Election News

The Road to 270: Connecticut

April 27, 2020

Editor's Note: We're pleased to welcome Drew Savicki, who is taking over The Road to 270 beginning this week. Drew kicks things off with Connecticut, his state of birth.  Special thanks to Seth Moskowitz for his work bringing this series to life; we wish him well as he moves on to a new career opportunity.  

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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 Drew Savicki, a 270toWin elections and politics contributor. Contact Drew via email or on Twitter @SenhorRaposa.

Connecticut

One of the 13 original colonies, Connecticut ratified the Constitution in January, 1788.  It is one of seven states1 1The others are Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. that has participated in all 58 presidential elections. Few states have influenced the United States’ electoral process more than Connecticut.

At the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, a hotly-debated topic was the composition of the nation’s legislative branch. The Framers hailing from larger states, like Virginia, preferred a legislature with seats apportioned based on population, while members from smaller states favored equal representation across the board. Connecticut’s delegates to the convention, Roger Sherman and Oliver Marshall, offered the Great Compromise -- in a bicameral legislature, each state would have equal representation in the upper house while seats in the lower house would be distributed based on population. Today, each state’s clout in the Electoral College is based on that congressional apportionment. 

From mills to mavericks

A century ago, Connecticut was known for its Yankee brand of Republicanism. It favored Republicans for much of the early twentieth century, though the split in the national GOP allowed Democrat Woodrow Wilson to squeak out a 39% plurality in the state during the 1912 election. Even in the watershed 1932 election, it stuck with the unpopular Republican Herbert Hoover over Democratic challenger Franklin Roosevelt, although by just one percentage point.

Once in office, Roosevelt’s New Deal programs brought new voters, who were often first- or second-generation Americans, into the political process. In a Connecticut context, white ethnics -- such as Irish, Italians, and Poles -- who migrated to work in the state’s mill towns, began voting, and for Democratic candidates. These groups were predominantly Catholic or Jewish, and changed the state’s Protestant Republican image. This set the stage for another defining election: 1960.

John F. Kennedy's 54%-46% win in the Nutmeg State was significant in that it gave Democrats a foothold there. Still, the realignment that produced the Connecticut that we know today has its roots in the 1980s. 1988 was an especially pivotal election; then-Vice President George Bush carried the state by five percentage points. This was a concerning result for Republicans on several levels. First, given that Bush won nationally in a 426 Electoral Vote landslide, his 52%-47% edge there seemed underwhelming. Further, he had deep personal connections to the state -- his father, Prescott Bush, represented the state in the Senate from 1952 to 1963.

Perhaps a third sign of weakness for Bush in Connecticut was that the 1988 Senate result there fed into the narrative that his presidential victory was a ‘lonely landslide.’ Of the 33 states that held Senate elections that year, some 14 voted for Bush but elected Democratic Senate candidates -- Connecticut was one of them. The 1988 Senate election was among the most fascinating in the state’s history; it featured two of its most consequential politicians, both of whom would been billed a ‘mavericks’ throughout the careers. Ultimately, then-state Attorney General Joe Lieberman (D) narrowly ousted Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-CT).

First elected in 1970, Weicker was long known for his independence: Serving on the Watergate Committee, he challenged his own party’s president and later became known for his quarrels with fellow Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), a darling of social conservatives. A rare Republican with appeal to labor, the state’s AFL-CIO endorsed him in 1988, while he ran with the slogan “Nobody’s man but yours.” In 1990, Weicker dropped his GOP affiliation and rebounded to win the gubernatorial race under the ‘A Connecticut Party’ label -- a third party that was strategically named so that it would appear first on the alphabetically-oriented ballot.

By the same token, in the 1988 race, Lieberman found support with typically-Republican constituencies. William Buckley, editor of the conservative National Review magazine, endorsed him. A tradition-minded Democrat favoring a hawkish foreign policy, Lieberman famously lost his 2006 Senate primary over his support for the Iraq War. Ironically, in a move reminiscent of Weicker, Lieberman ran as a third party candidate in the general election that year (the state is one of the few that lacks a sore loser law) -- he was reelected in large part because his 70% share of the Republican vote. Speaking to Lieberman’s political versatility, though he served as former Vice President’s Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, he was rumored to have been the late Sen. John McCain’s ideal VP choice for the 2008 Republican ticket.

Congressional politics

Since Lieberman’s 50%-49% victory in 1988, Democrats have largely continued their winning record in Connecticut Senate races -- while Lieberman was technically reelected as an independent in 2006, he continued to caucus with his old party. The state’s other seat was held by Chris Dodd (D-CT), a household name in the state from a political family, from 1981 until 2011. Dodd looked vulnerable going into the 2010 elections but ended up retiring. Democrats had a ready stand-in candidate that cycle with popular state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Lieberman himself retired in 2012, and was replaced by Rep. Chris Murphy (D, CT-5). In their initial elections, in 2010 and 2012, respectively, both Blumenthal and Murphy faced the same GOP opponent: Linda McMahon, the wife of WWE wrestling magnate Vince McMahon. Both Democrats beat McMahon by the same 55%-43% margin.

In the House, Democrats have held all five of the state’s districts since 2009 -- its delegation weathered the red waves of 2010 and 2014 fairly comfortably. In past decades, its congressional elections were more susceptible to national tides. In 1956, as the state gave President Eisenhower a hefty 64%-36% vote in his reelection effort, it also sent an all-GOP delegation to the House. Two years later, a combination of foreign policy travails and domestic setbacks sent Ike’s approval on a downward trajectory -- when Connecticut voters went to polls in 1958, they elected only Democrats to the House.

As it stands today, Connecticut is a reliably blue, but polarized, state. A hub for the financial and health insurance industries, Democrats in the Nutmeg State are best served by keeping an ear to the business community.

A bit of geography

Before looking at the state’s recent electoral history, a bit of geography will be useful. Connecticut can be divided into five regions.

