Election News

The Road to 270: California

February 10, 2020

The Road to 270 is a weekly column leading up to the presidential election. Each installment is dedicated to understanding one state’s political landscape and how that might influence which party will win its electoral votes in 2020. We’ll do these roughly in order of expected competitiveness, moving toward the most intensely contested battlegrounds as election day nears. 

The Road to 270 will be published every Monday. The column is written by Seth Moskowitz, a 270toWin elections and politics contributor. Contact Seth at s.k.moskowitz@gmail.com or on Twitter @skmoskowitz.

California

In the 2018 midterms, Democrats netted 41 House seats and took control of the House of Representatives. They did so in large part by flipping suburban districts across the country that were once safely Republican. No place better illustrates this political realignment than Orange County, California. This county was once a breeding ground for Republicans including Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. In 2018, Democrats flipped four congressional districts in Orange County. The county that Reagan called the place “where the good Republicans go to die” became ground zero for the 2018 blue wave. Democrats now hold 45 seats in the California House delegation and Republicans hold six.1 1There are two vacancies. Prior to that, Democrats held a 46-7 edge.

California, however, wasn’t always the Democratic stronghold it is today. From 1952 to 1988 it only voted for one Democratic presidential nominee. Recently, though, demographic changes like those that overwhelmed Republicans in Orange County have pushed California ever deeper into Democratic territory.

Las Californias to the Gold Rush

California was once a part of Las Californias, a Spanish territory that comprised modern day California, Baja California, and Baja California Sur. Spain split up Las Californias and created a new province that comprised modern day California, Utah, Nevada, and pieces of other Western states. The new parcel was passed on to Mexico in 1822 following Mexico’s War of Independence and renamed Alta California.

In 1848, two events changed the course of California history. First, Mexico ceded territory, which included Alta California, to the United States following the Mexican-American War. Second, gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill. The population exploded — not only with miners hoping to strike it rich, but also entrepreneurs catering to the needs of the new immigrants. The people selling tools, clothing, food, and other supplies were the real money-makers of the time. Perhaps the most famous of these entrepreneurs was Levi Strauss, who added metal rivets to pants and founded the top selling jeans brand in the world

Statehood and the California Dream

Just two years after becoming an American territory, California became the 31st state. Agriculture spread throughout the state's northern region to feed the massive population growth associated with the Gold Rush. Eventually, agriculture became a career of choice for unsuccessful miners.

Immigration to California continued through the 1800s as promises of economic success and the California Dream pulled in newcomers. The construction of the Transcontinental Railroad that connected Omaha to San Francisco brought in laborers, most of whom were Chinese immigrants. A similar need for agricultural labor attracted workers, largely of Native American, Asian, and Mexican ethnicity and descent.

In the early 20th Century, aqueducts to the dry southern region of the state allowed the development of Los Angeles and San Diego. The state’s industrial farms and oil fields had an endless thirst for labor and so the population continued to boom. The state was also a destination for devastated farmers escaping the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. By 1940, California’s population had reached nearly seven million; at the time of statehood in 1850, it was less than 100,000.

World War II and a New Economy

Even so, the biggest boom was yet to come. World War II demanded more defense and agricultural production than ever before. California’s labor force made it a natural home for these industries that required difficult work. During the war, California received 10% of U.S. defense spending and accounted for 14% of total American production. From 1940 to 1945, California’s population grew by 30%, about 2.5 million people. After the war, the population continued to climb; people who had moved to the state during the war liked living there. The state’s natural beauty and pleasant climate prevented a post-war exodus. The state also became a primary entry point and destination for immigrants as the growing defense, manufacturing, automobile, film, and technological industries demanded more labor.

From 1940 to 1970, California’s population grew from seven million to 20 million, eventually overtaking New York as the most populous state. After the war, the state developed its housing, freeways, roads, schools, bridges, and transportation infrastructure to accommodate the population influx. The economic and population boom lasted through most of the 20th Century. During the 1980s, the military and defense industries continued to grow. So too did Silicon Valley, the Northern California tech hub that had originated in the region due to a confluence of an established defense industry ecosystem, Stanford University, and venture capital.

