Predicting Ohio in the General Election

Ohio is considered an important state in the general election. It's generally been a barometer of how the country will go.

A little history: No Republican has won the presidency that didn't take Ohio since Abe Lincoln in 1860. The only Democrats in the last century to win the presidency while losing Ohio were FDR and JFK.

Ohio favors Republicans, although Bill Clinton won the state both in 1992 and 1996. Al Gore and John Kerry both lost the state to George W. Bush.

Here's a map showing in red and blue how Ohio counties voted in past elections.

So how did Bill Clinton win Ohio? He went after the rural vote, not just the urban areas. [More...]

For the urban areas, here's what it likely takes to win Ohio:

In recent decades, a reliable rule-of-thumb for any Democratic presidential candidate to win Ohio requires winning Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) by at least 150,000 votes, breaking even in Franklin County (Columbus), and losing Hamilton County (Cincinnati) by no more than 60,000.

The 21 northeastern counties in Ohio comprise 40% of the vote. They tend towards Democrats. (There are three other major urban areas: Lucas (Toledo), Montgomery (Dayton), and Summit (Akron.)

For the rural areas, the Democratic candidate also needs to do well in the Appalachian area of Southeastern Ohio, with its 29 counties, where

.... voters, always angry about chronically high unemployment, are famous for turning out the party in power.

In 1992, Bill Clinton not only beat George H. Bush two to one in Northeastern Ohio, he won a total of 31 out of Ohio's 88 counties. The vote results by county are here (pdf.)He did even better against Bob Dole in 1996. (County vote results here (pdf.)

Bill Clinton won Ohio in 1992 and 1996 by achieving this formula. He won 31 counties in 1992 and defeated George H.W. Bush 2-to-1 in Democratic-dominated northeastern Ohio, whose 21 counties account for about 40 percent of the statewide vote. Clinton was able to minimize Bush’s winning percentage in rural and suburban counties, and in 1996 he improved upon this performance against Republican Bob Dole.

Gore and Kerry were not able to match Clinton's numbers in the rural areas. As to Kerry,

In 2004, Kerry shattered those benchmarks, but still lost to Bush. It can be argued that Kerry maximized the Democratic vote in the state; he won Ohio’s big six urban counties, which accounted for 42.7 percent of the statewide vote, by 14 percentage points, 57-43.

But Bush more than made up the difference in the growing suburban counties and rural counties. Bush not only equaled his 2000 performance by carrying 72 of 88 counties, he improved it by increasing his vote take in 78 counties. As Kerry was racking up big margins in the big six urban counties – which also include Lucas (Toledo), Montgomery (Dayton), and Summit (Akron) – Bush more than matched that performance by winning 57 percent of the total votes in the other 82 counties, which accounted for 57.5 percent of the Ohio vote.

So, what's the message here? Maybe that if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee, he is unlikely to win Ohio in November unless he can also carry the rural counties against John McCain. And if he doesn't win Ohio against John McCain, he's unlikely to win the Presidency.

< Open Thread | Latest McCain vs. Dems Poll >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    I highly doubt he would carry the rural areas (none / 0) (#1)
    by athyrio on Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 10:11:35 PM EST
    as that has proven to be his weakness, the "low information voter"....

    I think the opposite is true (none / 0) (#6)
    by NoVaDem on Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 11:15:43 PM EST
    While Obama's weakness is low information voters, I don't necessarily it will really hurt him in the general election. His ground operation and strategy are based around running up his margin where he is strong, but also organizing and working to keep down his margin of defeat where he isn't strong. Hillary on the other hand has gone more exclusively for a Kerryesque run up the score strategy.

    Also, Obama did well in rural areas in Nevada and has done spectacularly in overwhelmingly rural states like Kansas and Nebraska. (Yes, I know they were caucuses, but his organization there will remain for the general if he is the nominee.)

    Obviously who is best will depend on who wins on Tuesday. If Obama loses the rural vote big then maybe I'm wrong. But if he wins it his organization will remain in place and work on brining out soft democrats and democratic leaning voters that Kerry didn't even try to target.


    Look at Missouri (none / 0) (#7)
    by RalphB on Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 11:19:58 PM EST
    and you'll see the complete opposite.  Clinton took the whole state except for democratic strongholds in St Louis and Kansas City.

    Or Virginia. (none / 0) (#11)
    by liminal on Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 11:39:11 PM EST
    Mountain counties.  

    E and SE Ohio = Appalachian foothills.  The Clinton campaign has had multiple swings through the area to date, and Ted Strickland is from SE Ohio.  It's his base.  The only stop by the Obama campaign to date is an appearance by Michelle Obama in the college town Athens.


    Agreed (none / 0) (#21)
    by 1jane on Thu Feb 28, 2008 at 10:40:08 AM EST
    Clinton has to find her "mo" in the face of a national trend which is heavily trending toward Obama. The ground organization for Obama is always underestimated by Clinton supporters. Low information voters don't like voting for candidates that are percieved as inable to win.

    that's what I don't understand (none / 0) (#2)
    by NJDem on Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 10:21:44 PM EST
    about the whole NAFTA thing--BC won there twice.  I figure HRC can win--just say whatever he said.  

