The Era of Competition:
How 2016 Could Set a Presidential Record
By Geoffrey Skelley
February 12, 2015 | http://www.centerforpolitics.org/cry...rystal+Ball%29
Here is where we are at: With 2012 the most recent United States presidential election, I took a look at the last 40-state landslides won by both major political parties. (That's carriage of four of every five states on average.) We're in a period now where the best is closer to 30 states. (Meaning, an average of three of every five states carry for presidential winners.) Interestingly enough, I can look at 24-year increments with the past couple occurrences (prior to 2012): that would be 1964 (full-term victory for 36th president Lyndon Johnson) and 1988 (from the vice presidency to the presidency for George Bush). The changes in voting population are significant:The United States is in the midst of an era of great competitiveness in presidential contests. Not once in the last seven presidential elections has a party won more than 55% or less than 45% of the two-party vote. In a recent article for 'Politico Magazine,' the Crystal Ball team argued that fundamentals, recent history, and the nation’s marked political polarization portend a highly competitive 2016 tilt. If the indicators for 2016 play out close to expectations and induce a tight open-seat battle, it may become the eighth consecutive contest where neither major party garners more than 55% of the two-party vote, a new record.
As shown below in Chart 1 [click above link], such a streak has only occurred one other time in the post-Civil War period: in the seven presidential races from 1876 to 1900.
Election 1964 (@ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_...,_1964#Results ):
- U.S. presidential votes: 70,639,284
Election 1988 (@ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_...,_1988#Results ):
- U.S. presidential votes: 91,594,686
Election 2012 (@ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_...,_2012#Results ):
- U.S. presidential votes: 129,085,403
In those 24-year increments, the electorate multiplied in each case by an additional one-third (from 1964 to 1988) to nearly another slightly under one-half (from 1988 to 2012, it was over a 40-percent increase).
In 1964, Lyndon Johnson won the U.S. Popular Vote with 61 percent. In 1988, George Bush won with nearly 54 percent. In 2012, a re-elected Barack Obama received 51 percent (down from 53 percent he received in 2008).
By today's numbers, the increments of raw votes are a lot harder to come by to reach 55 percent nationwide. In 1964, winning the U.S. Popular Vote by a full percentage point (1.00) was carriage of the popular vote by 700,000+. In 1988, winning the U.S. Popular vote by a full percentage point (1.00) was carriage of the popular vote by 915,000+. Over the two election cycles of 2008 and 2012, with the first attracting more participation (131+ million), they averaged 130 million. So, most recently, winning the U.S. Popular Vote by a full percentage point (1.00) has been carriage of the popular vote by 1.3 million raw votes.
For a presidential candidate to garner 55 percent nationwide, with assumption the losing opposition-party's candidate garners either 43 or 44 percent (leaving a buffer accounting for candidates outside the two parties), this means the winner would be required to prevail nationwide by 14 million raw votes (in order to win nationwide by at least 11 percentage points). That is going to be difficult to do.
In 2004, George W. Bush won the U.S. Popular Vote by over 3 million. His home state, Texas, carried for the 43rd president with a raw-vote margin of an estimated 1.7 million. This means nearly 60 percent of Bush's national raw-vote margin came solely out of Texas.
In 2008, Barack Obama won the U.S. Popular Vote by around 9.5 million. While Texas ranks No. 2 in state populations, No. 1 is California. That state gave Obama a raw-vote margin of 3.2 million. That means California accounted for one-third his raw-vote margin in relation to nationwide result. In 2012, with reduced support in the U.S. Popular Vote, the popular-vote percentage margin, and electoral-vote score, Obama was re-elected with a raw-vote margin of approximately 5 million. California gave him a raw-vote margin of just over 3 million. This means the raw-vote margin out of this state was 60 percent of what he received nationwide.
Since after the 1980s, we've had three consecutive two-terms presidents (the most ever). None of them won electoral landslides, and the number of states averaged between them for carriage was 29. (Bill Clinton won 32 and 31 states in 1992 and 1996. George W. Bush won 30 and 31 states in 2000 and 2004. Barack Obama won 28 and 26 states in 2008 and 2012. Cumulative total: 178. Divide by six, without whole-number estimate, and the average number of carried states were: 29.) This also means, no matter which party prevails with a given election, approximately 20 states are nowadays saying "no."
The bottom-line analysis I've embraced is this: The approach by both parties for campaigning for the presidency has changed over time. Part of it is due to multiplying numbers in the country's population. They've expanded dramatically. Part of it also has to do with figuring that the bottom-line electoral-vote score of 270—that's 50 percent of the allocated 538 electoral votes plus an additional electoral vote for outright majority—to be just as legit as trying to get to some magic score (like the 400+ achieved during the 20th century by a 1912 Woodrow Wilson, a 1920 Warren Harding, a 1928 Herbert Hoover, a 1932/1936/1940/1944 Franklin Roosevelt, a 1952/1956 Dwight Eisenhower, a 1964 Lyndon Johnson, a 1972 Richard Nixon, a 1980/1984 Ronald Reagan, and a 1988 George Bush). And part of it has do with the bottom line to many: money. The approaches by both parties have a common link: where to allocate spending their campaign money. So, what this also means is that the two parties can figure, "We'll track the percentage margins in the 'battleground states,' from one presidential election cycle followed by the next, and, well,…we can go ahead and forget about all the rest."
Geoffrey Skelley did a good job with examining, say, 100-to-150 years' worth of presidential elections. But, the numbers and the overall approaches have been the real game-changer between both Republican and Democratic parties. What could be another game-changer is this: If a winning Republican or a winning Democrat were to reach 55 percent of the vote nationwide, it would probably be achieved only if the overall message and brand of politics so heavily compels and moves the electorate to deliver on that scale of a victory. But, assuming that this won't be happening for some time, one can also conclude, via Skelley's report, that neither political party feels particularly motivated to amass these numbers; and, with that in mind, this pattern has become…expected.