Disaster Strikes

In the 1990s, California’s cycle of growth and prosperity stopped. Drought, fires, earthquakes, mudslides, and other environmental disasters plagued the state. In 1991, according to Republican Governor Pete Wilson, California’s financial situation had deteriorated from a “crisis” to an “emergency”. He blamed the Gulf War, recession, and environmental disasters for the state’s ballooning deficit and precarious finances. The state’s response was to hike taxes and government spending. Between 1990 and 2008, the state’s budget grew from $51 billion to $96 billion.

The Great Recession only exacerbated the state’s financial troubles. Californians who had bought suburban homes outside Los Angeles and San Francisco found themselves deeply in debt. Cities including San Bernardino and Stockton filed for bankruptcy, largely due to generous public employment benefits that had been negotiated by powerful unions.

Economic Powerhouse or Urban Tragedy

Despite the troubles, California has the most powerful economy of any state. If it were its own country, it would be the fifth largest economy in the world. The state has pockets of extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Republicans point to California’s homelessness, crime, and crumbling infrastructure as a result of Democratic leadership and government regulations. But the state’s booming metropolises and pristine environment are also used as arguments in favor of government regulation and environmentalism.

Early Electoral History (Statehood – 1948)

From 1860 through 1928, California voted according to the regional lines drawn by slavery and the Civil War. The state was reliably Republican on the presidential level with exceptions in 1880, 1892, 1912, and 1916. During this era, Californians were also willing to vote for progressive outsiders. In 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt broke from the Republican Party and ran under as a third-party contender, 42% of Californians voted for him. This was Roosevelt’s second best showing of any state. Again in 1924, 33% of Californians voted for the Progressive Party’s candidate, Robert La Follette, while his national average was 17%.

In each election from 1932 to 1944, California voted decisively for Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt and did so by a larger margin the national average. The New Deal was popular in California and helped boost the Depression-ravaged, agriculture-based economy. From 1933 to 1939, the New Deal allocated California the second most money in total and the tenth most per capita of all the states. The New Deal also strengthened California’s unions, an important support system that would help Democrats organize and win future elections. Roosevelt’s popularity in California helped his Democratic successor, Harry Truman, eke out a 0.44% victory over Republican Thomas Dewey in 1948.  

Republican Dominance (1952 – 1988)

After this stretch of Democratic victories, Republicans would again take hold of California for the next four decades. From 1952 through 1988, only one Democrat — Lyndon Johnson in the landslide of 1964 — would be able to win California’s electoral votes. In 1952 and 1956, the moderate Republican, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who ran largely on his experience with international affairs, carried the state. In 1960, 1968, 1972, 1980, and 1984, California’s very own Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan would lead the Republican ticket and carry California. In 1988, however, the state’s leftward migration became clear when Republican George H.W. Bush won California by less than 4%.

A Turn to Democrats (1992 – 2004)

Two demographic shifts are responsible for the Democratic ascendancy in California that began in the 1980s and continues to this day. First, as the state’s economy struggled in the 1990s, blue collar and uneducated whites moved out of the state while college educated whites moved in. This new population was more aligned with the Democratic Party’s positions on social issues like same sex marriage and abortion.

The other demographic change is the growth in the Hispanic and Asian populations. These demographics — generally friendly to the Democratic Party — have been growing in California since the 1970s. In 1994, when Republican Governor Pete Wilson ran a campaign supporting Proposition 187 that denied public services to illegal immigrants, California shifted decisively to Democrats. The hardline stance against immigrants was a death knell for California Republicans on the presidential level. Democrats would strap Republicans to Governor Wilson’s unpopular stance on immigrants and solidify their support among Hispanics and Asians.

The electoral consequences of these demographic shifts were stark. Democrat Bill Clinton carried California by 13% in both 1992 and 1996. Al Gore won by 11% in 2000, and John Kerry won by 10% in 2004.

