Election News

Introducing the Interactive Delegate Calculator

January 12, 2020

Three weeks out from Iowa, the interactive portion of the 2020 Democratic Delegate Calculator is now live.  Starting with the polling average, where available, you can create a forecast for each primary or caucus.  You can also project withdrawal dates for those candidates that you don't think will be around at the end.  The changes you make will be immediately reflected in the delegate estimate for each candidate. 

Select the Based on Custom Calculator tab to create your forecast.

Regardless of the forecast you create, the Based on Polling Average tab will continue to reflect the delegate forecast based on the 270toWin Polling Average in each state. There's now an option, in both tabs, to use the national average where no state polling is available. 

Please use the General Feedback link at the bottom of the calculator page to let us know of any issues or any suggestions you might have to make it better.

Marianne Williamson Ends Presidential Bid

January 10, 2020

Author Marianne Williamson announced Friday that she is ending her bid for the Democratic nomination.  The news is not unexpected, coming about a week after she laid off her entire campaign staff. 

This leaves 13 candidates in the race to take on President Trump in November.  Six have qualified for next Tuesday's debate.

Strength in SC, NV Fox Polls Puts Tom Steyer in Next Week's Debate

January 9, 2020

New Fox News polls in Nevada and South Carolina showed activist Tom Steyer with double-digit support.  His strength in these two surveys has qualified him for the January 14 Democratic debate.  

Steyer is the 6th candidate to qualify. He'll join Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on the stage. The deadline to qualify is Friday; no other candidates are likely to make it.  

Next week's debate is scheduled to be held at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa and will be hosted by CNN and The Des Moines Register.  It is the final debate before the Iowa caucuses on Monday, February 3.

Rep. Duncan Hunter Resigns from Congress

January 7, 2020

GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter of California has submitted his letter of resignation, effective Monday January 13.   The decision was expected; he had previously said he would resign shortly after the holidays.

Hunter guilty in December to a charge surrounding the misuse of campaign funds.

Under indictment at the time, Hunter narrowly won a 6th term in 2018. Contrast that to 2016, where he won by 27 points. Donald Trump won here by about 15 points over Hillary Clinton.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom will call a special election to fill the remainder of Hunter's term. Given the demographics of the 50th congressional district, the consensus rating is Likely Republican.   Update:  The timing of Hunter's resignation doesn't leave enough time to hold a special election concurrent with the state's primary on March 3. As a result, the Governor has decided the seat will remain vacant through the end of this term.

The Road to 270: New York

January 6, 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.

New York

Last Monday, the Census Bureau released its national population estimates. This is the best resource we have for predicting congressional reapportionment that will take place following the 2020 Census. According to these projections, New York will lose one congressional seat, dropping from 27 to 26. Because Electoral College votes are apportioned to states according to the size of their congressional delegation (senators + representatives), New York will likely have 28 electoral votes in the 2024 and 2028 presidential contests instead of the 29 it has today.

This is not a new trend. At its peak in the 1930s and 1940s, New York had 47 electoral votes. It has lost at least two after every Census from 1950 through 2010. We can look at New York’s history and political legacy to understand why it’s expected to, once again, lose representation in Congress and the Electoral College.

Pre-Revolutionary New York

New York City stands on land that was discovered by Europeans in 1524 when Giovanni da Verrazzano first explored the eastern coast of North America. While a fur trade between Native Americans and Europeans began, it took 100 years for the first large group of Europeans to arrive in the region. The settlement was called New Amsterdam and was a part the Dutch colony, New Netherland.

Like New York City today, New Amsterdam was diverse. It was home to Europeans of various nationalities, Christians, Jews, Muslims, enslaved Africans, free Africans, and Native Americans. It was small, though, making it vulnerable to aggression. In 1664, when the English claimed control over the city, the Dutch colonial governor Peter Stuyvesant was forced to surrender. King Charles II gave the new colony to his brother, the Duke of York.

New York was strategically located for the English. It connected the northern and southern colonies, acted as a gateway to the continent’s interior through the Hudson River, and became a popular trading port. However, it was not the most populous of the 13 original colonies. By U.S. independence in 1776, it was the 5th largest.

Regardless of its size, New York played a fundamental role in the American Revolution and America’s early years. It was a home to anti-British sentiment and organizations like The Stamp Act Congress and The Sons of Liberty. The state’s constitution was eventually used as a framework for the U.S. Constitution. And New York City was the nation’s first capital and where The Bill of Rights was written.

