In addition to defending swing states, Democrats need to go on a long term offensive to find states that could go from red to swing (or even blue). And it is urgent that we do so. That is the purpose of this diary.
Why so urgent?
Democrats have lost more states than gained in the last 10 years. Look at that map above from the 2012 election. Since then, Iowa, Ohio, and Florida have gone from swing states to solid red for the foreseeable future. Democrats have only moved Georgia and Arizona from red to swing states. To make matters worse, The northern Midwest states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — once thought to be a solid blue wall— have become swing states again. Wisconsin and Nevada are teetering on possibly turning red in the near future. Not to mention the Senate picture for Democrats doesn’t look great.
Turning a state from solid red takes time. Therefore, if we want Democrats in 2032 to have a chance of winning the Presidency and the Senate, the work has to begin now.
What should I do with this information?
If you’re like me, you have limited time and money to donate to politics. Therefore, when you donate, you probably make sure it does the most good possible — can’t afford waste. If you’re thinking long term, having an idea of states that could turn blue is important. You don’t want to waste all your money going to Democrats and Progressives in a state, just to then watch it turn even more red or stay hopelessly lost.
Even better, if you’re in one of these states that could turn blue, consider this your wakeup call to get involved and start organizing locally(if you aren’t already) because there is hope.
Before getting to naming States I do want to offer a little disclaimer. A lot of this analysis is based on demographics. Please, Please, Pleas! read the full disclaimer at the end before commenting.
Red States that should be treated like a Swing State RIGHT NOW
This is an easy one. The only reason most people still think of North Carolina as a red state is because its voted for a Republican for President every time for the last 42 years except once in 2008. Admittedly, with a track record like that, its easy to write off 2008 as such a huge landslide fluke; that it doesn’t count.
However, if you dig just a little, you will see a state on the verge of becoming the next Georgia. First of all, the closeness of the race. In 2012, and again in 2020, it was the closest state that a Democrat lost. Now just because its close, doesn’t mean its a guarantee to be a swing state. For instance, Florida is close, but the trend is clearly moving away from Democrats. But in the case of North Carolina, the trend is moving closer.
The amount the Democrat lost went up in 2016 (as almost every state did), but not by much, and then swung back where Biden did better in 2020 than Obama did in 2012.
In addition to that, North Carolina Statewide elections have been giving us hope. In 2016, Democrats won 2 out of 10 statewide offices, 1 of which was the governorship. In 2020 Dems improved by winning 4 including re-electing the governor. This feels like progress and a real battle for the state. I don’t include the state legislature because of its on again off again gerrymandered districts.
One thing I know is frustrating is that the Senate races are constantly close. Republican Thom Tillis barely won in 2014(a pretty good year for Republicans)) by a mere 1.5%. But then in 2020 he won re-election by 1.8%. The other Senate seat was won by a Republican in 2016 with a 6% margin, and then a 4% margin in 2022. So I understand the frustration.
However, everything else is inching better and better for Democrats in North Carolina. In fact, if it wasn’t for the constant voter suppression, Dems might already be winning this state over. Which is all the more reason why we need to keep organizing and investing in this state, once this state tips towards Democrats, it could tip right over like Virginia as Dems can undo all the voter suppression.
How Can I help North Carolina turn Blue?
If you want to help, the best thing to do is concentrate on keeping their state legislatures from achieving veto proof majorities(they are 1 vote shy in only 1 of the 2 chambers) so pay attention to any state legislative special elections. Also help with Statewide races in 2024(like SOS, Auditor, and Attorney General) and then State Supreme Court in 2026. Supreme Court might be key to undo their gerrymandering and actually have fair elections for their state legislature.
Okay, Okay. You’re probably skeptical of me calling Texas a swing state. But Texas has moved an average of 5 points over the last 3 elections.
