The 51 State Bios, in order of 2008 partisan rankings
In November 2007, I wrote very rudimentary political "bios" of each of the 50 states plus DC, as a preface to the 2008 presidential election. The bios were published in the order of the 2004 partisan rankings, starting with the most conservative state and ending with the most liberal state, based on each state's performance - by margin - in the 2004 GE. Since George W. Bush (R) won re-election, the rankings went in conservative order. Here is an example: MONTANA.
ISince Barack Obama (D) won the election in 2008, the partisan rankings have now been re-ordered from the most liberal state to the most conservative state, based on exactly the same criteria: each state's performance - by margin - in the most current general election.
From November 2011 through January 2012, I completely revamped and enhanced these bios to include a wealth of information. This has been a major labor of love, one that has been very fullfilling for me.
The new state "bios" are at my blog at blogspot.com, but they are also "nested" in a subsection of the "Library" at Political Hotwire called "Electoral Statistics". Since "Political Hotwire" (PH, for short) is not a blog per se, but rather, a conglomerate of threads, then each bio is a thread and the information is spread out over 4-5 postings at the beginning of each thread.
At the end of this primer: a table with the hyperlinks to each bio thread at Political Hotwire.
A criticism came in as I was publishing the bios - that there was simply too much information, which I took as a good sign, for my point was to provide as much helpful information as possible and leave it up to the reader to decide what he or she wants to read or ignore.
This short primer is here to assist you in lnavigating these bios so that you get the most out of them. Once you get the hang of it, reading these bios can be great fun!
So, here we go:
First, each bio has the state's name and a map of that state as the title. The color of the state-map (red or blue) is based solely on that state's performance in the 2008 GE and is in no way a prediction of it's performance in 2012.
Immediately after the title, there is a table of the results of the last six presidential cycles. In some cases, the table is extended to ten cycles.
Here is an example from the state of MAINE:
First, many things are color-coded:
red = Republican
green = Independent
blue = Democratic.
This system is used throughout all the bios, especially for percentages. All percentages are to the 1/100th of a percentage point. This will make a lot of sense once you have seen the bios for KANSAS and NEBRASKA.
The first column (Year) is self-explanatory.
The second column (Rank) displays both the liberal and the conservative ranking. Every "state" (including DC) has a double ranking. So, we can see from 2008 that Maine was the 12th most liberal state and at the same time, the 40th most conservative state. The value that is bolded indicates which party won that state. So, a quick look at the rankings shows that this state went for the Democratic party for 5 cycles in a row.
Note: because of DC, there are 51 "states" in the rankings, not 50.
The third column, the "Winning %", is not the deciding factor in the partisan rankings; that honor goes to the percentage margin. But it is indeed helpful to have the winning percentage in such a table to see at a glance if that state is a predominantly majority-win state, or perhaps a minority-win state. From the table, we can see that for 5 of the last 6 cycles, Maine was a majority-win state.
The fourth column is the critical one, for a lot of ensuing data will be based upon it: the Winning Percentage Margin. Margins and TREND values are listed with + (and in come cases, with -) signs. This is the value that decides the order of the partisan rankings. Since Maine is currently number 12 in the rankings, this automatically means that President Obama won 11 other states with a margin higher than +17.32%, his winning margin from Maine. In 1988, George H.W. Bush, Sr. (R) won Maine with +11.45% margin and it was his 26th most conservative state. This means that 26 other states were won by him with a margin larger than +11.45%.
Mentally SKIP column five (Partisan Value) for a second. Go to column six ("Swing"). The swing is the margin from one cycle minus the margin from the previous cycle. The swing for Maine in 2008 was +8.32%, which you can then see easily: take the +17.32% from the margin column and subtract the number directly below it (margin from 2004), and you end up with this number. If your margin in one cycle is larger than the previous cycle, then your "swing" will be a postive value. If your margin in one cycle is SMALLER than the previous cycle, then logically your swing will be a negative value. The "swing" therefore tells us in which direction the electorate "swung" to more over the previous cycle.
Column seven is the national swing. This column will be identical for every state. What I did here was simply not insert a column for the national margin, upon which the national swing is based. You can just trust that I did my math correctly (I did).
Now, here is where things get interesting: the difference between a state's "swing" and the national "swing" in an election is called the TREND, which is the last column. The TREND value is important in predicting the stability of a state. The lower the TREND number, then the closer that state performed in relation to the national swing. You can say that by a low TREND number, the state "hugged" the national swing.
A high TREND number, on the other hand, indicates that this state is most likely very removed from being a bellwether and can be volatile. The TREND value is always positive and therefore in the color of the party for which it is positive. It is not a predictor of future performance: in Idaho, the trend from 2008 is actually a Democratic trend value, but the state is a landslide Republican state and will stay so. A lean TREND Value for the other team in a state where your team usually wins 60-40 is like a drop in the bucket.
