Correcting Washington Post on Presidential Partisanship Trends

Posted by Rob Richie on September 06, 2016

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza in his "Monday Fix" political column writes that "Minnesota and Wisconsin are getting slightly more Republican with each passing presidential election, but it is a very slow change."

This isn't true, actually, and a good reminder of the value of the analysis we started with our 2005 "Shrinking Battleground" report and updated with our 2006 Presidential Election Inequality report and our 2013 article in Presidential Studies Quarterly, which holds up very well as forecasting the 2016 presidential race. Looking at patterns in presidential partisanship, we find the following:

Wisconsin Democratic Partisanship

2012 - 51.6%

2008 - 53.3%

2004 - 51.4%

2000 - 49.8%

1996 - 50.9%

1992 - 49.4%

Minnesota Democratic Partisanship

2012 - 52.0% 

2008 - 51.5%

2004 - 53.0%

2000 - 51.9%

1996 - 53.8%

1992 - 53.0%

These really don't show a discernible pattern toward Republicans. For better examples of patterns, see two swing states that have been trending Democratic:

Nevada Democratic Partisanship

2012 - 51.5%

2008 - 52.6%

2004 - 49.9%

2000 - 48.0%

1996 - 46.2%

1992 - 48.5%

Virginia Democratic Partisanship

2012 - 50.1%

2008 - 49.5%

2004 - 47.1%

2000 - 45.7%

1996 - 44.8%

1992 - 45.0% 

National patterns have largely been to deepen the majority's advantage, however. As explained in our 2013 Presidential Studies Quarterly article:

"One of the single most striking phenomena of the last seven presidential elections has been the sharp increase in states with large partisanship leans that make it nearly impossible for them to become swing states for several decades. The number of such definitively noncompetitive states has increased more than threefold in the past 24 years. In 1988, only eight states, with a total of only 40 electoral votes, had a partisan lean of at least 58% toward one party. In 2012, however, a whopping 25 states, controlling a total of 247 electoral votes, met that definition."  

The partisan divide between the 10 most Democratic and the 10 most Republican states has steadily increased during this time. The disparity between the average partisanship of these groups of states was 16% in 1988, but by 2012 had nearly doubled to 30%. A Democrat is now projected to win the 10 most Democratic states by an average margin of 28% in a nationally competitive election, while a Republican in the same election would be projected to win the 10 most Republican states by an average margin of 32%.

These trends have a very real impact, as demonstrated by the narrow vision of this year's presidential candidates in their post-convention campaign events. It is such patterns of inequality that lead FairVote to be such strong backers of the National Popular Vote plan, which would put voters in every state on a level playing field with everyone else.


Image Courtesy: Mathew Bisanz

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