Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Electoral College & The 2016 Race For President

The political silly season is well underway in Washington and the vaunted campaign trail [1] with such important topics as "should a candidate tip at Chipotle" and "what does a person's driving record say about them as a candidate" sucking up an amount of media oxygen that should shame the entire profession, but we are well past the point of most journalists doing anything other than opining on the latest polling or politician "gaffe." 

So, while the Beltway media is doing its level best to portray Hillary Clinton as a weak front runner (never mind her more than 40 point lead on second-place Bernie Sanders) and the Republican field as "deep" (this includes a candidate who literally could not remember three things in a debate, another who questions evolution, a whole clown car of people who deny climate science and oh yeah, Donald Trump), the one thing that will matter on November 8, 2016 is the electoral college, and specifically, which candidate will receive the 270 votes necessary to win the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

That you have not heard much about this immutable fact of Presidential politics is perhaps unsurprising. The reality is that recent history suggests that Mrs. Clinton, assuming she is the nominee, will start with a tremendous advantage over her Republican rival, whoever it is. If you were to think about 270 electoral votes as the "end zone" on a 100 yard football field, Mrs. Clinton will essentially be starting at the other team's 10 yard line. 

No reporter worth his or her salt wants to report this fact, because it would essentially make the next 17 months a moot point, but consider this: the media's attempt to portray the country as "center right" notwithstanding, Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the last six elections, and four of the last six tallies in the electoral college. Of course, of those two losses, one has and will forever be disputed (2000), and was so close regardless, as to almost be considered a tie. More importantly, 18 states and the District of Columbia have voted Democratic in every one of the last six presidential elections. Those 18 states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin) plus D.C. equal 242 electoral votes (EVs) or 89.62% of the total needed to win the Presidency and none of those states could realistically be seen as competitive in 2016. [2] 

To that total, three other states with a total of 15 electoral votes, Iowa, New Hampshire, and New Mexico, have voted for the Democratic nominee in five of the last six elections. In the one election (2004) that Iowa and New Mexico went to the Republicans, they did so by < 1%, whereas in the two most recent elections, President Obama won the former by 10% (2008) and 7% (2012) and the latter by 15% (2008) and 10% (2012). In 2000, New Hampshire went for George W. Bush over Al Gore by 1.2%, but third-party candidate Ralph Nader received almost 4% of the vote. Since then, New Hampshire has been reliably Democratic, with John Kerry eking out a 1.5% win in 2004 before Barack Obama swamped McCain by 17% in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 by 15%. Those 15 EVs, added to the 242 that have gone for the Democrats in every election since 1992, would put Hillary Clinton just thirteen electoral votes from history. 

Now consider that Nevada (6 EVs) and Ohio (18 EVs) have voted Democratic in four of the last six elections (and neither one for the Republicans since 2004, when the latter was famously won by the equivalent of the Ohio State University football stadium) and Florida (29 EVs) has gone for the Democrats the last two election cycles, barely went for George W. Bush in 2004 and was essentially a tie in 2000 (those 30,000 plus mysterious "Jews for Buchanan" votes in Palm Beach County and Ralph Nader's 1.6% statewide tally) and suddenly, the Republican mountain appears too high to climb. 

Indeed, the other side of the coin is not particularly favorable for the GOP. It has gone six-for-six in 13 states since 1992, but they only total 102 EVs (Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming). Another five states have voted for the GOP in five of the last six elections, adding 56 EVs to their haul, but still putting them more than 110 EVs away from victory. This is without even mentioning Virginia (13 EVs), a once reliable Republican state that has trended away from the party in the last two presidential elections and three of the last four gubernatorial elections. 

So, if you're scoring at home, if Hillary simply carries those states that have voted for the Democrats in every election since 1992 and five of the last six elections, she will need two measly states from among places like Virginia, Ohio, and Nevada (or just win Florida) that are demographically favorable to her and have most recently voted for a sitting President whose approval rating is trending up and against a candidate who is probably going to support unpopular positions on issues like immigration and social policy or is going to have the last name "Bush."


1. Every sign off from an enterprising reporter in Des Moines, Nashua, Las Vegas and most points in between receives the requisite "be safe on 'the trail'" or words to that effect. 
2. Some might say Wisconsin would be in play in Scott Walker were the nominee, however, President Obama carried the state in 2012 by 7 points. Walker's re-election in a strong Republican year (2014) was only by 6 points and with 700,000 fewer voters showing up at the booth. 

For general information, see:


  1. Presidential elections don't have to continue to be dominated by and determined by a handful of swing states besieged with attention, while most of the country is politically irrelevant.

    Instead, The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country.

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps of pre-determined outcomes. There would no longer be a handful of 'battleground' states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 80%+ of the states that have just been 'spectators' and ignored after the conventions.

    The bill would take effect when enacted by states with a majority of Electoral College votes—that is, enough to elect a President (270 of 538). The candidate receiving the most popular votes from all 50 states (and DC) would get all the 270+ electoral votes of the enacting states, and win.

    The bill has passed 33 state legislative chambers in 22 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 250 electoral votes. The bill has been enacted by 11 jurisdictions with 165 electoral votes – 61% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.


  2. My slumber was comically greeted this morning by an announcement on NPR that Trump has "formally" announced his Presidential bid - to the strains of a Neil Young song. They went on to recount various unauthoized uses by candidates of "theme songs".

    Young himself made a weak objection and said he favors Sanders.

    Our great grand children will variously praise, object to, and ignore the Electoral College. As an Alaskan, my vote for President (along with those in Wyoming, Vermont, the Dakotas, etc.) carries more weight that others - never mind that it has essentially as little influnence as those from California, Texas, New York.... Of course this is because a 3/4 vote by the states is required to take us from "college" to kindergarten (may as well let the kids call the shots, eh?)

    Let's Rock the Vote and get on with the party.

    I suspect that Jefferson, Hamilton, Monroe, and their governing fellows had a healthy disdain for democracy. Some (all?) read Plato and knew his mentor was murdered by a democracy for exercising First Amendment rights. I share that disdain and am loathe to mess with a system that is pretty good at diffusing power.

    As to current strategic concerns:

    (elections dominated by swing states) while most of the country is politically irrelevant

    those will change - recall that political relevancy comes in many forms and forums.

  3. Scary, send email to jahnghalt*****at********yahoo*****dot****com.