I’m sharing my arm chair opinion of Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election prospects, per the Electoral College vote. A lot rides on the Republicans’ choice of nominee and the state of the U.S. Economy at election time. As background I’ve listed the states and electoral votes JFK won in 1960, followed how those states voted in subsequent elections, excepting the landslide years of ‘64, ‘72, and ‘80, and excepting ‘68 because the electoral college votes George Wallace received don’t contribute, in my opinion, to understanding the voting trends over time. It can be seen how rather quickly winning coalitions can fall apart, requiring the formation of new ones. As well, the Kennedy states had 32 more electoral votes than those same states have today, and the declines mostly correspond to those states that still vote Democratic. (I was not successful in posting the data as a table, but if anyone wants it, they can email me at jtb21967[AT]aol.com.)
1960D, 1976D, 1988R, 1992D, 1996D, 2000R, 2004R, 2008D
AL-5* 9 (9-R) (9-R) (9-R) (9-R) (9-R) (9-R)
AR-8 6 (6-R) 6 6 (6-R) (6-R) (6-R)
CT-8 (8-R) (8-R) 8 8 8 7 7
DE-3 3 (3-R) 3 3 3 3 3
GA-12 12 (12-R) 13 (13-R) (13-R) (15-R) (15-R)
HA-3 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
IL-27 (26-R) (24-R) 22 22 22 21 21
LA-10 10 (10-R) 9 9 (9-R) (9-R) (9-R)
MD-9 10 (10-R) 10 10 10 10 10
MA-16 14 13 12 12 12 12 12
MI- 20 (20-R) (20-R) 18 18 18 17 17
MN- 11 10 10 10 10 10 10 10
MO-13 12 (11-R) 11 11 (11-R) (11-R) (11-R)
NV-3 (3-R) (4-R) 4 4 (4-R) (5-R) 5
NJ-16 (17-R) (16-R) 15 15 15 15 15
NY-45 41 36 33 33 33 31 31
NM-4 (4-R) (5-R) 5 5 5 (5-R) 5
NC-14 13 (13-R) (14-R) (14-R)(14-R) (15-R) 15
PA-32 27 (25-R) 23 23 23 21 21
RI-4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
SC-8 8 (8-R) (8-R) (8-R) (8-R) (8-R) (8-R)
TX-24 26 (29-R) (32-R) (32-R) (32-R) (34-R) (34-R)
WV-8 6 5 (*1) 5 5 (5-R) (5-R) (5-R)
Kennedy’s winning coalition relied heavily on taking several Southern states (*6 of the 11 Kennedy electors in Alabama cast their votes for Harry Byrd, instead and in 1988 one West Virginia Democratic elector declined to vote for Dukakis) and coupling them with several industrial states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, New Jersey and Ohio (though Nixon carried Ohio) and then hoping to score in California, which Kennedy lost narrowly. After passage of the Civil Rights bill in 1965 and with Democrats’ frequent support of matters such as desegregation, affirmative action, gun control, decreased military funding, and increased funding for federal social programs, and with Republican emphasis on “law and order,” Southern states that supported Kennedy mostly turned Republican in later elections, except that Jimmy Carter in 1976 won the great majority of southern states. Carter’s wins there helped to offset his loss to President Ford of industrial states such as Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey that Kennedy had carried in 1960; Carter did manage to carry Ohio, whose 1960 electoral votes went to Nixon. Bill Clinton, as compared to Dukakis, in ‘88, Gore in ‘00 and Kerry in ‘04, was able to win in some southern states: Arkansas, Lousiana, Georgia and Tennessee in ‘92 and Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Florida in ‘96.
More than 25 years (particularly beginning in 1992) after Republicans began dominating the southern states in Presidential elections, Democrats started to dominate or achieve parity as to states that had mostly voted Republican, going back to at least 1952. Those states include California, as mentioned, Oregon, Iowa, Vermont and New Mexico. As well, several states that often voted Democratic, but not consistently so, became reliable “blue” states beginning in 1992, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania, albeit not always by large margins for some states. One state, West Virginia, was fairly reliable for Democrats for many of the presidential election years starting with 1960, but now appears to have become reliable for the Republicans, with GOP wins there in ‘00, ‘04, and ‘08 and almost certain to be red in 2012. One likely reason it turned red is that much of the state has faced long-term employment woes with steep declines in traditional coal mining methods and sharp rises in strip mining, the latter practice opposed by many environmentally-focused Democrats, but supported by many West Virginians.
Obama, for his part, succeeded in carrying two Southern states that had mostly eluded Democrats for going on half-a-century, being Virginia, which Democrats had not been able to carry since 1964, and North Carolina, which Democrats had not carried since ‘64 with the exception of Jimmy Carter’s win there in ‘76.