- 2012: Dems Lost by 15.78%
- 2016: Dems Lost by 9%
- 2020: Dems lost by 5.5%
Even if that trend slows down in 2024, that’s within a few percentage points of a win. The most interesting part of that trend to me is that Dems did 6 points better in 2016. In an election that saw even blue states lurch towards Trump, Texas shifted over 6 points better. Here’s where I have to pause and talk about the way Trump and his MAGA Republicans shifted the electoral coalition in 2016.
10 Years ago, when Obama beat Mitt Romney, Romney won the vote of more college graduates than Obama. And Obama won more votes of non-college educated voters. Even those who didn’t graduate high school. In fact, Republicans have long enjoyed winning the majority of college educated adults. It was only post-grads that changed to a Democratic demographic. 10 years later, that statistic probably seems surreal.
Trump accelerated a slow trend of closing the education gap between the parties. Instead of meeting in the middle, Trump caused the parties to switch which education demographic they won. Worse still he may have also caused a permanent shift for white people. Starting in 2016, the more educated a white person is, the more likely they are to vote Democratic. The gap before 2016 was much narrower, but now the gap between the two is HUGE.
This is why we saw formerly established blue Midwest states suddenly swing toward Trump. A whole lot of non-college-educated white people voted MAGA. However, there were states that not only resisted the Trump shift, but outright rejected it. Texas was one of those states. Its not hard to see why. Texas doesn’t have nearly as many non-college-educated white people as the Midwest. So its pool that could shift was small. What Texas did have is Black, Hispanic, and college educated White people that ran far away from MAGA and overwhelmed the non-college White people shift. That anti-MAGA coalition solidified in 2020. (Solidified means There’s a lot of “moderate” Republicans becoming comfortable voting and calling themselves Democrats.)
I’m now going to tell you the jaw dropping set of statistics. Here is the voting breakdown by race of 2016 in Texas
Note that non-Hispanic White people were 57% of voters and Hispanics 24%. It was about the same in 2020. But in current year Hispanic and Non-Hispanic Whites are both ~40% of the population in Texas. The voting population doesn’t match the actual population at all. Even if you factor in non-citizens, there is a huge gap of non-voting Hispanics in Texas. If their voting percentage climbed to over 30%(assuming non-voting Hispanics in Texas would vote similarly to voting Hispanics), the Republicans wouldn’t have a chance at the state-level.
That is why I claim that Texas is currently a swing state. There are other trends, like increasing size of the Urban population, and a growing college educated youth moving to those Urban areas(the thing that made Georgia turn into a swing state). We just got to get our voters to the polls and you’ll see a big state turn purple if not outright blue. I think the turnout machines in Texas are still being built and we should support them. Republicans in Texas realize their precarious position and is why they continue to do everything they can to suppress the vote.
Texas is a big state and getting anything to move the needle there is going to take a lot of time, money, and effort. If you need inspiration to stick with it, just think of the looks of panic from Republicans in 2024 or 2028 when Texas goes blue on the national level for the first time in over 40 years.
OKAY! We get it about Texas, let’s move on!
But I haven’t talked about why we shouldn’t be discouraged by the 2022 results; The incredibly young age of the population; Or talked about the one road bump: White Evangelicals. I… okay… I’ll save those for another time and move on...
Red States that will be swing states in 10-12 years
Okay, stop laughing and hear me out. Because by the end, I think you’ll be asking yourself “Why the hell have Democrats been ignoring Kansas?!” First of all, let’s look at the presidential trends
- 2012: Dems Lost by 21.72%
- 2016: Dems Lost by 20.6%
- 2020: Dems lost by 14.65%
So like Texas, while many states were lurching towards the GOP, Kansas rejected Trumpism and Democrats actually improved between 2012 and 2016. And then made a 6 point gain in 2020. While far from being a swing state right now, That’s a pretty good trend line.
Something else that is interesting is that the Democratic Party in the state has been excellent at doing the best it can with what its got. For the last 30 years, when the Republicans have veered far to the right in their culture wars, Dems have put up moderate candidates for Governor and have won. Since 1990 there have been 3 Democratic governors (all 3 were women — not relevant, but I thought it was interesting).