1) Hartford County - Central Connecticut. Anchored by the state capitol of Hartford and its surrounding suburbs, this area is racially diverse and home to a mixture of both upscale and blue collar whites.

2) Fairfield County - Southwestern Connecticut. This suburban county is the only one in the state that's growing and is also the most educated. In the Trump era, Democrats have made major gains here.

3) Tolland and Windham Counties - Northeastern Connecticut. These counties span from the Hartford suburbs to the more rural parts of the east.

4) New Haven County - Southern Connecticut. The city of New Haven anchors the county but some adjacent towns saw double-digit swings to Trump in 2016. Likely a problematic area for Democrats in the long term.

5) Middlesex and New London Counties - Southeastern Connecticut. These are liberal coastal communities but the more inland parts of the counties lean Republican.

State level politics

Like much of New England, Connecticut voters will consider supporting local Republicans. Republicans controlled the governorship from 1995 to 2011 and the three most recent gubernatorial elections have all been within five percentage points. Still, Democrats have maintained control of all row offices since 1999 and the legislature has consistently remained in Democratic hands. Unlike their counterparts in neighboring states, though, Connecticut Democrats lack supermajorities in either chamber -- some vestiges of the old Yankee GOP coalition can still be seen at the local level.

Gov. Ned Lamont (D-CT), was elected in 2018 despite the low approval ratings his predecessor, fellow Democrat Dan Malloy, sported for much of his tenure. In 2010, Lamont lost the Democratic primary to Malloy 57%-43%. Four years earlier, he upset Lieberman in that 2006 Senate primary, only to lose the general election 50%-40% to an independent Lieberman.

In his third attempt at statewide office in 2018, Lamont may have caught a break when President Trump weighed into the race with an endorsement of the GOP nominee, Bob Stefanowski. Trump’s support likely helped nationalize the race in way that, ironically, hurt Republicans.

What's good for Trump

Though one of the nation’s most well-educated states, 39% of Connecticut's residents lack a college degree. These working class voters can be found in former industrial towns that dot the landscape in northwestern and east. Trump ran particularly well in eastern towns near the Rhode Island border. Mitt Romney, a wealthy businessman, proved a poor fit for these voters but Trump's cultural conservatism seemed to catch on. In addition, a handful of Democratic legislators hold districts that Trump carried -- his presence atop the ballot again will be welcomed by some local Republican candidates. Redistricting in Connecticut requires 2/3 supermajorities in both chambers, which Democrats currently lack.

Recent elections

Since 1992, every Democratic presidential nominee has carried Connecticut. Bill Clinton’s 1992 and 1996 victories relied on the state's urban centers and he was perhaps aided by Ross Perot’s relatively strong showing in parts of the east; Perot carried four towns there in 1992, all of which favored Bush in 1988.

In 2000, Vice President Al Gore was not able to maintain Clinton's working support but traded it for increased support in Fairfield County. This exchange came despite the presence of Sen. Lieberman on the Democratic ticket that year. Lieberman was also up for reelection to the Senate that year -- though he didn’t win the Vice Presidency, he was reelected to the Senate with 63% and carried 40 towns that also went for George W. Bush further up the ballot.

Four years later Connecticut would shift to the right again, as Bush enjoyed higher approval ratings in the northeast, due to 9/11. By 2006, though, opposition to the Bush Administration fueled the defeats of Reps. Nancy Johnson (R, CT-5) and Rob Simmons (R, CT-2). State Senator Chris Murphy (D) hammered Johnson over her support for Medicare Part D and tied her to the unpopular national GOP. In one of the cycle’s closest races, Simmons lost his seat by an 83-vote margin.

Barack Obama carried the Nutmeg state by an impressive 22% in 2008, while sweeping its eight counties. Long a hub for the financial industry, Connecticut was particularly hurt by the onset of the Great Recession. Obama's coattails were enough to lift businessman Jim Himes (D) to victory over longtime Rep. Chris Shays (R, CT-4) in the Fairfield County-based district. Shays was likely in a tough position regardless, but seemed to downplay the country’s growing economic woes -- surely a factor in his defeat. With Himes’ victory, Democrats had clinched all the state’s congressional seats for the first time since the Lyndon Johnson presidency.

In 2012, Obama carried the state by a reduced margin, but it was still a wide 58%-41% vote. GOP nominee Mitt Romney flipped a county -- Litchfield, in the rural northwestern part of the state -- but overall, 2012 was a year of stability.

2016, though, was a realigning election in Connecticut. Hillary Clinton carried the state 55%-41% but bled rural support. In a sign of the increasing urban/rural rift, Trump was the first Republican nominee since George H. W. Bush, in 1988, to carry a majority of the state’s towns – Trump won in 88 of its 169. Still, in Fairfield County, Clinton flipped the wealthy towns of Darien and New Canaan, becoming the first Democratic nominee since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 to do so.

The changes seen in 2016 carried over to the 2018 elections. Of the four U.S. House members that ran for reelection, only Rep. Himes saw his margin increase from 2016. Though they each cleared 60% of the vote, veteran Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D, CT-3) and Joe Courtney (D, CT-2) saw their working class support drop -- for the first time since 2010, Courtney lost a town (Sterling, on the Rhode Island border).

All things considered, Connecticut’s seven electoral votes are safely in Joe Biden’s corner this November. With no competitive congressional districts to speak of either, Connecticut is unlikely to get much attention in the fall campaign.

Next Week: Alaska

Reports in this series:

The Road to 270: Illinois

April 20, 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.

Illinois

 

Illinois was once America’s political bellwether. From 1896 to 1996 the state regularly swung between the parties and voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election except for two. But since 1992, it has voted Democratic in every presidential election. Why is the state that is most demographically similar to the nation overall no longer a swing state? In short, Democrats traded voters in shrinking rural Illinois for voters in Chicago and the suburbs. The longer story starts before Illinois was a state.