As a casual observer of politics, I may be just taking a stab in the dark. But here goes: Absent a double recession, and assuming continued improvement in the economy (no certainty there!) and dropping unemployment, I think Obama has at least a 50-50 shot of being re-elected. My assessment of Obama’s prospects is much rosier than following the 2010 mid-term election landslide loss for the Democrats. My thinking is based in part on following the postings and analysis by pollsters Zogby and Rasmussen. I see a credible Obama winning coalition composed of (using the expected electoral college division following the 2010 census) first his solid base of California (55), New York (30), Illinois (21), Massachusetts (11), Connecticut (7), Rhode Island (4), Hawaii (4), Maine (4), Vermont (3), and the District of Columbia (3), for a total of 142 electoral votes. I add to that states where I think Obama is likely to do well, but may not win each and every one of them: Michigan (17), Washington (11), Minnesota (10), Wisconsin (10), Oregon (7), Iowa (6), and New Mexico (5), for a total of 66 electoral votes.
I would list the toss-up states as Florida (28), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (19), New Jersey (15), Virginia (13), Colorado (9) and Nevada (6), for a total of 110 electoral votes. Obama needs to win most of these, particularly the ones with more electoral votes. Adding together Obama’s near-certain 142 votes, his likely 66 votes, and 60-75 votes in the toss-up states, put Obama in the ballpark of the 270 votes needed to win.
Granting that things can change, and change quickly, I do not currently think Obama’s prospects are very good for repeating his 2008 victories in either North Carolina (15) or Indiana (11), with a total of 26 electoral votes. His prospects for New Hampshire (4) may not be that great, either. One minor uncertainty with respect to the Electoral College is that in recent years Maine and Nebraska have allotted some of their college vote to go by Congressional district wins; other states are still winner-take-all. Obama won one of 5 Nebraska electoral votes in what is overall a heavily Republican state.
The only states carried by McCain in 2008 that I believe could possibly, though not likely, flip from red to blue are Georgia (16), Arizona (11), and Missouri (11), for a total of 38 electoral votes. However, I think that at most, only one of these three states will be picked up by Obama.
If Obama were to win exactly the same states in 2012 as he won in 2008, his Electoral College margin would decrease by 10 to 12 votes nationally, based on the number of U.S. House seats projected to be allocated to the various states per the 2010 census. As to the 1960 Kennedy states won by Obama, there will be a net decline of 5 electoral votes, while the Kennedy states carried by McCain will have a net gain of 2. I expect a close 2012 race, but it might be noted that President Obama’s approval rating in 2011 has mostly been several points above what Ronald Reagan received at a similar point in 1983, during his first term. Reagan went on to win a landslide re-election in 1984 over Walter Mondale.
The overall voter turnout (as a percentage of voting-age U.S. Citizens) for 2008 was less than for the Bush-Kerry bout of 2004. Usually, lower turnout favors the Republicans, but in 2008, it seems to have been mostly Republicans or conservative independents that stayed home, while African-Americans voted in significantly greater numbers. As well, Obama got a higher percentage of the Black vote, as well as of the Hispanic and Asian-American vote. Depending on the nominee, Republican turnout for 2012 may be more in line with their turnout in 2004. For the Democrats’ part, while Obama retains considerable support, the “change” and “doing business a new way” themes of 2008 likely will stir fewer Democrats, particularly younger Democrats, for they have been reminded how “sausage” is made and they have also seen Obama’s failure to implement some changes, such as with Guantanamo detainees or U.S.-Cuban relations. His administration’s refusal to prosecute even those most responsible for the use of “water boarding” and “rendition” decisions has frustrated a number of his supporters. Still others, including myself, are disappointed with the continuing entanglement in Afghanistan. Further, many people are “single issue” voters who become disillusioned when a President either fails to bring about the change or policy they desire, or when a president switches position on a particular issue that drew many to the polls.
I’m using the table statistics to show that many states have “flipped,” some over a longer period and others over a fairly short period. Many states that were out of Kennedy’s grasp in 1960, such as California, Oregon, Washington, Iowa, Wisconsin, Maine, and Vermont have mostly been won by Democratic presidential nominees since 1992. It might be worth noting that while President Eisenhower significantly increased his winning percentage of the popular vote in 1956 as opposed to 1952, there were several individual states that gave a higher percentage of votes to Adlai Stevenson the second time around. In summary, as things stand now, Obama might be able to reach the Electoral College 200-mark with relative ease, but gaining the additional 70 electoral votes needed may prove to be a battle all the way up to Election Day, again, depending in large measure on how voters perceive the direction of the country and whom the Republicans nominate.
NOTE: Revised to eliminate some duplication and wordiness.