Is Ohio's Long Run As The Presidential Election Bellwether State Over?

Nov 20, 2016

For a period of time even longer than the Chicago Cubs' 108-year drought between World Series championships, Ohio has been the bellwether of this country's presidential politics.

When Ohio went for Donald Trump on Nov. 8 it marked the 29th time in the past 31 presidential elections that Ohio went with the winner, a record unmatched by any other state in that period of time.

That's the mark of a bellwether state.

But it's not the only mark.

The other condition requires that the state's vote total is close to the national average, which is something Ohio has done over and over again for many decades.

But not this time.

Trump won Ohio with 52 percent of the unofficial election night vote count, while Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by well over one million votes – the exact numbers are not yet known.

Clearly, Ohio was not a bellwether on that score.

Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics and managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, a much-watched newsletter on national politics, is a native of the Buckeye State. Earlier this year, he published a book called The Bellwether: Why Ohio Picks the President.

The book detailed many of the social, historical, demographic and ideological reasons why Ohio has had bellwether status for such a long period of time.

Thursday, Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics, authored an edition of the Crystal Ball with Kondik and their colleague, Geoffrey Skelley, called 16 for '16: Bite-sized Observations on a wild election.

Kondik wrote the section on Ohio and said the results from this election show that "Ohio may be trending Republican and away from being the nation's top bellwether."

He wrote, as he did before the election that if the changes to the political landscape in Ohio have staying power, "Ohio may be the new Missouri: a long-standing bellwether state that in recent years has clearly trended Republican."

Kondik told WVXU that it is too early to tell whether or not Trump has changed politics in Ohio – and the nation as a whole - for the long haul.

"Will this change be durable?,'' Kondik told us. "Hard to say at this point.

"We know that there was a significant portion of the electorate who had an unfavorable view of Trump but they voted for him anyway,'' Kondik said. "If he doesn't follow through on the promises he made in the campaign, those voters may be willing to flip in the next election."

Then, too, there is the long-standing phenomenon of the president's political party taking hits in the mid-term elections. That could have ramifications in Ohio in 2018, Kondik said.

"It could be good news for (Senator) Sherrod Brown and the Democratic statewide candidates running in 2018,'' he said.

Mike Dawson, a veteran of decades in politics, is the creator of ohioelectionresults.com, an extraordinary compilation of Ohio election statistics dating back to 1855 that has become a must-go-to source for historians, political scientists and political professionals.

He, too, wonders if Ohio's days as a presidential bellwether state are numbered.

"Will it swing back in the next presidential election?," Dawson told WVXU. "That depends on Donald Trump."

Last Thursday, Dawson published an op-ed column in the Columbus Dispatch on Ohio's shaky bellwether status; and he laid out some numbers he had culled from the exit polling done in Ohio by major media organizations.

There were some astonishing numbers therein:

-  Hillary Clinton won women voters by 12 percentage points nationally, but only by four percentage points in Ohio.

-  Trump carried male voters by 12 percent nationally but by 21 percentage points in Ohio.

-  Trump won 66 percent of the vote in one of the most economically distressed areas of the state, southeast Ohio.

"It's easy to look at the counties in southeast Ohio and see that Trump did very well in those areas with serious economic problems,'' Dawson told WVXU. "But in the urban areas of the state, you have to drill down to specific neighborhoods and suburbs when the economy is struggling and when you do, you find the same thing. They voted for Trump in big numbers."

Two more things that Dawson found in the exit polling that will likely blow the minds of Ohio Democrats:

-  Nationally, Trump lost union households by eight percentage points. But, in Ohio, he won among voters from union households by a whopping 12 percentage points. This is just counter-intuitive to everything we have ever known about politics in Ohio.

-  Get a load of this: The national exit polls show that Clinton won white college-educated woman 51 percent to 45 percent. Not a massive margin, but significant. But, in Ohio, Trump won white college-educated woman, 55 percent to 41 percent.

"The union household numbers are astonishing, but the numbers on college-educated white women is just inexplicable,'' Dawson told WVXU.

There is no question about it – Trump turned all the assumptions about Ohio politics upside down on Nov. 8.  Whether or  not is a permanent change depends on Trump.

"These people believe in Donald Trump and they are going to expect him to deliver on what he promised,'' Dawson said.

If Trump has re-written the rules of Ohio politics in indelible ink, then Ohio's long run as the bellwether of the nation could be gone for good.