Indiana, in my opinion, is one of the most exciting states in politics right now. After going for George W. Bush by 16% and 20% in uncontested races, Obama contested the state heavily despite its "Safe Republican" status. He managed to win by a single point, 50-49. Despite this, the state was not contested in in 2012, and Romney won by 10%, still a pretty big swing in 8 years.
The question we have to ask is whether or not Indiana is approaching swing state status. Though we probably don't need it to win Presidential elections, making a red state competitive provides us a cushion and a possibility of two additional Democratic Senators. I think the best thing we can do is look at recent statewide results, along with exit polls, and see how viable the state is to contest. For the purposes of this diary, I am going to assume that exit polls are accurate.
Indiana has elected moderate Democratic Governors in the past, but swung towards the Republicans recently. The moderate Evan Bayh, a legacy politician, was reelected by over 25 points in 1992, with two relatively easy victories following for Lt. Governor Frank O'Bannon. In 2004, the state swung back towards Republicans, with the conservative-minded but moderate-sounding Mitch Daniels being elected by 8%. Despite Obama's narrow win in the state, Daniels was reelected by 18 points over a moderate Congresswoman. In 2012, conservative Republican Mike Pence was narrowly elected by 3 points, despite Romney's 10 point win. The Libertarian candidate pulled in 4%, a very good showing a third party candidate with no money.
What this says to me is that Hoosiers have been willing to elect moderate Democrats despite an inherent Republican bias, but that they've grown more partisan in the past decade. Daniel's election and reelection were natural in a red state after 16 years of Democratic Governors, but Pence's election, however narrow, indicates that Republican voters are becoming more hard-line.
We're just going to look at 2010 and 2012 here, since the previous elections featured long-term, popular incumbents. In the Republican wave of 2010, Senator Dan Coats (R) was elected to a second non-consecutive term in an open seat against Rep. Brad Ellsworth, a moderate Congressman, by 15%. I think the strong margin against a legitimate contender backs up what I said above: Republican-leaning voters are hardening in their partisanship.
2012 was a bit of an anomaly, and it's so widely known among political people that I'm not going to bother going over it again. Suffice to say that a moderate Democratic Congressman beat a foot-in-mouth Tea Partier by 6%. The Libertarian candidate took a little under 6%. What this says to me is that the Republican floor in Indiana is around 44%. That represents the hard partisans.
Here's the important part. I want to break this down by demographic categories.
The drop in the white vote here was a bit odd. It dropped just 1%, from 89 to 88, from 2004 to 2008, but dropped 4 points to 84% by 2012. Obama's weak performance with white voters tells the story of the state's 11-point swing towards Romney: He went from a 54-45 loss to a 60-38 loss. This is, of course, not a pure swing; the campaign was organized and spent heavily here in 2008, and didn't in 2012. I'm sure the loss would have been much more narrow if the state were contested, but as it stands, we should compare the swing from 2004 to 2012 to get a true picture of how voting patterns have changed. Kerry lost white voters 65-34, while Obama lost them 60-38. That's a meaningful swing towards Democrats, and it's conceivable that an organized effort in the state could produce a single digit loss among white voters once again.
8% of Indiana voters were black in 2012, up from 7% in 2008 and 2004. The Democrat got about 90% each time. I doubt either number will improve much, but the fact that Kerry did as well with African Americans as Obama bodes well for us.
Only 2008 exit polls have data for Hispanics; they made up 4% of the electorate and went for Obama 77-23. You can infer that they were probably 6% in 2012, assuming Asians and Others didn't triple in that time-frame. This makes Hoosier Hispanics more Democratic than they are nationwide, and they will probably continue to grow by 1-2% over the next few election cycles.
So, the white vote is solidly Republican, but both swinging towards us and shrinking slowly. The minority vote is solidly in the Democratic column, moreso than it is nationwide, and is growing slowly.
The trends for voters based on age are as one would expect, with one notable exception: young voters, 18-29. After favoring Obama by 28% in 2008, they narrowly went for Romney in 2012 by 3%, a massive 31 point swing towards Republicans. They went for Bush by 5% in 2004, but made up a much smaller portion of the electorate.
You can't say this made the race, but it certainly had a gigantic impact. The national swing towards Romney with young voters was just 11%; this is nearly triple. Youth participation decreasing was not a factor, by the way. It actually increased by one point. Clearly, this is an area that needs some focus.
Age and Race seem to be the most important demographic factors in explaining our performance here. So what does all of this say about Indiana becoming a swing state? Demographic changes will help us a bit relative to the environment, as they will everywhere. But the key is going after young voters. As I said above, it seems to me that about 44% of Hoosiers are hard, Republican partisans. That's a pretty high floor, but I would assume (perhaps incorrectly) that these tend to be older voters. I doubt that many of the young voters who swung towards Romney are hard partisans as well. So, in addition to keeping minority turnout high, the most important thing Indiana Democrats can do is to go after the youth vote hard. College campuses, young professionals, young blue collar workers, etc. If we can reverse that swing (which I really am at a loss to explain), we can make this a purple state.