Friday, February 17, 2012

Delving into Data

My son Political Sphere looks at data in his spare time, for fun. Also, he is fascinated by political strategy. So he has put those together recently, looking at the past presidential elections since 1960, just to see what can be understood.  

There have been thirteen presidential elections in these 5 decades. No state has voted the same in all of them.[i] But there are states that go 1:12, 2:11, 3:10, 4:9, 5:8, and 6:7 in both directions.  Here are the charts followed by some observations:

Tier 1
In the extremes are those that voted the same all but one time. On the Republican side, Arizona, Oklahoma, Utah, Nebraska, Idaho, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming all went Republican twelve out of thirteen times: Arizona in 1996 (Clinton) and the others all in 1964 (Johnson). In today’s delegates, that is 45 electoral delegates. 

There is only one state that went Democrat twelve of thirteen times: Minnesota (1972, Nixon). In addition, Washington, D.C., has gone Democrat ever since it gained voting rights (all twelve since 1964). That is a total of 13 electoral delegates. 

Tier 2
Five states went 11 times GOP and 2 times Democrat: Virginia, Indiana, South Carolina, Kansas, and Montana, for another 42 electoral delegates. 

Three states went 11 times Democrat and 2 times GOP: Rhode Island, Hawaii, and Massachusetts, for another 19 electoral delegates. 

Tier 3
Another three states went GOP 10 times and non-GOP 3 times (some third party votes are scattered in): Alabama, Colorado, and Mississippi, for another 24 electoral delegates. 

Two states went Democrat 10 times and GOP 3 times: Maryland and New York, for another 39 electoral delegates. 

Tier 4
Five states have gone GOP 9 times and non-GOP 4 times: Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, which a combined additional 101 delegates. 

Pennsylvania is the only state to go Democrat 9 times and GOP 4 times, for 20 more delegates.

Let’s pause here to do a tally. If the Republicans were to win all states in these first four tiers (something not necessarily likely, but that has occurred 6 of the last 13 presidential elections), the electoral count would be 212 delegates. If the Democrats won all four tiers (something that has happened 8 out of the past 13 times), they would have 91 delegates. There are 538 total electoral votes. There are only 235 in the remaining two GOP tiers (137 delegates) and two Democrat tiers (98 delegates) combined.  

If the Democrats were to get all six of its tiers (the states voting Democrat more than half the time), they would have only 189 electoral delegates. The next tier (weak-leaning Republican states) would add 62 more for 251, still less than half, so not a winning number. These eight tiers have only gone all Democrat once: 1992 (Clinton, when Perot split votes for Bush).  

In short, it is easier for Republicans to win than for Democrats, because more states lean Republican. And within an even larger majority of states, Republican (or conservative) people dominate at local levels. Democrats dominate almost exclusively in the northeast coast and west coast (plus inexplicably odd Minnesota). 

We might learn a little more predictive information by looking at what happened in particular elections. We’ll save that for the next post.

[i] Washington, D.C., has voted Democrat in every presidential election since it was granted delegates in 1964, which is the past twelve elections.

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