Obama and Clinton Nation (2008 – 2016)

Barack Obama’s 24% margin over John McCain in 2008 was the largest Democratic victory since FDR’s landslide in 1936. Obama again dominated the state in 2012 with a 23% margin over Mitt Romney. Then, in 2016, Hillary Clinton expanded that margin even further to 30%.

Hillary Clinton received about 900,000 more votes than Barack Obama did in 2012 and Donald Trump received about 350,000 fewer than Mitt Romney. Clinton outperformed Obama’s margin in most of the state’s populous and dense counties including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Sacramento Counties. Trump, meanwhile, outperformed Mitt Romney in some more rural counties in northern and inland California. The overall shift, however, clearly favored Clinton.

Clinton’s strong performance in California boosted her national popular vote total but had no effect on the Electoral College. Even though she expanded Obama’s margin in California by over 1 million, she received no additional electoral votes. Across the country, Clinton widened the Democratic margin in deep blue states like California and New York while losing narrowly in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. This led to a popular vote victory but an Electoral College loss.

Orange County Collapse

While Californians exodus from the GOP did not impact the Electoral College, it does have downballot effects. In the 2018 midterms, Republicans lost seven House seats in California including four — the 39th, 45th, 48th, and 49th districts — based in Orange County. That county, once a Republican stronghold, exemplifies the national trend of educated, suburban white voters realigning behind the Democratic Party. 

California’s Current Political Landscape

California’s 55 electoral votes are safely Democratic. Registered Democrats currently outnumber Republicans 44% to 24%, while No Party Preference voters are at 27%.

California is 39% Hispanic/Latino, a population that makes up the plurality of the state. Asians, and Blacks make up 16%, and 7% of the population respectively. Only 37% of Californians are non-Hispanic whites and the key Republican constituency, non-college educated whites, only make up 27% of the state.

While California used to be politically divided between north and south, the current splits are urban vs. rural and coastal vs. inland.  As with much of the rest of the country, California’s urban communities vote Democratic and its rural regions lean Republican. California has plenty of liberal cities in the Bay area and Southern California that overpower the conservative, rural regions. Communities on the coast are generally wealthier, more educated, and environmentally-focused whereas inland California is less wealthy, more agrarian, and less college educated.  

While California may be uncompetitive in the general presidential election, it is an important date on this year’s Democratic presidential primary calendar. The state moved its primary from June to March, increasing its influence in the early stages of the primary process. California Democrats are allocated 415 pledged delegates in the primary, meaning that the state could tip the primary results and narrative coming out of Super Tuesday. While the state’s in-person voters will cast their ballots on Super Tuesday, absentee and mail-in voters have already received their ballots.2 2That said, the state is quite methodical in counting ballots; final results will likely not be known for several weeks after Super Tuesday.

The real presidential competition in California will happen in March when California Democrats make their preference for a nominee known. Demographic trends have pushed the state deeper than ever into the Democrats’ corner, making it a safe state for whichever candidate ultimately wins the nomination.

Looking past 2020, Democratic domination in presidential elections isn't likely to change. However, slower population growth in the past decade means the state may lose a congressional seat - and an electoral vote - after the 2020 Census. If this happens, it will be the first time the Golden State has ever lost representation after a Census.

Next Week:  Kentucky

Reports in this series:

Buttigieg Wins Final Iowa Delegate; Edges Sanders 14-12

February 9, 2020

With 100% of precincts now reporting, Pete Buttigieg has emerged from the Iowa caucuses with the most delegates to the national convention.

Buttigieg won 26.2% of state delegate equivalents, edging Sanders who had 26.1%.  That translated into a 14-12 edge for the former South Bend mayor. Elizabeth Warren had 18%, good for eight delegates while Joe Biden with 15.8% was fourth. Amy Klobuchar was fifth with 12.3%. Despite being below 15% statewide, she had enough strength in parts of the state to secure a single delegate.

No winner has been declared by the Associated Press. It cited the close margin and inconsistencies in results.  

The New Hampshire primary is up next on Tuesday. Polling indicates Sanders and Buttigieg are running ahead of the field here.