A skeptical person might say that the recent increase in Democratic support is only because of interest in the latest Democratic Governor winning against far right Republican loons. However, the governor races are off year elections(2018, 2022). So those trends were in direct response to national, not local politics. Something is going on in that state.
Let’s take a look at Kansas’s Demographics.
Kansas is ~72% non-Hispanic white. That puts it 23rd whitest state — not great for Democrats, but it does mean its between Michigan and Oregon — 2 blue\swing states. It has a small, but important Black population(5%) and a larger Hispanic population(13%) that would be open to voting Democratic. Its current urban population is 74.2 which puts it in the middle(27th).
Finally, I want to bring in the most predictive statistic about whether a state is Democratic or Republican: The number of 4 year degrees. Of the top 22 states that have the most people with a completed 4 year degree, 20 of them are either solidly or lean blue. The other 2 are solid red states, one of which is Kansas, sitting at the 20th most educated state.
Also worth noting is that Kansas is in the top 10 youngest states with a Median age of 37.3. Admittedly, I’ve found only a very very tiny correlation between a State’s median age and how it votes. But it adds to the picture.
The anti-Trump\Biden Democrat coalition is one that is made up of College educated White People; Black and Hispanic people of all education levels; and the Young and Urban. Kansas has a good mix of all these. So what’s holding it back? Evangelical Christians would be my guess. The biggest predictor of Republican voters I’ve found(that can be measured) is the number of self-identified Evangelical Christians. Kansas is 31% evangelical making it the 14th most evangelical. Those other Demographics have to eventually overwhelm the mostly white Evangelicals — like in Georgia(38% evangelical) or Virginia(30%). If they had a level similar to say, Pennsylvania(19%), Kansas might already be competitive.
So, the question is, are the trend lines in Democrat’s favor in Kansas. According to the latest Census and surveys, the answer appears to be “Yes”. The number of evangelicals is down to 28%. Furthermore, “rural flight” is an issue in Kansas.
The rural population of Kansas continues to decline in a process known as rural flight. The past few decades have been marked by a migration from the countryside to the cities. Kansas now has more than 6,000 ghost towns and dwindling communities, while communities in Johnson County (home to metropolitan Kansas City) are some of the fastest-growing in the United States.
The last thing to mention is population. At less than 3 million, it is one of the smallest states. That makes it easier to succumb to rapid population changes. Add a 100,000 democratic voters to Texas, its a rounding error, but, add a 100,000 democratic voters to Kansas, and it would go from R+14 to R+7 .
Trump won Kansas by ~200,000 votes(~770,000 vs ~570,000). So could the population shift be that dramatic in 10 years? The answer is yes. Not to get morbid, but Kansas has about 30,000 deaths per year. Being that the vast majority of those deaths are people who are old and white, and leans Rural, it is conceivable Republicans could lose a net of 10,000 voters per year. If they are replaced by birth and immigrants who are, young, educated, diverse, and leans Urban, Democrats could net 10,000 voters per year. All else holding, that would be enough to make it a Swing state.
Here’s my other prediction. Alaska has about 10 years before becoming a swing state — maybe even less. This is probably less surprising than my Kansas pick. After Texas and North Caroline which are swing states now, and Iowa, Ohio, and Florida which are either stagnant or trending away from Democrats, Alaska was the next closest state that Democrats lost in 2020.
If one was paying a bit of attention to Alaskan politics, you might be forgiven for thinking that Alaska is already a swing state. After all, the State Senate is controlled by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, It elected Lisa Murkowski — who, on top of being the most moderate Republican in the U.S. Senate(I don’t count Collins), voted to convict Trump, and most importantly, just elected a Democrat to its Sole U.S. House seat.
Unfortunately, I think those aren’t signs of a Swing state, they are reflections on an effective Democratic party, and a state Republican party that has a lot of loons in it. It might also be a happy accident of the state’s embrace of Instant Runoff Voting. The legislatures are still heavy Republican and all other State wide offices are heavily Republican… for now.
