Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

06 February 2008

Who Can Win? Obama Takes the Heartland and the South

[For an updated version of this essay, with updated tables, see this post.]

Super Tuesday may not have decided the Democratic nomination. But it proved one thing decisively. It showed who can win the general election.

Remember the 2004 electoral map? The coasts were blue (for Kerry), while the Heartland and South was red (for Bush). Super Tuesday proved that Obama can best change all that.

Here is a table of all the 2004 red states that have voted in an official Democratic primary or caucus so far, showing the percentage votes for Obama and Clinton and the rough margin of victory. (Florida is omitted, as Obama didn’t campaign there and it’s not supposed to count.)

[You may have to scroll down to see the table.]

Red StateObama/Clinton
Vote (percent)
Idaho80/17 - >4 to 1 4
Alaska74/25 -  3 to 1 3
Kansas74/26 - >2.5 to 1 9
Colorado67/32 - >2 to 1 9
Georgia66/31 2 >2 to 1 15
South Carolina55/27 18 2 to 1 8
North Dakota61/37 1 >1.5 to 1 3
Utah57/39 3  1.5 to 1 5
Alabama 56/42 1  1.3 to 1 9
Iowa38/29 30  1.25 to 1 7
Missouri 49/48 2  1 to 1 11
Nevada45/51 4  1 to 1 5
Arizona42/51 5  1 to 1.2510
Tennessee41/54 4  1 to 1.25 11
Oklahoma31/55 10 <1 to 1.5 7
Arkansas27/69 2 <1 to 2.5 6

As this table shows, Obama won eleven red states, shown in the blue rows, with a total of 83 electoral votes. Clinton won five red states, shown in the pink rows, with a total of 39 electoral votes. Obama won more than twice as many red states as Clinton, with more than twice as many electoral votes.

But these numbers don’t tell the whole story. Look at the fourth column, showing the ratio of victory. Clinton won by more than 2 to 1 in only one state—Arkansas, the state that Bill had governed. Arkansas had only six electoral votes.

Obama won by more than 2 to 1 in six states with a total of 48 electoral votes. The difference between the red states that Obama carried by more than 2 to 1 and the single state that Clinton carried by the same margin is five states, amounting to 42 electoral votes.

A 2 to 1 margin is a 67/33 win—a landslide by any political calculation. Why were Obama’s victories over Clinton so crushing in those six states? The two senators were much more equally matched in the big states with large numbers of Democratic voters.

The most likely explanation is that Obama attracted far more new, independent, nonaligned and Republican voters than Clinton. It follows that he would be far more likely to win those five excess red states in the general election, giving him 42 more red-state electoral votes than Clinton would have.

Super Tuesday’s results therefore show exactly what Barack Obama has claimed on the campaign trail all along. He can assure a Democratic victory far better than Hillary Clinton by turning red states blue.

As that reality sinks in, all those who prefer a Democrat in the White House to John McCain should vote accordingly.


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