In 2008 Barack Obama was elected with 365 electoral votes, including the backing of all of the US’ swing states as well as Indiana and Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. Due to the polarisation of the American political discourse under President Obama many states that have been historically Republican for a number of elections cycles are likely to remain so. However due to demographic changes and specific policy proposals I believe that there will be some states in the 2016 election that will surprise the pundits of the mainstream media, including some that the GOP consider as solid red states.
The emergence of these new purple states will continue the demographic and geographic isolation of the Republican Party, and will determine who becomes the 45th President of the United States of America. For Democrats I believe there is only one candidate who will be able to win most of these states, and similarly one solitary GOP candidate who I think could be the next president.
Ohio is the one state the every pollster looks at with great attention due to one fact of electoral history: since 1944 Ohio has always voted for the candidate that eventually became the President apart from once (favouring Nixon over JFK in 1960). By virtue of this fact Ohio is seen as the bellwether state in every election. In 2012 Ohio continued this trend by supporting President Obama by just over 160,000 votes thus giving Obama a winning margin over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney of 2.98%.
Demographic changes are not on the side of the Republican Party. According to data from the Census Bureau, in 2008 85.1% of eligible voters were white, and it is projected that this number would have decreased to 83.0%. This is important to note because the ethnic minorities that are increasing in population are overwhelmingly won by the Democratic candidate in any given presidential election. I suspect that, given the rhetoric coming out of the GOP regarding immigration, racial inequality and religious minorities, this trend will probably continue.
Research in 2014 by the polling company Resonate has revealed that the top issues that concern Ohioan swing voters are government spending (47%), job creation (45%) and healthcare (39%). There is only one candidate who I believe addresses these issues convincingly and that is the secret weapon for the Democrats. Because the research was carried out in 2014 we know that the concerns these people have over healthcare remain despite the gains of the Affordable Care Act, and given the Republican alternative to the ACA is repeal it without replacing it, I believe that these voters could be convinced into supporting a single-payer ‘Medicaid-for-all’ system. Job creation has also been addressed by the candidate I have in mind with many of the programmes suggested by this candidate being fully costed (thus also allaying fears of excessive government spending).
Florida has, in recent years been the most annoying state when it comes to election night. Florida is such a swing state that it was the last to declare in the 2012 election because of repeated recounts, and was infamously the state in the union whose (disputed) result elected George W. Bush in 2000. However there does seem to be a worrying trend for the GOP in Florida.
Demographically Florida is very significant. According to exit polls in the 2000 election, Vice President Al Gore won 40% of white voters and it was essentially a dead-heat; in 2008 Obama won 37% of white voters and won the state by over 70,000 votes. Furthermore the proportion of those white people who went out and voted has also declined: in 2000 it was 78% and in 2012 it was 67%, with this shift largely due to non-Cuban Hispanics overwhelmingly supporting the Democratic candidate.
Due to the large Hispanic population of Florida (24.1%) the inflammatory rhetoric toward immigrants from the GOP has only decreased the chances of these people switching their allegiance from the Democrats. The Obama Administration’s decision restart negotiations with Cuba has also split the traditionally Republican voting Cuban population of Florida with many going over to support the Democrats.
But there is a geographical split in Florida between the generally more conservative north and the generally more liberal south, and this is will only be exacerbated further because of one issue: climate change. A significant proportion of southern Florida is under 5m above sea level, and many of these people are hesitant to dismiss a scientific theory which, if correct, would result in their house being a new part of the ocean. Whether Republican or Democrat, many people in this part of Florida believe in man-made climate change which favours any Democrat over most of the Republican field.
Colorado is difficult to predict as in recent years it has been very unpredictable. In 2000 it was won by Bush, and still would have if Nader hadn’t been in the running, and was also won by Bush in 2004. In 2008 and 2012, however, Obama won the state by 8.95% and 5.36% respectively.
In terms of demographics the state is predominantly Caucasian, which would seem to be advantageous for the GOP given their comparative popularity among white people however, this is not necessarily the case as was shown by the 2012 election. If the 31% of non-white residents overwhelmingly vote against the Republican candidate, the Democrat will only need to win around 31% of the white vote in order to get over that all-important 51% mark.
As I believe will be the case with other states, the increasing size of the state’s Hispanic population (21.2% in 2014) will make it more and more difficult for the GOP to win in 2016 unless there is outreach to those communities and the racist rhetoric is stopped. Because the state is mostly white the GOP may be convinced that the quickest route to victory is by appealing to white people but this will not work. According to research from the Pew Research Centre in 2014, around 40% of white people vote for the Democrats and 49% vote the Republicans. If this is replicated in Colorado, the GOP have just over 10% of white voters to appeal to which will still not put them over 51%, as if the 40% of white voters who sided with the Democrats in 2014 do so in 2016, the Republicans will lose the state by a landslide.
