Will The Red State - Blue State Division Be Reshuffled In 2008?
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March 04, 2008, 03:52 AM
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One of the sillier popular conspiracy theories is that Bush somehow stole the 2004 election. In reality, his performance improved slightly from 2000 in almost every state and every demographic group. That`s absolutely the wrong way to steal an election. The way you really do it is to hold back votes in particular strongholds until the other guy lays his hand on the table and then you make up the votes you need to win, as Mayor Daley I did in Cook County in 1960 or the GOP machine did in DuPage County in the 1982 Illinois gubernatorial race.

In fact, John F. Kerry almost won the election in the Electoral College by nearly snagging Ohio despite getting beaten narrowly but thoroughly all across the country.

This underscores how similar by state the 2004 results were, relatively speaking, to 2000. Bush`s share increased a little bit in just about every state from 2000 to 2004. Right after the 2004 election I wrote: "In contrast, Bush lost share in only 2 of 51 states (although this may change slightly as final vote counts come in)."

Michael Barone, Patrick Ruffini, and Ross Douthat are talking about whether an Obama-McCain race would reshuffle the red state-blue state stasis of the last two elections. The question is not who will win the national election, but will the relative partisanship of the states change? Will Utah remain much more Republican than the rest of the country and Vermont much more Democratic?

Bush`s share of the vote in 2004 by state correlated at the 0.98 level with his performance by state in 2000. What that means is that if you spent the last four years in a cave and just surfaced today and asked "What happened in the election?" you could be 96% (that`s 0.98 squared) accurate in guessing Bush`s share in each state with just three kinds of information: his 2000 performance, his new intercept (start Bush off 3.9 percentage points higher), and his new slope (for each 10 percentage points his 2000 share goes up per state, his 2004 share goes up 9.77 percentage points). For example, if he earned a 50% share in a particular state last time, you would expect him to earn 52.7 points this time (3.9 + (5 * 9.77).

Yet, holding the candidates` constant from one election to the next doesn`t necessarily mean stability of results at the state level. In sharp contrast, consider the 1952 and 1956 races between Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson. Eisenhower`s overall share grew 2.3 points from 1952 to 1956, only a little less than Bush`s improvement from 2000 to 2004, but Ike`s share fell in 19 of 48 states.

The 1952 and 1956 races correlated only at the 0.78 level, meaning you could only be 61% accurate at plotting Eisenhower`s 1956 results knowing his 1952 results and Eisenhower`s intercept and slope for 1956. In other words, there was hugely more shifting at the state level between 1952 and 1956 than between 2000 and 2004. I do not know why this was.

I made up a table of stability of state-by-state voting over time. Below are the r-squareds for state-by-state correlations for the last eight elections. The similarity of the 2000 and 2004 elections by state were the highest in recent history.

For 1992 and 1996, I`ve laid out the correlations both with the GOP candidate by himself and with the GOP candidate plus Perot (i.e., the non-Democratic share of the vote). There seems to be an upward trend over time for elections to become more stable, although 1984 to 1988 was 88%, which is low only compared to 2000 to 2004 (96%). The 1992 and 1996 elections were somewhat perturbed by Perot and by Clinton, who had a certain amount of Southern appeal. [See table here.]