270 electoral votes

A recent conversation with a veteran of GOP presidential campaigns raised this question: Which, if any, of the recent battleground states are likely to become more Republican by 2016? The consensus: very few.

That reality highlights one problem Republicans face as they seek to regain the White House after six years under President Obama. Lots of factors affect elections: the quality of the candidates, the state of the economy, the effectiveness of the campaigns. But in a country whose demographics continue to change, Republicans will begin this campaign with one significant disadvantage.

Dan Balz is Chief Correspondent at The Washington Post. He has served as the paper’s National Editor, Political Editor, White House correspondent and Southwest correspondent. View Archive

Over the past three decades, the political leanings of many states have shifted dramatically. What once was a sizable Republican advantage in the electoral college has become a decided Democratic advantage.

One way to look at this is by comparing two overlapping 20-year periods. In the first, 1980 through 2000, Republicans won four of six presidential elections. In the second, 1992 through 2012, Democrats won four of six.

The first period was the era of Republican dominance — the start of the Reagan era. In the 1980s, many people suggested that Republicans had a lock on the electoral college. Democrats were in woeful shape. Here’s what the numbers showed:

Republicans won 16 states in each of the six elections during that period and won an additional four states in five of the six. That added up to 179 electoral votes, based on census apportionments in 2000. Today, those 20 states account for 193 electoral votes as a result of the population shift from north to south. Democrats won just one state — Minnesota — plus the District of Columbia in all six elections. They counted only two more states where they won five of six. Together, those four accounted for just 21 electoral votes.

From 1980-2000, 10 states were up for grabs, with each party winning them three times over six elections. They accounted for 155 electoral votes in 2000, and 147 today. What has happened to those once-contested states highlights the dramatic change that has taken place since, namely a shift of some major states toward the Democrats.

From 1992-2012, Democrats built a base that rivals or exceeds that of the Republicans in the earlier period. Eighteen states and the District have voted Democratic in each of the six presidential elections. They represent a total 242 electoral votes, according to the current allocation. Three other states, with a total of 15 electoral votes, have backed the Democrats five times.

Meanwhile, Republicans won 13 states in those six elections, but because most of them were smaller states, their electoral votes totaled just 102. The biggest consistent GOP state in this period has been Texas, with 38 electoral votes. Five other states backed the GOP nominee in five of the six elections, for an additional 56 electoral votes.

Adding together the states that voted Republican or Democratic in at least four of the six elections gave Democrats 281 electoral votes and Republicans 219. Only two states — Colorado and Florida, with a total of 38 electoral votes — were won three times for each party in those six elections.

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Popular Q&A

What happens if neither presidential candidate wins 270 electoral votes, or they tie?

The election is decided by the House of Representatives if there is a tie. Thanks for the !

When has no president gotten 270 electoral votes?

if there is a tie, then the house of representatives chooses te president and the senate chooses the vice-president.

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