After the Revolution

New York’s importance to the new nation would continue to grow for the next 150 years. Home to the New York Stock Exchange, New York City was fated to become America’s financial capital. The state’s convenient location for trade, population of hard-working immigrants, and entrepreneurial spirit also made it a natural home for manufacturing.

Job growth and immigration made New York’s expansion unstoppable in the late 19th and early 20th century. Starting during the Great Irish Famine in the 1840s, millions of immigrants began to arrive at the ports in New York. Ellis Island, which opened in 1892 as an immigration station, became a symbol of New York’s international, immigrant-based culture and economy. Many of these new U.S. citizens settled in the city, building upon its diverse, hardscrabble culture.

By World War I, New York was the nation’s economic powerhouse. The city was home to Wall Street, the nation’s biggest banks, and their associated financial industries. Nowhere roared louder during the Roaring Twenties than New York City. Meanwhile, suburban and upstate New York housed innovative and high-tech companies including GE, IBM, Kodak and Xerox.

Great Depression and War

The Wall Street Crash of 1929 and successive Great Depression devastated New York. Reports of Wall Street brokers jumping from skyscrapers (regardless of their veracity) illustrate the atmosphere in New York City following the market crash. At the depths of the depression, about one quarter of the state was unemployed.

World War II was a boon for the state’s economy. As the most populous state and already home to manufacturing industry, New York was a natural center for defense and wartime manufacturing as well. Through this period, and up until the 1970s, immigration into New York continued to flow. Between 1930 and 1970, the state’s population grew by 45%, from 12.6 million to 18.2 million1. Towards the end of the century, though, New York’s status as an ever-growing state would falter.

By the 1970s, poor financial management brought New York City within hours of bankruptcy. This forced job and spending cuts. About 1 million people moved from the city during the decade. Twenty years later, in the 1990s, a recession would hit New York hard and force a restructuring of the economy. The state shifted away from manufacturing towards becoming a cultural capital with more jobs in the knowledge and service industries. While big upstate companies like Xerox and IBM lost influence, Wall Street and the city were again booming by the late 1990s. Demographic change happened alongside this economic shift as older white, blue collar workers left for less expensive regions of the country and younger immigrants and minorities moved into the city.

The New Century

The September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center drew New York into another economic slump. Companies that were previously centralized in New York City dispersed their workforce and 200,000 jobs left the city in 2001 and 2002. Six years later, in 2008, the Great Recession would hit. The financial industry, the epicenter for the tanking economy, took another blow.

New York saw an uneven recovery from the recession. While the financial sector and New York City rebounded, Upstate New York’s revival has been weak or nonexistent. New York City added over 700,000 jobs between 2009 and 2017 in the business, health care, hospitality, and finance sectors. Upstate New York’s private job growth rate, however, was less than one third that of the city’s. Of the 1.1 million private sector jobs created in New York between 2010 and 2018, 985,000 (or 88%) of them are were in New York City, Long Island, or the Lower Hudson Valley.

Population changes followed a similar trajectory. While New York City grew by 2.7% between 2010 and 2019, the rest of the state saw a net population loss of about 1%. In fact, New York saw the largest population loss between 2018 and 2019 of any state in the nation. Even New York City’s population growth has plateaued and started to decline. People are leaving New York for sunnier locales like Florida or for less expensive options in the metro area, like New Jersey.

Presidential Politics Through History

With this historical backdrop, we can look at New York’s political and electoral record. The state’s urban and rural split has been key to this electoral history. Because parties have often been divided along regional lines, these dueling constituencies have often kept New York balanced and competitive. 

1789 - 1820

These first elections, when competitive, usually split the country into two voting blocks. There was New England, with its business and manufacturing interests, and the south, with its agrarian and farming concerns. The former states generally preferred the Federalist Party, which advocated for a bigger federal government. The latter supported the Democratic-Republican Party, which promoted states’ rights and less federal interference.

New York — geographically positioned between New England and the south and split between an agrarian upstate and commercial city — didn’t fit neatly into either voting bloc. Generally, though, the state’s electors2 cast their votes for the Democratic-Republican Party, the party of the south and a smaller federal government. Between 1796 and 18203, New York cast its electoral votes for the Democratic-Republican party five of seven times. This is partly because of the state’s rural, plain regions aligned with Democratic-Republicans, partly because the Democratic-Republicans were usually dominant during this period, and partly because both parties frequently placed New Yorkers on the ballot as a way to win over the swing state.

