David Frum

11.09.12

It's the Math

Frum reader "Indy" on the GOP's numbers issue. It's deeper than you think.

Certainly I'm not the only one who watched with bemusement as Karl Rove objected when his own Fox News analysts when they called Ohio for President Obama. He seemed genuinely shocked. The guys who use the real math got the call right, however, and President Obama carried the state by 1.9 points, very close to what the polls showed.

As it turned out though, Ohio didn't matter. Neither did Virginia. And likewise Florida. Had President Obama not won any of these, he still had more than the necessary 269 electoral votes. He won the route through New Hampshire, Iowa, and then Nevada and Colorado. Combined, he won these states by nearly three times his national margin, by more than six points when his national advantage was only 2.5.

Since 1992, Democrats have prevailed in the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 presidential elections. In terms of the total two-party vote over that time, Democrats have garnered 51.5% and Republicans have received 48.5%. That seems pretty close, doesn't it? Just a knife's edge of difference between them? It's tempting to believe that a small adjustment here or there, whether in demographic appeal or in simply becoming less social-issue oriented might cure all that ails the Republican brand. But this thinking masks a fundamental---and now nearly insurmountable---problem.

Let's look at these elections in a different way. Since 1992, Democrats have prevailed by 2003 electoral votes to 1223. Nearly twice as many for the Democrats as the Republicans. The races have not been competitive when viewed through this lens. Republicans eeked out a couple of field-goal wins while Democrats have won by touchdowns.

The starting electoral map in 2012 offered Democrats 431 ways to win and 76 for the Republicans. This includes Wisconsin as a swing state, which I think we have learned it never really was, campaign bluster aside. Discounting that state, it was 230 ways for the Democrats to the Republican's 26 (and that includes ties!). From the first day, 2012 was played entirely on the Republican side of the 50 yard line wether they wish to acknowledge it or not.

Since 1992, New Hampshire has only gone red only once, in 2000. Similarly, Iowa has only gone for red once in 2004. Of the total 60 electoral votes during six election cycles, Republicans have only won 10 of them and it wasn't even during the same election. Does 'swing state' really apply then, when you lose 85% of the time? With the base of states that Democrats have won in 6 straight elections of 247 and adding in New Hampshire and Iowa, it appears Democrats can routinely count on starting with 257 electoral votes, just 13 shy of a win.

Such a beginning electoral map would leave Republicans with 3 paths to the White House and one of them involves winning both Colorado and Nevada, states Democrats have now won twice in a row by fairly large margins.

There is no shortage of finger pointing, but those people who argue that some minor adjustments to the Republican party will make them viable again are gravely mistaken. If they don't broaden their regional appeal, which is now concentrated almost exclusively in the deep south, every election will be a defensive one where even a strong candidate will need everything to go perfectly to win. Meanwhile, as Mr. Obama showed this year, Democrats can make errors and still prevail.

Nate Silver recently calculated that Mr. Obama could have lost by as much as 3% in the popular vote, yet still won the electoral college. That should frighten every Republican out of their small thinking. As someone who has voted Republican in the past and hopes to again in the future, I want Republicans to confront the magnitude of their problems and move to correct them. Small adjustments in demographic appeal, vote supression, and catching up to the Democrats in micro-targeting won't do that. They must offer up plans and ideas that appeal to a broader region of the country.

Indy is a frequent commenter on frumforum.com and talkradiosucks.com.