Voices & Choices

Reading the Tea Leaves: The Presidential Vote and State Partisanship

Reading the Tea Leaves: The Presidential Vote and State Partisanship

After each Presidential cycle, FairVote looks at the Presidential vote returns to determine the partisanship of each state; that is, the amount the Democratic and Republican candidates got relative to the national Two-Party vote share. Doing so gives a sense of the underlying resting point of the state in a neutral environment: does that state lean toward a Democrat or Republican if the national vote were tied? This turns out to be highly predictive of the odds of that state being a contested battleground in the next election. (It so is very useful for projecting outcomes in Congressional races, as in our Monopoly Politics Report).

 In our 2012 projections of state partisanship, for example, Colorado recorded a 50.8% Democratic partisanship score because it gave Obama a higher share of the vote than he received nationally. North Carolina, on the other hand had a Democratic partisanship of 47.1%, having voted narrowly for Romney despite Obama winning nationally by four percentage points.

 On election night, one barometer of how candidates are doing is how their share of the two-party vote compares with their partisanship. If it is generally ahead of that partisanship level, backers can feel reassured. Consistently falling short of that partisanship is a bad sign. So even if some of the states reporting early aren’t swing states and thus have been ignored, they may in fact be reporting results that will help tell us where the results are going.

 This state partisanship index will be calculated again after the votes for 2016 are finalized. However, we can already anticipate, based on pre-election polls, that some states will shift at least slightly towards the Democrats, and others towards the Republicans. With Donald Trump garnering a record share of the vote among blue-collar white voters, some states like Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio (whom have disproportionately large shares of these demographics) may have a lower Democratic partisanship than in 2012. Conversely, Hillary Clinton is winning higher support among college-educated whites and Latinos than Obama did, and thus the Democratic partisanship of states like Arizona, North Carolina, and Virginia is expected to rise.

 For reference, we have displayed the partisanship for each state over the last four cycles below. It will be interesting to see how the adjusting coalitions of each party shift these ratings once all the votes are counted. 



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