Are the political battle-lines locked in?

If you look at the outcomes of U.S. Presidential elections from post-WWII up until about 1992, it seems that the political map was very fluid on the presidential level. Many states were in play each election, and the outcomes swung wildly and unpredictably. It was possible to get massive landslides, such as Johnson’s victory in 1964, or Nixon and Reagan’s 49-state clinchers in 1972 and 1984.

Now, however, it seems the electoral battle-lines are basically locked in.

Check out this interactive graphic from the New York Times. Look at Georgia between 1972 to 1976: it swings from the most Republican (75% for Nixon) state to the most Democrat (66% for Carter) state in America. There’s a lot of swapping–states often are pulled across the aisle in both directions between elections during the post-WWII period up until the early 1990s.

Then, something interesting happens.You start to see just weak-to-moderate shifts in only one direction each time, if there is any significant changeup at all.

  • 1988 to 1992: Pure leftward shift in favor of Clinton.
  • 1992 to 1996: Slight rightward shift to Dole, Florida is the exception (and yet it only moves about 6% in total).
  • 1996 to 2000: Universal rightward shift to Bush.
  • 2000 to 2004: Practically no change, a slight rightward lean across the board.
  • 2004 to 2008: Universal leftward shift, surprisingly strong in Indiana.
  • 2008 to 2012: Slight rightward tilt, but only causes 2 states to cross the line.

It seems like we’re stuck in the geographic trends that emerged during the Clinton years. The west coast and northeast are solidly Democrat, the south and the west are solidly Republican. Ohio and Florida are consistently the bellwether swing states.

Honestly, for a political junkie, this is a good argument against the electoral college system: now that about 42-45 states are de facto locked-up every election, there are really only a handful of relevant states anymore in presidential elections… which is boring.

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