Since 2004, Republicans have griped that the Electoral College map is stacked against them. Even in Bush’s commanding victory he only carried 286 Electoral votes and lost states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The nomination of Donald Trump was expected to shake up the old red/blue divide because of his appeal to blue-collar whites. To a degree it did. David Byler over at RCP put together a cool chart tracking these changes compared to Romney’s two-party share of the vote.
Unsurprisingly, the chart shows red states stayed red, blue states stayed blue and to a degree purple states stayed purple. But, that masks some pretty significant shifts. For example, Trump ran 6 percent better in Ohio, 4 percent in Wisconsin, 3 percent better in Pennsylvania, 5 percent better in Michigan, 3 percent better in Florida, a whopping 8 percent better in Iowa and 6.5 percent better in Maine. For her part, Clinton made some deeply blue states a darker shade and actually came closer in Texas and Utah than Obama. But, this is the rub, she only did it in Coastal states like WA, OR and CA. Trump actually ran better in NY State, Rhode Island and Hawaii and Delaware than Romney did (for a full list of states Trump did better in than Romney see below).
However, unlike Trump, Clinton failed to flip any of these states into her column. Trump, due to his narrow advantages in the Midwest, flipped the states he needed to win a commanding Electoral College majority.
But, Trump flipped states in a way that was vastly different than Bush and prior Republican nominees had. The recipes for success in Iowa, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, to pick just a few examples, were different than Trump’s. For example, in Iowa victory was gained by running up huge margins in Eastern Iowa to offset losses in Western Iowa. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were won by winning in the suburbs and winning or tying in rural areas. In Trump’s case, he won virtually everywhere in Iowa, lost the Philly suburbs substantially but offset those losses by winning big in rural areas and showcased his strength in Wisconsin’s rural areas even as turnout in red, suburban Milwaukee dropped.
For their part, Clinton and Democrats ran up big margins in the Colorado and Virginia suburbs. However, in transitioning Sun Belt states like North Carolina and perennial swing state Florida, the Clinton campaign did not do much better than Obama in the suburbs. They did notably worse in urban areas.
But here is the rub, the Democrats coalition in swing states did not outweigh the new GOP coalition in the Rust Belt. Just look at the math. Democrats won Colorado, Nevada and Virginia (states Bush took in 04) and it gave them 28 Electoral votes. But. Trump won IA, PA, WI, OH and MI and ME’s 2nd CD for a total of 71 votes (states Obama won in 08 and 012). Not a good trade-off.
For once, Republicans get the better end of the Electoral College. But, this view also obscures the fact the GOP got the better of the Electoral College in 2012 when several solid red states gained new votes due to the Census (most notably TX with 4 and AZ with 2).
Republicans certainly don’t have a lock on the map though. Just look at how narrowly Trump won Michigan (11,000 votes), Wisconsin (12,000 votes) and Pennsylvania (35,000) votes. Flip those states and Clinton or another Democrat in 2010 gets 52 Electoral votes and keeps Trump well below 270. Combine this with growing Democratic advantages in CO, NV and VA and they could afford to lose Ohio and Florida and still win.
To prove the point see the chart below.
It’s true short of Virginia most of these states are deeply red or blue. Running up big margins in California won’t change the Electoral College. Nor will coming closer in Texas or Utah. Sure, you could argue Arizona and Georgia are swing seats but for the most part the fundamentals and key county voter preferences showed Trump was likely to win them.
This does leave Democrats somewhat up a creek without a paddle. Whereas Republicans have finally broken through in the Rust Belt (even if their wins are fragile) Democrats have now invested 3 elections worth of effort to flip Texas, Georgia, Arizona and North Carolina. Right now they are batting 1-12. Moreover, the margins in Ohio and Iowa look more Texasesque this election than that befitting perennial swing states.
I recently wrote that this election was a realignment election not based on geography but culture. Right now, Republicans are benefiting from this shift because blue-collar, rural voters are trending their way and suburban voters at worse are splitting their votes in the Rust Belt. On the other hand Democrats have firmly aligned themselves with the culture of minorities, the young, refugees and college educated, urban women and men. So far though, or this election at least, that alliance did not reap many dividends.
That said, here is 1 last important point to keep in mind. After 2012, Republicans said they needed to moderate, pass immigration reform and work with Democrats to win young and urban voters. Instead, Trump won running against immigration reform, the establishment and the cultural tolerance of urban voters. There is no reason to believe that Democrats 4 or 8 years down the road cannot run on a platform similar to Clinton and win. Candidates matter, and let’s be honest, Clinton was a horrible one compared to Obama.