Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Advantage Republicans, or Democrats? Look to the President’s Job Performance

In Election Analysis on February 10, 2015 at 10:55 am

University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato and two others published an article that is still running in the Politico newspaper (The GOP’s 2016 Edge), but their conclusion is open to debate. They argue that the eventual Republican presidential nominee may have a slight advantage in next year’s election, yet analyzing the most recent voting data seems to point in the opposite direction.

According to Sabato and colleagues: “At this early stage, does either party have an obvious edge? Around the time of the GOP-dominated midterms, it seemed logical to say the Republicans held the advantage. Not because their strong performance in congressional and gubernatorial races has any predictive value — ask President Romney about how well 2010’s midterms predicted the future — but because President Barack Obama’s approval rating was mired in the low 40s. Should Obama’s approval be low, he’ll be a drag on any Democratic nominee, who will effectively be running for his third term.”

Doesn’t the actual voting pattern established in the two Obama elections supersede their observation about presidential job performance? Remembering, that voters in only two states, Indiana and North Carolina, changed their allegiance during those two election periods (both from President Obama to Mitt Romney), and that 48 states and the District of Columbia voted consistently, suggests a new prototype may have formed. This is further supported by the fact that 47 states and DC voted consistently during the George W. Bush years.

In looking ahead to 2016, we can be safe in assuming that 16 entities are a virtual lock to for the Democratic presidential nominee, representing 196 electoral votes. Conversely, 22 states, but of a smaller variety, are sure to back the Republican nominee. The latter aggregate electoral vote count is 180. This leaves 13 states that can be considered swings, or at least battleground targets, for the coming presidential election. The 13 entities represent 162 electoral votes.

But, in this battleground category, 11 of the 13 states voted twice for President Obama, and 12 of the 13 did so at least once. During the George W. Bush years, nine of these same 13 states voted Republican in 2004, and seven did so in 2000. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan are the three that consistently remained in the Democratic column during the Bush and Obama years. New Hampshire, Iowa and New Mexico are the only states to have split their votes between 2000 and 2004.

Therefore, in the last four presidential elections a total of only 10 states voted for both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidate during this span of 16 years. Conversely, the remaining 40 states, or 80 percent of the country, remained consistent in support of one particular party’s candidate.

Regardless of what might be a tendency in the modern electorate to seemingly switch between the parties every eight years, it appears that at least for 80 percent of the voting public, the outgoing president’s performance record has little effect upon their voting behavior. Therefore, we conclude that the states’ consistent performances are the more accurate indicator of future voting behavior in reference to the 2016 election.

Referring to the most recent presidential elections it becomes apparent that the Democratic nominee, and not the eventual Republican general election candidate, should begin the 2016 campaign with a slight edge.

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