Statehood, Growth, and Abraham Lincoln

The territory we now know as Illinois was first discovered by French explorers in 1673 and settled about 50 years later, in 1720. It was passed into British hands in 1763 when France lost the French and Indian War. Finally in 1778, amid the Revolutionary War, the United States took over the region. Current-day Illinois was first claimed as a part of Virginia, then as a part of the Northwest Territory until 1809, when the Territory of Illinois was created.

Through all this, the Illinois Territory wasn’t attracting many settlers. Inhabited mostly by Native Americans, European fur trappers, and some migrants from the southern United States, it had a population of just 60,000. Even with this abnormally small populace, Congress agreed to admit Illinois as the 21st state in 1818, expanding the territory to include the ports of Chicago as it did so.

Chicago was founded in 1833, an act that would change the character of the state. On the southwest corner of Lake Michigan, Chicago was destined to become a transport hub, connecting the northeast and midwest through the Erie Canal, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and the Mississippi River basin. Canals and railroads came quickly and by the mid 1850s Chicago dominated Illinois commerce.  

Even though 3,000 Mormons left the Illinois town of Nauvoo after leader Joseph Smith Jr. was murdered, Illinois grew at a rapid clip. In 1848, the same year of the Mormon exodus, the population had reached nearly a million and the state was celebrating the opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canals.

By that time, the state’s most celebrated politician, Abraham Lincoln, had already been seated as a U.S. Representative. Over the next ten years, Lincoln’s political presence would only grow as he proposed abolishing slavery in Washington, DC, ran and lost an election for U.S. Senate, was considered for the Republican Vice Presidential nomination, and fought against the Kansas-Nebraska Act and Dred Scott Supreme Court Decision. In 1858, Lincoln again makes a run for the Senate against incumbent Stephen Douglas, the two of whom battled it out in the historic Lincoln-Douglas debates. Again, Lincoln loses. The loss launches Lincoln into the national spotlight as a leading voice against slavery and three years later, in 1861, he is inaugurated as the president of the United States.

Lincoln’s home state, though, wasn’t entirely supportive of his presidency nor the Union cause in the Civil War. In the 1860 election, Lincoln only beat Douglas, a fellow Illinoisan, 51% to 47%. Much of southern Illinois supported the Confederacy even as 250,000 Illinois soldiers fought in the Union Army. During and after the war, the rebellious southern parts of the state would be overrun by anti-slavery, pro-union, Republican dominated northern communities.  

Growth and Wars

During the Civil War, Illinois had been a primary supplier of grain, meat, and weapons to the Union army. These industries only continued to grow after the war and needed workers. In 1871, a fire killed 300, left 100,000 homeless, and destroyed over 15,000 buildings in Chicago. The city bounced back to become the preeminent midwestern city for commerce and culture. Transplants — including many newly freed slaves — came to Illinois and Chicago to work in the stockyards, on the railroads, in manufacturing, in mines, and to produce grain. Just nine years after the Chicago fire, Illinois was the fourth most populous state. Chicago would continue to grow and diversify as western Europeans, Jews, Poles, Italians, Czechs, and black southerners all continued to build communities in Illinois.

The two World Wars, the Great Depression, and their aftermath brought change to Illinois. In both wars, thousands of Illinois men were sent to fight in Europe. The state’s manufacturing, mining, and farming industries pumped out goods to provide for the war efforts. While growth stagnated during the 1930s and the Great Depression Era, the economic growth spurred by both wars led to population increases of around one million in each decade of the 1920s, 1940s, and 1950s.

As with most of the nation, Illinois supported Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and voted Democratic from 1932 to 1948. As the Chicago suburbs grew following World War II and became Republican strongholds, Illinois became a swing state. This suburban growth was offset by minority populations — blacks from the south, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans — and the tight grip of Democratic machine politics in Chicago.

Notorious for corruption and patronage, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley consolidated Democratic support among the city’s urbanites. The machine united union workers, minorities, immigrants, and Jews to help Democrats dominate Chicago and keep the party competitive in state and federal elections. Daley served from 1955 through 1976, by which time Chicago was facing deindustrialization and closing factories and stockyards. The city’s population shrunk from 3.6 million in 1970 to 2.8 million in 1990 as jobs left the city, unemployment grew and crime rose.

During all this change, Illinois swung between the parties. It voted for the moderate Republican, Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956 over native Illinoisan Adlai Stevenson, Democrats John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson in 1960 and 1964, and Republican candidates from 1968 through 1988.

Along with this latter string of Republican presidential successes, Republicans would also dominant the Illinois governorship. Beginning in 1977 through 2003, Republican governors would lead the state. These Republicans, according to today’s standards for the party, were progressive. They advocated a more robust social safety net, increases in public pensions, pay-as-you-go pension funding, and infrastructure spending. This poor fiscal stewardship, along with continued corruption and struggles by successive governors, led to the fiscal crisis and near-“junk” credit rating Illinois now faces.

Even through these struggles, Chicago remains one of the nation's largest cities, propped up by financial, business, technology, and education sectors. The city’s successful transition to these new-era industries helped stanch the population bleeding of the 1970s and 1980s. Still, Illinois continues to grow more slowly than the rest of the country. This has significantly reduced the state's clout on the electoral map. In the 1920s and 1930s Illinois had 29 Electoral College votes. By 2012 that number was 20 and is likely to drop to 19 following the 2020 Census.

A Bit of Geography

Before looking at the state’s recent electoral history, a bit of geography will be useful. I divide the state into seven pieces.

1) Cook County and Chicago. Chicago is the third largest city in the United States and more diverse than the nation as a whole, with just 33% of residents identifying as non-Hispanic white.

2) Chicago’s suburban collar counties. These counties are highly educated and whiter than Cook County and Chicago.

3) Chicago’s exurban counties. As you move further outside of Chicago, the communities get less educated, less wealthy, and more white. The state’s rural character blends with commuter suburbs and industrial towns of the Fox River Valley.  

4) Sangamon County and Springfield. Located in the center of the state, Springfield is the state capital and biggest city outside of the Chicago area.