 

Updated Iowa Delegate Counts

February 7, 2020

Per calculations from The Associated Press, Pete Buttigieg has captured 13 pledged delegates from Iowa, with Bernie Sanders one back at 12. Elizabeth Warren has won eight, Joe Biden six, and Amy Klobuchar one.  One delegate remains to be allocated.

 

 

Joe Walsh Ends Presidential Campaign

February 7, 2020

Former Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois ended his primary challenge to President Trump on Friday.  He made the announcement during an interview on CNN.  Walsh entered the race last summer, facing nearly impossible odds against an incumbent with a Republican approval rating consistently near 90%.

The recently completed Iowa caucuses illustrate what Walsh was up against. He received only about 1% of the vote, with Trump at over 97%.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who fared only slightly better than Walsh in Iowa, remains in the race.  Regional proximity and the more private nature of a primary vote (vs. caucus) may result in a modest uptick in Weld's performance in New Hampshire next Tuesday. On the other hand, there are some 17 Republicans on the primary ballot and a minimum 10% threshold of the statewide vote is required to win any delegates.

Buttigieg and Sanders Nearly Tied as Iowa Vote Count Nears Completion

February 6, 2020

Sen. Bernie Sanders has surged into a virtual tie with Pete Buttigieg in Iowa as of Thursday morning.  The gap narrowed overnight when results from three of four satellite caucuses were released by the Iowa Democratic Party.  Sanders dominated these caucuses, which were set up - one in each congressional district - for those couldn't make their assigned precinct.

Overall, 97% of precincts have now reported. The race remains too close too call. 

Live Results

The most important set of numbers is this first one, State Delegate Equivalents.  When all the votes are counted, these will be used to determined the allocation of the 41 delegates Iowa sends to the national convention. In addition to the two frontrunners, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden will earn some of these delegates, and Amy Klobuchar may earn one as well.

For more information on what these other numbers mean, see our Iowa Caucus Overview.

 

Update: Iowa Delegate Counts

February 5, 2020

An update on Iowa pledged delegate allocation.

Democratic Caucuses: About 71% of the vote has been counted as of Thursday morning. Based on that, 24 of the 41 available delegates can be allocated, per NYT/AP.  As of now, they are split between Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.  When all the results are in, these candidates will likely add to their total, with Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar also receiving delegates. While Klobuchar is under 15% statewide, she has exceed that in a number of precincts, and is even leading in a few counties.  No overall winner for the state has yet been named.

You can monitor the total delegate count for each candidate using the Estimated Actual tab of the Interactive Delegate Calculator. 1,990 pledged delegates are needed to win the Democratic nomination on the first ballot.

Republican Caucuses: As might be expected, President Trump received overwhelming support at the caucuses, winning over 97% of the vote.  However, with 40 delegates available and a proportional statewide allocation, Bill Weld's 1.5% appears to have earned him a lone delegate. 

Maryland 7th District Special Election Primary: Overview and Live Results

February 4, 2020

Special primary elections are being held Tuesday in Maryland's 7th Congressional District. The nominees will meet in the special general election in April, with the winner filling the vacancy left by the death of Rep. Elijah Cummings last October.

It's a very crowded field, with 24 Democrats and 8 Republicans seeking the nomination. The most well-known are Cumming's widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings and former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who held the seat before Cummings.

The Baltimore-area seat is safely Democratic; Cummings won his final term by 55% in 2018; Hillary Clinton won here by a similar margin in 2016.  As a result, whomever emerges as the Democratic nominee will be a prohibitive favorite in the April 28 special election.

April 28 is also primary day in Maryland for the November elections. As the filing date has already passed, this same large group will meet again for the nomination to run for a full term.  It is possible - although perhaps unlikely - that the winner of the special general election will simultaneously lose his or her primary, effectively becoming a lame duck before taking their seat in Congress.

Polls close at 8:00 PM ET; results will appear below after that time.