Also important to Democratic-Republican victories was Tammany Hall, New York City’s political machine that influenced state politics through the 1930s. It was originally founded in 1789 to oppose the Federalist Party. In later decades, though, it would dominate New York City’s Democratic Party and claim to represent the city’s working class and immigrant populations. Perhaps most significantly, though, Tammany Hall would become famous for corruption, bribery, and patronage.

1824 - 1852

The 1824 election featured four candidates from the Democratic-Republican Party. While Andrew Jackson won the national popular vote, he did not win a majority in the Electoral College. John Quincy Adams ended up winning the contingent election in the House of Representatives, likely due to a “corrupt bargain” in which he promised to nominate Speaker of the House Henry Clay as Secretary of State. New York’s congressional delegation cast their collective vote for the winner, Adams.

Four years later, with Andrew Jackson’s creation of the Democratic Party, national coalitions again shifted. Generally, the Democratic Party advocated for a smaller government while the Whig Party favored a federal government with power centralized in Congress rather than the presidency. Starting in 1828, New York began to cast its electoral votes by popular vote. From this election through 1852, New York was again competitive and bounced between the two parties. The popular vote swung to the Democratic Party five times and the Whig Party twice.

1856 – 1928

By 1856, the question of slavery had come to dominate national politics. On this, New York was on the side of abolitionists. The Republican Party, formed primarily as a vehicle to oppose slavery, took hold of New York for nearly a century. From 1856 to 1928 New York voted for the Republican nominee in nearly every election4.  Around the turn of the century, New York politics was dominated by the progressivism of the era. Voters generally supported local and national candidates who advocated for progressive labor laws, unions, and better government services5

1932 – 1936

By 1932, New York had been hollowed out by the Great Depression which had happened under the watch of Herbert Hoover’s Republican administration. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition, which brought together labor unions, city political machines, minorities, urban intellectuals and farmers, shifted New York to the Democratic Party.

1940 – 1988

The state’s urban and rural split would again make it closely divided and competitive in presidential elections. Of the 13 elections between 1940 and 1988, eight were decided by less than six percent. The state voted for Roosevelt in his reelections of 1940 and 1944, but flipped back to Republicans in 1948, 1952, and 1956. Then, from 1960 until 1988, the state leaned slightly towards Democrats, only going red in the Republican landslides of 1972, 1980, and 1984.

1992 - 2016

Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 was a watershed year for New York. It marked the end of New York’s status as a swing state. In that election, Clinton dominated Republican George H.W. Bush with a 16 percent margin. The Democratic margin has been higher than that in the six subsequent elections. As the minority voting bloc grew, Jews aligned behind the Democratic Party, white Catholics drifted leftward on cultural issues, and as urban and suburban regions became more Democratic, New York turned from a battleground to Democratic territory. 

Recent Presidential Election Landscape

The past three presidential elections in New York have been landslides. In 2008, Barack Obama carried the state by 27%. He expanded that lead to 28% in 2012, even as the national environment shifted 2% rightward. Hillary Clinton’s margin in 2016 was smaller than Obama’s, as she won with a 22% margin over Donald Trump.

Both Clinton and Trump, however, received more raw votes in New York than their counterparts in 2012. Trump got over 300,000 more votes than Mitt Romney, mostly from Long Island, Staten Island, and rural upstate counties. Clinton, on the other hand, expanded Obama’s total number of votes by about 70,000. While she earned about 230,000 more votes than Obama in New York City and its Long Island and Westchester County suburbs, she underperformed his total in the rest of the state by about 160,000.

Trump flipped 19 counties that Obama won in 2012, 17 of which were in Upstate New York. The other two — Richmond and Suffolk County — comprise Staten Island and the eastern half of Long Island. The trend in New York mirrors that of the nation: urban areas shifting further to Democrats, rural areas shifting to the GOP, and suburban areas acting as the battlegrounds. 

But Trump’s improvement is relative. He still lost the state by 22% and as people continue to leave rural regions in favor of cities and suburbs, New York will likely continue to trend blue. The state may have once been a closely contested presidential battleground, but that status has long passed. As it has for the past eight elections, New York is all but certain to go blue in November. 

1 This may seem at odds with the state losing electoral votes beginning in the 1950s.  It occurred because the population in other places began to grow even more quickly. As the number of congressional districts is fixed at 435, it is the relative change in each state's population that impacts gain or loss in representation (and thus electoral votes).

