ICYMI: Pennsylvania As GOP Keystone In 2016

Amy Walter
The Cook Political Report

With all the talk of the importance of the Latino vote to the future of the Republican party, it’s easy to ignore the fact that there are blue states outside of the Southwest that may be bigger and better targets for the GOP in 2016.

Pennsylvania represents the biggest promise — and biggest chunk of electoral votes–for Republicans in 2016. It has a Hispanic population of just under 6 percent and has been trending Republican since 1998. The only question now is whether Republicans can finally find the key to unlock the Keystone state.

My colleague David Wasserman has compiled state-by-state Partisan Voting Index data from 1994 to 2014. First introduced in 1997, and compiled especially for the Report by POLIDATA®, the Cook PVI measures how each district performs at the presidential level compared to the nation as a whole. For example, the state of Alabama has a PVI of R+13 which means when combining the results of 2008 and 2012, the state voted 13 points more Republican than the country as a whole.

Over the last 24 years (1988 to 2012), some important trends have emerged. First, even though more states have a Republican PVI than a Democratic PVI–27 to 23–Democrats have an Electoral College advantage. Add up all the Electoral votes for states that have a Democratic PVI and all those with Republican PVI and you get the Democrats at 272 electoral votes to 266 for Republicans. Just seven years ago, Republicans had a 281 to 257 advantage in the Electoral College. So, what happened? Two states–Nevada and Colorado–flipped from red to blue.

It’s understandable, then, that Republicans–and the media–are focused on how/if the GOP can get those fast-growing states back into their column. But, are they even gettable? Colorado, which has gotten 3 points more Democratic since 2006, is the most fragile of the two with a PVI of just under one point.

Nevada, however, has gotten almost six and a half points more Democratic since 1988, and 3 points more Democratic since 2006. Nevada has also seen the Hispanic population in the state jump from 20 percent to 27 percent from 2000 to 2010. If the population increases at this rate for the next ten years, Hispanics will make up 37 percent of the population by 2020.

By the numbers, the PVI numbers that is, Nevada’s D+2.07 PVI makes it more Democratic than Iowa (D+1.08), Minnesota (D+1.76), New Hampshire (D+1.02) and Pennsylvania (D+1.15).

In fact, if you look at the “Battleground States” of 2012 – Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Virginia–all but Iowa have gotten more Democratic since 1998.

The only blue states that have become less blue since 1998 are Iowa, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.

Of the three, Pennsylvania is the biggest prize with 20 Electoral Votes.

The last time a Republican won the state was in 1988 when George H.W. Bush managed to eke out 50 percent of the vote in the Philadelphia market, and carried the rest of the state with 52 percent of the vote. Since then, however, Republicans have failed miserably in Philadelphia–which makes up 40-42 percent of the vote–and haven’t run up the score enough in the rest of the state to make up the difference.

In 2012, Obama carried the Philadelphia area by 63 percent, while Romney won the rest of the state by 55 percent. If Romney had gotten just 45 percent of the vote in Philadelphia–and still carried the rest of the state by 55 percent — he would have won the state. In other words, if a Republican could lose Philadelphia by the same percentage they win the rest of the state, they could turn the state red.

The Romney campaign spent $8.9M on broadcast TV in Nevada during the general election to get 46 percent of the vote. In Pennsylvania, the Romney campaign spent a paltry $2.4M and got 47 percent. In other words, Team Romney spent four times as much in Nevada as they did in Pennsylvania, to get essentially the same percentage of the vote. Now, imagine that the money invested in Pennsylvania came earlier–and more intensely.

When flipping through the list of potential 2016ers, which candidate looks the best-positioned to break-through in Philly? Perhaps a certain Republican Governor just across the Delaware river. The most recent Quinnipiac poll found GOP Gov. Chris Christie getting 59 percent of the vote in the part of New Jersey covered by the Philadelphia media market.

This isn’t to say that Christie is the only candidate to be able to outperform recent GOP vote in Philadelphia, but he would start with a decided advantage.

Of course, this doesn’t mean Republicans can ignore important demographic trends and simply write-off minority voters or parts of the west and southwest. What it does suggest is that Republicans spend more time–and money–in the Philadelphia suburbs and less on Las Vegas TV.

(Walter, Amy. Pennsylvania As GOP Keystone In 2016. The Cook Political Report. May 8, 2013.)