Iowa Caucus: Overview and Live Results

February 3, 2020

Months of campaigning and millions of dollars in spending preceded the Iowa Democratic caucuses.  All that for a mere 41 pledged delegates - just over 1% of the total that will be allocated during the 57 primary and caucus events over the next four months.  However, it is the first opportunity for voters to pass judgment on a historically large field.  The verdict of voters in Iowa and next week's New Hampshire Primary has proved predictive:  Every winner -except one1 1In 1992, Bill Clinton did not win a contest until March 3. The four contests preceding that date were each won by a different candidate. - of a contested major-party nomination since 1980 has won at least one of these two states. Additionally, the result in these states will almost certainly winnow the field.

If you'd like to read more on how the caucuses work, here are some explainers from The New York Times, NPR, Politico, and The Washington Post.

In the interest of transparency, or perhaps to confuse people, the Iowa Democratic Party will release four sets of results tonight.   We expect the first results to start arriving after 8:00 PM ET; the tables below will update with those results as they come in.

Round One - First Alignment:  This will be the initial preference of caucusgoers across the state's nearly 1,700 precincts. The percentage results here should be somewhat consistent with the statewide polling that has preceded the caucus (if that polling proves accurate).  However, the candidate leading after this round may not end up as the winner. This is because of the 15% viability threshold. 

Round 2 - Final Alignment: Candidates that don't receive 15% in Round 1 are considered nonviable. However, this threshold is determined at each individual precinct.2 2For example, a candidate receiving 18% statewide in Round 1 may not be viable in all precincts. On the other hand, a candidate at 10% may be viable in some. In Round 2, caucusgoers who have supported a nonviable candidate at their location will have the option to move to a viable candidate3 3Caucusgoers associated with a viable candidate in Round 1 are locked in. This is a change from prior cycles. or join forces with supporters of another nonviable candidate in an attempt to get one of them across the threshold.

State Delegate Equivalents and Delegates: Still with us?  We've finally arrived at the results that matter. Round 2 totals are translated into state delegate equivalents. The person with the most state delegate equivalents is considered the winner by most media organizations. The result here should largely reflect the Round 2 results. However, since all precincts are not weighted equally, it is possible that the candidate getting the most votes in Round 2 will not be the winner.

Finally, those 41 pledged delegates are awarded proportionately based on the state delegate equivalents - for the most part.  As is the case in other states, a predetermined number of Iowa's delegates to the national convention are awarded based on the statewide vote, with some awarded based on the vote in each congressional district.  Depending on how the results break across the individual districts, there could be a situation - especially in a close race like this - where the person winning the most state delegates does not receive the most pledged delegates.4 4This outcome happened in the 2008 Nevada caucuses, where Hillary Clinton won the statewide vote by over 5 points, but Barack Obama ended up with a 13-12 margin in delegates.

Republican Caucuses:  Only one set of results is expected here.  40 pledged delegates will be allocated proportionately based on the statewide vote.

The Road to 270: Arkansas

February 3, 2020

The Road to 270 is a weekly column leading up to the presidential election. Each installment is dedicated to understanding one state’s political landscape and how that might influence which party will win its electoral votes in 2020. We’ll do these roughly in order of expected competitiveness, moving toward the most intensely contested battlegrounds as election day nears. 

The Road to 270 will be published every Monday. The column is written by Seth Moskowitz, a 270toWin elections and politics contributor. Contact Seth at s.k.moskowitz@gmail.com or on Twitter @skmoskowitz.

Arkansas

From statehood through 1964, Arkansas was one of the most reliably Democratic states in presidential elections. Since then, however, it has only voted Democratic three times. Two of these three were for native son Bill Clinton, in 1992 and 1996. The other Democrat to carry the state was fellow southerner Jimmy carter in 1976. The state’s flip from Democratic to Republican stems from a political legacy of slavery and regional factionalism.