5) St. Louis Metro. Just across the Mississippi river from St. Louis, Missouri, is East St. Louis and the St. Louis suburbs.

6) Rural Northern and Central Illinois. This region is dominated by agriculture and manufacturing, far less dense and much whiter than the state overall. With Chicago nearby, this region also has industrial towns and some small cities.

7) Rural Southern Illinois. This region relies on agriculture and farming like up north but has more coal and petroleum extraction. Culturally, it has a evangelical conservatism reminiscent of the southern United States. This region is whiter and more religious than the state overall.

Recent Elections

Starting in 1992, Illinois, once a bellwether, would be reliably Democratic. Bill Clinton’s 1992 and 1996 victories were powered by the traditional Democratic voters in Chicago and southern Illinois and new Democratic voters in the state’s rural regions. Many of these agrarian and manufacturing counties had not voted Democratic since Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 landslide. Meanwhile, Republicans continued to sweep the Chicago suburbs.

In 2000, Clinton’s gains in the rural regions began to evaporate. That year, Al Gore still won Illinois, but lost many of the rural counties and votes that Clinton had carried. The outspoken liberalism and environmentalism of the emerging Democratic party didn’t play well in the state’s conservative south. Four years later, in 2004, we see the trend that would dominate Illinois through the 2016 election: urban and suburban counties shifting Democratic and rural ones becoming more Republican. Comparing one urban, one suburban, and one rural county’s 2000 to 2016 results clarify the point. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore carried Cook County (Chicago) by a 40% margin and Franklin, a rural southern county by 9%. Meanwhile, Republican George W. Bush won the biggest suburban county, DuPage, by 13%. Fast forward 16 years and Clinton expanded the margin in Cook County to 53% and flipped DuPage county, winning it by 14%. Meanwhile, Trump carried downstate Franklin County by 45%.

Democrats exchanged shrinking rural regions of the state in favor of growing urban and suburban ones. This trade has kept the state in Democratic hands from Bill Clinton’s victories in the 1990s through Hillary Clinton’s in 2016. It has also balanced Illinois voters, keeping the state remarkably consistent in overall margin from 1992 to 2016. Outside of Barack Obama’s particularly strong showing in 2008, Illinois has voted for Democrats by 10% to 18% in the past seven elections. Over the past two decades, the state’s voters may have reshuffled, but its overall lean has only tilted a few points in Democrats favor.

Given that the state’s urban and suburban regions are growing while its rural ones shrink, Illinois will not become a battleground anytime soon. Illinois is likely to vote Democratic by an even larger margin than it did in 2016, perhaps pushing 20%. While it may once have been a bellwether, Illinois is safely Democratic this November.    

Next Week: Connecticut

Reports in this series:

Wyoming Democratic Presidential Caucus Results

April 18, 2020

Updated April 19 with results.

Joe Biden won Wyoming's Democratic caucuses with 72.2% of the vote; Bernie Sanders received 27.8%.

The state's presidential nominating contest was originally to be in-person caucuses on April 4. Due to the coronavirus, the party transitioned to running the event entirely by mail.  Ballots needed to be received by Friday, April 17.

Biden will win 12 pledged delegates, Sanders 2.  The 14 pledged delegates is tied with North Dakota as the smallest allocation across the 50 states.


Wisconsin Presidential Primary and State Supreme Court Results

April 13, 2020

On April 7, Wisconsin went ahead with its scheduled presidential primary, along with a few other races, the most notable of which is the general election for a 10-year term on the State's Supreme Court. Following two court rulings, the absentee ballot deadline - for ballots postmarked by April 7 - was extended until Monday, April 13 at 4:00 local time (5:00 PM Eastern). 

Results will appear below - as they become available - after 5:00 PM Eastern Time. 

Democratic Primary

Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign on April 8, making Joe Biden the party's presumptive nominee. Since this was after both the in-person voting as well as the deadline for absentee ballots to be postmarked, the move won't have influenced the outcome of this race.  

The state has 84 pledged delegates. Note that with Sanders withdrawal, he can no longer earn statewide delegates, per Democratic National Committee rules. We saw the impact of that in this past weekend's Alaska primary results.  What would have likely been an 8-7 Biden delegate advantage ended up as 11-4 in favor of the former vice president.  In Wisconsin, 29 of the delegates are statewide, so it is the remaining 55 - split across the state's 8 congressional districts - that will be allocated proportionately based on the results in each district. 

Earlier Monday, Sanders endorsed Biden.


Republican Primary

On the Republican side, Donald Trump is unopposed on the ballot. He has already surpassed the 1,276 delegates needed to win renomination.

About Uninstructed Delegates:  Instead of choosing a candidate on the ballot (or writing someone in), Wisconsin voters have the option to hand that decision off to delegates to the party's national convention.  Any delegates allocated this way would be effectively unpledged. In 2016, the Uninstructed Delegate received less than 0.3% of the vote in either party's primary, so it is not likely to have any real-world ramifications beyond appearing on the ballot.

Wisconsin Supreme Court (General Election)

Incumbent Daniel Kelly and challenger Jill Karofsky are running for a ten-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Kelly was appointed in 2016 by former Gov. Scott Walker to complete the term of retiring Justice David Prosser.

The race is nonpartisan, but Kelly is a conservative and Karofsky - a circuit court judge - is running as a progressive. The result of this race is likely to be the most impactful of any contested in the April 7 elections.

The Road to 270: Louisiana

April 13, 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.

Louisiana

From the Democratic Party’s founding in 1828 through 1944, Louisiana voted for its nominee in all but three of the elections in which it participated. Since 2000, however, the state has been safely Republican and getting more so. The once dominant Protestant-Catholic divide has given way to a Urban-Rural one, a gap seemingly too large for Democratic candidates to overcome. But in 2019, a Democrat did just that by winning the state’s gubernatorial election. This victory does not make Louisiana a realistic Democratic pickup in this November’s presidential election. To understand why, we’ll trace Louisiana’s history from pre-statehood though 2020.