Alaskan politics is very strange for my “lower 48” brain to comprehend. So if an Alaskan adds a comment saying that I got something wrong, you should trust them over me. But from what I can tell, the Republican hold on Alaska is fragile. For instance, if only women voted in Alaska, Biden would’ve won the state. That’s not true for most red states like Montana. Alaska is only about 59% non-Hispanic White. That’s in the bottom third of the country. However, the groups that make up the non-White population is uniquely Alaskan:
- 3.5% Black
- 7.5% Latino
- 8.2% AAPI
- 15.7% Native American
- 7.9% Identify as more than one.
Alaska’s largest non-White population is Native Americans and they tend to vote Democratic. Its not solid, but Democrats have done a lot of outreach last decade and now Native Alaskans are becoming and running as Democrats. Because of that, the odd thing about Alaska is that the more rural an area, the more Democratic it tends to vote because the people there are Native American.
Another thing odd about Alaskan politics is its tiny population. Anchorage alone contains 40% of the 730,000. Its 60% of the entire state if you count its northern(and more conservative) suburbs. The next 2 largest cities are 1/10th of its size, and everything else is small towns. To add to the oddness, Republican Presidential candidates used to regularly win even the Anchorage vote until 2020 when Trump lost it, but not by a lot.
So if you want to think about what a winning Democratic voting coalition is in Alaska, it would be to consolidate gains in Anchorage and run up the score there, in Juneau, and in the rural regions. Then, you got to hold down your losses in the Anchorage suburbs, small towns south of Anchorage, and in Fairbanks(Fairbanks is probably very conservative because its continued existence is thanks to a large military base, and the economy’s dependence on extraction industries like oil and lumber.
Looking at faith and religion, holding Democrats back is the 22% (mostly white) evangelicals. But the “nones” category of religion is larger in Alaska than most which is promising.
The state already looks not bad for Democrats. In fact, If Democrats could prove themselves and organize these groups and combine them with College Educated voters(30.6%) in the state and run a really good candidate they might get an occasional upset victory. Oh wait… that already happened :)
So the question is, in 10 years, will Democrats be able to move from occasional upsets to almost always competitive like a true swing state?
First, let’s check out the trendline
- 2012: Dems Lost by 13.99%
- 2016: Dems Lost by 14.76%
- 2020: Dems lost by 10.06%
That’s pretty good. It looks like Trump didn’t change things much in 2016, but then Democrats had a 5% swing. This is what I’d expect to see if Demographic were moving towards Democrats, but Trump interrupted the change by temporarily or permanently moving lots of non-college educate Whites to him in 2016 like he did everywhere else.
Now look at this map that shows Alaska’s growth by area in the state for the last decade.
Let’s do the good news. The rural areas filled with Native Americans are growing, while the rural areas dominated by Whites are shrinking. Also, The uber conservative city of Fairbanks (that red splotch in the middle of a lot of yellow) is shrinking.
The bad news is Anchorage. The one place Democrats would need to run up the score is shrinking. And the conservative suburbs north of it grew like a weed. The conservative leaning area south of Anchorage also grew fast. You might think that’s game over for Democrats, but its not.
You have to look at Anchorage Metropolitan area as a whole. The geography AND the demographics. What actually happened was Alaska’s version of White Flight. Anchorage lost 23,000 white people while every other ethnicity grew or stayed about the same). Meanwhile its northern Suburbs in Matanuska-Susitna(Mat-Su) Borough added 14,000 white people. Also small towns south of Anchorage in the Kenai Peninsula Borough added about 1,500 white people.
Furthermore, despite that movement of White people, if you click those links above, you’ll see that both Mat-Su and Kenai Peninsula both became less White due to growth from other ethnicities — especially Native American and Latinos. It is the same trend as the state as a whole: continuously getting less and less White.
I believe that if these trends hold, you’ll see Alaska continue trending towards swing state territory. Now, a naysayer might make a few nitpicks. They might point out that Mat-Su is the most conservative region, and is the only major region projected to grow. They might also point out that there is no guarantee that non-White populations will vote Democratic — especially in a state as unique as Alaska.
