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Recoloring the Political Map

by Ruy Teixeira

Richard Morin had a very interesting op-ed in the April 17 Washington Post, “Pink is the New Red”. Morin’s basic point is that way most Americans think about America’s political map is rapidly becoming out-of-date. He observes:

States that were once reliably red are turning pink. Some are no longer red but a sort of powder blue. In fact, a solid majority of residents in states that President Bush carried in 2004 now disapprove of the job he is doing as president. Views of the GOP have also soured in those Republican red states.

According to the latest Post-ABC News poll, Bush's overall job approval rating now averages 43 percent in the states where he beat Democratic nominee John Kerry two years ago, while 57 percent disapprove of his performance.

Bush is even marginally unpopular, at least on average, in states where he beat Kerry with relative ease. The poll data suggest that in states where the president's victory margin was greater than five percentage points, his average job approval currently stands at 47 percent. Red? Hardly. A watery pink at best.

And in states where the president's victory margin was five percentage points or less, a clear majority of residents now disapprove of his performance. Color them light blue.

More ominously for Republicans, their party also has lost standing with the public. Residents of states Bush won in 2004 say they trust the Democrats (48 percent) more than the Republicans (42 percent) to deal with the country's biggest problems....

...[T]hese findings underscore the fact that Bush's fall from public grace isn't just occurring in states that were colored blue after the last presidential election. And they once again prove that change is inevitable in politics and that last year's received wisdom has a way of becoming this year's political myth.

More evidence on the need to recolor the political map is provided by looking at the latest 50 state presidential approval data from SurveyUSA. I applied these data to the following breakdown of states, based on 1992-2004 election results. The SurveyUSA results indicate that, just as Morin suggests, reds are becoming pinker, purples are becoming bluer and blues are becoming deeper blue.

1. Solid blue Democratic base states: The Democrats have carried these states in the last four presidential elections and the average Democratic margin has been over five points in the last two elections (CA, CT, DE, HI, IL, ME, MD, MA NJ, NY, RI, VT, WA plus DC, for a total of 183 EVs).

Average Bush approval rating (unweighted): 29 percent.

2. Purple leaning blue states: The Democrats have carried these states in the last four presidential elections and the average Democratic margin has been under five points in the last two elections (MI, MN, OR, PA, WI, for a total of 65 EVs). According to 2005 Gallup data, Democrats have party ID advantages in all of these states: 4 points each in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, 11 points in Minnesota, 12 points in Michigan and 15 points in Oregon.

Average Bush approval rating (unweighted): 35 percent.

3. Pure purple states: These states have split their support between the two parties in the last two elections (IA, NH and NM, for a total of 16 EVs). Democrats have party ID advantages in each of these states: 6 points in Iowa, 14 points in New Hampshire and 8 points in New Mexico.

Average Bush approval rating (unweighted): 35 percent

4. Purple leaning red states: These states have been carried at least once by the Democrats in the last four elections and have been carried by the GOP in the last two elections by an average of 5 points or less (FL, MO, NV and OH, for a total of 63 EVs. Democrats also enjoy party ID advantages in all of these states: a point in Florida, 8 points in Missouri, 12 points in Nevada and 7 points in Ohio.

Average Bush approval rating (unweighted): 35 percent

5. Red vulnerable states: These states have been carried at least once by the Democrats in the last four elections and the average GOP margin in the last two elections has been between 5 and 10 points (AZ, AR, CO, TN, WV, for a total of 41 EVs). Here Democrats have a 5 point party ID deficit in Arizona, are dead-even in Tennessee and lead by 11 points in Arkansas, 3 points in Colorado and 13 points in West Virginia.

Average Bush approval rating (unweighted): 40 percent

6. Solid red GOP base states: These states have been carried by the Republicans in the last four presidential elections or have been carried by the GOP by an average of 10 points or more in 2000 and 2004 (AL, AK, GA, ID, IN, KS, KY, LA, MS, MT, NE, NC, ND, OK, SC, SD, TX, UT, VA, WY for a total of 170 EVs).

Average Bush approval rating (unweighted): 45 percent