That Alleged “Blue Wall” for Democrats in the Electoral College

Posted by Rob Richie on March 23, 2016

Many of our leading political forecasters seem to do best when looking in the rear view mirror – that is, predicting what’s going to happen based on what’s happened in the past. While FairVote uses such a methodology to predict nearly nine in ten congressional races two years before they happen in our Monopoly Politics reports, we build in a big cushion because conditions can change.

That’s how I read the folks suggesting that Democrats have a lock in the Electoral College. They suspect any Democrat who wins a majority of the popular vote is going to win the Electoral College, but the fact that Barack Obama would have won the Electoral College even while losing the popular vote by a percentage point in 2008 and 2012 (see our analyses before and after the 2012 election) does not mean that Democrats can preserve that advantage in 2016.

The partisan skew in U.S. House races is baked into the current winner-take-all, district system, with Republicans having an advantage in dozens of districts such that even if ten were to trend toward Democrats, Republicans would still have a big edge. But in the Electoral College, it would take just a single state like Colorado or Pennsylvania to shift from a slight Democratic lean to a Republican lean.

So next time you read something like this week’s pieces by Chris Cillizza in the Washington Post and Doug Sosnik in Politico (along with a more 2016-focused analysis by Louis Jacobson in Governing) suggesting any kind of blue wall, take it with a grain of salt. It may end up being true, it may not. The two sure things we know is that the Electoral College can easily skew the popular vote and that more than 35 states – more likely to be at least 40 – will be ignored in November due to our current system. Turns out there is a blue wall of safely Democratic states, but also a red wall of safely Republican states – and when it comes to healthy democracy, “safe” is not what you want for having accountable, representative governance.

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