After going through the close, contested states in the past three segments, I now want to use the data in those installments to determine which are going to be the most important states in 2012. Some of the states in past postings will not determine who the next President will be. Of the 19 states that I went over, 12 should be true swing states that could be won by either President Obama or his Republican opponent. Two states profiled should be solidly Republican, and five others should stay in the Obama column.
I have grouped the states into a few tiers. It is likely that all the states in each tier would be won by the same candidate. The states are listed in order, starting with the safest Republican state and ending with the most secure Democratic state. The baseline Republican Electoral College total without any states below would be 170, exactly 100 short of the 270 electoral votes required for victory.
Almost Certain GOP states: These are the two states that are almost certainly in the Republican column in 2012. Obama would need to outdo his 2008 performance to win these.
Indiana: Obama’s shock victory here looks to be a one time fluke, partly based on Chicago’s proximity to the state, and McCain’s opposition to farm subsidies led to 15-20 point Republican declines in some northern farm counties. Last year’s midterms were a return to the typical Republican proclivities of the state. Obama still will run better than a typical Democrat in a state next door to his, but Indiana won’t be competitive unless the election is already over before Election Day.
Missouri: This is the only state on this list that John McCain won. There is no reason to think it will flip in 2012. If anything, Missouri has trended to the right in the intervening three years. Roy Blunt, from the state’s top Republican family, easily beat Robin Carnahan, of the state’s top Democratic family. Every House member outside St. Louis and Kansas City is likely to be a Republican after redistricting. Missouri is on the verge of falling out of swing state status.
Both of these states would only need a national Republican popular vote percentage of about 45 percent to be won by the GOP nominee. Even McCain received 46.5% of the two-party vote. These states shouldn’t be hard for whoever the Republican candidate will be to win. Adding these states to the Republican nominee would get the electoral vote total to 191.
Mandatory GOP States: The next four states are the beginning of the twelve true swing states. For a Republican to win, they will almost assuredly need all four of these states.
New Hampshire: Are you surprised that New Hampshire is this early in the order? You’re not wrong for thinking so. Even in 2004, Bush couldn’t win New Hampshire. There are seven states below it that Bush was able to win. What puts it this high is that it has swung hard to the right in the age of Obama. It may be easier for a small state to move so quickly. Accordingly, only Rhode Island had a greater decline in Democratic Party identification since early 2009. Obama has been markedly more unpopular here than even the overall Democratic Party brand. Obama’s approval ratings average in the first half of 2011 are at the same level as Texas and Tennessee. Republicans won back both House seats against incumbent Democrats and won an open Senate race by nearly twenty points. At this rate, a Republican would only need approximately 46 percent nationally to win here.
North Carolina: The first in a series of South Atlantic states, North Carolina was also a surprise Obama victory in 2008. His one point victory in a previously strong Republican state was the textbook example of how Obama was able to expand the electorate by generating record turnout and margins from minorities and young people. No Democrat could have won North Carolina without Obama’s passionate connection to the large black and university communities in the state. Without “surge voting”, the state reverted to its pre-2008 political layout in 2010. While it is somewhat more Democratic than it was a decade ago, it will require a repeat of 2008 for Obama to win it next year.
Virginia: Obama’s 2008 victory in the Old Dominion was the culmination of a standout decade for Virginia Democrats. It was also the high tide of that trend, and ever since Election Day 2008, Democrats in Virginia have suffered numerous defeats from the local level all the way to the Governor’s House. While it is unlikely that Republicans will be able to repeat the smashing victories they won in 2009, a more modest win on the scale of the 2010 two-party Congressional vote, where Republicans ran three points ahead of a strong national Republican showing would still dramatically hurt Obama’s reelection prospects.
Florida: Florida might be the archetypical swing state in the general public’s imagination. It remains the largest seriously contested state at the presidential level. But it has not been in the center of the national political balance since 2000. Bush had a somewhat under-the-radar relatively large victory in 2004. Even in 2008, Obama couldn’t do better than 51 percent—and that was aided by a housing bubble that hit Florida particularly hard. Republicans had about the best election cycle imaginable in 2010, winning every statewide election, and an astounding 62 percent of the two-party Congressional vote. Republicans should not expect that dominant of a showing in 2012. But a state that narrowly went for Obama has distanced itself from its 2008 vote.
If Republicans were to win all four of these states, which are a virtual requirement for victory, they would have 252 electoral votes, only 18 short of victory. It would only require a Republican national popular vote percentage of roughly 46-47% to win these states. Due to the dynamics of the next few states below, Obama almost certainly has to win one of the three South Atlantic states. Losing Florida would particularly be a heavy blow to his reelection hopes.
The Deciding State: The value of New Hampshire’s shift to the right can be observed here. This is because the state that would get Republicans to 270 electoral votes would be…
Ohio: This has been the lynchpin of Republican electoral strategy for years. A Republican has never been elected President without winning Ohio. There is every reason to believe this is true for 2012 as well. By almost every measure available, Ohio is two points more Republican than the national average. Obama won 51 percent here in 2008, two points behind the 53 percent he earned nationally. The two-party Congressional vote in 2010 was 56-44 Republican, precisely two points more Republican than the national average. Gallup’s average approval rating for Obama for the first half of 2011 has Ohio two points below the national average. Consequentially, we would expect it to flip to the Republican candidate if they were to earn 48 percent of the national popular vote.
New Hampshire becoming a Republican leaning swing state is so valuable, because adding it to the list of states above puts a Republican 18 electoral votes short of victory. Guess how many electoral votes Ohio has? Eighteen exactly. Thanks to the effects of reapportionment and the shift in New Hampshire, a Republican can win without any further states. Of course, this provides no margin of error, so a comprehensive Republican strategy will contest the states immediately below Ohio as if they are the determining states. This is also why Obama needs to pick off a South Atlantic state.
Next time, I will go through the states that are truly in the middle, and the states where a successful Republican could put in play.