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Hunting for EVs

Demographer William Frey recently released an interesting study for the Brookings Institution, "The Electoral College Moves to the Sunbelt", analyzing likely changes in the distribution of electoral votes (EVs) between now and 2030. Based on Census Bureau population projections, he expects the following to happen:

All else being equal, in 2030 the red-blue Electoral College vote would come to 303 to 235 (compared with 286 to 252 last November)....[T]his change is largely due to Snow Belt to Sun Belt demographic shifts.

The states that gain the most EVs in Frey's analysis are Florida (+9), Texas (+8) and Arizona (+5), all red states in the 2004 election.

Ron Brownstein's article based on the Frey study, "Democrats Covet the West, but Can't Keep Losing the South", looks at it from a regional angle and correctly observes:

In 2000 and 2004, Bush won all 11 states of the old Confederacy, plus Oklahoma and Kentucky. In those two elections it netted him 168 electoral college votes. That meant Democrats had to win about 73% of the remaining votes to secure a majority a hurdle they found a little too high each time.

Frey projects that those 13 Southern states would cast 173 electoral college votes after 2010, and account for 186 after the 2030 census. If Republicans can still sweep the South at that point, Democrats would need to win a daunting 77% of the remaining votes to construct a majority.

Victories in the West might temporarily help Democrats offset the South's rising influence. But it doesn't seem a long-term solution.

I don't dispute this. Democrats can't afford to cede the entire south to the opposing team, especially given that its share of the nation's EVs will be increasing. That just gives them too little margin for error in the rest of the country.

But I do think it's instructive to look a little bit more closely at the Frey data and understand that, while cause for concern, the changes Frey analyzes are not quite as daunting as they might appear at first glance.

Essentially the Frey data say that the red-blue EV margin, under 2004 results, would expand from 34 to 68 over the 26 year period from 2004 to 2030 (a substantial period of time, let's not forget). But the swing of EVs needed to reverse the 2004 outcome is only about half of that in each year: from 18 today to 35 in 2030.

How daunting is a swing of 35 EVs, using the 2030 EV projections? Well, Ohio will still have 16 EVs in 2030, so combining that with New Mexico (5), Colorado (9) and Nevada (7), all within 5 points in 2004, gets you to a 2030 blue majority.

That doesn't seem so daunting.

And Florida, which the Democrats won in 1996 and, arguably, 2000 and only lost by 5 points in 2004, will have 36 EVs in 2030, so turning that one single state is enough to produce a 2030 blue majority.

And then there's Arizona, which, despite the Democrats' 10 point loss there in 2004, still seems likely to become more contestable over time due to demographic and other trends. That's 15 EVs in 2030. Turn those EVs plus Ohio's and New Mexico's and once again you've got a 2030 blue electoral majority.

So: study the Frey data carefully. There is much to learn there. But don't let it spook you. The increase in Sunbelt EVs is a trend a smart and energized Democratic party can easily overcome.

It's the "smart and energized" that's the hard part.