Where the TREND value especially comes in handy is if it is the same color over many cycles, which usually indicates either superiority for one party in that state - or a state in ideological shift toward the opposition party. In the case of Maine, the TREND value for 2008 is a Republican one: Obama's statewide swing in Maine was +8.32%, but his national swing was +9.72%. This means that while 8.32% of the electorate in Maine switched sides over 2004 toward the Democratic Pary, on the national level, almost 10% did the same, which means that Maine was behind the national swing, making for a +1.40 TREND value for the GOP in spite of a Democratic landslide in that state. But when you look at all six cycles, you see four Democratic trends, three of them quite large, and two republican Trends, one large and one small. On the balance, Maine has trended strongly Democratic over time since 1988.
Now go back to column five: Partisan Value. Just as the TREND is a measurement of the state swing over the national swing, the Partisan Value is a measurement of just that year, of the state margin over the national margin. Obama won nationally in 2008 by +7.26%. His margin in Maine in 2008 was +17.32%. 17.32 - 7.26 = 10.06%. This means that Obama did 10.06% better in margin in Maine than he did nationally. A Partisan Value that is very high indicates that that state was a driving force in generating the national margin. Every candidate in every election will win states that are above his national average and some that are below his national average.
How important are these numbers?
Well, it depends on how you look at it, but if for six cycles you see a "sea" of just one color, then it is obvious that that state is a core state for it's respective party. A state that is a regular pick-up state, like Ohio or Florida, will have a mix of colors and certainly a number of negative values, as those states tend to go with the winner under his national margin.
Ohio is a good example of this, and you can use Ohio's 6-cycle table to practice some observational skills:
So, a quick look tells me that:
-Ohio is 3 for 3 in the last 6 cycles: 3 times for the GOP, 3 times for the Democratic Party.
-It is also 3 for 3 in majority vs. minority wins - and - two of the majority wins are bare-majority wins.
-In four of six cycles, the Partisan Value (statewide margin minus the national margin) is a NEGATIVE value, which means that for the last 20 years, Ohio has generally gone for a candidate under his national margin.
-Take a look at the margins themselves: from 1992 on, they are all single digit margins. This is a sign that points to: BATTLEGROUND STATE.
-The swings in this state are very inconsistent, yet another sign of a battleground state, and since it tends to go for the winner under the national margin more often than not, then the TREND is also a negative value for the winning team: For Obama, the TREND is a Republican trend. For Bush in '04, the TREND is a Democratic trend. Clinton had a huge Ohio swing in 1992, but nonetheless, it was still slightly less than his national swing, and therefore the TREND is actually a Republican trend in 1992!
So, lots of mixed colors and negative values by Partisan Value and Swing indicate competitive status in a state.
Ohio is also a good place to remember that when calculating swing, remember that a postive value for one team is automatically a NEGATIVE value for the other. And remember that "swing" is the margin from one cycle minus the margin from the other. So, why is the "swing" in 2008 +6.69% for the Democratic party for Ohio? One would think that +4.58% minus +2.11% would equal +2.47%, but those values are not from the same party. A +2.11% margin for Bush in 2004 equals a -2.11% margin for Kerry in that year, so the Ohio swing 2008 would look like this in longhand:
4.58 - (-2.11) = 4.58 + 2.11 = 6.69
So, when you see two opposing colors for a swing calculation, instead of subtracting, you add. This is why using a color scheme is so incredibly helpful!
Don't worry, as of here on out, the primer goes fast. As a matter of fact, the bulk of information about a state can really be gleaned from the 6-cycle table, once your eyes get used to the configuration.
Underneath the table is the 6-year margin average, based on the margins you see in the fourth column.
Based on the landslide or non-landslide nature of the win and the trend values, then a general trend for the state will be given: Democratic, Strong Democratic, Republican, Strong Republican, or steady. A state that may have just been a pick-up for the other side, for instance, Indiana in 2008, is not necessarily a Democratic trending state. It "swung" Democratic for one cycle, but in the context of the last six cycles, Indiana is still a GOP state.
I then took the partisan rankings for every state all the way back to 1964 and put them in an excel table. For each state, I then provide a cutaway of that state (usually highlighted in yellow to set it off), so that you can see the visual placement of each state over a 44 year time period. Since political hotwire only allows 50,000 characters per posting and an excel table chews up just thousands of extra characters behind the code, I have often put this table all by itself in the second posting.
Next comes a table of handy links for information.
Here, for example, is the links table for UTAH:
Helpful Info Links
UT electoral raw data (presidential)
county-by-county EXCEL spreadsheet
Census Profile map
election results and VR stats
persons per sq. Km.
persons per EV.
New State Partisan Ranking Bios – based on 2008, looking toward 2012.