2 Through 1824, presidential electors were chosen by the state legislature. 

3 New York did not cast electors in the 1789 election due to a deadlocked state legislature. 1792 is not included because George Washington eschewed political parties.

4 There were five exceptions, four of which occurred where the Democratic nominee was a former New York governor (1868, 1876, 1884, 1892). In 1912, former Gov. Theodore Roosevelt ran on a 3rd party ticket, splitting the Republican vote.

5 During this period, both parties pursued relatively progressive policies. The split between them was more regional, a vestige of the Civil War. 

Next Week:  Idaho

Reports in this series:

GOP Rep. Phil Roe to Retire in 2020

January 3, 2020

GOP Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee announced Friday that he will retire at the end of the current Congress. Roe is in his 6th term, and represents the most conservative district in this deep red state.  Donald Trump won here by about 57% over Hillary Clinton in 2016; only five districts across the country had larger Trump margins that year1.

 

36 current members of the House have announced they will not run in 2020: 27 Republicans and 9 Democrats.  The number includes Rep. Duncan Hunter (R, CA-50), who is expected to leave Congress early this year.

1 Interestingly, three of the six incumbents in these reddest of districts are retiring. In addition to Roe, that includes Reps. Michael Conaway (TX-11) and Mac Thornberry (TX-13) 

Julian Castro Exits Presidential Race

January 2, 2020

Former Secretary of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Julian Castro ended his bid for the Democratic nomination Thursday. The only Latino in the race, Castro had struggled for support, averaging just over 1% in national polls as 2019 drew to a close.

Castro tweeted his announcement with a video of his year on the campaign trail.

Castro was mayor of San Antonio from 2009 until 2014, when he was confirmed as HUD Secretary. He served in that position until the end of President Barack Obama's 2nd term in January, 2017.

270toWin Democratic Nomination Content:

2020 Election Calendar

Map with National Polls & State Links

Delegate Calculator (interactive piece expected within next week)

Running List of Latest Polls (polling should pick up significantly this month)

Delegate Allocation Thresholds

Superdelegate Rule Changes for 2020

Projected 2024 Electoral Map Based on New Census Population Data

December 30, 2019

On Monday, the Census Bureau released U.S. population estimates (data here) as of July 1, 2019. This is the final annual update before the 2020 Census, which will set the population of the United States as of April 1, 2020. 

The Census results will lead to a reapportionment of the 435 congressional districts across the 50 states. The official changes should be known in late December, 2020.  This will kick off a redistricting effort in most states during 2021. Boundaries will be redrawn, with districts added or combined in those states that will gain or lose representation.

However, the new estimates allow for a pretty good projection of where things will end up. For the 2nd consecutive decade, Texas (+3 seats) and Florida (+2 seats) look to be the big winners. They were also the only two states to gain more than one seat in 2010. Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon are projected to gain one seat. As the number of districts is fixed, these 10 seats must come from somewhere else.   One seat is expected to be lost by each of Alabama, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia. 33 states will see no change.

If this estimate proves accurate,

  • It will be the first time California has ever lost a congressional seat. 
  • Montana will regain a 2nd district lost after the 1990 Census
  • Rhode Island will have a single district for the first time since the original apportionment that preceded the first Census in 1790
  • Florida will surpass New York in congressional districts, the culmination of a 70-year shift in population
    • In 1950, New York had 45 districts; Florida had 6

Voters will choose representatives in the redrawn districts beginning with the 2022 midterm elections.

Electoral College Impacts

The new electoral map will be effective with the 2024 presidential election. There are no changes to the 2020 map from that used in 2016.

Since each state receives electoral votes equal to its congressional delegation (House + 2 Senators), there is a 1:1 relationship between the change in House districts and electoral votes.

 

The projected 2024 electoral map is seen below; click or tap it for an interactive version. Had this map been in place in 2016, Donald Trump would have won 309 electoral votes, 3 more than he actually won (excluding faithless electors). 

The Road to 270: North Dakota

December 30, 2019

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.

North Dakota

In 2016, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in North Dakota by 36%, greatly expanding upon Mitt Romney’s 20% margin of victory from four years earlier. This 16-point jump is the greatest rightward shift made by any state between 2012 and 2016. To understand how North Dakota, a state with origins in left-wing populism, would become one of the most conservative in the span of 100 years, let’s look back to its origins.