There are also some issues that make Colorado more likely, in my view, to vote for the Democratic candidate for president. The most obvious is drug policy. Since the legalisation of recreation marijuana there is a large grassroots (pun intended) movement to end the Drug War on the federal level which has led many, especially young people, to be more liberal on this issue. Furthermore climate change is becoming a burning issue (again, pun intended) due to water shortages in parts of the state.
Considering that most of the more electable Republicans want to continue the War on Drugs and almost all of the GOP candidates don’t acknowledge the impact of human activity on climate change, advantage Democrats. On these two issues there is one Democratic candidate who is unrepentant in their agreement with the people of Colorado.
Much like Colorado, Virginia is hard to predict. Since 1980 Virginia has always voted for the eventual winner of the Presidential election, which means that as well as voting in favour of Barack Obama by a relatively convincing margin, the Old Dominion supported George W. Bush twice in the proceeding elections. The difficulty in predicting the state’s result is illustrated by the 2008 Presidential election result. At the height of so-called ‘Obamamania’ the Democrats carried the state after garnering 52.6% of the vote to McCain’s 46.3%.
Demographically speaking Virginia is overwhelmingly white. Extrapolations of census data put the Caucasian population at around 63.1%, the Latino/Hispanic population at 8.9% and the African-American population at 19.7%. If voting trends of recent years continue this means that the Democrats do not have an immediate advantage because of demographics alone, however it does mean that the Democrats will win most of these voters. Government figures show that 22.4% of the state’s population are under 18 and therefore cannot vote.
For the sake of maths, we’ll say that the ethnic demographics of the state are relatively uniform across all age groups. If the overwhelming majority of Latinos/Hispanics and African-Americans vote for the Democrats as well as the same proportion of white voters as in 2012, the next Democratic candidate would clean up. Even if they lose the white vote by around 20 points, as Obama did in 2012, the Democrats would get over 50% and thus win the state. The only problem with this strategy is that it is heavily dependent on a high turnout, particularly among ethnic minority groups that often turnout in much fewer number.
What issues in Virginia will bring out a high turnout of liberals and ethnic minorities? That’s complicated as Virginia is essentially two states rolled into one. The north votes reliably for the Democrats and is populated by liberal commuters and unionised workers that work in and around the District of Columbia. The south of the state is much more rural and votes for the GOP due to its stance on social issues like abortion and contraception.
Therefore it would seem logical that in order to bring out liberal voters whilst not spurring social conservatives on to vote against you in great numbers, the Democrats should stick to economic issues such the minimum wage, healthcare costs, and investing in infrastructure. There is one Democratic candidate that I believe speaks to all three of these issues and also has a strong record of supporting union rights.
Arizona is seen as a solidly red state. In 2008 and 2012 the state voted for John McCain and Mitt Romney respectively by similar margins. However Arizona is the one state that Republicans are worried about losing the most. After 2008 many Republicans openly spoke about how demographic changes could make Texas a purple state. At the time I dismissed this, but the demographic changes in Arizona make it very possible the Democrats to pick up the Copper State in 2016.
The last time that Arizona voted for the Democrats in a Presidential election was in 1996 but this was largely because Ross Perot’s second run for the White House attracted 8% of the vote. As I mentioned demographics will be crucial in the 2016 election, especially in 2016. Extrapolations of census data estimate that the proportion of Arizona’s population that is non-Caucasian is 43.8%. Obviously not all these people will vote for the Democrats but if the voting trends of 2012 are replicated in 2016 the overwhelming majority of these people will support the Democratic nominee.
In 2012 Obama’s percentages in relation to racial demographics were as follows: White 39%; Black 93%; Asian 73%; Hispanic/Latino 71%; Other 58%. If an average rate of ‘non-White’ voters (73.75%) supported the Democrats in 2016, the GOP would fail to win Arizona if they couldn’t garner the support of over 68% of white people. In other words, if the previous trends were replicated in 2016, the Democrats could win only 32% of the white vote and still carry the state.
According to a recent poll conducted by Highground Public Affairs Consultants 61% of people in Arizona support increasing the amount of funding for education and 37% in the same survey view education as the most important issue for the state. 27% of those surveyed see immigration and border issues as the most important, and 14% said that jobs and the economy was the most fundamental issue. The negative rhetoric in regards to immigration from the GOP would have appealed to some Arizona voters however I believe that a significant proportion of people in this state are also concerned by statements about mass deportations from some Republican candidates.