Pre-Statehood

Arkansas was first explored by the Spanish in 1551. French explorers arrived 130 years later, which led to missionaries and traders settling in the region in the 18th Century. France claimed the territory from the mid 1600s through 1772 as a part of Louisiana, or New France. Spain then controlled the territory for 29 years until they returned it to France in 1800. In 1803, territory including what is modern-day Arkansas would be acquired by the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

Before Arkansas would become a state, it would go through several territorial iterations. First the Louisiana Territory from 1805-1812, then the Missouri Territory from 1812-1819, then the Arkansas Territory in 1819. The Arkansas Territory comprised most of today’s Arkansas and Oklahoma, but the Oklahoma portion was cut off in 1824, defining the boundaries of modern-day Arkansas. Finally, in 1836, Arkansas was added to the United States as the 25th state.

Statehood and Slavery

Arkansas entered the Union as a slave state. Like most of the south, Arkansas was dependent on agriculture and the associated economics of forced labor, bringing it tightly into the pro-slavery Democratic Party. The state cast its electoral votes accordingly from its first election in 1836 through 1860. In 1860, however, the Democratic Party split between pro-slavery Southern Democrats and the northern Democrats. Arkansas, along with most of the South, voted for the pro-slavery Southern Democratic nominee while northern Democrats supported Stephen Douglas. The division allowed the abolitionist Republican Abraham Lincoln to win the Electoral College with just 40% of the popular vote.

Arkansas did not secede from the Union immediately following the election. It wasn’t until April, 1861, when President Lincoln tried to enlist Arkansans to suppress a rebellion in South Carolina, that Arkansas seceded. Arkansas became the first state admitted back into the union on June 22, 1968 after it passed a new Constitution that temporarily disenfranchised former confederates and ratified the 13th and 14th Amendments. The new document would ostensibly lead to universal male suffrage and equality before the law, but racial and economic discrimination remained.

In 1868, largely due to the voting restrictions placed on former confederates, Arkansas voted for Republican Ulysses Grant. This was the only election out of the state’s first 31 in which it would cast valid electoral votes for the Republican. While Grant would again win the popular vote in Arkansas in 1872, the state’s votes were not counted due to voting irregularities.

From 1876 through 1964, Arkansas voted Democratic. Voter suppression helped Democrats in the post-reconstruction years.  This first took the form of the Klu Klux Klan and voter intimidation. Later, in 1891 and 1892, it was a poll tax that disenfranchised poor blacks and whites. Between the 1888 and 1892 elections, turnout fell in Arkansas from 157,000 to 148,000 with the Republican vote total dropping by 13,000 while the Democratic total grew by 2,000.   

A Turn to Republicans

Like the rest of the South, Arkansas stuck with Democrats. It often did so by enormous margins. Franklin Roosevelt carried the state by 73%, 64%, and 58%, and 40% margins in his 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944 elections. It wasn’t until 1956 that Republicans would come within single digits. Democrats still managed to carry the state through 1964, even with these smaller margins and more competition.

The Democratic streak finally broke in 1968. George Wallace, the former and future Democrat from Alabama, broke with his party and ran as the American Independent Party’s pro-segregationist candidate.  Wallace won the plurality of the vote (39%) in Arkansas, and with it, the state’s Electoral College votes.

From 1968 through 2016, Arkansas would only vote Democratic in three more presidential elections. In 1976 it would overwhelmingly support fellow southerner Jimmy Carter. In 1992 and 1996, another Democrat would again leverage his southern charm to win the presidency. This time, however, that candidate was the state's very own governor. Bill Clinton carried his home state in both 1992 and 1996, beating George H.W. bush by 18% in 1992 and Bob Dole by 17% in 1996.

Even though Arkansas voted overwhelmingly for Clinton — it was the only state to give Clinton a majority in 19921 1Independent candidate Ross Perot received about 19% of the national vote that year. Aside from Arkansas, each of the 50 states was won by a plurality. — these elections marked the end of the road for Democratic presidential candidates in the state.

Recent Republican Domination

In 2000, Republican George W. Bush beat Democrat Al Gore by 5%. This margin would expand in every subsequent presidential election. Since 2000, Arkansas has trudged rightward in every presidential election without regard to the national environment. The biggest rightward jump was between 2004 and 2008, when John McCain doubled George Bush’s margin of victory from 10% to 20%. In those same years, the national popular vote shifted nine points in Democrats' favor. The same is true of 2012 and 2016 — even as the national environment became more Democratic, the Republican nominees expanded their margins in Arkansas. Finally, in 2016, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton 61% to 34%, a 27% margin.

