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It’s not the swing states, it’s the three swung states

REUTERS/Brian Snyder
California delegate Abby Travis holding a sign at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colo.

It’s fairly obvious that the current nationwide map of U.S. House districts favors Republican control of the House even when, as happened in 2012, Democratic candidates actually received the plurality of votes for all House races combined.

Gerrymandering by Republicans after the 2010 elections was a factor in that result (although, I have argued, not as big a factor as some Democrats want to believe).

In the period 1968-1988, when Republicans won a very impressive five out of six presidential elections, it was argued that the Electoral College was tilted in favor of Republicans. This was not, of course, based on any gerrymandering, since electoral votes are apportioned (with one or two small and inconsequential exceptions) on a state-by-state, winner-take-all basis. But the Electoral College system overweights small population states and underweights large states. Republicans during that period won more of the small states and got the benefit of that overweighting.

But since Bill Clinton broke the Republican hot streak in 1992, Dems have won four out of six presidential elections. (It is worth noting that all four elections that the Dem candidates won, they also got the most popular votes. And perhaps I should also note that the only recent case in which the popular vote loser won the electoral vote was the case of Republican George W. Bush in 2000. So if the Electoral College now tilts blue, it is mostly a “natural” – as opposed to a gerrymandered or rule-driven — occurrence.)

All of the verbosity above is really just to introduce a fact that caught me off guard in a piece by Dan Balz of the Washington Post that seemed to further than anything else I’ve seen to explain why the Repub domination of the presidency has turned into Dem domination.

In the six elections from 1968 to 1988, the Republicans carried California, Illinois and New Jersey all six times. In the six elections from 1992 to 2012, the Dems carried those three large and electoral-vote-wise well-endowed states all six times.

In fact, all three of those states are now considered part of the Democratic base in presidential elections, so much so that I was taken aback to be reminded how recently they had been red.

Yes, California, the single largest electoral vote prize and Illinois (the sixth largest) and New Jersey (tied for ninth).

In today’s numbers, those three states are good for a combined 89 electoral votes.

Eighty-nine electoral votes that were once fairly solid red and, for the last six cycles, have become fairly solid blue. Ouch. That’s a lot to overcome.

The way Balz reviews the history, the base that the Repubs enjoyed during their six-term run of dominance has been cut in half and the biggest factor in that change was the reversal of those three big states. Quoting Balz:

In the six elections beginning with 1992, the Republicans’ Electoral College base has shrunk by nearly half, while Democrats have built an even bigger bulwark than the GOP enjoyed in its presidential heyday. Eighteen states plus the District [of Columbia] have backed the Democrats in the six most recent presidential elections with a total of 242 electoral votes. Republicans, meanwhile, have seen their base erode to 13 states accounting for just 102 electoral votes.

The rest of the Balz piece is not about that one big fact. It’s about two theories for how the Repubs can overcome this problem by either nominating a centrist (Chris Christie) or a libertarian (Rand Paul). We’ll see.

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Lora Jones on 06/11/2013 - 12:25 pm.

    Balz cites the GOP’s “hispanic problem” in CA

    as a contributing factor. Enter Klein and Paulson Spanish language ads, and recent attempts at immigration reform. I’ve seen models where the increasingly minority majority flips Texas to blue (or at least purple) as early as 2024

    As for Christie or Paul, we’ll see indeed. I find it hard to believe that Paul could get nominated; or that Christie could put forward an appeal convincing enough to overcome the party’s history, image and platform. It’s increasingly unlikely that any GOP attempts at immigration reform will succeed, and somehow I doubt that a couple Spanish language ads are going to be enough.

    • Submitted by Lora Jones on 06/11/2013 - 02:12 pm.

      That’s what I get for scaning headlines and not reading articles

      I thought Paulson and Klein prepared a couple Spanish ads. They probably should have, given (part. in Klein’s case) the shifting demographics of his district, and perhaps this shot across the bow will compel it. I obviously gave them too much credit.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/11/2013 - 03:20 pm.

    People who vote democrat

    want something from government. People who vote republican don’t. By convincing people that they belong in a protected class, the democrats have convinced most women and minorities that they need this protection and only a democrat-run government can provide it

    No amount of immigration law tinkering or pandering to those who see themselves as victims will change that. Barring a raising of the voting age to 30, and/or limiting voting to citizens only, the republicans’ only hope for political power and/or influence is to continue to control the house of representatives.

  3. Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 06/11/2013 - 04:15 pm.

    Everyone wants something from govt.

    Republicans want their handouts in the form of govt contracts and tax cuts for the wealthy. Which means most Republicans are cutting their own throats because they don’t get the tax cuts or the govt contracts–but they pay more for them as a result. Tax cuts do NOT pay for themselves–and the near-doubling of the US National Debt from 2002-2009 proves it.

    Democrats want a level playing field for everyone–with govt help for those who can’t play the game. Yes, that does mean subsidies for some–but that is no different than private insurance. If you don’t have a claim, does the insurance company refund your premiums? LOL !! No. They use the money you paid to subsidize the costs of those who did make claims.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/11/2013 - 04:22 pm.

    Welcome back, Dennis!

    Glad to see your insightful analysis returning to the comment section. Too bad about the stereotype regarding what Democratic and Republican voters want, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

  5. Submitted by Alice Gibson on 06/12/2013 - 11:51 am.

    It’s not that complicated, really.

    Focusing on rural and southern issues and attitudes, and slamming cities and city folk at every opportunity, the Republican Party has made itself an almost exclusively rural and southern party. California, Illinois and New Jersey, states not in the deep South and with major urban centers and increasingly urban populations, no longer have any reason to vote Republican. Because Republican-managed redistricting and the methods of congressional elections have both a Republican and a rural bias, the Republican Party clings to power in Congress, but it seems to be in the process of conceding the presidency for the foreseeable future.

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