Republicans are openly fretting about how Donald Trump could cost them the White House in 2016. Ditto Ted Cruz. But, the truth is that no matter who Republicans nominate — Paul Ryan! — that person faces a decidedly uphill fight to be the next president.
Why? This simple chart from the good people at the Cook Political Report(subscribe now!) tells the story ...
There are 19 states that have gone for Democrats in each of the last six elections. Those 19 states account for a total of 242 electoral votes. By contrast, there are 13 states that have voted for the Republican nominee for president in every election since 1992. Those 13 account for just 102 electoral votes.
A year ago, Nate Silver disposed of this idea:
If you were browsing campaign coverage at this point in advance of the 1992 election, you’d be reading a lot about the Republicans’ impregnable “red wall.” OK — it wouldn’t have been called the “red wall” (the association of Republicans with red states and Democrats with blue states came about more recently). But you’d have been reading a lot about Republicans’supposed “lock” on the Electoral College.
The argument was something like this. During the past six presidential elections, from 1968 through 1988, 21 states voted Republican every time. These included almost all states in the fast-growing West — most importantly, California and its trove of electoral votes — along with some wealthy, suburban states (Illinois, New Jersey and Virginia) and a couple of traditionally Republican states in New England (including Vermont).1
Nowadays, of course, it’s become common to hear talk about the “blue wall” — the set of 18 states that, along with the District of Columbia, have voted for the Democrat in each of the most recent six presidential elections, from 1992 through 2012. Together, they represent 242 electoral votes. Many pundits, ignoring the lessons of history, claim the “blue wall” or some close variation of it puts the Democratic nominee (likely Hillary Clinton) at a substantial advantage for 2016.
The error that these commentators are making is in attributing the Democrats’ recent run of success to the Electoral College. In fact, the Electoral College has been a minor factor, if it’s helped Democrats at all, and one probably best ignored until the late stages of a close presidential race.
But wait. Wasn’t Barack Obama’s margin in the Electoral College in 2012 — 332 electoral votes, to Mitt Romney’s 206 — awfully impressive given that he won the popular vote by only a few percentage points?
Actually, it was pretty much par for the course. The nature of the Electoral College is to accentuate small margins in the popular vote; Obama’s electoral vote tallies have been fine, but historically ordinary.