As Utah Goes, So Goes Idaho

When I wrote a post last week identifying Iowa as the new bellwether state in presidential voting, a commenter asked what the worst bellwether state ...
by | November 25, 2008
 

When I wrote a post last week identifying Iowa as the new bellwether state in presidential voting, a commenter asked what the worst bellwether state might be. Since it's an interesting question -- and since this commenter happened to be my grandfather -- I decided to take a crack at it.

I've identified the five most un-bellwether states for each of the past six presidential elections. To do that, I did the same thing I did in the other post: find the difference between the national popular vote margin and the margin in each state. So, for example, if Barack Obama won the national popular vote by 6.87 percentage points, but lost Wyoming by 32.24 percentage points, than I'd list Wyoming as 39.11 because 6.87 + 32.24 = 39.11.

Surprisingly, Iowa, which I identified as the best bellwether based on its performance the past five elections, was the fifth furthest off in 1988. Iowa had a serious case of Dukakis fever.

My analysis of which state is the worst bellwether is below. First, though, here are the numbers.

1988

1) Utah 34.17%

2) Rhode Island 19.44%

3) New Hampshire 18.43%

4) Idaho 18.34%

5) Iowa 17.95%

1992

1) Nebraska 22.74%

2) Idaho 19.17%

3) North Dakota 17.59%

4) Utah 16.03%

5) Alaska 14.73%

1996

1) Nebraska 27.22%

2) Idaho 27.06%

3) Kansas 26.73%

4) Alaska 26.05%

5) Utah 21.07%

2000

1) Utah 41.01%

2) Wyoming 40.58%

3) Idaho 40.05%

4) Alaska 31.47%

5) Nebraska 29.51%

2004

1) Utah 43.08%

2) Wyoming 37.33%

3) Idaho 35.66%

4) Nebraska 30.76%

5) Oklahoma 28.68%

2008

1) Wyoming 39.11%

2) Hawaii 38.39%

3) Oklahoma 38.16%

4) Utah 35.59%

5) Idaho 32.21%

The only two states that show up on every year's list are Utah and Idaho. However, Utah gets my nod as the ultimate anti-bellwether, since it has occupied the top spot three times, including 2000 and 2004. That said, Wyoming, with finishes of second, second and (preliminarily) first the last three elections, may soon be challenging for the crown.

One trend: In the past three elections, only one state carried by a Democrat makes the list. That would Obama's birth state of Hawaii, this year. That means that the most Republican states are more Republican in their presidential voting than the most Democratic states are Democratic.

I've tended to think that in recent years the Electoral College has given a slight structural advantage to Republicans. The Electoral College gives small states more weight than is proportionate to their population. There are more small states that favor Republicans than Democrats. Case closed, right?

But, these numbers suggest that my line of thinking is overly simplistic. In the Electoral College, there's no advantage to completely dominating a state, as opposed to winning it narrowly. Republicans are, in some sense, "wasting" votes in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Oklahoma, etc., which could be put to much better use in Virginia, Colorado and other swing states.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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