Republicans’ 2016 problem — in 2 charts

December 31, 2012

In the wake of the 2012 election, we wrote extensively about how the November contest exposed not just short term problems for the GOP but longer term issues as well.

Purely politically speaking, Republicans have two major long term issues: 1) The electoral map is tilting (and likely will continue to tilt) toward Democrats and 2) The broader shape of the electorate (and population) is also moving in Democrats' direction.

Now, we have those two trends detailed in chart form thanks to the Cook Political Report (a former Fix employer!).

The first chart shows the two parties' share of the electoral vote in the last 15 presidential elections with the solid lines representing the five-election average.

The second chart compares the two parties' overall share of the popular vote over that same time frame with the five-election trend as well.

What's clear -- in both the electoral and popular vote -- is that these things tend to move in cycles and, right now, the arc of those historical trends is not working in Republicans' favor.

Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the last six elections. (Republicans won it five of the six election prior to that, beginning in 1988.)

Since 1992, Democrats' electoral vote floor is 251 in 2004 and their electoral ceiling is 379 in 1996.  During that same period, Republicans dipped as low as 159 in 1996 and as high as 286 in 2004. Put simply: In the past six elections, Democrats have an electoral floor and ceiling that is 90+ votes higher than Republicans.

What all those numbers mean is that Democrats are in the midst of boom times, electorally speaking.  The 2012 election confirmed that the 2008 race was not anomalous -- as many Republicans assumed after the 2010 midterm elections delivered them major gains -- but rather indicative of the broader trend at work in the electorate and the country.

The good news for Republicans -- at least according to the Cook charts -- is that these things do tend to move in cycles with neither side maintaining electoral and popular vote dominance for decades and decades on end.  

But, if past is prologue, Democrats will retain their electoral and popular vote edge for 2016 and perhaps 2020 as well. Of course, history is a useful guide until it isn't anymore.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Aaron Blake · December 31, 2012