obama’s victory in 2012 should have signified anything but a GOP resurgence in 2014. At a state level, Bush’s solid victories in Virginia in 2000 and 2004 should have meant the party could easily hold the state. Wisconsin’s razor-thin margins in the same years should have meant it was on the map in 2008.
Still, if everything held steady and the above seven states were the only contested states in America all Democrats would need to do is stitch together 22 more electoral votes. Winning Iowa, Nevada and Colorado would get them to 269 and winning Ohio or Florida would certainly signify doom for the GOP candidate. Republicans on the other hand would need to find a way to get 64 electoral votes together. Ohio and Florida would only give them 45 meaning they would still need to sweep some of the smaller states.
But, again, this assumes no states switch hands in 2016 and that is far from certain. It is quite possible the electoral map could actually enlarge in 2016. Demographic and cultural shifts hinted at by the 2010 and 2012 elections hit full force in 2014. Despite the blue wall holding in 2012 it crumpled in 2014. And recent Democratic successes in CO and NV in recent years were set back by 2014. This is not to say these states will suddenly go red in 2016. A lot depends on the candidates, external events and the themes both parties wage their electoral battle over. Rather, the recent electoral maps we have seen might indicate the end of an era’s electoral map and the beginning of a new one.
If one looks and analyzes enough they can see subtle hints. The continual shifting among rural and suburban whites in the Midwest to the GOP. The unsteady Hispanic turnout in Western states. The continued migratory patterns of blue state residents into Virginia and North Carolina. Come 2016 we could very easily see a map where Republicans break through in the Midwest but suffer a loss in North Carolina and do not retake Virginia.
Either way, at this point a couple of predictions can be made with absolute certainty. No Republican Presidential candidate can win in 2016 without Ohio and Florida. A loss in one or both states would signify the national ticket has not done nearly well enough in red states to pull swing voters along in blue/purple tinted contests. Second, weak Democratic results in demographically friendly states like Nevada and Virginia would indicate the party is sure to lose its Midwestern firewall. Whites have increasingly flocked to the GOP and if turnout is weak in Democratically friendly states their margins in battleground states could easily shrink or disappear.