5 numbers that say a lot about presidential politics in Ohio

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CLEVELAND, Ohio – Ohio, site of Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate, has a long history of being a presidential election battleground.

Not since Richard Nixon in 1960 has a presidential candidate won Ohio without being elected president. Often the races are tight, and Ohio the site of heavy political spending.

Here are five numbers-driven takeaways that say a lot about presidential politics in Ohio.

1. Dean of the of swing states

Win Ohio and you win the presidency. That’s been the case for every presidential election since Ohio helped Lyndon Johnson win in 1964.

No other state is even close to Ohio’s run of 14 consecutive elections of picking the presidential winner. Florida has the second longest run, going with the national winner in the last six elections, starting with Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996.

See Ohio presidential election votes statewide, and by county, 1960-2016

2. Just how close does it get?

To get an idea of how closely Ohio has been divided between Republicans and Democrats, consider the four elections from 2000 through 2012 – two won by Republican George W. Bush and two by Democrat Barack Obama.

Add up the 22 million votes cast in those elections, and the two parties were separated by only 145,000. The GOP presidential candidates held a razor-thin 49.5% to 48.8% advantage over the Democrats in those elections combined.

3. What about 2016?

The results of the 2016 election have a lot of people saying Ohio is no longer a swing state. Republican Donald Trump won easily over Hillary Clinton, 51.7% to 43.6%.

Trump’s margin of victory was the widest in Ohio for a presidential candidate since 1988 when George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis by 10.9 points – 55% to 44.1%.

Most races since then were much tighter. From 2000 through 2012, each of the four races in Ohio was determined by 4.6 points or fewer.

4. Split returns in 2018

But there is more recent evidence that Ohio can still go blue in federal elections.

Though there wasn’t a presidential race on the ballot in 2018, the vote for other federal offices in Ohio was split nearly down the middle – with the slight edge going to the Democrats.

Combining the 8.8 million votes for the U.S. Senate race and the 16 U.S. House elections across Ohio, the Democrats collected 4,438,607 votes (50.3%) and Republicans 4,345,296 (49.3%).

The Republicans did better in the 16 U.S. House races, winning the combined vote there, 52% to 47.3%. But in the Senate race, Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown won, 52% to 47.3%, over his Republican challenger.

5. What about Westerville?

There is evidence that places like Westerville, site of Tuesday’s debate, are trending blue.

In Westerville, there was nearly a 13-point swing in the presidential vote over the last two elections. In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney defeated Barack Obama, 53.4% to 45.1% there. But in 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton won in Westerville over Trump, 49.6% to 45.2%.

The swing blue continued with the off-year elections in 2018, based on the U.S. House and Senate votes.

See the Westerville vote trend, in-depth

The 2020 election in Ohio could hinge on whether the Democrats’ growing strength from recent elections in Ohio’s large urban and suburban areas will be enough to overtake the Republicans’ growing strength in Ohio’s many smaller counties.

Rich Exner, data analysis editor for cleveland.com, writes about numbers on a variety of topics. Follow on Twitter @RichExner. See cleveland.com/datacentral or other data-related news.



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