The changing balance of the swing states

I’ve been doing a ton of interviews lately and everybody wants to know why North Carolina is so close.  Well, actually we’ve been super close for a while– the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.  But what’s really interesting is how North Carolina is moving closer to the center of political gravity of being able to swing an election (as states like Ohio seem to fade in importance).  Love this piece from Ron Brownstein that looks at how demography explains the changing of the state battlegrounds.  Basically, the core of the Democratic coalition is now better represented in sun-belt states than in industrial Midwestern states.  Brownstein:

In the campaign’s final weeks, Hillary Clinton’s position now looks stronger in Florida than in Ohio; in Virginia than in Wisconsin; and in Colorado and even North Carolina than in Iowa.

In other news, the sun today rose in the West.

With Trump advancing in Rustbelt states dominated by older and blue-collar whites and struggling in Sunbelt states that contain more younger, college-educated and minority voters, these starkly polarized patterns of support are reconfiguring the Electoral College map by accelerating long-developing trends rooted in changing demography and shifting partisan allegiance. From the mid-1960s through the early part of this century, this pattern of relatively greater strength for Clinton in the Sunbelt than Rustbelt would have been unrecognizable to Democratic strategists. Now, The 2016 race is explosively fast-forwarding changes in the campaign map that many political professionals had expected to unfold more gradually over the next decade…

The demographic and geographic trends reverberating through 2016 could produce a electoral alignment unlike any since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act shattered the Democratic hold on the “solid South.”

This reconfiguration largely leaves the same states at the center of the electoral deck, but shuffles which party looks to which state for a win. It’s a shift symbolized by Clinton’s clear decision to focus more effort on Florida and even North Carolina than on Ohio, the state traditionally considering the tipping point in presidential elections…  [emphases mine]

 That new geographic pattern is rooted in the race’s defining demographic trends. In the six major national polls released just before last week’s first presidential debate, Trump led among white voters without a college education by resounding margins of 20 to 32 percentage points. But he confronted deficits of 40-50 points among non-white voters, and was facing more resistance than any previous Republican nominee in the history of modern polling among college-educated whites: five of the six surveys showed him trailing among them by margins of two-to-eleven percentage points (while he managed only to run even in the sixth.) The race is on track to produce the widest gap ever between the preferences of college-and non-college whites, while Trump may reach record lows among voters of color.

Yep.  These have been trends in the making, but it certainly seems that Trump’s candidacy has accelerated them.  It certainly will be interesting to see what happens with these trends in 2020 and 2024.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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