Pre-statehood to Civil War

The first Europeans to set foot in the region we know as Louisiana were Spanish explorers in the 16th Century. The Spanish didn’t settle the territory — that happened about 150 years later in 1699, when France established a colony on the Gulf Coast. France had claimed a huge swath of North America from the Appalachian Mountains to the Rocky Mountains and called it La Louisiane. Not long after, in 1717, the city of New Orleans was founded. France ceded the land to Spain from 1762 to 1800, when the land was passed back to France.

During the brief Spanish rule, the region’s population grew with American settlers, enslaved Africans, and refugees — largely French-Canadians facing British expulsion from Acadia and Haitians fleeing the Haitian Revolution. The refugees, many of them Catholic and therefore welcomed by the Spanish, settled in future-Louisiana’s southwest (now called Acadiana) and New Orleans.

In the eponymous Louisiana Purchase, France sold La Lousiane to the United States. The territory was then carved into two regions — The Territory of Orleans and the District of Louisiana — the former of which was admitted as the 18th state, Louisiana, in 1812.

The new state was a hub for commerce. The Mississippi river was used to transport goods into and out of the United States and New Orleans was the outlet. As Americans moved into the country’s interior, more goods moved through New Orleans. The bustling ports needed workers and immigrants came to fill them. Coming from Germany, Ireland, and Italy, they gave New Orleans a culture more akin to east coast port-cities like Boston and New York than urban areas of the Deep South. During this time, the state’s religious divide — overwhelmingly Protestant in the north and Catholic in the south — ossified.

While the docks of New Orleans stood atop slave labor and the slave trade, the state’s rural regions did so on an even greater scale. The plantation-based economy pitched Louisianans against abolition. Louisiana seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy in 1861.

New Orleans (with its crucial ports) and the Mississippi River (a way to divide the Confederate South in two) were priorities for the Union. About a year after the Civil War broke out, in April 1862, the North successfully occupied and took over the state.

Reconstruction and Civil Rights

In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, Louisiana, along with its southern neighbors, were administered by the Federal government. This period, known as Reconstruction, ended slavery, mandated equal treatment under the law, and expanded suffrage with the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Constitutional Amendments. Not all of these aspirations would be immediately realized in Louisiana.

Angry white southerners, frustrated with the Confederate loss and new rights for freed slaves and black Americans, pushed back. In Louisiana, this manifested in lawful (at the time) persecution —including segregation and disenfranchisement through poll taxes and literacy tests — as well as illegal violence — including lynching and voter intimidation — by the Ku Klux Klan, White League and other white-supremacist groups. The state’s 1898 Constitution wrote into law voting restrictions that decimated voting power among blacks and poor whites. In the 1896 presidential election, 101,000 Louisianans cast votes. That number dropped to 68,000 in 1900 and 54,000 in 1904. The voting restrictions made Louisiana, at least politically, a one-party and one-race state.

The 1896 Supreme Court Case, Plessy v. Ferguson, originated in Louisiana and confirmed the constitutionality of segregation. Once black Louisianans lost the right to vote and downstream political representation, they faced underfunded schools, inadequate public services, and unequal legal treatment. This legal racism would continue until the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil and Voting Rights Acts later in the 20th Century. As such, Louisiana would see much of its black population leave as a part of The Great Migration, when blacks in the south emigrated north and west for better social and economic opportunities. Whereas in 1900 Louisiana’s population was 47% black, by 1970 it was 30%.

20th Century Politics and Economics

Earlier in the century, as the country was suffering through the Great Depression, Louisiana’s famed governor Huey Long decided to run for president. The governor believed that Roosevelt’s New Deal didn’t go far enough and advocated even more populist and progressive solutions. He had aggressively pursued a similar agenda as the state’s leader — championing infrastructure projects, oil taxes, and wealth distribution. Long was assassinated in 1935 and Louisiana remained safely in the Democratic fold, voting for Roosevelt by margins upwards of 70% in his first three elections and over 60% in 1944.

By the end of World War II, Louisiana had shifted both economically and politically. Defense and industrial jobs had concentrated the state’s populace into its urban regions — the two biggest of which were New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Meanwhile, in 1948, Louisiana broke with the Democratic Party for the first time since 1876. In opposition to the party’s new stance on civil rights, Louisiana voted, along with three other southern states, for the State’s Rights candidate, Strom Thurmond.

For the next 50 years, Louisiana would swing between parties. It voted for Democratic candidates in 1952 (Stevenson), 1960 (Kennedy), 1976 (Carter) 1992 (Clinton), and 1996 (Clinton). Republicans carried Louisiana in 1956 (Eisenhower), 1964 (Goldwater), 1972 (Nixon), 1980 (Reagan), 1984 (Reagan, and 1988 (Bush). In the 1968 election, Louisiana voted for the segregationist American Independent candidate George Wallace. Taken together, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 can be seen as the dividing line for Louisiana. Before that, the state regularly voted Democratic. After the 1964 Civil Rights legislation, Louisiana would only vote Democratic when southerners (Carter and Clinton) led the ticket.

In the later 20th Century, New Orleans was overtaken by other southern cities like Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston. The state’s notoriously corrupt and ineffective government failed to keep New Orleans and Louisiana as successful as its peers as public schools, wages, incarceration rates, income gaps, obesity, and crime all took turns for the worse. The city hemorrhaged its population, which declined from 630,000 in 1960 to 485,000 in 2000. People were leaving for these booming metropolises of the “New South” as well as urban areas in the north and west. People were also migrating from the city to its suburbs.

The population would continue to fall after a series of Hurricanes in the early 2000s, most notably in 2005. That year, Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans — killing over 1,500 people, destroyed homes and city infrastructure, and leaving two million homeless or displaced. The hurricane also hit the state’s economy and about 200,000 Louisianans lost their jobs. Fifteen years later, the state and city have largely recovered from the economic damage of the flood. In January 2020, before the current public health crisis, Louisiana’s unemployment rate was at 5.3%, down from its peak of 15.9% in 2005.

