If a rematch of the 2012 presidential election were held today, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney would defeat President Barack Obama in a landslide, according to a CNN poll. This is not the first time a poll has shown a severe case of voter’s remorse among the electorate. A similar ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted in November found that if a rematch of the 2012 election was held, Romney would have defeated Obama by 49 – 45 percent in the popular vote.
Most in the GOP’s Washington D.C.-based consultant class argue that Republican candidates should focus only on a handful of battleground, or purple states in a presidential campaign. However, a PPD study of the results suggest they are making a very expensive mistake.
According to the CNN poll conducted by Opinion Research, if the 2012 election were somehow held again in 2014, Romney would garner 53 percent of the popular vote, with President Obama falling extremely short at 44 percent. But how would the Electoral College look, which often varies significantly from the popular vote, and what does it suggest about the future of presidential elections?
For instance, President Obama beat Mitt Romney 51 -47 percent in the popular vote back in November 2012. Yet, the Obama/Biden ticket won the Electoral College by a much wider margin, 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206. If the election were held today, the numbers would be reversed exactly. The Romney/Ryan ticket would have won 332 electoral votes to 206 for the Obama/Biden ticket, but the map would have looked significantly more unified, in true landslide fashion.
Democratic candidates typically begin with somewhere in the neighborhood of 220 – 240 electoral votes, due to larger states like California, New York and Illinois. Under the current consultant strategy, Republican candidates must run the table in all the battleground states in order to win the Electoral College, which our analysis demonstrates is an archaic, losing strategy that sells the Republican Party short.
Pennsylvania and Minnesota, for instance, are perfect examples of how the Republican Party is leaving millions of popular votes, and dozens of electoral votes, off the table. Even though Gov. Romney barely campaigned in The Keystone State, Obama only carried the state by a relatively small 52 – 46.8 percent margin. Though the GOP nominee did make a late play for Pennsylvania in the closing days of the campaign, it wasn’t enough and, the fact Romney would now carry the state by roughly 4 points should tell the next GOP nominee to dump conventional wisdom.
The same is true for Minnesota, a state David Axelrod was so sure Obama would carry he promised Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday that he would shave his mustache if the state went for Romney. Axelrod dispatched Bill Clinton to Minnesota in the final weeks of the campaign not because he was sure he was going to keep his mustache, but because he knows what this study concludes, it’s a winnable state for the GOP. In fact, many GOP strategists would be surprised to see that Michigan is still in Obama’s column and, even though the Republican Party consistently prioritizes The Wolverine State over the home of the Vikings, Minnesota has been several points more Republican than Michigan on the presidential level for several cycles.
It is worth mentioning, however, that the simple study simply treated every state the same for purposes of simplicity. In other words, we applied the same popular vote disparity equally to each state, though clearly a 9-point nationwide increase in the popular vote would likely not increase Romney’s already huge margin in states such as Idaho and Utah.
The bottom line is that states that have been reliably Democratic in the past few decades are now becoming opportunities for Republican candidates, if however, they can capitalize on it. We are always listening to pundits talk about the “doomed by demographics” narrative, but as Sean Trende at RCP also pointed out, political coalitions are fluid and there will be realignments that will benefit the Republican Party as they increase their share of the white vote. We saw this play out in the Mid-West states, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Iowa, several of which are states that make up the Democratic firewall. Romney was also able to bring New Hampshire back to the GOP and carry Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, chipping off a piece of an otherwise solidly Blue Northeast.
Perhaps even more concerning piece of data for Democrats going forward — as we see under this scenario — is that Romney would be able to peel off Obama voters from all races, including Hispanics, a group that has been pivotal in states Democrats have been able to flip over the past few cycles, such as Nevada and Colorado. These states could potentially move back to the Republican column.
Of course, this is all hypothetical and it is anything but clear whether the GOP would even change course on their losing strategy. Still, as is often the case with post-election knee-jerk analysis, the data suggest the “doomed by demographics” scenario fails to live up to empirical scrutiny.