    But seriously, NAFTA was so long ago that it seems perfectly reasonable that even if you supported it at the time (which she didn't) that it's appropriate   to reform in in order to reflect the changing global economy.  

    I wonder what the job growth was in OH in the 90s?  They must have gotten some of those 22.7 million new jobs.  So did the negative effects start to occur under Bush?

    Since you asked (none / 0) (#3)
    by liminal on Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 10:31:28 PM EST
    about Ohio job growth in the 1990s, here's some information on it: here.

    As you can see, Ohio saw job growth in the 1990s, and GSP growth in the 1990s, though not at the same rate as the rest of the country.  While it is facile to blame NAFTA for manufacturing job losses, I think that that is a small part of the story.  It's an easy target, but not necessarily the right target.  


    Thanks liminal ! (none / 0) (#4)
    by NJDem on Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 11:01:56 PM EST

    lack of machines (none / 0) (#5)
    by popsnorkle on Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 11:12:52 PM EST
    My brother was in Ohio in 2004 and thinks the election was stolen by not having the voting machines needed in areas that went for Kerry.  Lines were so long that people who had to work couldn't vote.

    I saw hours long waits on TV (none / 0) (#9)
    by RalphB on Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 11:21:31 PM EST
    from Ohio.  Blackwell stole the election for Bush I believe.

    If Blackwell could've stolen (none / 0) (#12)
    by liminal on Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 11:40:31 PM EST
    - and election, I'm pretty confident he would've stolen it for himself.  The lines were everywhere; I'm sure that that had some impact, but remember that Ohio had an anti-gay-marriage initiative on  the ballot to get the wingnuts out to vote.  

    ouch, i forgot that (none / 0) (#13)
    by RalphB on Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 11:46:28 PM EST
    I remember -- many problems on campuses (none / 0) (#10)
    by Cream City on Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 11:26:19 PM EST
    -- interestingly enough, considering they are one candidate's focus this year. But there is a new secretary of state in Ohio now, and so all has been solved . . . so we (and relatives there) are told.

    no profanity here (none / 0) (#14)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Feb 28, 2008 at 12:51:43 AM EST
    please, just deleted a comment even though I agreed with the sentiment.

    if i understand this correctly, (none / 0) (#15)
    by cpinva on Thu Feb 28, 2008 at 01:16:59 AM EST
    For the rural areas, the Democratic candidate also needs to do well in the Appalachian area of Southeastern Ohio, with its 29 counties, where

    .... voters, always angry about chronically high unemployment, are famous for turning out the party in power.

    this group just pretty much hates everyone?

    since blackwell's no longer in charge, it will be interesting to compare this nov's overall results with those of 2000 & 2004.

    Gore (none / 0) (#16)
    by manish on Thu Feb 28, 2008 at 03:04:00 AM EST
    The only Democrats in the last century to win the presidency while losing Ohio were FDR and JFK.

    I don't want to bring up old wounds, but Gore did win the popular vote in 2000 and would likely have been President save for the butterfly ballot, all without winning Ohio.  Its clearly an important state, but it is possible to win without Ohio.

    hmm... (none / 0) (#20)
    by mindfulmission on Thu Feb 28, 2008 at 09:48:12 AM EST
    ... doesn't your example prove the point that Ohio is important?

    Gore won the popular vote, but lost Ohio and in turn lost the electoral vote.  

    If Gore would have won Ohio, he would have won the electoral vote and we may be trying to figure out how Joe Lierberman was going to beat George W. Bush in November.  


    Ohio was more red in the 90s than people realize (none / 0) (#18)
    by foist on Thu Feb 28, 2008 at 07:40:21 AM EST
    Let's not discount Perot when tallying Clinton's Ohio successes in '92 and '96.  Perot took 20-30% in every one of those rural counties in '92, and 10-15% in '96.  I'm not going to try to divine exactly how things would have gone were Perot not in the race, but if you look at what was happening in Ohio in other races we were basically bleeding Democratic officeholders the whole decade.  We went from Metzenbaum/Glenn to DeWine/Voinovich in the senate, and lost pretty much every elected statewide office to the Republicans.  House races are more mixed.  Things seem to be trending the other way in recent elections, partly because the Republicans made such a mess of things here.  But either way I don't see Clinton or Obama carrying the rural vote in Ohio.

    If those rural voters like "angry" (none / 0) (#19)
    by Cream City on Thu Feb 28, 2008 at 09:17:21 AM EST
    . . . they must have loved Perot.

    "rural voters" (none / 0) (#22)
    by diogenes on Thu Feb 28, 2008 at 03:04:19 PM EST
    Just because "low information" rural Democratic voters choose Hillary over Obama doesn't mean that they will choose McCain over Obama.
    Also, don't you think that turnout among blacks in Ohio will be a wee bit higher if Obama heads the ticket than if Hillary does?