In recent years, Louisiana became known as a cultural center in the South. New Orleans, though still economically reliant on its ports, has shifted towards service and entertainment industries aimed at tourists. Famous for its Jazz music and Mardi Gras celebrations, New Orleans draws nearly 20 million tourists every year. Along with the tourism and entertainment industries, Louisiana’s oil, gas, transportation and agricultural industries reign.

North v. South or Rural v. Urban

Louisiana’s longstanding political and cultural divide used to be north versus south. In the 20th Century, the Catholic southern half would regularly vote Democratic while the Protestant north would vote Republican. There is perhaps no better example of this than the 1960 election — when John Kennedy’s Catholic roots were a major question of the campaign. In the 1960 results, this north-south divide is clear. Almost all of the state’s southern parishes (Louisiana is divided into “parishes” rather than “counties” due to its Napoleonic history) voted for Kennedy while the northern half voted more heavily for Richard Nixon.

The trend is just as vivid in 1964 and successive elections. In the more recent years another trend begins to infiltrate the state’s political divide and eventually come to dominate it: the urban-rural divide. While as recently as 1996, Bill Clinton was able to win large swaths of the rural population, no Democrat would carry rural Louisiana, in particular the ancestrally Democratic Acadiana, since.

Recent Election Trends; a Democratic Victory

In 2000, the Democratic Party’s leftward shift on cultural issues — the environment, abortion, guns — lost them rural Louisiana, and with it, any real chance of winning the state’s electoral college votes. That year, George W. Bush won Louisiana by 8%, a 20% swing from Bill Clintons 12% victory four years earlier. Since 2000, the state has continued its rightward trend — going to Bush by 15% in 2004, McCain by 19% in 2008, Romney by 17% in 2012 and to Trump by 20% in 2016.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton improved on Barack Obama’s 2012 margin in only six parishes. Three of these (Orleans, East Baton Rouge, and Lafayette) are home to three of the state’s four biggest cities. Two (St. Tammany and Jefferson) are in the New Orleans suburbs. And one (East Carroll is in the Mississippi Delta with a population that is 69% black.

The swing in 2016 is in line with the state’s overall trend going back to 2000. Urban areas becoming ever more Democratic and rural ones more Republican. Suburban parishes, like Jefferson Parish outside New Orleans, may still have gone to Trump in 2016, but Democrats are inching closer. The dual demographic shifts of Hispanic and African-American voters moving into the state’s urban and suburban regions and college-educated white voters turning away from the Republican party has pushed the regions towards Democrats. Meanwhile, Republicans have racked up larger totals in the state’s rural regions, overwhelming Democratic gains and making Louisiana a safe bet in presidential years.  

Last year, Democrat John Bel Edwards was able to pull off an unusual victory in the state’s gubernatorial election. Edwards won by increasing the black share of the electorate, increasing margins among college-educated white voters, and holding on to enough rural white voters to not get swamped by them in the final tally. Still, it is far easier to pull voters away from their partisan loyalties in non-federal elections.

J. Miles Coleman of Sabato’s Crystal Ball writes that “the conventional winning formula for a Democrat in Louisiana is 30% of the white vote combined with a 30% black electorate.” Edwards managed to pull off a win using this formula last year, but he was a popular and socially moderate incumbent running in a non-federal election. It’s difficult to imagine any Democrat being able to maneuver the Louisiana electorate so deftly in a presidential election. Given that Joe Biden will almost certainly be unable to thread this needle in the polarized environment of a presidential election, Donald Trump is a safe bet to win Louisiana.

Next Week: Illinois

Reports in this series:

Alaska Democratic Primary Results

April 11, 2020

Originally scheduled for April 4, the Alaska Democratic primary was shifted to a mail-in contest with ballots due by April 10. The state is expected to release results on Saturday, April 11. The state has 15 pledged delegates. 

The results, whatever they are, will be anticlimactic, with Joe Biden now the presumptive nominee after Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign earlier in the week.  It is worth noting that in 2016, Sanders won Alaska with nearly 82% of the vote.  The contest that year was a caucus.


The Alaska Republican party had previously cancelled its primary in a show of support for Donald Trump.  The president has already reached the 1,276 delegates needed to win renomination.

New General Election Poll Pages

April 9, 2020

The race for the Democratic nomination is effectively over; attention now turns to the general election on November 3.  To that end, we've added a few pages to track the polls featuring President Trump vs. former Vice President Biden. 

Most Recent Polls:  A running list of polls, updated as new ones are released. There's an option to filter for the most current poll in each state.

Polling Averages by State:  The calculated average nationally, as well as for each state. Options to sort by state, competitiveness (margin between Trump and Biden), Biden % or Trump % (these last two from highest to lowest). Note that an average is only calculated if there are two or more polls within the last 30 days. If not - and that is going to be the case for a while in many states - we list the most recent one. If there are no polls yet for 2020, the state is not listed.

State Polling Detail: Click or tap the link associated with each state at the Polling Averages by State URL to see all Biden vs. Trump polls for that state. These pages also have a feature which shows the last time each state winner vs. election winner occurred, along with the corresponding electoral map. For example, in Florida, the last time a Democratic nominee won the state while a Republican won the presidency was in 1924.

  

Biden Becomes Presumptive Democratic Nominee as Sanders Bows Out

April 8, 2020

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders ended his presidential campaign Wednesday.  Sanders was facing an uphill challenge both in the delegate count and in a race all but frozen in place by the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision leaves former Vice President Joe Biden as the presumptive Democratic nominee.  

 

Wisconsin Primary to Proceed Tuesday; Timing of Results Uncertain

April 7, 2020

After several days of back-and-forth involving all three branches of government, Wisconsin's presidential primary will proceed Tuesday. However, per a court ruling currently in effect, no results are expected until 5:00 PM ET next Monday, April 13.  Should that change, and results are reported after the 9:00 PM ET poll closing time Tuesday, you'll be able to see those numbers on this page.  We're also following a general election on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Democratic Primary

Joe Biden has opened up a 300 delegate advantage on Bernie Sanders.  That lead is expected to grow once the state's 84 pledged delegates are allocated. Polling has been almost non-existent in recent weeks, but an April 1 release by the well-regarded Marquette Law School showed Biden leading 62% to 34%. 


