Nov 15, 2018

A presidential map for the 21st century

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Note: Nebraska and Maine split their electoral college votes according to statewide popular vote and the vote within each congressional district; Data: Doug Sosnik; Chart: Axios Visuals

To win re-election, President Trump must wage a two-front war: Not only does he have to defend Democratic-leaning Midwest states that sealed his victory in 2016, but he now needs to defend against clear Republican erosion in the South and Southwest.

What they're saying: "Changing demographics and Trump have blown up the electoral map that has dominated American politics since 1992," said Doug Sosnik, a White House adviser to President Bill Clinton who is one of the best trend detectors in U.S. politics.

  • Why it matters: Sosnik projects that there could be more tossup states in the South and Southwest than in the Midwest — with almost twice the number of electoral votes at stake.

The Sosnik map above is congruent with the point Jim VandeHei and I made in the lead of Axios AM a few days ago: The midterms showed "that without Hillary atop the ticket, Midwest states like Wisconsin are tough for Trump, and Southern states with rising Hispanic populations are slowly growing more Democratic."

  • Sosnik adds this caution, based on 2016: "The president's voters don't always admit to pollsters that they like him. And he ran better in tossup states than his national average."

I asked Doug, who started in Democratic politics in Michigan in 1982, to parse the implications of his analysis for each side.

Encouraging points for Republicans:

  • "Due to Obama's neglect of the Democratic Party, this has been a lost decade for the Dems. Our entire farm system was wiped out. We now have a field of candidates that are either in their 70's (Biden, Kerry, Warren, Sanders, etc.), or a bunch of early 40s, largely untested candidates."
  • "Despite the heavy [midterm] losses, Trump did, in fact, turn out his voters when he was not on the ballot — which is not something that Obama could ever do."

Downsides for Republicans:

  • "They are on the wrong side of history [and demographics] with a white male strategy."
  • "Mueller/Southern District [of New York]/congressional investigations:  What people miss is how disabling these investigations are for the president, as well as the White House staff. (Take it from me: I had six years of investigations while in the Clinton White House)."

Bullish signs for Dems:

  • "The bigger the turnout, the worse it is for Trump. While his efforts to turn out his base worked, it also was magic for the Dems. And they have a much bigger pool to draw from than Trump."
  • "The Midwestern states that Trump carried never really liked him. His polling has sucked there since he took office."
  • "The Democrats' increasing strength in suburban areas will enable the party to not only be more competitive in the Midwest, but also expand the map into the South and Southwest."

Bearish signs for Dems:

  • "There is no obvious candidate or even close to an obvious candidate. That's a huge problem."
  • "It will not, even under the best of circumstances, be easy to take on candidate Trump. He relishes the fights."
  • "The Democrats cannot, under any circumstances, allow the anti-Trump vote to splinter, which could enable Trump to get re-elected despite a majority of Americans opposing his presidency."

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