Since 1992 Democrats have enjoyed an Electoral College advantage. Consider that in 1992 Bill Clinton won 37o electoral votes and 379 in 1996. George Bush could only garner 271 in his initial bid and only 286 in 2004. Obama won two victories with 365 and 332 electoral votes.
Average out the average Electoral College vote for Republicans and Democrats since 1992 and Democrats lead 327-211. This massive advantage has been fueled by Democratic-leaning demographic trends, but also because numerous swing states or marginally Republican states have swung in the Democratic direction.
Thus, it is incumbent upon the GOP to put at least a few of these states in play. Ohio and Florida are almost always in play and go towards the winner in Presidential contests. But Republicans have come close and fallen short in electoral rich states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin since 1992. However, if recent polls are to be believed, the GOP is putting these states in play as well as making a comeback in formerly red Colorado and Virginia.
Part of this is fueled by the weakness of the Democratic Presidential field, but it is also fueled by the strength of the GOP field. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton is bogged down by scandal. Self-identifying socialist Bernie Sanders has a loyal base of supporters but cannot branch out his support among the general electorate (or among Democrats). Meanwhile, the top GOP contenders (minus Trump) are making a play in Democratic bastions.
The latest evidence comes from a Quinnipiac survey of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. The survey tested Sanders, Clinton, and Joe Biden against several GOP contenders. In Pennsylvania, a state that has voted for the Democratic nominee every time since 1992, Clinton trailed Jeb Bush 43-40, Rubio 47-40, and edged out Trump 45-40. Biden beats Bush 43-42, loses to Rubio 44-41, and crushes Trump. Sanders trails Bush and Rubio in all three states and narrowly leads Trump.
This is a head-turning result for Democrats. Pennsylvania is a state that has formed a Democratic bulwark in the Electoral College. Unlike Florida or Ohio that swing with the national mood, Pennsylvania has backed Democrats since Bill Clinton’s first run. Speaking of Ohio and Florida, both states remain competitive and true to their swing nature.
Clinton narrowly edges out Bush 41-39 percent in Ohio but loses to Rubio 42-40. Biden narrowly beats Bush and Rubio and crushes Trump. In Florida, if the GOP nominates Bush or Rubio, the state looks like a sure thing for the GOP. Bush leads Clinton 49-38 in his home state, and Rubio has an even larger edge at 51-39. Biden, on the other hand, runs much closer with his possible GOP opponents.
To their credit, Democrats do not seem to be worried. Clinton has yet to really engage in any of the three states (it is over a year from the general), and Biden has yet to announce. Besides, Democrats have yet to really unload against the GOP nominee. Still, these results have to be disconcerting.
Most worrisome for the party should be Clinton’s horrid image among voters with just 32 percent finding her honest and trustworthy in Florida and Pennsylvania and 34 percent in Ohio. Even Trump had better numbers on trust among voters.
In terms of net favorability in Florida, Clinton is at -18 points, while Trump is -14 points; in Ohio, Clinton is again under, at -18 points, with Trump at -22 points. In Pennsylvania, Clinton is at -17 points, while Trump is at -21 points. Meanwhile, Bush and Rubio had more voters trust than distrust them in all three states.
The poll numbers reflected a similar theme in July when Quinnipiac found voters in Virginia, Colorado, and Iowa did not trust Clinton. They trusted Bush, Rubio, and Walker more.
These results do not mean a Democratic state like Pennsylvania will fall or that Republicans can reclaim Virginia or Colorado. But it does indicate that the electoral advantage Democrats have built might be eroding. In Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Florida, new registration numbers show more voters are registering as Republicans. These numbers are being buoyed by third party groups working to register right-leaning voters who tend to not vote (taking a page from Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns).
If anything, Republicans can claim victory on one front–they have succeeded in putting needed Democratic states in play. Democrats, who were once optimistic about their chances in demographically changing states like Arizona, Georgia, and Texas, are now virtually assured they will not capture any in 2016.