Tuesday, July 1, 2008

From Whence Cometh the Obama-jority

Barack Obama is obviously polling better than the performance of Al Gore and John Kerry in 2000 and 2004, respectively. With leads in places like Indiana, Colorado, and Virginia, there is some talk of a dramatic shake up of the electoral map (why I don't care about the map, here). Regardless, all of the map talk tends to ignore other signs of change around the country, since a state only appears to have "changed" if it moves from Red to Blue, or the other way around. Below, I have created a chart (with polling-data-informed projections taken from fivethirtyeight.com, methodology here) showing the change in each state between today and the result in each of 2004 and 2000. The numbers shown are the change in the margin of victory (or defeat) for the Democratic candidate. A positive number shows a shift in our direction, and is therefore colored blue. A (red) negative number means just the opposite. Among the blue numbers, the bold ones indicate that the state has shifted to the left more than has the country as a whole in the given time period. Italics indicate that the state has shifted to the left, but less so than the country as a whole.

Please, peruse the chart. My comments are below.

2008-2004 2008-2000
AL 5.92% -4.82%
AK 18.75% 24.15%
AZ -0.13% -4.32%
AR -1.54% -5.86%
CA 8.75% 6.90%
CO 7.77% 11.46%
CT 5.83% -1.27%
DE 3.71% -1.76%
DC -14.04% -10.40%
FL 1.31% -3.69%
GA 7.70% 2.79%
HI 4.26% -5.33%
ID 17.12% 18.53%
IL 7.36% 5.69%
IN 21.28% 16.23%
IA 7.27% 6.29%
KS 14.58% 10.00%
KY 2.76% -1.97%
LA 2.01% -4.82%
ME 3.70% 7.59%
MD 1.72% -1.69%
MA -9.36% -11.50%
MI 1.68% -0.03%
MN 8.12% 9.20%
MS 9.19% 6.41%
MO 2.90% -0.96%
MT 10.90% 15.47%
NE 17.32% 13.09%
NV 0.79% 1.75%
NH 5.93% 8.57%
NJ 5.92% -3.23%
NM 3.49% 2.64%
NY -0.69% -7.38%
NC 8.03% 8.43%
ND 20.86% 21.10%
OH 6.51% 7.91%
OK 10.74% 1.48%
OR 1.74% 5.46%
PA 3.60% 1.93%
RI -2.15% -10.48%
SC 7.48% 6.33%
SD 13.67% 14.93%
TN -1.73% -12.14%
TX 15.36% 13.82%
UT 20.64% 15.59%
VT 0.96% 11.16%
VA 8.30% 8.14%
WA 6.62% 8.22%
WV 2.96% -3.58%
WI 8.72% 8.88%
WY 18.29% 18.56%
Total 5.96% 2.98%

1) Obvious Anticipated Changes - There are certain states where shifts are to be expected. Obama should do worse in MA and TN compared to 2004 and 2000 because he is not from those states, as Kerry and Gore were. Indeed, he's polling about 10% worse than Kerry in MA and 12% worse than Gore in TN. To note on MA, though, he's actually further behind Gore than he is Kerry, suggesting that something else is afoot. On the other hand, Illinois should show stronger improvement than the rest of the country, and indeed it does. The home state thing applies to the Republican's state, too, and we see Obama making huge gains over Kerry-Gore in Texas and showing losses in Arizona. We might also expect to see a resurgence in NJ and NY as they start to recover from the "9/11 effect". In NJ, we do see marked improvement over 2004, but it's only about the same as the national shift. In NY, the change is actually some small back-sliding. And in each state Obama does far worse than Al Gore, suggesting that the "9/11 effect" is not yet gone.

2) Large Gains in Deep Red Territory - 12 states show 10%+ positive shifts since 2004. These are Indiana (21.28%), North Dakota (20.86%), Utah (20.64%), Alaska (18.75%), Wyoming (18.29%), Nebraska (17.32%), Idaho (17.12%), Texas (15.36%), Kansas (14.58%), South Dakota (13.67%), Montana (10.90%), and Oklahoma (10.74%). All but Indiana are west of the Mississippi. All but Indiana are projected to state Red by a healthy margin. But just imagine how much easier (or I should say less hard) it will be to run as a Democrat in any of those states because of these earthquakes at the presidential level.

3) Gains in the Midwest and Deep South - While not as dramatic as the gains in the West, Obama is gaining over John Kerry in the Midwest and the Deep South. Where is he not gaining so impressively? 1) The Northeast, 2) The Border States, 3) The long-competitive parts of the West, 4) Michigan, and 5) Florida. You can see these patterns on the map below. Blue states showed gains of at least twice the national average. Red states showed smaller gains. Yellow states showed back-sliding from 2004 or gains of less than the national average.


For good measure, here's the map for the 2000 to 2008 changes. Same deal as above, except that blue means 10%+ improvements, while reds are improvements of the single-digit variety (though above the national average). As you can see, the maps are strikingly similar, with the exception of the marked improvements in the upper northeast, which took until 2004 to finish realigning, maybe because they hadn't had a northern Democrat to vote for since 1988.


If large gains by Obama can translate to down-ticket success, we could be in the midst of a new realignment. The "huge swing" states from the 2004-2008 map are currently governed by 8 Republicans and 2 Democrats. They have 15 Republican Senators to only 5 Democratic ones, and have 34 Republicans and 23 Democrats in the House. Only 1 of the 18 partisan legislative chambers (exempting Nebraska) is controlled by Democrats (Indiana House, 51-49). The other states that are swinging above the national average are also ripe for takeovers. We're already doing pretty well at the state level, with a 10-5 lead in governorships and 19-10 edge in legislative chambers (the Oklahoma Senate is split). But their congressional delegations show more room for improvement. Their Senators are closely split, with 16 Democrats to 14 Republicans. At just 96-84, our lead among their Representatives is not overwhelming, either, considering that California nets us 15 seats by itself. For comparison's sake, in the yellow states, where Obama does not appear to be growing the party, we already hold 30 of 50 Senate seats, 117 of 198 House seats, 16 of 25 governorships, and 37 of 50 legislative chambers (Tennessee Senate is tied). In other words, there isn't much room for the party to grow, so no growth isn't necessarily a bad sign, especially since there aren't any signs of significant decline (from 2004) outside of Massachusetts.

The point is this: a 6-point shift in our direction matters beyond just moving 65 new electoral votes into our column (CO, IN, IA, NM, OH, VA). Yes, electoral votes matter. Of course they do. But if it looks likely that Obama will have plenty of cushion above 270, as it does, then it doesn't much matter which camp Virginia or Indiana, or Missouri, or any other single state ends up in. More important is that Obama is ratcheting up his numbers most in the places where we most need it. It is significant that Obama's gains are reflected in closer losses in deep red states like Indiana, Georgia, and Kansas, (where we have a lot to gain) rather than huge wins in deep blue states like New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland (where we have virtually nothing to gain). It's the difference between a 60-seat Senate majority scraped out in nail-biters in Idaho and Kentucky, for instance, and a lot of wasted votes in blowout wins in New Jersey and Arkansas.

1 comment:

Alton Brooks Parker said...

Something to mull over: What does this growth pattern, should it hold, say about the future of our party? Especially keeping in mind these growth predictions: