Looking At the Bigger Regional Picture

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September 15, 2016 2:25 p.m.

As of this morning, The TPM Electoral Scoreboard stands at Clinton 254, Trump 242. Pretty close to a tie. But beneath those numbers there are major shifts in the electoral landscape that transcend the dynamics of this election.

If you step back and look at the regional picture we can see something pretty striking about the electoral map. Back during the primaries, there was a pretty aggressive discussion of how Trump would put the industrial and post-industrial Midwest in play. For a long time that didn’t seem to be the case. And I think it’s still not the case in just the way people were suggesting. But there is something happening.

As I mentioned yesterday, the big structural change in the electoral map since the Bush years is that Democrats have opened a major beach head in the upper coastal South while becoming more competitive in more traditional swing states like Ohio and Florida. That continues to be the case. We have new polls out in Virginia and North Carolina today. Virginia is Clinton +4.9 and North Carolina is Clinton +1.1. Those aren’t huge leads, certainly not in North Carolina. But relative to the country as a whole that remains dramatically different from 16 or 12 years ago. Virginia does seem out of Trump’s reach, which remains a huge factor in the race.

What’s notable here is that the Democratic advantage looks more durable in Virginia and North Carolina, states they weren’t even able to compete in in the Bush years, than it does in Ohio and Florida, where they’ve fought it out in every election since 2000. That in itself is a very big deal.

But consider some other states. We now have quite a few polls in Georgia and Trump’s lead is only 3.2 percentage points. We have a reasonable amount of data in Arizona too. And that’s in the Toss Up category (Trump +.3) Even in Texas, Trump’s advantage is only +6.

To put this all in perspective Trump’s margin in Iowa (+6.6) is substantially larger than his margin in Georgia (+3.2). Iowa is a classic swing state but one that usually goes blue. The only Republican win since 1988 was in 2004. And then it was extremely close.

What you can see is that regardless of the winner in this election, the contours of the map itself look significantly different. Broadly speaking the Democrats bridgehead in the upper coastal South seems to be expanding into areas where populations are younger and less white – also arguably more educated and economically dynamic. That brings in Georgia, Arizona and at least blunts GOP leads in states like Texas.

At the same time, the Democrat hold has weakened in states that are older and whiter. At the moment Trump’s margin in Iowa is bigger than it is in Texas, though only by half a percentage point. Just as notable is that the race was close to tied even when Clinton was at her post-Convention peak. A Suffolk poll concluded on August 10th gave Trump a 1 point lead. Another poll released by Quinnipiac a few days later put Clinton up by just 3. Iowa has relatively old population in comparison to other states and it’s extremely white (94%). Clinton is ahead in Wisconsin. But it’s quite close. Again, Wisconsin is 89% white.

The changes I’m describing are not surprising in statistical terms. The Democratic coalition increasingly relies heavily on young voters and non-white voters. In swing states with +90% white population, that’s going to be a problem. At the same time, parts of the country that were solidly red but are becoming less white and younger are coming into play. Georgia is much less white than it was even a few years ago. It’s also one of the youngest states in the country.

However the final result plays out this year we can see the shape of the electoral terrain continues to change. And that reality will persist past November.

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