Electoral Geography 2016

Came across an article, “The Map: 11 Angles on the Electoral College,” on Sabato’s Crystal Ball site. As a geographer at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), I love titles like this. I eagerly read Sabato’s 2016 predictions, which included several major points:

  1. In the 4 presidential elections from 2000 to 2012, only 10 of 50 states changed their electoral vote: Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia.
  2. Practically speaking, the GOP doesn’t have a path to victory without Florida and Ohio.
  3. Could Wisconsin go Republican if Scott Walker were the 2016 nominee? The article points out that Walker’s mid-term victories in 2010 and 2014, and recall election in 2012, averaged a 55% voter turnout. The state’s presidential turnout in 2012 was 73%, which means Walker would face a much larger and more Democratic electorate in his state.
  4. It would be hard for the Republicans to win the White House without Virginia, which is seen as a toss-up state.
Map 1. Predictions according to Larry Sabato, University of Virginia
Map 1. Predictions according to Larry Sabato, University of Virginia

Virginia’s Color on Sabato’s Map

Is Virginia really a “Toss-up” state? Probably not, based on recent elections:

  • Republicans have not won a statewide office since 2009, in both low and high turnout elections.
  • Virginia’s Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, and both U.S. Senators are all Democrats. Republicans do not hold a statewide office.
  • The Republican U.S. Senate wave in 2014 did not unseat Democratic Senator Mark Warner, despite a low 41% voter turnout (compared to 73% for a presidential election) and Republican-passed voter restrictions.
  • Maps of electoral geography show that Virginia is favorable to Democrats, as is Fairfax County, Virginia’s most populous county.

For these reasons, it seems that Virginia leans to Democrats and should be a “Leans D” blue on Sabato’s map (see Map 1 above).

In essence, Virginia has transitioned from a Toss-up to a Democratic state, albeit a fragile one. West Virginia has made the reverse transformation since 2000, going from a dependably Democratic state to a reliably Republican one.

A Small Part of Nebraska Leaning to Democrats?

Only Nebraska and Maine can split their electoral votes. I would add Nebraska to electoral vote “Toss-ups” in Sabato’s map (see Map 1 above), because one of its 2008 electoral votes went to Obama. The 2nd Congressional District (Omaha) is increasingly Democratic, despite alleged Republican gerrymandering in 2011.

In 2014, Democrat Brad Ashford defeated the Republican incumbent, Lee Terry, who held the 2nd District for 16 years. This indicates that the single electoral vote for Nebraska’s 2nd District (NE-2) could again swing to Democrats in 2016. I would think that the NE-2 box should be a toss-up yellow—instead of the “Likely R” red that is presently on the map.

A Difficult Republican Path to the Presidency

By adding Nebraska’s 1 electoral vote (NE-2) to the Toss-up category and Virginia’s 13 electoral votes to Democrats, new totals for Sabato’s map would be:

     Democrats: 260; Toss-ups: 73; Republicans: 205

Republicans will need to focus on Florida and Ohio. The Republican National Convention in Ohio reflects a Midwest strategy. The Democratic National Convention is in Pennsylvania, which Republicans see as a potential swing state in 2016, yet it has not voted for a GOP presidential candidate since 1988.

I have drawn up a map (see Map 2 below) that (I humbly think) accurately illustrates the narrow path to victory for Republican candidates. On this map, the GOP needs to capture all 6 toss-up states to get above 270 electoral votes (the winning magic number). Democrats, on the other hand, only have to take 1 or 2 toss-up states to win.

Map 2. Predictions based on changes to Virginia & Nebraska.
Map 2. Predictions based on changes to Virginia & Nebraska.


May Anniversary: Geopolitics & the Falklands

Just came across some images of the 1982 Falklands War, which happened 33 years ago in the month of May. The greatest naval battle since World War II pitted the British navy against the Argentine air force. It was a war caused by the manipulation of geopolitics by Argentina, in an attempt to rally Argentines to a military dictatorship with a military conquest. A few lessons:

A definition of Malvinas
A definition of Malvinas
  • The war was a game of chances. The British seemed to take more chances, with more of them paying off.
Vulcan bombers flew from Ascension.
  • A gamble succeeded when the British flew an aging Vulcan bomber more than 8,000 miles from Ascension Island to bomb the Argentine-occupied Stanley Airfield. The Vulcan, eluding Argentine air defenses, bombed the runway on May 1, rendering it unusable for Argentine jets that would attack the approaching British fleet. Argentina redeployed its jets to the mainland, meaning they had to fly farther to attack British ships.
  • A gamble failed when British Special Forces in mid-May could not attack Argentina’s Rio Grande airbase, where the ship-killing Super Étendard jets and Exocet missiles were based. Bad weather (May is equivalent to November in the Southern Hemisphere) and intelligence forced the mission to be called off. On May 25 two Super Étendards attacked and destroyed the Atlantic Conveyor, a British ship carrying helicopters. Loss of the helicopters meant British troops had to march, or yomp, 56 miles to retake Stanley.
Failed mission and the loss of Atlantic Conveyor
Failed mission and the loss of Atlantic Conveyor
  • The results show a victory for democracy over dictatorship. Of course, the resilience of British air, naval, and ground forces in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds cannot be over appreciated.

Argentina still claims the Falklands, which it calls the Malvinas, and the current Argentine government discounts the wishes of some 2,560 residents of the Falklands, stating, “a population transplanted by the colonial Power, as is currently the case in the Malvinas Islands, is not a people with the right to free determination.” Of course, Argentines are themselves the descendants of a population transplanted by a colonial power, with remnants of the indigenous Amerindians all but gone.

May should be a month to remember the thousands of Argentines and British who were killed and wounded in this brief but bloody war.

British forces retake the Falklands.
British forces retake the Falklands.