Ohio’s vote for the winning presidential candidate has deviated from the national vote an average of 2.2 points since 1900, just 1.3 points since 1964, and 1.2 points since 1980
Virginia, meanwhile, served up the closest race in 2012.
And North Carolina and Nevada will continue to draw increased attention as demographic changes drive competitiveness in those states.
But there is one state that has consistently mimicked the pulse of the national electorate more than any other during the 20th and 21st Centuries – Ohio.
It is, of course, no secret that Ohio is one of a handful of battleground states that will likely determine which party wins the White House next year.
And even though Election Day is 17 months away with perhaps at least a year before both nominees will be determined, in the end, the Buckeye State is the best bet to gauge the outcome of the national presidential popular vote.
Smart Politics examined over 1,400 data points across the last 29 presidential elections since 1900 and found that Ohio’s vote for the winning presidential candidate has deviated a nation low average of 2.2 points from the national vote, an average of just 1.3 points since 1964, and 1.2 points since 1980.
To be sure, Ohio has been the most accurate political thermometer across the 50 states when used to take the temperature of the national electorate over the decades.
During the 112 years of presidential elections since the turn of the 20th Century through 2012, the Buckeye State’s vote for the winning candidate has deviated less than four points from the national popular vote in an astounding 26 of 29 cycles and by less than two points in 17 of these.
For example, in 2012, Barack Obama received 50.6 percent of the vote in Ohio, or 0.4 points shy of his 51.0 percent nationwide.
Since 1964, Ohio has been particularly in sync with the national electorate, not only for being the only state to back the winning candidate in every cycle during this 13-cycle span but also voting for the winning nominee within an average of just 1.3 points of the national vote:
● 1964, Lyndon Johnson: 62.9 percent in Ohio (+1.8 points from Johnson’s nationwide percentage)
● 1968, Richard Nixon: 45.2 percent (+1.8 points)
● 1972, Richard Nixon: 59.6 percent (-1.1 points)
● 1976, Jimmy Carter: 48.9 percent (-1.2 points)
● 1980, Ronald Reagan: 51.5 percent (+0.7 points)
● 1984, Ronald Reagan: 58.9 percent (+0.1 points)
● 1988, George H.W. Bush: 55.0 percent (+1.6 points)
● 1992, Bill Clinton: 40.2 percent (-2.8 points)
● 1996, Bill Clinton: 47.4 percent (-1.8 points)
● 2000, George W. Bush: 50.0 percent (+2.1 points)
● 2004, George W. Bush: 51.4 percent (+1.5 points)
● 2008, Barack Obama: 51.4 percent (-1.5 points)
● 2012, Barack Obama: 50.6 percent (-0.4 points)
The 50-state average deviation from the presidential vote across these 13 cycles has been more than five times that of Ohio – 6.9 points.
Since 1964, the vote for the winning presidential candidate in Pennsylvania has been second closest to the national vote at 1.9 points followed by Missouri and New Mexico (2.2 points), Michigan (2.6 points), Iowa and Wisconsin (2.7 points), Washington (2.9 points), Colorado (3.0 points), and Delaware (3.3 points).
Even in more recent election cycles Ohio still leads the way.
Since the Reagan Revolution in 1980, Ohio has deviated by just 1.2 points from the winning candidate’s national vote.
New Mexico is next at 1.8 points followed by Michigan and Pennsylvania (2.0 points), Iowa (2.2 points), Missouri and Colorado (2.4 points), Wisconsin (2.5 points), Virginia (2.9 points), and Oregon (3.0 points).
Ohio’s consistency in echoing the electorate’s preferences across the decades has been quite remarkable at just 2.2 points across the 29 cycles since 1900.
New Mexico is a close second at 2.3 points (in its 26 presidential elections since 1912) followed by Delaware (3.2), Missouri (3.3), Illinois (3.4), California, New Jersey, and Oregon (3.6), Colorado (3.7) and Washington (3.9).
Since 1900, the statewide average deviation from the victorious candidate’s vote has been nearly four times that of Ohio at 8.4 points.
Mostly Southern states populate the other end of the spectrum – not surprising given the region’s near uniform vote for Democratic candidates even in the face of changing national political winds for several decades during the period under analysis.
Mississippi owns the greatest spread vis-à-vis the nationwide vote since 1900 at 26.5 points followed by South Carolina (24.7), Alabama (20.0), Georgia (18.2), Louisiana (18.1), Texas (14.5), Arkansas (12.6), Vermont (11.9), Florida (11.3), and Utah (10.3).
However, only three of these states – Alabama, Mississippi, and Utah – have also skewed furthest from the national vote since the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964: Utah (16.3 points), Idaho (13.9), Alabama (13.3), Wyoming (12.4), Nebraska (12.4), Mississippi (11.5), Rhode Island (10.7), Massachusetts (10.5), Oklahoma (10.0), and Kansas (8.9).
Since 1980, western and plains states dominate the bottom of the list: Utah (18.8 points), Idaho (15.6), Wyoming (14.8), Nebraska (12.8), Oklahoma (11.7), Rhode Island (10.5), Alaska (10.3), Massachusetts (9.9), North Dakota (9.7), and Hawaii (9.7).
Overall, Ohio’s vote for the winning nominee has deviated from the national vote by less than a single point in eight of the 29 cycles since the 20th Century: in 1900 (0.7 points), 1908 (0.6), 1912 (0.8), 1948 (0.1), 1980 (0.7), 1984 (0.1), 2004 (0.1), and 2012 (0.4).
Only one state fares better than Ohio by this measure with New Mexico doing so in 11 of 26 cycles: in 1912 (0.4 points), 1928 (0.8), 1944 (0.1), 1952 (0.2), 1956 (0.4), 1960 (0.4), 1972 (0.3), 1984 (0.9), 1996 (0.0), 2000 (0.0), and 2004 (0.9). However, support for the winning nominee in New Mexico has deviated by four or more points from the national vote in seven cycles and thus has an overall larger average deviation than Ohio.
The only three cycles since 1900 in which Ohio’s vote was not within four points of the national vote for the winning candidate came in 1924 (with a 4.3-point difference), 1928 (6.7 points), and 1932 (7.5 points).
Iowa’s vote for the winning presidential candidate has been within less than a point in seven cycles since 1900 with Delaware doing so in six, and Colorado, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Washington in five.
New Mexico also has a nation best four cycles since 1900 in which its vote for president was the closest to the nationwide vote: in 1944, 1972, 1996, and 2000.
Ohio (1948, 1984, 2004), Delaware (1908, 1940, 1964), and Virginia (1968, 2008, 2012) achieved this distinction three times each, with California and Missouri doing so two times, and Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington doing so once.
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