Republican Primary

On the Republican side, Donald Trump is unopposed on the ballot. He has already surpassed the 1,276 delegates needed to win renomination.

For those wondering, here's some background information on the Uninstructed Delegate option available in Wisconsin.  Instead of choosing a candidate on the ballot (or writing someone in), a voter is handing the decision off to delegates to make that decision for them at the party's national convention.  Any delegates allocated this way would be effectively unpledged. In 2016, the Uninstructed Delegate received less than 0.3% of the vote in either party's primary, so it is not likely to have any real-world ramifications beyond appearing on the ballot.

Wisconsin Supreme Court (General Election)

Incumbent Daniel Kelly and challenger Jill Karofsky are running for a ten-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Kelly was appointed in 2016 by former Gov. Scott Walker to complete the term of retiring Justice David Prosser.

The race is nonpartisan, but Kelly is a conservative and Karofsky - a circuit court judge - is running as a progressive. Per Ballotpedia: "The election will determine the size of the court's conservative majority. A win for Karofsky would reduce the conservative majority to 4-3, meaning that the next regularly scheduled election in 2023 would decide control of the court. A Kelly win would preserve the court's 5-2 conservative majority. Assuming no justices leave the bench before their terms expire, a Kelly win would prevent a liberal majority from forming on the court until 2026 at the earliest."  

This election is likely at the heart of why Republicans immediately challenged the executive order issued Monday by Gov. Tony Evers suspending in-person voting until June 9.  A lower turnout election, which will almost certainly be the case given the coronavirus and confusion about the timing of the election, is expected to help the incumbent's prospects. For his part, Evers didn't help matters by waiting until the last minute to try and move the primary. 

The Road to 270: Utah

April 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.

Utah

From 2012 to 2016, the state that saw the biggest swing towards the Democratic presidential nominee was not deep blue California or Hawaii. Instead, it was staunchly Republican Utah. The state that gave Mitt Romney a 48% margin over Barack Obama (his largest in the nation) shifted 30% towards Democrats and gave Donald Trump a far smaller 18% victory over Hillary Clinton. Utah's history, perhaps more than any other state's, is key to understanding these contemporary trends. We’ll start with its journey to statehood.  

Pre-Statehood

Utah gets its name from the Ute people who lived in the region prior to French and Spanish exploration in the mid 18th Century. Spain was first to claim the territory, but made no effort to colonize it due to its arid and infertile land. Through 1820, what we now know as Utah was a part of New Spain and inhabited by Native Americans and European fur trappers. In 1822, however, following Mexico’s independence from Spain, the region became a part of Mexico and was named Alta California.

The next phase of Utah history took place in New York, where Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The new church (also known as the LDS or Mormon Church) and its followers faced persecution and violence. In 1847, three years after the murder of its founder, a group of Mormons set out for the secluded isolation of Utah and landed in the Salt Lake Valley. Conveniently for the new settlers, the United States took over the region after defeating Mexico in the Mexican-American war. In just one year, over 4,000 more Mormons joined the existing community. Their numbers would pass 10,000 by 1850.

After a failed attempt by the settlers to form the wonkily shaped “State of Deseret”, the federal government instead established the Utah Territory. The new territory comprised much of today’s Utah, Colorado, and Nevada. To prevent the supposed social ills of the Mormon way of life, chiefly polygamy, the federal government controlled the new territory. In 1861, with the start of the Civil War, this moral crusade took a back seat. Federal troops were deployed to fight the Confederacy and Mormon population regained their independence.

In the coming decades, largely with the help of the First Transcontinental Railroad, the barrier between Utah and the rest of the country deteriorated. Both Mormons and non-Mormons moved in, causing two tiers of tension — Native American versus new settlers as well as Mormon versus non-Mormon. Clashes between Native Americans and new settlers were largely fought on the battlefield and resulted in Native American tribes being squeezed into reservations. Conflicts between the Mormon and non-Mormon populations were fought in the political arena, standoffs that Mormons won with ease.

By the 1890s, Utah was surrounded by Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado — all states that had successfully applied and qualified for statehood. Utah was only to be admitted if the state banned polygamy — an ordinance that was written into the state’s constitution. As such, Utah was finally admitted to the Union in 1896 as the 45th state.  

Depression and Two World Wars

World War I brought rationing and scarcity to Utahans but it also boosted the state’s economy. The coal and copper industries — both materials needed for the war effort — boomed, as did trade unions. But the demands of the War faded in the 1920s and the state’s agricultural and mining industries took a hit. When the Great Depression came later in the decade, the state’s economy sunk only further. High cost of living, low wages, and drought only exacerbated the misery. 

Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was welcome in the state. The public works programs put Utahans back to work and newly bolstered unions gave workers bargaining power for wages and labor conditions. Utah’s Carbon County (which we will come back to later) became a quintessential mining town, with the United Mine Workers of America helping organize labor in favor of Democrats.

Again during World War II, Utah’s manufacturing industry took off. Geneva Steel, in operation from 1943 through 2001, was built to produce steel for the war effort, but also helped bring the state’s post-depression economy to life. The war also brought skepticism and hostility towards Japanese-Americans, 8,000 of whom were forced into the Topaz Internment Camp about 100 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

Post War Rebranding

Post-War Utah needed a rebranding. Through newly established national parks — Zion and Bryce — and ski resorts, Utah would become a mecca for outdoor adventure and tourism. The construction of interstate highways in the 1950s and 1960s opened the state to tourists and population growth. The population more than doubled between 1950 and 1980. The new people brought with them business, technology, and cultural growth. Technology companies including Iomega (later renamed LenovoEMC) and Novell built Utah headquarters in the 1980s, industries that were helped along by a young, educated population. A cycle of population growth, urban development, innovation, business success, and internationally recognized outdoor sporting culminated in Salt Lake City being chosen to host the 2002 Winter Olympics. The Olympics brought fame to the state’s ski resorts, construction of world class sports facilities, and a massive population influx. In response, Salt Lake City built and expanded its public transit and freeway systems. This newly achieved fame and public infrastructure helped Utah grow and accommodate growth for the next two decades.