First, I agree there is no guarantee they’ll vote Democratic like we’d expect in the lower 48. It is up to us and organizers to ensure that they do. We can’t depend on Demographic Destiny. We have to put in the work and deliver on issues. As for the other objection. I really wouldn’t worry about where the growth is happening, and watch who is growing. Just because a region is deeply conservative now, doesn’t mean it’ll always be that way. Just ask the Atlanta Suburbs in Georgia.
Red States with potential to be a swing state
So far, all my predictions are based on “If present trends continue”. This list of states I’ll call the “Watch List” are states that need something to change before they become a swing state.
If you told me, that there was a state that had a large, and growing Latino community that was ~15% of the population. And this state’s population was about 90% urban. And it also has the lowest number of evangelical Christians in the country. And finally, it was in the top 15 most citizens with a Bachelor’s degree — the number 1 indicator of a Blue State(that’s right, Utah is the other well-educated “Red” state). I would be like “WOW! that’s gotta be the Bluest state in the Union!”
But I’d be wrong. Because that state is Utah. It is deep red. And the reason it is can be summed up in one word: Mormon. Mormons are 55% of the state, and they vote like Evangelicals.
The good news is that between 2012 and 2016 the state swung 30 points towards Democrats. But considering it was voting for a Mormon president in 2012 it could be just as much a function of being excited for Romney, and not a rejection of Trump. Discouraging is that Trump did 2% better in 2020 than in 2016. There is no indication that the State is trending away from Republicans or MAGA.
The only thing I would watch for is if Mormons “Go Catholic”. I’ll explain what I mean. Catholic Bishops and doctrine are, and have always been Conservative. But increasingly, the Catholics in the pews have been getting more moderate or even liberal. Catholics are still more conservative than the nation overall, but if Mormons voted like Catholics, instead of like Evangelicals, Utah would be a winnable state for Democrats. I could go into a deep dive assessing how possible this is, but that’ll have to wait for another time — this article is already long enough.
So, for Utah to be in play, watch and see if the Republican hold on Mormon voters ever softens. Until then, consider it a deep red state for a long time.
States that are were part of the old confederacy tend to have the same path to victory for Democrats. First you start with a very large African American population that might make it seem like Dems could win the state. But the white people in the state vote even more heavily Republican than white people in other states, so it remains a red state. That is, until 1 or 2 major metropolitan areas start growing and attracting young and diverse college educated people of all groups. And this group ends up being much more friendly to Democrats. When their vote is large enough to combine with existing black people in the state *poof!* you now have a blue state.
We’ve seen this pattern in Virginia(pdf), Georgia, and soon we’ll see it complete in North Carolina. I’ve looked to see if there are any other states in the old confederacy that could follow the Virginia-Georgia model of turning blue. So far, I don’t see any. The closest I see is Mississippi, but none of its cities are really experiencing big boom growth. In fact, the state technically shrank in the last 10 years.
The reason I put it on the watch list though is that it is the state with the highest percentage of African Americans in the country. It is also a small state, like Kansas, so small changes can make a big difference.
Working against Democrats in the state is that it is in the top 10 highest number of Evangelicals at 41% of the state. It is also the second lowest number of Bachelor’s degrees held at 24%. Only West Virginia is worse. So the White population voters are so heavily GOP it wipes out any Dem advantage with African Americans in the state.
The one, tiny, hope for a blue Mississippi, is a sudden growth in one of its mid-tier cities: Hattiesburg. It’s population has grown 15.9% since 2016 and is now 172,000. Furthermore, its unemployment is only 3.3% which means its got room to grow. I’d have to do a deep dive to see what’s driving its growth, if its the nearby Military base, Camp Shelby, it might be temporary. Still, something to watch for. A city that exists for the military can become a city in its own right. Look at Las Vegas.
Other than Hattiesburg, the states 4 largest cities are growing, but only about 1% a year at most. Before we see movement towards Democrats, I think we’d need to see faster growth in one of those cities too. So watch if any other large cities in Mississippi start having explosive growth, then we might be able to move the state from a “watch” to a “prediction”.