Statehood, Farming, and a Population Boom

Congress originally organized the Dakota Territory in 1861. It was primarily composed of land acquired from France in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. During the early and mid 1800s, the U.S. traded with, repressed, and eventually drove drove out Native Americans in the territory. In 1870, when the population of northern Dakota was just 2,400, farmers and homesteaders began to move into the territory. By 1880 northern Dakota had 37,000 residents. In 1890, the year after statehood, North Dakota’s population had grown fivefold to 191,000.

Both North and South Dakota entered the United States on November 2, 1889, becoming the 39th and 40th states, respectively.1 Regional differences, as well as disputes over a future capital, pushed the formation of two independent states.

Settlers continued to immigrate to North Dakota as homesteaders through the turn of the century. By 1915, 79% of North Dakota’s population were either immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants. These settlers, largely from Scandinavia, Germany, and Russia, weren’t afraid of the northern chill that prevented many Americans from moving to the region.

Presidential Elections in Early Statehood

Republicans have controlled North Dakota presidential politics for most of its history. But the state has a streak of populism that goes back to its earliest days. In 1892, the North Dakota Democratic Party and the Populist Party formed a fusion ticket and together won two of the state’s three electoral votes2. The Republican, Benjamin Harrison, won the state’s third elector.

From 1896 to 1928, though, Republicans won seven of the nine presidential contests. Democrat Woodrow Wilson then won the state’s electoral votes both in 1912 and 1916. In 1912, however, the Republican vote was split between Republican William Taft and Theodore Roosevelt, who had broken from the GOP to create his own Progressive Party. That year, Taft and Roosevelt together received about 56% of the vote while Wilson received just 34%.

Political Parties, Coalitions, and Trends in Early Statehood

These topline presidential results, however, obscure the complexity of North Dakota’s politics. The state’s early politics revolved around the concerns of farmers. Both Democrats and Republicans would absorb some of the populist reforms popular among these agrarian communities.

The populist movement had sparks of success in the 1890s but the effort got its first big win in 1906. That year, progressive Democrats and Republicans banded together to elect Democrat John Burke as governor. While he did not establish the reforms many farmers wanted, he did push for other populist policies to fight corruption, reform the voting system, and improve working conditions.

The true populist insurgency, though, would come nine years later with the formation of the Nonpartisan League. Reformers and populists who had spent years criticizing the Republican Party from within broke off to form the Nonpartisan League, or NPL, in 1915. The NPL advocated for progressive and socialist policies — most significantly government control over farming-adjacent industries (grain mills, banks, railroads) — in order to strengthen farmers and weaken urban and eastern corporations. The NPL also fought for other reforms including women’s suffrage, improved and expanded government services, and anti-interventionism. In 1916, the NPL ran a slate of candidates in the Republican Party’s primary, effectively hijacking the state-level Republican Party. By 1918, the NPL dominated statewide political offices.

Unsurprisingly, this agenda was not popular among all business leaders or out of state corporations. These interests united into the conservative Independent Voters Association. The IVA acted as a capitalist counterbalance to the socialist policies of the NPL.

By 1922, internal organizational problems, the radicalism of the group’s platform, and external attacks by the IVA had eroded the NPL’s support. The group’s ideas, though, would linger in North Dakota politics and the group itself would make a comeback in future decades.

When wartime prices for grain dropped following WWI, and again when the Great Depression hit, farmers in North Dakota suffered. Farms foreclosed, jobs were automated away, and the rural populations fell as people moved into cities. The North Dakota Farmers Union in the 1920s and a revitalized Nonpartisan League in the 1930s would emerge to once again fight low commodity prices, save farmers’ livelihoods, and push progressive reforms.

Presidential Elections Since the Midcentury

In 1932, for the first time in its history, a Democratic presidential nominee would win a majority of the vote. That year, and again in 1936, Franklin Roosevelt won decisive victories in the state.

In 1940, Midwestern native Wendell Willkie was able to win back rural, small town areas in the Northern U.S. Through these victories, he was able to bring the state back to its Republican roots even as he lost the election to Roosevelt. From that year on, with the exception of 1964, North Dakota would vote Republican in every presidential contest.

Political Parties, Coalitions, and Trends in the Midcentury

As had been the case in earlier elections, the topline presidential results don’t tell the whole story. In 1956, the Nonpartisan League merged with the Democratic Party, becoming the Democratic-NPL Party. The new party continued to fight for progressive policies including a higher minimum wage and taxes on the wealthy. While Republicans still controlled the state legislature, the new Democratic-NPL party had significant success. Before the Democratic Party and the NPL merged, Democrats held five seats in the state legislature. In 1957 that number grew to 28 and by 1959 it was 67. By the 1980s, the Democratic-NPL would be strong enough to take control of the State Senate.

