The Republican presidential candidates genuinely believe that they can beat whoever ultimately wins the Democratic nomination, but I encourage you to play around with an electoral map.
A few minutes of experimentation with various hypothetical scenarios and a little imagination regarding to which party the states will award their electoral votes shows that Republicans do not have much of an electoral chance in 2016. It may be a sobering mathematical reality for the GOP, but Republicans are nowhere near the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
Seriously, go to 270towin.com, an online electoral map simulator, and set the states according to Barack Obama’s 2008 victory over John McCain and his 2012 victory over Mitt Romney. Study them a little.
Now try to predict the electoral outcome of Election 2016.
As you play, here are some trends to think about:
- In 2008 Obama won a huge electoral landslide with 365 votes to McCain’s 173, and the Obama campaign flipped nine states that voted for George W. Bush in 2004—Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Indiana and North Carolina—from red to blue.
- Obama’s 2012 campaign kept a swing state firewall of most of these states, excepting Indiana and North Carolina, which are considerably more conservative than the others. Meanwhile, since 2012, the country as a whole has turned demographically bluer—younger and more diverse—and Iowa, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico have become reliably blue states on the national level.
This leaves Virginia, Ohio and Florida as the last remaining swing states, of which Virginia is the least likely to swing back red (Obama having won 50.8% of the vote to Romney’s 47.8%). Now set the electoral map to Election 2012’s results, and let’s imagine that the GOP wins all three in 2016. You’ll see that the Democratic nominee still wins the election with 272 electoral votes to the Republican nominee’s 266.
This means that the Republican nominee would have to flip one more blue state that Obama won twice: Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico or Iowa.
This is where we have to get extra speculative and look up these states’ individual 2012 election results to try and guess which state the GOP might be able to believably pick off: Obama won Nevada 52.3% to Romney’s 45.7 (a difference of 6.6%); won Colorado 51.2% to Romney’s 46.5% (a difference of 4.7%); won New Mexico 52.9% to Romney’s 43.0% (a difference of 9.9%); and won Iowa 52.1% to Romney’s 46.5% (a difference of 5.6%).
Using these percentages, the GOP’s best hope is to try and flip Colorado, but this seems unlikely as Colorado legalized gay marriage on its own a couple of years ago, and tied Washington in being the first state to legalize recreational marijuana use. On social issues, Colorado is liberally avant-garde.
Of course, anything is possible in politics, and Election 2016 is still eleven months away, but Democrats have got to be sweating much less than Republicans over the electoral college. Even worse for the GOP is that Democrats have won the popular vote in five out of the last six elections.
(I also encourage you to examine electoral results from elections before 2000 just for the sake of electoral context and general political history. However, keep in mind that American demographics and politics have changed so much since even 1996 that past electoral mathematics are largely insignificant to the electoral calculations for 2016. For instance, Bill Clinton’s southern support is far from relevant to 2016 Democratic candidates, and Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton would be ill-advised to put valuable campaign resources into either Louisiana or Arkansas.)