On paper, Montana should be a really bad state for Democrats: Hardly any non-White population and very rural. However, every once in a while, Democrats have shown some strength in the state. Senator Tester for instance. And a pair of Democratic Governors. To explain this, we have to talk about the one topic I’ve managed to avoid. I’m talking about Racisms bastard son: “White Resentment”.
Prejudice and resentment are not synonymous, Wilson and Davis argue, and they are pointedly critical of the U.S. political science community for treating them as such. The concepts of racial resentment employed by researchers in the last 30 years don’t explain today’s prevalent, on-the-ground racial resentment — whether among white or Black people.
Wilson offers a more contemporary view: White racial resentment is reflected in the belief that race is “an unworthy and disagreeable” basis for determining merit. Such resentment toward Black people reflects a belief “that African Americans are using race unfairly to gain status and material privilege in our society.”
If you want to know more, I suggest reading the whole article. What I will add is that it is hard to measure. As it turns out a survey asking “do you incorrectly assess equality as favoring African Americans?” and expect accurate results. Fortunately, many researches are trying by asking unobvious, but indicative question. These researchers discovered that white resentments ebbs and flows quickly, and differs by geographic area. They chose to study it at the state level over time.
As you might expect, White Resentment tends to emanate outward from the old confederacy. The further you get away from it, the lower it is. There are exceptions. Nevada and Arizona tend to have it pretty strong. Kansas, despite its proximity seems to have it less than its prairie neighbors to the North.
In addition to evangelical voters, this is why Democrats have trouble in the SouthEast (Resentful Whites voting heavily against them, but great in the North East where they actually win the White rural vote.
If you notice, Montana tends to be a lot lower. Its not quite Minnesota\North East good, but its better. That’s why, combined with a mid level 4 year degree score, Democrats were able to compete in this white rural state before Trump. That’s good. Democrats need to compete for the White vote because Montana has tiny populations of Latinos(4%) and African Americans(.5%)
Unfortunately, Trump and MAGA have lurched this state to the right and it hasn’t recovered yet.
- 2012: Dems Lost by 13.65%
- 2016: Dems Lost by 20.53%
- 2020: Dems lost by 16.37%
Also bad is that the Governorship is back in Republican hands, and it was disappointing to see their new U.S. House seat go to a Republican as well.
I’d watch Montana. It is so small that one city having explosive growth might be just the thing to send Montana down the purple or blue path.
I started writing this article a while ago when I was trying to find the answer to the question of “where could Democrats find new success”. It sent me down a long path of basic statistics and spreadsheets, learning Demographic terminology, and bringing together voting pattern theories. What I thought would be an afternoon study, turned into about 5 weeks of research. During of which, new census data came out that made me have to redo some of the numbers.
There is so much more I could share on these states, but left out because of length. And there’s info on red states that I think are near(but never completely) hopeless. If that sound interesting to you, please recommend this article and then leave a comment about what state(s) you’d like to know even more about. Then follow the tag #10YearSwing. I’ll use that tag for future articles on this topic.
It should be noted that the analysis provided here is assuming that the electoral coalitions discussed here hold. As long as Trump and MAGA dominate the Republican party, I expect that it will. However, politics is fickle, and just when you think you have it figured out along comes a candidate that upends and changes the electoral coalition. If that were to happen, nearly this entire analysis becomes moot.
Another thing to mention. This analysis based on demographics is based on trends and tendencies. The cause is never certain. People are individuals. Just because a person is in a group that tends vote democratic doesn’t mean all people in that group always vote democratic. Somewhere out there is Gay Black Woman with a PhD that votes Republican. Just like somewhere there is a straight white non-college educated man who regular votes Democratic. As much as demographic trends are real, they aren’t a person’s full story.
Finally, I want to say that this isn’t meant as an argument against the 50 state strategy. Upset victories are always possible. What I do believe is that while all states should have some resources, Democrats and Progressives might be better served targeting certain states over the next 10 years.