In relation to education one Democratic candidate has a very clear message about the importance of investment in education as well as a clearly articulated plan about improving the economy. Considering that many of the Republicans have either records of wanting to cut education or have said that they would cut education in the pursuit of balancing budgets. The candidate I have in mind would want to invest $1 trillion into the US economy to create 13 million jobs, has argued in favour of a humane immigration policy including a path to citizenship, and wants to make universities and colleges more affordable.
North Carolina shocked people in 2008 by voting for the Democratic candidate even though its history has firmly aligned the state with the conservative south. In 2012 the state returned to the Republican fold but the fact that the state recently supported the Democratic candidate for president shows that a significant population can be persuaded to vote for the more left-wing candidate.
According to the US Census Bureau, around 36% of the state is not Caucasian. This demographic shift, as with many of the states I’ve mentioned so far, is not encouraging for the GOP. Most of this 36% are Black, which is significant as this was the ethnic group that voted for the Democrats in the biggest numbers in 2012. Based on previous voting patterns the Democrats would receive 87% or 31.2% of the total population. Of the remaining 64% of white people in the state, the Democrats would only need to get the votes of 30% of the white vote in order put them over top in 2016.
North Carolina has a large number of service personnel and veterans and is ranked sixth in terms in the number of veterans coming from the state. The candidate that I believe can win the state used to be the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and fought with Senator John McCain to get a bill on veterans’ healthcare through the currently deadlocked Congress.
Another key issue in North Carolina is race relations. Over 22% of the population is African-American and the recent shooting of unarmed black people by white police officers has really resonated in the black community. Only one candidate on the Democratic side has put forward a comprehensive plan to deal with the institutional racism of the criminal justice system as well as to tackle the economic inequality present between the white and black communities.
Another issue that puts the Democrats in good stead is the issue of gun control. Because of the shootings in Charleston, SC, Paris and San Bernadino, CA, many citizens have demanded political leaders prevent dangerous people. Indeed a poll by Public Policy Polling has found that 85% support expanding background checks and the same number also support banning people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns. The candidate in question also supported these measures and has voted to ban assault weapons and close the gun show loophole.
The demographic changes I’ve outlined and the issues on the lips of people all over the state point to one Democratic candidate as having a decent chance of winning the state in a general election.
I have alluded to the one Democratic candidate that I believe can win most of these states but the policies I have mentioned have probably already revealed who I’m talking about. Martin O’Malley is the… no I’m joking, I’m talking about Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders has said that he would propose bold solutions to many of the policy areas that concern people across the country ranging from protecting the environment to immigration.
The success of the Vermont Senator in garnering popular support from across the political spectrum is encouraging for a presidential campaign but this is especially the case considering that his main rival for the Democratic nomination is Hillary Clinton. The mainstream media says that Clinton is infinitely more electable but, although I am aware of my own bias, I believe this to be untrue. In July 2015 a Quinnipiac poll found that 61% of people believed Clinton not to be ‘trustworthy’ or ‘honest’, whereas in a September 2015 poll by the same organisation, only 4% of Democratic Caucus-goers identify Sanders as having those same traits.
Similarly polls from Pew, Rasmussen, and Gallup show that the American people overwhelming supportive of many of Sanders positions: 66% of people disagree with Citizens United; 55% support not bailing out the banks in future; 63% want to reduce the wealth gap; 83% want to reduce the student loan debt etc. This kind of agreement over policies coupled with Sanders’ high trustworthiness rating makes him much more electable than Hillary Clinton who seems to be suggesting similar policies to Obama.
In relation to the Republicans I think there is only one candidate that can appeal to people in relation to some of these issues. I believe this candidate to be Marco Rubio because he is not insane on some issues, he’s just wrong. But even if Rubio is the Republican nominee, which at this point looks increasingly unlikely, I believe that Sanders will be able to appeal to people on the issues as his campaign will receive much more media attention in a general election. The voter ID laws in all of these states apart from North Carolina will impede poorer people from voting, but if there is a grassroots movement in 2016 to get these people out, as was done in 2008, I do not think these laws will prove too costly.
I firmly believe that if Sanders is the Democratic nominee many of the above states could become competitive. On current polling Donald Trump is the frontrunner to be the Republican nominee. Polling has shown that Sanders would defeat Trump in a general election, thus making him just as electable as Hillary Clinton. Clinton’s policies only appeal to people because they know who she is and are aware of what her policies are. If Sanders is given the media attention that his poll numbers deserve, he can win the Democratic nomination and the White House in a landslide.