State of the States: Vermont

Quick, what’s the state that has historically supported Republicans the most? That’s right! The home of Ben & Jerry’s and Bernie Sanders. The land of maple syrup and green mountains. The place with the progressive bastions of Burlington (where Bernie was mayor) and Brattleboro (pretend Berkeley was a giant B&B.)

Yes, Vermont has given more cumulative support to GOP presidential candidates than any other state. This isn’t a mistake or typo. From the first candidate, John Fremont in 1856, through Richard Nixon in 1960, Vermont was redder than the national popular vote in every election. By a minimum of 17 points and an average of more than double that. Even when losing badly overall, Republicans won the state every time, including 1936 when FDR only lost two states (Maine was the other rebel,)

Then Barry Goldwater happened. Continue reading “State of the States: Vermont”

Efficiency and Legitimacy

Joe Biden is becoming more efficient. At least based on recent polls. His weighted average in national surveys is +6.8%. If the election were today and the polls are correct, his tipping point state (the one that would put him to/over 270) is Pennsylvania. He leads by 4.6% on average. He’s got a gap of 2.2 points between his national number and the one that actually matters. You can think of this as an efficiency measure.

It’s pretty much impossible to game the Electoral College in such a way that a candidate could lose the popular vote by more than 6 points, yet still triumph. If not impossible, it’s a 1 in 100 thing that we can ignore for the purposes of doing a little math. An election where the tipping point state and national popular vote exactly match is perfectly efficient. We’ll give this an index number of 100. If a candidate would need to win the popular vote by 6 points or more, we’ll give that a 0. That’s as inefficient as you can be.

For the candidate who could lose the popular vote by up to 6 points and still win, they’d get an index of 200. No matter how you calculate, there are a total of 200 index points to split between the candidates, so that the average is always 100. Based on current numbers, Biden’s index number is 63, while Donald Trump’s is 137.

Here’s what the past several elections look like by this measure: Continue reading “Efficiency and Legitimacy”


As I was getting ready to work on a post about Indiana or Louisiana (hadn’t figured out which), the news about the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg reached the world. Suddenly, trying to sort out why FDR and the election of 1932 pushed Indiana from purple to red wasn’t urgent.

It’s always a big deal when a sitting justice passes away. There’s a scramble. And whether it was William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, or any other justice with a lengthy career and decades on the court, except for the day of the funeral, political considerations dominate the news. Yes, 2020 is an extra big mess, but the exception is when the court isn’t politicized, not when it is.

It’s always a big deal when a particularly meaningful justice leaves the court. RBG was nominated right before Steven Breyer. They served together for almost three decades. They voted together well over 90% of the time. In terms of judicial impact, it doesn’t make much difference that Breyer is the one who will be hearing arguments when the new session begins on October 5. Emotionally it’s a huge difference. Continue reading “Earthquake”

State of the States: Arizona

Looks like Arizona is front and center from now until November 3 (plus however long it takes them to count.) Of all the traditionally red states (AZ has voted for a Democrat only once since 1948), it looks like the best opportunity for Joe Biden to flip. He’s got a stronger lead there than in Florida, where the Obama-Biden ticket won twice. Odds are similar to Pennsylvania, where Donald Trump ended a 6 election Democratic streak in 2016.

Arizona is key to Biden being able to win even if one of the more common Democratic targets doesn’t work out. Much as I enjoy pushing back on conventional wisdom, the closer you look, the more this seems like a legit possibility. While I have no idea if or when Texas will go blue, Arizona will be giving Democratic presidential candidates a boost from their national average by 2028 at the latest. Even now, it’s a clear target for a Democrat who wins the popular vote by a couple/few points. Continue reading “State of the States: Arizona”

State of the States: West Virginia

In 1996, Bill Clinton won West Virginia by 15 points.

In 2016 Hillary Clinton lost West Virginia by 42 points.

This wasn’t a fluke. It was the logical conclusion of a pattern:

1996: D+6

2000: R+7

2004: R+10

2008: R+20

2012: R+31

2016: R+44

In case you’re wondering, this isn’t normal. States and regions change sides all the time. There are zero states that haven’t been more red than average at least once and more blue than average at least once. Huge swings from one election to the next are plenty precedented. But there’s usually a correction at some point. When the South went from blue to red, there was a lot of back and forth as the transition was happening. Not here.

With Donald Trump, the ideal candidate for West Virginia got to jump on a speeding train moving in the perfect direction. Though this is the most extreme example, the same thing is happening throughout a swath of the country with Appalachian roots. The states are either part of Appalachia itself, or the diaspora. Many of their voters are of Scots-Irish decent. This is the part of the country that made up Andrew Jackson’s base in the 1820s and 1830s. Continue reading “State of the States: West Virginia”

State of the States: Oregon

Even if you’ve never watched an episode of Portlandia, your political image of Oregon is likely very blue. It seems like a very liberal/progressive place, one beyond allergic to Donald Trump. Not quite. Joe Biden will win there in November. But by 12 points, maybe, maybe 15 or 16, not the 30+ in California or 25+ in Washington.

Believe it or not, Oregon is relatively moderate, a state Republicans need to start competing in if they want to win a national popular vote anytime soon. As California and Washington have become off-limits for GOP presidential candidates and Connecticut and New Jersey only accessible in a landslide year, the right Republican would be viable there. Something to ponder as thoughts turn to 2024 sooner than we’re ready for. Continue reading “State of the States: Oregon”

State of the States: Alaska

Alaska is red, violets are blue. Some things just are. Until they’re not. In the case of the 49th State, the only one that can make Texas look mini, I was preparing to write a quick piece about how it’s definitely in Donald Trump’s column, with a quick aside about the old election that moved Alaska from purple to red.

When I looked for the poll numbers to plug in to the second section, I was thinking there was a good chance that like Rhode Island, we’d have none. To my surprise, not only were there a few surveys, but they indicate a competitive(ish) race. FiveThirtyEight is giving Joe Biden a 20% chance at being the first Democrat to win Alaska since 1964.

How can this be? Continue reading “State of the States: Alaska”

State of the States: Texas

Almost twenty years ago, political demographer Ruy Teixeira and journalist John Judis wrote a book called The Emerging Democratic Majority. The thesis is that by combining women, racial and ethnic minorities, and knowledge workers, Democrats could create an enduring governing majority. This is exactly what the Democratic coalition in blue places looks like these days. And it bears more than a passing resemblance to the Obama Coalition. Clearly there was something to this.

Some carried this to a further logical conclusion. That Texas would inherently turn blue. If people of color tend to vote Democratic, and Texas was increasingly becoming non-white, then ergo, the second most populous state in the union would join California as part of an Electoral College bulwark, dooming Republicans to decades of needing an invitation to enter the White House. You can see why hopeful Democrats would buy in to this scenario.

In the several elections since the book debuted, Republicans have easily won each of the presidential contests in Texas. The GOP is unbeaten in Senate and governor’s races too. This is despite the increasing percentage of Latino voters and immigrants from blue states. Why isn’t this happening? Or is it, but something that Democrats hoped would take 10 or 20 years will actually require 40 or 60? Continue reading “State of the States: Texas”

State of the States: Rhode Island

We’re used to thinking about religion impacting voting. The Republican capture of the evangelical vote over the past 40 years is the single biggest factor in the past several GOP victories. As Trump haters lament the success the thrice-married, porn star paying, not sure how to hold a bible president continues to have with this key voting block, based mostly on judicial nominations and maximum verbal support for the community, it’s easy to forget about Catholics. That “other” group represents almost a quarter of the country.

In Rhode Island, it’s almost half. The only other group of consequence are those who consider themselves non-observant. Among those who regularly pay attention to religion, Rhode Island is a Catholic state. And it’s not a new development. For the past hundred and fifty years or so, it, Massachusetts, and to a bit lesser extent, Connecticut have given Catholics a strong presence in New England.

Times have changed, and this doesn’t drive electoral results as directly as last century. But you can still see the pattern. Among states with a high percentage of white Catholics, Donald Trump tended to do better than recent Republican candidates. In Rhode Island, it narrowed the gap. He still lost by double digits. It was still the closest result to the national popular vote for any Republican since 1992. In places like Pennsylvania (8th most Catholic state) and Wisconsin (11th), the votes of older white Catholics may have delivered the presidency to Trump. Continue reading “State of the States: Rhode Island”

State of the States: Iowa

Donald Trump’s Iowa victory in 2016 was a big surprise. Not that he won. Several polls showed him with a lead, and George W. Bush won the state in 2004 and lost by a sliver in 2000, so it’s not like Iowa was part of the supposed Blue Wall. It was the margin. Nine points, 11 better than Trump’s national popular vote percentage. The best performance by a Republican since Richard Nixon in 1968.

Clearly, Iowa is Trumpy. Or is it? Current polls there are showing him barely ahead of Joe Biden. Should we believe the surveys? Overall, Biden’s polls are ahead of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 results, but among competitive states, his Iowa improvement is about double the average. I think this is legit. And if anything, the numbers are underselling Biden’s odds. Here’s why:

Continue reading “State of the States: Iowa”