The 2016 election could come down to just seven swing states, or virtually the same Electoral College map from the last presidential election, says analyst Larry Sabato, but that doesn't mean the Democratic Party already has a clear advantage going into the race.
"The past is often not a good guide to the future," said Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, in a column written for Politico
along with Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley, the managing editor and associate editor for Sabato's Crystal Ball.
"With regularity in modern history, the Electoral College's alleged lock for one party has been picked by the other party, usually at eight-year intervals."
The seven "super-swingy" states are Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia, all of which backed Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama two times each, and Iowa and New Hampshire, which voted Democratic in three out of the last four elections.
The nation's number of swing states has shrunk through the years. In the 2000 election, 12 states were decided by five points or fewer, and that number shrunk to four states in 2012.
But while on paper, it appears that Democrats could have the advantage again in 2016, a great deal of factors could change, meaning states that appear to be "solidly in one party's column can switch in any given year because of either long-term or short-term concerns.
"Other states that merely lean to one party require less of a push to change allegiances," Sabato says. "North Carolina tilts to the GOP and Wisconsin to the Democrats, but it doesn't require much imagination to foresee the winning party flipping one or the other."
This means that Democrats need to keep the states they control from switching over, but also "entails zero expansion of the blue map."
And assuming Democratic states remain loyal, the eventual Democratic nominee will need to win "only 23 of the 85 toss-up electoral votes," the report said, and if a smaller state like Wisconsin turns Republican, it would not be hard to replace their votes.
Meanwhile, Republicans will need to hold the states they already control plus try to pull together another 64 electoral votes, or even 79 without North Carolina, meaning they'll have the tough task of sweeping the toss-up swing states. This could be difficult unless forces such as Obama's troubled job approval rating work against Democrats, Sabato said.
And while it's possible the Republican path to the presidency could go through the Midwest, its more likely to expect the GOP map to look like the route Bush took to office, through the South, rural Midwest and Rocky Mountain states, the report said.
In addition, North Dakota is not being called a toss-up and Nevada is not yet determined to be leaning Democratic, and Sabato is predicting that the 2016 outcome will be even closer than Obama's narrow win of four percentage points in 2012.
The current scenario leaves two predictions at this point: Republicans need either Florida or Ohio to win the White House.
Both states lean slightly more Republican, and "if GOP voters are thinking strategically during the nominating process, they will pick a candidate with a profile appealing to Sunshine and Buckeye state residents."
There are candidates and potential candidates from both states. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has already declared, while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are also expected to announce
The other Sabato prediction is that there are credible Democratic paths to the White House that do not include Virginia, but "anything other than a win or a loss by just a percent or two in the Old Dominion will signal the Democract's downfall."
Elections over the years have changed, and in the current battlefield, 40 states have voted for the same party in all four elections since 2000, and out of the other 10, three have flipped back and forth. New Mexico went for former Vice President Al Gore in 2000 and Bush in 2004, and now is trending Democratic. Indiana and North Carolina both went for Obama in 2008 after his campaign advertised heavily there, but both states generally trend Republican.
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