Democrats also gained ground in congressional elections. In 1960, Democrats picked up a U.S. Senate seat that the party would hold through 2018. In 1980, Democrats also won the state’s at-large U.S. House seat. In 1986, Democrats won the other Senate seat, kicking off a 24-year stretch of Democratic control of the entire congressional delegation.

North Dakota’s unique brand of politics — defined by its agrarian populism — allowed Democrats to win down-ballot even as Republicans dominated presidential politics. Democrats promised to fight for North Dakota’s farmers, and in a state where agricultural concerns are paramount, this was successful.  Other factors — including automatic voter registration, a tight-knit community, a willingness to vote for candidates over party, and a significant Native American population — also helped Democrats down-ballot.

A Changing Economy Changes Politics

Concentration of the farming industry has changed North Dakota politics. In 1959, there were nearly 55,000 farms averaging 755 acres in size. By 2018 there were just 26,100 farms, each averaging 1,500 acres. As giant agribusinesses began to replace small family farms, North Dakotas left-wing populist streak faded. This receding left-wing populism eroded Democratic strength in North Dakota. Also responsible for this attrition, though, is political polarization along racial, geographical, religious, and cultural lines.

The energy boom, starting in 2007, also dramatically changed the state’s economic and political landscape. With the development of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and other new technology, North Dakota’s Bakken Shale Formation opened for business. From 2006 to 2018 North Dakota increased its production of natural gas by over 1,200%. In the same period, North Dakota’s petroleum production moved from 108,000 barrels per day to 1,264,000. North Dakota now ranks 2nd among the states for total crude oil production and 10th for natural gas production.

This created lots of new jobs and a heightened demand for workers. Since 2010, North Dakota’s population has grown by about 100,000, or 13%. The oil boom, and its associated population influx, took place during the Great Recession. Amazingly, North Dakota’s unemployment rate peaked at 4.3% in 2009 while the national average was closing in on 10%. 

Along with jobs, though, the oil and gas broom brought overpopulation, oil spills, unsafe working conditions, environmental concerns, and strained infrastructure. In 2016 and 2017, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and its effect on Native Americans and their ancestral lands, led to political clashes and national controversy.

The new reliance on energy production brought North Dakota even further into the Republican camp. In North Dakota, as in other energy-producing state like Wyoming and West Virginia, the Republican Party has successfully billed itself as the party of energy and Democrats as a threat to the economy and jobs. The oil boom wrung the remaining power from North Dakota Democrats. 

Contemporary Politics in North Dakota

No Democratic presidential nominee has won North Dakota since Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater in 1964. Recently, though, the state has become even more staunchly Republican. In 2008, Republican nominee John McCain won North Dakota by a 9% margin. By 2016, the GOP margin had grown to 36% with Donald Trump as nominee. The message of the contemporary Republican Party is resonating strongly in The Peace Garden State.

Trump won 51 of the state’s 53 counties. He improved upon Mitt Romney’s performance in every single county in the state. The two counties Clinton did carry — Rolette and Sioux — are over 75% Native American. Together, they accounted for only about 5,000 votes, not enough to give Clinton a significant boost. 

Republicans have also expanded their dominance to other federal elections. Before the 2010 midterms, Democrats held both of North Dakota’s U.S. Senate seats and its single House seat. In 2010, Republicans flipped one Senate seat and the House seat. In 2012, Heidi Heitkamp won by just 1% in an open race for the seat held by retiring Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad. But six years later, North Dakota’s Republican lean was too strong and she lost to Republican Kevin Cramer by 11%.

The Democratic-NPL Party has the best chance of winning back voters in the eastern part of the state. This is the most densely populated area and home to Fargo and Grand Forks. The state gets more rural, conservative, and Republican the farther west one goes. Even in her 2018 loss, Heitkamp was able to carry 10 eastern counties, all of which Clinton lost. The right Democratic nominee might be able to find future success in this region.

For now, though, North Dakota looks safely Republican on all political levels. In an age where geography and demographics reign supreme in politics, the white, rural state of North Dakota fits neatly into the Republican column.

President Benjamin Harrison shuffled the statehood papers on his desk and signed them blindly. While North Dakota is generally considered the 39th state, it is lost to history which document Harrison signed first.

