© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

Competitive States Likely Lacking In 2016 Presidential General Election


With the presidential primary campaign heating up, the Republican field has become “anybody’s game.” It’s still fairly quiet on the Democratic side, with the possibility of a Clinton coronation still looming.

But the likelihood that the general election will be a similar cakewalk for Hillary Clinton isn’t borne out from the fact that most of the states, and thus the Electoral College votes, are already baked in for one side over the other.

Recently, Bill Clinton wondered aloud if even he could win back his former home state of Arkansas, a state that the GOP swept in 2014.

In 2014, Republican Arkansas Congressman Tom Cotton trounced moderate Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor, Arkansas, the son of former popular U.S. senator and Governor David Pryor. The thrashing was just another signal that Arkansas, like many other states, has moved so far out of any level of competitiveness that one would have to wonder, why would Hillary (or for that fact, Bill) Clinton think they could win their former home state?

In his two presidential races, Bill Clinton did claim a sizable margin of victory in Arkansas, but notably only won with 53 percent of the vote both times. Ross Perot had a significant drain on the GOP presidential tickets of George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole.

Clinton’s vice president, Al Gore, couldn’t replicate his boss’ performance in the hotly contested election of 2000. George W. Bush made Arkansas four points more Republican than his national performance, winning 51 percent in the state compared to 47 percent across the country.

And the GOP conquest has been even more significant in the last three presidential elections, with Republican presidential candidates performing 14 points better than their national performance in 2008 and 2012.

In 2012, Arkansas was the 7th-most Republican electoral state, with a gap of 24 points between Romney and Obama. 

Even with his Southern charm, Bill Clinton’s appeal probably would not cut that gap much further.

And this is the case among most of the states in presidential elections. The competitiveness has all but evaporated.

If one measures competitiveness as being within the range of 45 to 55 percent (a common measure by political scientists), only four states were within that band in 2014: Virginia (4 point difference), Ohio (3 points), Florida (0.88), and North Carolina (2 points).

What this ultimately means is that 52 electoral areas (states and congressional districts in Nebraska and Maine) saw the winner secure those electoral votes with more than 5 percent points difference in the margin of victory.

From the extremes of the District of Columbia’s 83 percent difference in favor of Obama to Utah’s 48 percent victory for Romney, the likelihood that any Clinton could secure, say, Oklahoma’s electoral votes (that saw a 33 point margin of victory for Romney) would be ridiculous, no matter the Southern charm that could be dispensed.

If you took only those states with at least a 10-point margin of victory in 2012 (the most likely of states to stay in either the Republican or Democratic columns in 2016), Democrats start with an electoral base of 190 votes (70 percent of the 270 needed) to 153 (56 percent) for the GOP.

So while we’re all gearing up for 2016 to be another bloody presidential battle, the likelihood is that very few states will see that battle up close and personal.