Until recently, Democrats regularly won downballot elections here. From 2003 through 2010, Democrats held both Senate seats and three of four House seats. The party also held the governorship from 2007 through 2014. Arkansans were willing to split their ballots and vote for Democrats even as they voted Republican for president.

This ticket-splitting trend stopped abruptly. In the 2010 Republican wave, two Democratic House incumbents retired and Republicans won their seats. Republicans also flipped one of the Senate seats that year. Two years later, Republicans flipped the fourth and final House seat. Finally, in 2014, Republicans took control of the entire Arkansas Congressional delegation by winning the second Senate seat.

Current Political Landscape

It’s not surprising that Arkansas has become decisively Republican. The state’s demographic makeup neatly aligns with that of the party at this point in time.  The state is whiter, more rural, and less college educated than the country as a whole. The party’s key demographic base — non-college educated whites — make up 60% of the population. Economically suffering, rural regions of the country — of which Arkansas has many — were particularly receptive to Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” brand of populism.  

While Democrats were once able to compete throughout the entire state, their support is now isolated to Little Rock and some counties on the eastern border. Back in 1996, Bill Clinton won all but 9 counties in the state, including the states rural, less dense regions. Twenty years later, Hillary Clinton only won eight counties while Donald Trump carried 77. Trump improved upon Mitt Romney’s margins in nearly the entire state, but he did so by the greatest margins in the northeastern corner of the state.

Clinton meanwhile, outperformed Barack Obama in four urban and suburban counties. Pulaski and Faulkner Counties, which include Little Rock and its northern suburbs, shifted leftwards. So too did Benton and Washington Counties in the northwestern corner of the state. Donald Trump still outran Clinton in Benton, beating her by 40%. Washington County, home to Fayetteville, went to Trump by 10%, closer than Romney’s 16% margin. Overall, Arkansas has followed the national trend of rural regions shifting rightward and urban ones moving left.

Other southern states like Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas have deep blue urban centers that offset Republican-leaning rural regions. As these cities and their suburbs have grown and become more Democratic, the states have shifted towards battleground status. Arkansas has a similar landscape with its rural, white, Republican regions and the more diverse, dense, and Democratic Little Rock. Unlike these other southern states, however, Little Rock is not large enough to balance the state’s rural population. Unless Little Rock becomes a demographic and political powerhouse on the scale of Atlanta or Charlotte, or until the current party coalitions break down, Arkansas will remain with the GOP. With such a shift all but impossible before November, Arkansas is safely Republican.

Next Week:  TBA

Reports in this series:

DNC Alters Qualifying Criteria for Nevada Debate; Changes Open Door for Bloomberg

January 31, 2020

The Democratic National Committee announced significant changes to the qualifying requirements for the party's February 19 debate in Las Vegas. Gone is the fundraising requirement, which opens the door to participation by Mike Bloomberg. The former NYC mayor is self-funding his campaign, and is not accepting contributions from individual donors.

There are three different ways to qualify for the Nevada debate, which comes three days before that state's caucuses:

  • A minimum of 10% support in four national or remaining early state polls from accredited pollsters.  Early state polls include those from Nevada and South Carolina (Feb. 29 primary).
  • A minimum of 12% support from some combination of two Nevada or South Carolina polls.
  • Earn at least one pledged delegate in Iowa (Feb. 3 caucus) or New Hampshire (Feb. 11 primary).

To qualify, polls must be from DNC-accredited pollsters and released between January 15 and February 18. The only candidates that have qualified thus far are Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Bloomberg is not participating in contests prior to Super Tuesday (March 3). His avenue to the stage in Nevada is predicated on meeting the 10%/4 poll criteria. He has one such poll thus far.

The next debate will take place February 7 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Seven candidates have qualified for that. That debate will be broadcast on ABC, in partnership with its local affiliate WMUR-TV and Apple News.