By Robert A. Vella
Since 1992, the U.S. electoral map in presidential elections has pretty much remained the same. Regardless of which candidate won each election (Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012), the nation’s six geographical regions each consistently supported one political party over the other. The Northeast, Midwest, and Far West prefer Democrats, while the Deep South, Great Plains, and Inter-mountain West strongly favor Republicans. These regional trends generally outline the electoral boundaries between liberal America and conservative America.
However, this quarter-century long electoral map is likely to change considerably after the 2016 presidential election in November. The rise of anti-establishment populism struck both political parties during this year’s primary election season, separating much of the progressive base from the Democratic Party and allowing an insurgent nationalist to seize the Republican Party nomination (presumptively) from its leadership.
Consequently, the Democrats are running a candidate (Hillary Clinton) who has lost a great deal of support from working class Americans (predominantly whites) who had dominated that party since its inception under Andrew Jackson in 1828; and, Republicans are running a candidate (Donald Trump) who is intensely disliked by its elites, its wealthy donors, as well as its more moderate supporters.
Considering that each state is comprised of its own unique composition of voters, electoral shifts should be expected in some of them. For example, the Midwest states of Michigan and Wisconsin – bastions of Democratic strength for a very long time – electorally reflect the preferences of working class people. It could be expected, then, that Hillary might have trouble holding such states against a populist candidate; and, that’s exactly what happened in the primaries. Not only did progressive challenger Bernie Sanders defeat Clinton in those contests, but Trump won them both on the Republican side and the GOP garnered a significantly higher vote count as well.
From The Washington Post – Democrats see danger signs in states where Clinton has not fully engaged:
Four years ago, residents of St. Clair Shores [Michigan] narrowly voted to reelect President Obama. Now, people here want change. In the primaries, they went decisively for Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. And in conversations last week, they espoused many of the same sentiments as British voters who defied their country’s political and business leaders Thursday by choosing to exit the European Union. [clarification by The Secular Jurist]
People here said they feel left behind in the economy and wronged by politicians. They are anxious about immigration and terrorism. They see corporations rebounding from the recession, but they wonder why their families aren’t better off. They villainize globalization, fear losing their national identity, and distrust elites and institutions.
These attitudes are shaping a rollicking presidential campaign defined by two historically unpopular nominees. “We just have garbage candidates,” said Joe Fish, 33. Or, as 18-year-old Julie Downey put it, picking between Clinton and Trump “is like finding the shiniest turd.”
Conversely, Trump’s divisive rhetoric, which has alienated many demographic groups including many Republicans, could push key swing states like Florida and Virginia solidly into the Democratic column. Somewhat less likely, although still within the realm of possibility, are traditionally conservative states with large minority populations – such as North Carolina and Georgia – choosing Clinton over Trump because of the former’s strength among black voters and because of the latter’s lukewarm and often criticized support for Christian fundamentalism.
Furthermore, the unpredictable wildcard of voter turnout will surely play a big role in the 2016 presidential election. Overall, I predict it will be much lower than in 2008 (62%) and probably struggle to reach that of 2012 (58%). However, much like current polling which shows Hillary way ahead of The Donald, the national voter turnout figure (whatever it is) is much less significant than the variability of voter turnout figures in the states. If Clinton wins a reliably safe Democratic state like California by 5 points or 15, it won’t matter because the Electoral College determines who wins the presidency and not the total popular vote (remember Bush v. Gore?). But, unusually high or low voter turnout in key swing states like Ohio could be determinative.