So far, in election 2016, Mrs. Clinton has won primaries in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and possibly Missouri. What commentators call her “Southern sweep” is complete.
Now let’s evaluate her chances of a Southern sweep, or any kind of sweep, or the narrowest electoral win, in 2016. Clinton’s total so far is fifteen states.* Of the fifteen states in which she has defeated or may have defeated a stronger Democrat and much more appealing candidate,
- Four states–Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas–have not gone Democratic in a presidential election even once since 1976
- One state–North Carolina–has gone Democratic in a presidential election once since 1976, in Barack Obama’s commanding win in 2008
- Six states–Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia–have gone Democratic in a presidential election twice since 1976 (Georgia in 1980 and 1992, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Tennessee in 1992 and 1996, Virginia in 2008 and 2012)
- One state–Florida–has gone Democratic in three presidential elections since 1976 (1992, 2008, and 2012)
- One state–Ohio–has gone Democratic in four presidential elections since 1976 (2008 and 2012, 1992 and 1996)
- Illinois has gone Democratic in every presidential election from 1992 on
- Massachusetts has gone Democratic in every presidential election from 1988 on
So far, the electoral math is daunting. Reversing the order above to start with the results most favorable to the Democratic Party,
- Illinois and Massachusetts combined have 31 electoral votes
- Ohio and Florida have a combined 47 electoral votes
- The eleven states which have gone Democratic no more than twice in the past forty years have a combined 62 (never) + 15 (once) + 64 (twice) = 141 electoral votes
So far, that’s 141 electoral votes quite possibly in the GOP column, to 78 votes possibly going Democratic (in an optimistic view of 2016 Illinois and Ohio). Add in Iowa’s six electoral votes for the Dems, and the total goes up to 84.
Run the same numbers more optimistically, and give weight to recent wins for Democratic nominees–or rather, for Democratic nominee Barack Obama. Obama won Virginia in 2008 and 2012 and North Carolina in 2008. Assuming for sake of argument that Hillary Clinton can replicate Obama’s success in both states, that’s another 28 electoral votes plused for Dems, minused for Repubs. The total so far then becomes 113 electoral votes for the GOP, to 106 for the Democrats.
This is Mrs. Clinton’s ‘inexorable’ series of victories in Democratic primaries, vaunted by the national political press, mostly, as a juggernaut. The fact that Clinton’s wins have mostly occurred in solidly red states or dicey swing states has not been foregrounded.
Turnout is discouraged, when media representations relentlessly shove one candidate down the public’s collective throat as inevitable.
Speaking of turnout, let’s look at some other numbers–again, just for the states in which primaries have already taken place. The Economist article linked here summarizes 2016 turnout, the take-away being that–as Trump has said–Trump has boosted GOP turnout over 2008. Primaries won by Clinton had lower turnout than in 2008. Hillary Clinton is no Barack Obama.
There are a few other points to make about 2016 turnout, scanted so far in major media outlets.
- Except for Louisiana, Democratic turnout in the old Confederacy states has been significantly less than Republic turnout. Alabama had 857,000 GOP votes and 398,000 Democratic votes. Georgia had 1.3 million GOP votes to 761,000 Democratic votes. South Carolina had 741 GOP votes to 371,000 Democratic votes. Virginia had 1.02 million GOP votes to 783,000 Dem. (Louisiana had 301,000 GOP votes and 312,000 Democratic votes.)
- The same pattern holds for Arkansas, Tennessee, and Texas. Clinton’s erstwhile home state of Arkansas had 221,000 Democratic votes to 411,000 for Republicans.
- Since no one is counting on southern states for the Democrats, it is yet more scary to look at turnout in Ohio last night. GOP votes: 2.04 million. Democratic votes: 1.2 million.
- Only in Illinois, last night, did Democratic turnout exceed GOP, 1.9 million votes to 1.4 million. And Clinton barely won Illinois.
In my view, the disparity between the major parties in southern states is intensified by set-in-concrete media emphasis on ‘minorities’. Commentators also emphasize ‘minorities’ in northern and midwestern states, of course–county by county, precinct by precinct. I am caucasian myself, but as someone concerned for racial justice I cringe at the relentless pigeonholing that links Democratic votes–or in 2016, Clinton votes–to ‘minorities’ or to ‘African-Americans’. The pigeonholing itself is dispiriting and discourages turnout. The keep-hope-dead crowd is still in there, embedded as ever.
Only candidate Obama was able to overcome these representations; I see no indication that candidate Clinton can–even after hiring some of Obama’s people (disappointingly, David Plouffe went over to Clinton, even though he must remember the 2008 election).
On the less elevated plane of partisan politics, if you want a good thumbnail view of what this linkage does to Democrats in elections, you might look at the electoral history of the state of Mississippi over the last fifty years. “Republican” is effectively a synonym for “white” in Mississippi; thus any precinct in which whites are the majority is effectively a lock for the GOP.
(It also makes me cringe to see stagily diverse, if small, crowds of voters pathetically holding up signs for Clinton that read “Fighting for Us.” When? When did Mrs. Clinton ever fight for ‘us’?)
Back to the electoral college–
Looking at states Mrs. Clinton has won so far, it is hard to envision her game plan for winning the general election in November. In a highly optimistic view, she wins all of New England; California and New York; Maryland and New Jersey; Illinois and Pennsylvania; at least a couple of western states; and enough of the battlegrounds–the old industrial states, Florida, and Virginia–to eke out the total needed. This view disregards the fact that several of the states referred to have recently elected Republican governors or have deep internal divisions among Democrats. What are the Clintons imagining? That Bill Clinton can pull in the states he got in 1992 and 1996? That Hillary Clinton has the same appeal for the minorities her campaign focuses on so much that Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012? That the Republicans, or Trump, will sink themselves–even though Donald Trump and John Kasich are both infinitely better speakers and campaigners than Hillary Clinton? That Hillary Clinton will automatically get all Bernie Sanders voters?
Or do they cling to the idea, regardless of reason or evidence, that there is a national groundswell of devotion to the Clintons?
Or are they counting on their entrenched media supporters to carry them across the finish line?
The most plausible successful scenario I have seen comes from University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato:
This particular electoral map generates a scary 270 electoral votes for Clinton, 268 for Trump.
This is scary from more than one perspective. One is that a race predicted to be this close carries the seeds of its own defeat, where the public interest is concerned. This is an Al-Gore-in-2000 campaign in the making. In such a scenario, Clinton from her perspective would have every excuse to trim toward ‘centrist’ positions on domestic issues, and to hint at hawkish intentions in foreign policy. She would thus be justified, were she to win the nomination, in ‘pivoting’–that nice media euphemism for abruptly disclosing that the candidate has been lying about her/his positions all along.
That one does not enhance turnout either.
More on the 2016 GOP race later.
*Clinton has also won delegates in Iowa, American Samoa, and the Northern Marianas.