Voters chose electors directly. There was not a slate of Democratic electors separate from the Populist ones. Two of the Populist electors were chosen. One of them cast his ballot for Cleveland, a choice that was announced beforehand.

Next Week:   New York

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Reports in this series:

The Road to 270: Alabama

December 23, 2019

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.

Alabama

Alabama’s history is reflected in its contemporary voting patterns. The region that once had thousands of slaves is still heavily African American and forms a horizontal strip across the state. In 2016, 12 of the 13 counties that Hillary Clinton won were in this territory. Donald Trump won every other county except one. To understand how the state became the GOP stronghold it is today, we have to go back over 200 years.    

Statehood to Civil War

In the late 1700s, what we now consider Alabama was split up between Spain and the Georgia. In 1795, Spain relinquished a strip of land to the U.S. that covered part of current-day Mississippi and Alabama. This was called the Mississippi Territory.  The territory expanded in 1804 and again in 1812 as Georgia and then Spain gave up more land. The territory opened to settlers after Andrew Jackson defeated and expropriated Native American land in the Creek War in 1814. Settlers and farmers rushed into the newly available and fertile land. Alabama and Mississippi split in 1817 and two years later, in 1819, Alabama became the 22nd state admitted to the Union.

Thousands of slaves were brought to Alabama to work on plantations in the Black Belt, a region stretching across central Alabama named for its fertile, black soil. Unsurprisingly, white Alabamans opposed the abolition of slavery and the state seceded during the Civil War. By that point, Alabama had over 435,000 slaves, composing 45% of the state’s population. 

Reconstruction and Brief Republican Dominance

Following the Civil War, the Republican Party briefly dominated Alabama politics. The 15th Amendment enfranchised recently freed slaves who voted, along with unionists and some poorer white farmers, for Republicans.  In both 1868 and 1872 Alabama voted for Republican (and former Union commanding general) Ulysses S. Grant.

Voter Suppression, New Constitutions, and Democratic Dominance

It wasn’t long before Democrats instituted voter suppression and intimidation tactics that would restrict access to the ballot box, primarily affecting blacks and poor whites. The party appealed to white racial unity and, in 1874, won the governorship. This began an era of Democratic state dominance that would last for nearly a century. It also allowed Alabama Democrats to call a Constitutional Convention.  

A new state Constitution passed in 1875 rolled back the reforms of Reconstruction. The new document segregated public schools and shrunk the government and public services. Republicans, while weak, still occasionally won local elections with a coalition that included blacks, small-scale farmers, labor. The Republican Party and Populist Party also ran successful fusion tickets that denied Democrats complete dominance through the 19th Century.

It was the 1901 Constitution, with its goal of “white supremacy and purity of ballot” that crushed Alabama Republicans. The new constitution established poll taxes and educational requirements to restrict access to the ballot box. It worked: Alabama’s vote totals dropped 30% from 150,000 to 100,000 between the 1900 and 1904 elections. And the Democratic margin expanded 27% in those four years.

Democrats continued to control Alabama throughout the first half of the 20th Century. The Republican Party found some support with northern Alabama whites and black voters who made it to the ballot box. However, The Great Depression and the New Deal would break down this coalition (Any supporting link?), bringing Democratic dominance to a peak in the 1930s. In the 1936 election, Democrat Franklin Roosevelt beat Republican Alfred Landon 86% to 13%.

Start of Democratic Difficulties

The National Democratic Party began to take more liberal stances — the most significant for Alabama being civil rights — that state Democrats opposed. The 1948 election marked a turning point. President Truman was, by the standards of the time, extremely progressive. He supported ending segregation in the army, eliminating poll taxes, and instituting an anti-lynching law.

A breaking point came at the 1948 Democratic national convention, when the party added a civil rights plank to its platform. The Mississippi delegation and half of the Alabama delegation walked out of the convention, created the States’ Rights Party, and nominated South Carolina governor Strom Thurmond as their candidate. In Alabama, Thurmond, who was listed on the ballot as the Democratic nominee, beat Republican Thomas Dewey 80% to 19%.

While Democrats would win Alabama in the following three elections, they would never regain their dominance of the earlier era. Shifting national policies reoriented Alabama and ended the state’s reflexive support of the Democratic Party. 

Civil Rights and the Modern Republican Party

Alabama was at the center of the civil rights movement. It was here that the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Selma to Montgomery marches happened; where Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his letter from Birmingham jail; where four girls were killed in the Birmingham church bombing; and where Alabama Governor George Wallace stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama to block black students from entering in defiance of a federal court desegregation ruling.

