Have Red States Really Grown in Electoral College Power? Or Have We All Spent Too Much Time in the Florida Sun?

The short answer is yes. In 1964, the 20 Kerry states (including DC) were worth 270 electoral votes (EVs). In fact, while the numbers of EVs in each state shifted somewhat, the Kerry states were still worth 270 EVs in 1980, while the 31 Bush states were only worth 268 EVs in 1964 and 1980. Only after the reapportionment after the 1980 census were the 20 Kerry states not enough to win. Mondale was the first Democrat for whom winning the “Kerry 20” would not have been enough. Today the Kerry 20 are worth 252 EVs while the Bush states are worth 286. So states that have voted Dem since at least 1992 (or even 1988) have lost 18 Evs since 1964 while GOP states have gained 18 EVs. “Good god” yell the Washington pundits, “Dems have lost EVs quicker than disco lost popularity. They’re all but finished unless they co-opt some of the Republican agenda.”

Relax folks!!! All is not lost. For one thing, a number of blue states were not so strongly blue as recently as 15 years ago (e.g. California, Washington, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, even New Jersey). There are also a number of states that have shifted from safe GOP to tossup (or at least only GOP-leaning swing state): e.g.Florida, Colorado, Arizona, Iowa, Nevada. Now let’s compare the 1964 and 2004 EV maps. I use 1964 because it was the first election to have all 50 states voting as well as Washington DC. 40 years also helps us see long terms trends better.

Think like this: The “Kerry 20” are the 20 states, including DC, that Kerry won. The “swinging 8” were eight states won by Bush but are acknowledged as being tossups by both parties (or have shifted away from the GOP): Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Missouri, West Virginia, and Ohio. The “Bush 23” are the 23 states Bush won outside the swinging 8.

Some Democrat states lost EVs (particularly New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan) while the West Coast gained. How did the GOP do from 1964-2004? GOP states gained 29 EVs while losing 9. Outside the South, the GOP gained 1 EV in Utah but lost 2 in Indiana and 1 EV each in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, and Oklahoma for a net loss of 6 GOP EVs outside the South (59 to 53 today).

But what about the huge gains in the South? Glad you asked. 4 southern states each lost one EV from 1964-2004: Kentucky (9 EVs to 8 EVs now), Alabama (10 to 9), Louisiana (10 to 9) and Mississippi (7 to 6).

The gainers were:
— Virginia: +1 (12 to 13)
— North Carolina: +2 (13 to 15)
— Texas: +9 (25 to 34)
— Florida: +13!!! (14 to 27).

All southern states not mentioned so far saw no change in EV totals since 1964. The 11 lost GOP EVs nationally cancel out all the GOP gains in Utah, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and 4 of the 9 new EVs in Texas. So aside from 5 new EVs in Texas, all the growth in GOP EVs is the result of the massive growth of one state: Florida.

Most GOP states that gained or lost EVs are pretty safely GOP, but again they cancel each other out. While Texas just recently became a majority-minority state, it’s probably still gonna be GOP at least in the near future. Still we’re only talking about 5 EVs. Just move one state with 5 EVs from swing to dem leaning (e.g. New Mexico or Nevada) and you cancel out Texas’ growth.

But what of the great growth in Florida? Cancelling out the growth of Texas and all the other states still leaves Dems 9 EVs shy of the prize. Unless Florida becomes a swing state the dems have almost no hope of ever

Hold it!!!! Stop the presses! Florida has already moved from safe GOP to tossup state (albeit with GOP leanings). So if Dems can make Florida even a democratic leaning state, the rest of the South becomes just another spot on the map (kinda like Morrocco). There is also another option:

Remember the “swinging 8”: they are a total of 72 EVs today, just like in 1964. In 1964 the 4 Midwest states made up 54 EVs, while the 4 Southwest ones had 18 total. Now the Midwest states in the “swinging 8” make up 43 EVs to the Southwest’s 29. That’s still an advantage for the more Democrat leaning SouthWest. More importantly, there are at least 3 “swinging 8 states” that have moved away from the GOP into more tossup territory: Arizona, Colorado, and Iowa. The rest have always been swing states. None have shifted from being safe Dem to tossup.

So how do we shift Florida to at least a Dem leaning state? Failing that, how can we make one-or more-of the swinging 8 more democratic leaning? The floor’s open for any ideas.

Bookmark and Share

About Nick

Teacher of Social Studies. Born in the 1970s. History major, music minor. Big Baseball fan. Economic progressive.
Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Have Red States Really Grown in Electoral College Power? Or Have We All Spent Too Much Time in the Florida Sun?

  1. Marjorie G says:

    Election reform, and no more massive hurricane relief in the central corridor of Florida.

  2. Marjorie

    LOL! I heard that FEMA is asking for money back from people who got FEMA aid in FL.

  3. Nick

    Thanks for wowing us again with the stats. You da Stats Man!

  4. Marjorie G says:

    Too funny, asking for the bribe back after voting.

  5. Marjorie

    Just them isn’t it!

  6. florida dem says:

    “LOL! I heard that FEMA is asking for money back from people who got FEMA aid in FL. ”

    This is what I was saying a while back…There were mumblings during last year’s hurricane season about the motives of ShrubCo dumping all of the loosely tracked FEMA funds into the state. Last week, the major headline in my local paper was about how much money had to be given back by overpaid recipients in my county. Luckily my county went blue, but who knows how many votes were bought by greatful and ill-informed hurricane survivors who didn’t watch tv for several days at a time during the month of August because the lights were out. And when the lights were on, all there was, or all you watched to stay ahead of the first rain band, was hurricane coverage. It was fishy to alot of us then and it’s just as stinky now. Watch Shrub’s approval rating drop another point once the collection notices go out for money that was spent months ago.

  7. florida dem says:

    Oops. I meant…
    bought from greatful and ill-informed hurricane survivors….

  8. Florida Dem

    Could it be that the BLUE VOTER in your county were targeted to give the money back? Did RED COUNTY voters have to give money back too or just the BLUE COUNTIES?

  9. florida dem says:

    Pam –
    I think it’s a statewide thing. However, hardcore red areas like the Panhandle and Southwest Florida were hit hardest last year, so they probably received most of the money.

  10. Nick says:

    Florida Dem,

    I know its hard to give a 100% answer to a hypothetical question, just give me your best guess. If there had been no hurricane, does Florida go blue in 2004? Why or why not?
    On a more sound question footing: What are Harris’s chances of beating Bill Nelson? What are Dems chances of winning the gubernatorial election in 2006?
    What is the political makeup of Orange County and Leon County? Democrat, Republican, swing? My girlfriend has relatives in Orlando and Tallahassee, most of whom are Democrat, except for an uncle and a couple cousin-in-laws in Orange County who are VERY Republican and I was just curious.

  11. Nick,

    Thanks for another great political stats post!

  12. Nick says:


    That should have been GOP states gained 28 EVs but lost 11!!! not 9

  13. Nick says:

    Another oops,

    should have been “still an advantage for the more Democratic MIDwest,” not South West.”