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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Red, the Blue and the Purple

Yesterday, I mentioned the Gallup finding that Kerry is doing even better in “purple”, swing states (the margin of victory for Gore or Bush was less than 5 points) than in “blue” states (Gore’s margin of victory was more than 5 points). I got curious about how Kerry’s current performance compared to the actual vote in 2000, using the red, blue and purple categories defined by Gallup. Here’s what I found.
In 2000, Gore lost the Gallup red states by 57-41, carried the Gallup blue states by 55-40 and the purple states (Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin) were a dead heat, at 48-48. Today, the Gallup data (using likely voters and throwing in Nader to make the comparison more exact) show Kerry also losing in the red states, though by less (51-45), running about the same as Gore in the blue states (55-42) and running way ahead of Gore in the purple states (52-39).
What this means is that Kerry’s overall lead in the Gallup poll is in no way traceable to running up the vote in the blue states; he’s simply holding the Gore lead in those states. Instead, Kerry’s lead over Bush is driven by exactly what you’d want it driven by: strongly improved performance, relative to Gore, in swing states and whittling down Bush’s lead in the red states.
In light of this analysis, it’s interesting to look at a Barron’s analysis by John Zogby of state-by-state polling (both his own and others) that shows Kerry holding 85 percent of the blue state (defined here in the traditional way as states Gore carried, no matter how small the margin) electoral votes plus New Hampshire, Bush holding only 63 percent of the red state electoral votes and 136 electoral votes “in play”. The in play electoral votes, in Zogby’s analysis, are distributed over 12 states (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin), 8 of which were carried by Bush in 2000 and only 4 by Gore, meaning the Republicans have much more turf to defend than the Democrats.
The beauty part, of course, is that turf may be very difficult to defend if the Gallup purple state calculations are any indication of how voters in this very similar group of “in play” swing states are leaning. It’s a long way to November, I’ll grant you, but you’ve got to be happy with how this election campaign is starting out.

7 comments on “The Red, the Blue and the Purple

  1. Sara on

    Minnesota will be close, but it is not “in play” in the usual sense. Polls are snapshots of a particular moment in time, and unless you know how to contextualize them — meaning you know something of the details of relevant political history at the local level — they have their limitations. MN is a good example of this.
    I would really discount anything about 2002 results in Minnesota — remember, less than two weeks before the election, Paul Wellstone — our ticket topper was killed in a plane crash, and then followed the Republican induced flap over his memorial. The whole GOTV thing fell apart — it had been part of Wellstone’s campaign, and election law blocked all his funds. Turn out in key areas went south without it. Add to this the Independence Party (Jesse Ventura) which had recruited a former 5 term DFL member of congress, Tim Penny — to run for Governor.
    In 2000 the Green were making their effort to get at least 5% of the vote so as to become an official party with automatic ballot access, and access to public funding for legislative and state candidates. This was their rational for support, and they did achieve that. They lost it in 2002.
    The most recent poll in Minnesota gives Kerry a two point lead over Bush with about 8% undecided. The DFL has to work at it, without question, but assuming they have their act together this time (no statewide offices — no senate campaign) they clearly can deliver for Kerry. The caucus delivered well for Kerry, and everyone is pretty easy with that, even though much of the activist former Wellstone clan had worked hard for Dean.
    I suspect every state needs to be characterized in these local dynamic terms, and without it, races can be misunderstood.

  2. Marcos on

    Well, I would put TN in red, WA and PA in blue though. I’m also not at all convinced MN is in play, hasn’t it voted Dem in like 5 straight presidential elections? Oregon also seems to have gone Dem 3 straight times, maybe I’m wrong. I would say Arizona, CO, FL, MO, NV, OH, WV, and WI are in play, but I think WV and WI lean our way.
    I think it all comes down to if Kerry wins 1 of the following 3 – Ohio, Missouri, or Florida – any of those and he’s in. I’m an optimist; I see him winning FL and Ohio. But things could change.
    Bush is in such bad shape for March, I’m pretty sure the elder Bush didn’t trail in ’88 until after the Dem. convention – and he wasn’t an incumbent.. I’m surprised all these pundits on the air act like he’s such a strong incumbent. I think he’s a very weak one. It it weren’t for his “war on terror” approval numbers, there’d be nothing propping Bush up.


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