The 1964 election transformed Alabama politics. Earlier that year, Lyndon Johnson had successfully pushed Congress to pass John F. Kennedy’s civil rights bill following Kennedy’s assassination. He campaigned on an anti-poverty domestic agenda he called the Great Society. The Republican, Barry Goldwater, was a staunchly conservative senator from Arizona. He championed small government, criticized ongoing New Deal programs, and fought the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as government overreach.

Johnson crushed Goldwater nationally 61% to 38%. In Alabama, though, Goldwater received 69% of the vote,* becoming the first Republican to win the state since 1872. Republicans also flipped five of the state’s eight congressional seats, the first time any Republican in Alabama would win a congressional election in the 20th Century. The Goldwater Landslide ended the era of Post Office Republicans, a mocking nickname for only being able to secure positions (such as postmaster) through federal appointments and patronage.

Alabama would vote for the Republican nominee in every subsequent election except 1968, when it voted for third party candidate and former Alabama Governor George Wallace, and 1976, when it voted for fellow southerner Jimmy Carter. 

The Republican takeover began in 1964 and slowly trickled down-ballot. In 1980, the state elected its first Republican U.S. Senator since reconstruction. Republicans retook the majority of U.S. House seats in 1996 and haven’t relinquished the majority since.

In 1986, Guy Hunt became the first Republican governor since 1874. The governorship flipped between parties until 2003, and has been Republican since. Republican legislative power began to grow in the 1990s and by 2010 they had flipped both legislative chambers, giving the party a trifecta. The last statewide executive office, excluding judgeships, won by a Democrat, was for Public Service Commission back in 2008.

Recent Presidential Politics

Alabama has not had a competitive presidential election since 1980. That year, Georgia’s Jimmy Carter lost Alabama by just 1%. Ronald Reagan carried the state by 22% in 1984. Bill Clinton tightened the margin to 7% in 1992 and 1996, the most recent times that Alabama would be decided by single digits. Since 2004, Alabama has gone to the Republican nominee by 20% or more. Donald Trump’s 28-point victory over Hillary Clinton marks the largest margin since Richard Nixon’s landslide victory in 1972.

Of Alabama’s 67 counties, Clinton won just 13. She won Jefferson County (home to Birmingham and the biggest county in the state), as well as 12 counties that formed a contiguous horizontal strip across the middle of state. These regions have a much higher black population than the rest of the state — the legacy of slavery mentioned earlier — making it friendly Democratic territory. Trump won the rest of the state, including rural counties and the more urban Madison and Mobile Counties.

Party Dysfunction

The Republican dominance doesn’t mean the party is without problems. Governor Robert Bentley resigned in 2017 after he was accused of using state funds to have an affair and a recording of the affair the surfaced. This year, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard was convicted of 12 felonies and ethics violations.

Perhaps most significantly, Alabama Republicans lost a special U.S. Senate election in 2017. The seat opened after President Trump appointed Senator Jeff Sessions to be his Attorney General.  The seat should have been safely Republican, but the party nominated the controversial former Alabama Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore, leaving the door cracked for Democrats. The month before the election, several women alleged that Moore had made sexual advances towards them when they were underage. Democratic nominee Doug Jones managed to edge out the damaged Moore by 22,000 votes.

The Alabama Democratic Party has had its own share of dysfunction. A battle over control of the state party led to the ousting of the old guard. The controversy, ostensibly about bylaws, but really about the direction and leadership of the Democratic Party, was divisive and racially tinged. (If you are interested, I strongly recommend this three-part series by the popular podcast Reply All on the war for the Democratic Party). 

Looking to 2020

Alabama entered the Union in 1819 with three Electoral College votes. This number steadily rose, reaching a peak of 12 in the 1910s and 1920s. The state lost one elector after the 1930, 1960 and 1970 Censuses, remaining at nine through the 2010 Census. According to population projections, Alabama is on track2 to lose another congressional seat, and therefore another electoral vote, following the 2020 Census.

Regardless of the outcome of the Census, Alabama will still have nine electoral votes in 2020. And they are almost certain to go to President Trump.    

1 The Democratic slate of electors in 1964 were unpledged due to the Alabama Democratic Party’s opposition to Lyndon Johnson.

2 The Census Bureau is expected to release its 2019 population update on December 30. Any changes will be reflected on the projected 2024 electoral map.

Next Week:   North Dakota

Reports in this series: