According to Michael Barone, the election of 2012 shows that although the population of the United States has indeed moved toward the Democratic Party, but the outlook for future presidential races is still very much up in the air.
Barone, one of the leading experts on presidential elections, notes that 2012 resembles 2004 in two ways. The results show Barack Obama with 50.73% of the popular vote, which is exactly the same as George W. Bush’s percentage when he won reelection in 2004. More importantly, the great majority of states only voted a trifle more Democratic than they did in 2004.
Those small differences turned what had been 252 electoral votes for John Kerry in 2004 into 332 for Barack Obama in 2012. In nine states and the District of Columbia (81 electoral votes), Obama only received one or two more percentage points than Kerry. Among those states were target states New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
In 20 other states worth 243 electoral votes, Obama received three or four points more than Kerry. Some of these states were target states Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada and Wisconsin.
George W. Bush won almost all of those target states in 2004; the only one he lost was Wisconsin, and only barely.
Hispanic voters, and the differences between Bush and Mitt Romney on immigration and in attitude, helped move Colorado, Nevada and, by a very narrow margin, Florida from the Republican column in 2004 to the Democratic column in 2012. But Obama’s winning percentages in these three states — 50 percent in Florida, 51 percent in Colorado and 52 percent in Nevada — don’t suggest that Republicans will never be competitive there again. As for Iowa and Wisconsin, they were both exceedingly close in both 2000 and 2004, both were solid for Obama in 2008, and this time they gave him 52 and 53 percent of their votes.
How about the other 21 states? The ones that swung big for Obama included swings of 17 points in Hawaii, eight points in Vermont (which has gone liberal), six points in Maryland and Virginia (which are the two states most positively affected by federal largesse), and five points in California (where taxes have driven out the middle class) and North Carolina (which Obama targeted by holding the DNC there).
Meanwhile, the Republican ticket saw gains from 2004 in West Virginia, Arkansas, and states that Barone says are part of the “warlike Jacksonian tradition”: Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Louisiana and Oklahoma.
Barone concedes that Democrats have a structural advantage in the Electoral College, but he also suggests that the balance of power between the two parties is similar to what existed between 1995 and 2005, putting the presidency within range for Republicans in 2016.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore