Unfortunately For the GOP, Democrats Have An Electoral College Advantage
From 1968 through 1988, Republicans won all but one of six Presidential elections, and the one election they lost was a narrow loss in both the Electoral College and the Popular Vote. Each of the other elections, starting with 1968 when Nixon’s narrow Popular Vote victory was accompanied by an Electoral College landslide (thanks in part to George Wallace winning 46 Electoral Votes), the Republican party was able to rack up Presidential win after Presidential win thanks to what by 1988 was being called an Electoral College “lock” that we were told would guarantee a Republican advantage in the race for the White House for the foreseeable future. The “lock” spoken of was created by Republican dominance, at least in Presidential years, in a huge swath of states starting in the Southeast, stretching across to Texas, north to the Great Plains, and then out to the West Coast. The first chink in that armor appeared in 1988 in Michael Dukakis became the first Democrat to win Washington and Oregon since Johnson had done so in 1964 but, so it was thought, as long as the GOP held on to the Electoral behemoths of Florida, California, and Texas, they had a near impenetrable grasp on the White House that would be hard for Democrats to beat. Of course, four years later, the Democrats did crack the GOP Electoral “lock” when Bill Clinton became the first Democrat to capture California since, again, Johnson had done so in 1964. Ever since then, the parties advantages in the Electoral College had been roughly even and the battles for the last several elections have focused on a shifting group of Swing States.
Now Nate Silver argues that Democrats have developed their own version of an Electoral College “lock” that will pose challenges for Republican Presidential candidates in the future:
Two more presidential elections, 2016 and 2020, will be contested under the current Electoral College configuration, which gave Barack Obama a second term on Tuesday. This year’s results suggest that this could put Republicans at a structural disadvantage.
Based on a preliminary analysis of the returns, Mitt Romney may have had to win the national popular vote by three percentage points on Tuesday to be assured of winning the Electoral College. The last Republican to accomplish that was George H.W. Bush, in 1988. In the table below, I have arranged the 50 states and the District of Columbia from the most Democratic to the most Republican, based on their preliminary results from Tuesday. Along the way, I have counted up the number of electoral votes for the Democratic candidate, starting at zero and going up to 538 as he wins progressively more difficult states.
Here’s the chart that Silver was referring to:
The problem the GOP faces here is self-evident. The President was able to wrack up 270 Electoral Votes while barely breaking a sweat because of the built in advantage the the GOP has in the Northeast and the West Coast, a group of 18 states plus the District of Columbia that adds up to 237 Electoral Votes, meaning that he needed to pick up 39 just Electoral Votes to win the election. By contrast, Romney’s “safe” states consist of 23 states adding up to 201 Electoral Votes, meaning he had to win 69 Electoral Votes out of the remaining 100 in order to win. As Silver goes on to explain, the GOP’s problem becomes even more difficult when you consider that the President won Colorado by five percentage points, Iowa by six points, and Nevada by seven points. That’s a total of 21 Electoral Votes right there. If those three states suddenly become reliably blue, the Democratic “lock” becomes even more insurmountable because all a Democratic candidate would have to is win Florida, or a combination of Ohio and New Hampshire, and the election is over. Assuming that this “lock” lasts past Barack Obama, and there’s no guarantee that it will because there is a strong argument that the President’s success in the past two elections is as much attributable to things personal to him as anything more general, then the GOP is in serious trouble, at least in short term. We could indeed be heading into a period akin to 1968-1988 when one party dominated Presidential races to such a degree that our quadrennial elections are barely even a contest.
Trends like this don’t last forever, of course. It was just when people started speaking of the Republican Electoral “lock” in the late 80s that we were actually seeing the beginning of its end. American politics will adjust, whether because of external or internal factors, and the political parties will adapt accordingly. For the moment at least, though, it appears that the Democrats have that “lock” on the Electoral College that the Republicans once thought would be there’s for a long time. Enjoy it while you can, guys.