Between 2000 and 2010, Utah grew by 24%, the third fastest growth of any state. From the 2010 Census to the 2020 Census Utah is likely to be the fastest growing state in the nation. This growth has been accompanied by a boom in the state's newer industries — technology, tourism education (University of Utah, BYU) — as well as a retraction of the state’s traditional, but fading industries — farming, mining, and oil drilling. These changes along with the state’s high birth rate have led to growth in the Wasatch Front (the state’s northern metropolitan corridor)  and St. George (the island of urbanity in the state’s southwest) and shrinkage in the rural center.

Electoral History

Through all this growth and change, Utah’s electoral history, at least on the presidential level, is straightforward. For most of its early statehood Utah voted Republican with the rest of the northern United States. The two exceptions are 1896 when Utahans supported the populist Democrat William Jennings Bryan and in 1916 when they rewarded Democrat Woodrow Wilson for keeping the United States out of World War I.

Utah, devastated by the Great Depression and lifted by the New Deal, voted for Franklin Roosevelt in each of his four elections and for his successor, Harry Truman. This Democratic streak that lasted from 1932 to 1948 ended abruptly in 1952 when the state voted for Dwight Eisenhower. From that 1952 election through 2016, Utah voted Republican in every election except for Lyndon Johnson’s landslide defeat over conservative ideologue Barry Goldwater in 1964. While the Republican margin swung year to year — the state gave Ronald Reagan margins around 50% in both his 1980 and 1984 elections while George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole only won by around 20% in 1992 and 1996 — it never strayed so far as to be a realistic Democratic target.

Recent Elections and Demographics

At the turn of the century Utah was as Republican as ever. George W. Bush carried the state by over 40% in both 2000 and 2004 victories and won every county as he did so. Barack Obama closed that margin to 28% in 2008, flipping Salt Lake (Salt Lake City) and Summit (Park City) counties in the north and Grand County (Moab) in the east.

In 2012, however, the Republican nominee Mitt Romney would expand the 2008 margin by 20%, crushing Obama with a 48% margin and winning back the three counties that John McCain had lost four years prior. Romney, the first Latter-day Saint to ever lead a major party ticket, was particularly popular. He had a history in Utah too — leaving his job at Bain Capital to help lead the organizing committee of the 2002 Olympic Games. Though Romney largely kept his faith private, he also didn’t run from it. In his first presidential run in 2008, Romney resisted hiding from religion:

"If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.

There are some for whom these commitments are not enough. They would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it.”

His 2012 campaign took a similar tack, and the results would be a contemporary high-water mark for Republicans in Utah.

Compared to the mild mannered Romney, the decidedly less traditional Donald Trump did not play as well in the state. Mormons make up over 60% of the Utah population and these voters are younger, more educated, traditional, and — due to high levels of international volunteerism through missionaries — more familiar with foreign cultures than most of the Republican base.

Perhaps these voters would have bitten their tongues to vote for Trump — the only candidate who would promote cultural conservatism and nominate conservative judges — if they did not have an attractive third option in the form of Evan McMullin. McMullin entered the race in opposition to both major party candidates. A Utah native, BYU graduate, and a Mormon, McMullin was a good third-party fit for Utah won an impressive 21% of the vote. Most of McMullin’s share came from voters who had voted for Mitt Romney four years earlier. Donald Trump won 125,000 fewer votes than Romney had in 2012 while Clinton won 60,000 more than Obama had four years earlier.

Internal Utah Trends

In addition to these Utah-specific machinations, the state is following the dominant nationwide trend: urban and suburban areas are shifting left while rural, working class regions are moving right. This trend is easy to see by looking at Utah’s historical presidential maps and focusing on two areas — the Wasatch Front and Carbon County. Through the 1970s and 1980s, the Wasatch Front, comprising Salt Lake City and its suburbs, was generally in line with the rest of the state. About two thirds of the state’s population lives in the region. Starting in the 1990s and continuing through 2016, the region become progressively more Democratic, with some of its counties finally flipping to Obama in 2008 and Clinton in 2016. Unlike most urban areas, however, the balance here is not overwhelmingly Democratic. Trump still carried several counties in the Wasatch Front and, in the two she carried, Clinton only won by 15% and 9%.

Compare this to Carbon County — an ancestrally Democratic county in the state’s interior. The county, with its coal mines, industrial character, and blue-collar communities regularly voted Democratic through the 1990s. Lyndon Johnson won 73% of the county’s vote in 1964. In 2000, however, as Democrats move leftward on social and environmental issues, the county flipped Republican. In 2016, Clinton lost this county — one that her husband had carried 20 years earlier — to Trump by 25%.

While Utah’s religious and demographic idiosyncrasies can trigger unique trends, it does not make the state entirely unpredictable. In the long term, the growth and Democratization of the Wasatch Front and Salt Lake City could be a problem for Republicans. It appears, however, that the state’s Mormon characteristic has muted Democratic success. If the Wasatch Front was as overwhelmingly Democratic as urban areas in most other states, Utah would be a battleground or even a blue-leaning state.

The 2020 results will help us discern just how much of Trump’s underperformance in 2016 was due to his unique weaknesses among Utah voters and how much was drained by third-party candidate Evan McMullin. Regardless, Utah is still a red state. Though Utah’s Mormon and conservative voters may not like Trump, they will not flee him in great enough numbers to make Utah competitive. Democrats can dream, but “Bluetah” is not likely to become reality in November.  

Next Week: Louisiana 

Reports in this series: