Fun with Presidential History

Donald’s post on Missouri the bellweather reminded me of a post I had done in the aftermath of the 2008 election.  With the Court’s indulgence, I thought I’d repost it here.  Essentially it runs down how each state has voted since the birth of the Republican party in 1854, and which states have most often voted for the ultimate presidential victory, and which have been the most consistent in party loyalty, one way or the other.


Because I’m such a stats geek (gallery: or just a geek) I thought I’d dig deeper into presidential election history and how the states have voted since the advent of the current two-party system in 1854.  There have been 39 presidential elections featuring Republicans squaring off against Democrats, and they have yielded some fascinating results.  So I tallied how each state has voted since 1856, and I’ve crunched the numbers.

First of all, it should be noted that I only included the official party nominee as the Democrat or the Republican.  So if a state voted for John Breckenridge (1860) or Teddy Roosevelt (1912), that was counted as a third-party vote even though both men out-polled the official party nominee, respectively Douglas (1860) and Taft (1912).  Amazingly, even including these “third-party” candidates, a collective 41 states have awarded their Electoral College votes to a third-party candidate in these 39 elections.  Yes, we are a two-party country.  The ex-confederates of course lead the pack, with Alabama and Louisiana each having done it three times (1860, 1948 [Thurmond], and 1968 [Wallace]), and Mississippi did it four times – these three occasions plus 1960 (Byrd).  Alabama also awarded some electoral votes to Byrd, but I’ve put Alabama in the Democrat column in 1960.  23 states have never awarded any electoral votes to anyone but a Democrat or a Republican.

So which states have been the most loyally Republican?  16 states have voted Republican at least 2/3 of the time, and some of them would be the usual suspects: Alaska, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Ohio, Utah, and Wyoming.  Of course there are a few that might come as a shock, until you consider the early history of the party.  Among the other big Republican states are Iowa, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Vermont.  In fact, excluding Alaska, which voted Democrat once (1964) in the 13 elections since it first became a state, Vermont is the most Republican state in the history of the country.  It has voted Republican 32 out of 39 times, or 82 percent of the time.  Vermont did not vote for a Democratic nominee until New England’s own JFK in 1960.  That’s a full century of Republican support.  Maine voted Democrat only once prior to 1960, and that was for Wilson in 1912.  After Vermont, the other big Republican states are Kansas (30 of 37), Nebraska (29 of 36), and South Dakota (24 of 30, and only once – 1964 – since 1940).

Because Republicans have generally done better than Democrats in presidential elections, there are fewer loyal Democrat states.  The Democratic Party percentage is also somewhat affected by the fact that most of the third-party vote siphoned off Democratic voters.  Only 6 states have voted Democrat at least 65 percent of the time.  In ascending order they are: Texas (65%), North Carolina (66%), Georgia (68%), Kentucky (69%), Arkansas (71%), and Hawaii (85%).  Of course there’s also DC, which has cast its electoral votes to the Democratic nominee all 12 times since it first was awarded the vote.  Hawaii awarded its vote to the Republican in the two massive landslides since it became a state – 1972 and 1984. The highest percentage among non confederate or border confederate states is New Jersey, which has voted Democrat 54% of the time.  The only other majority Democrat state is New Mexico, which broke its tie this past Thursday.

As for the historical swing-states – those that have voted for each party at least 40 percent of the time – they would be Virginia, Missouri, West Virginia, New Jersey, New Mexico, Washington, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Minnesota, Nevada, and Connecticut.  It is perhaps telling that most of these states are now solid blue states.

Other than the New England and Southeastern state flip-flops, the rest of the country has remained fairly steady.  Perhaps the most glaring example of former solid Republican strongholds that have become Democrat strongholds are Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Minnesota voted straight Republican until FDR with one exception, when it voted for TR in 1912.  So, in essence, it voted continuously for the GOP for three-quarters of a century.  Since the New Deal it has gone Republican three times: twice for Ike and in Nixon’s route.  And of course it was the only state to vote for Mondale in 1984.  Wisconsin has been a little bit more varied, voting Dem a couple of times before the Depression, and for the GOP a little more frequently since.  But like Michigan and, to some extent Iowa, it is a former GOP stronghold that can just about be written off come election day.

Among the New England states, Massachusetts was the first to flip regularly.  It voted for Wilson in 1912, and was the only non-southern state to vote for Al Smith.  As for the old confederacy, Tennessee was the first to vote GOP after Reconstruction (1920), and it was joined by Kentucky, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and Texas in 1928.  Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, and Florida also showed love to Ike, and Virginia became the first of the old confederate states to be a fairly solid Republican stronghold.  Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina all went Republican for the first time post-Reconstruction in 1964, Louisiana did so in 1956.

I also took a look at “bellweather” states.  So which state has voted for the ultimate winner at a higher rate than any other?  Why of course it’s New Mexico – who didn’t know that?  New Mexico has participated in 25 presidential elections, and it voted for the losing candidate twice – Gore and Ford.  Ohio and Illinois, meanwhile, have the highest winning percentage among the states that have voted continuously since 1856: each have voted for the winner in 34 of the 39 presidential contests.  Ohio hasn’t voted for a loser since Nixon in 1960. Meanwhile, if the current vote totals hold, Missouri will have cast its vote for the losing candidate for the first time since 1956, which is the only presidential contest since 1900 in which it had done so.

All in all, seven states have voted for the winning candidate at least 80 percent of the time: New Mexico, Ohio, Illinois, Arizona, California, New Hampshire, and Montana.  As you can see, there’s really no correlation bewteen electoral vote amount and winning percentage.  Considering the fact that elections tend not to be all that close, it should not be all that surprising that states are more often than not part of the majority.  In fact there are 30 states in all that have at least a 70 percent winning percentage.  There are only eight states plus the District of Columbia that have voted for the losing candidate more than 40 percent of the time, and, unsurprisingly all come from the old Confederacy.  The District is the “losingest” “state,” but that simply reflects the fact that the Democrats have lost more presidential elections over the past four decades than they have won.  Only one state has a sub-.500 record in voting for the ultimate winner – Mississippi, which has pulled the lever for the losing candidate in 21 of the 37 elections it has participated in since 1856.  In fact, Mississippi didn’t even vote Republican during Reconstruction (it missed 1868), joined only by Texas and Kentucky in failing to do so.  Mississippi did not vote for a Republican until 1964, the longest holdout of any state in the two party system.  Alabama, meanwhile, is batting exactly .500, with Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, Virginia, and Texas comprising the rest of the sub-60 percent crowd.

When all is said and done, I’m not sure if there’s really any meaningful political significance to these numbers.  New England and the southeast are really the only two regions that have shown such distinctive patterns.  The central-midwest is no longer a Republican stronghold, but it has not quite gone the way of New England.  The west coast is probably the most similar to New England, though Washington and California were never quite as automatic for the GOP as were the New England states.  And once again Minnesota shows the starkest pattern: completely GOP before the New Deal, completely Democrat (except for three elections) post New Deal.

Ultimately, the most important thing to take from all this: win new Mexico.

Published in: on October 18, 2010 at 8:17 am  Comments Off on Fun with Presidential History  
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