Study: RI’s swing voters make it ‘most elastic state’ in the USJune 21st, 2012 at 5:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site
Rhode Island never makes lists of the pivotal presidential swing states, and for good reason – only two states backed Barack Obama by a more lopsided margin in 2008. Nevertheless, one influential political prognosticator says Rhode Island voters are the most elastic in the country.
Seeking a new way to slice and dice the 50 states ahead of November’s election, New York Times numbers guru Nate Silver created a formula to measure the elasticity of each state’s electorate based on how many true swing voters it has – voters who are open to supporting either party.
Rhode Island came out on top. Here’s how Silver explains it:
Rhode Island has a lot of swing voters and a lot of Democratic base voters, but very few Republican base voters.
In recent presidential elections, these Rhode Island swing voters haven’t been persuaded by the conservative options offered by Republicans. In these cases, where many or most of the swing voters side with Democratic base voters, the Democrat will win by a wide margin.
However, if the swing voters have a Republican option that is more suitable for them, they may break from the Democrats and give the Republican a narrow victory. This can be seen in gubernatorial elections, for instance, where the Republican or the independent candidate is selected locally and may be a better fit for Rhode Island moderates.
Silver’s conclusion fits with the long-running debate over whether Rhode Island is truly a blue state. Its two major parties are really Democrats and independents, with Republicans more or less a small third bloc. That’s why no Democrat has won the governor’s office since 1992 – coalitions of independents, Republicans and dissident Democrats picked the Republican four times and then, in 2010, an ex-Republican independent.
By Silver’s calculations, five of the seven most elastic U.S. states are in New England: Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts. Again, that makes sense – Massachusetts has elected plenty of Republican governors and even a Republican U.S. senator, Scott Brown, just two years ago. However, out of that group only New Hampshire is a presidential swing state, because only New Hampshire has a sizable Republican base and consistently GOP-friendly independents.
Silver’s analysis also offers insight into the race between David Cicilline and Brendan Doherty.
Cicilline wants 1st District voters to link Doherty with Romney and the national GOP that those voters don’t support; Doherty wants them to see him as his own man, an acceptable choice despite the “R” after his name on the ballot, like Don Carcieri, Linc Almond and Ron Machtley before him. Put another way, Cicilline will try to run a national race – which Democrats always win here – while Doherty will try to run a state-level race, where Republicans usually have a fighting chance. David Scharfenberg has more on that dynamic.
• Related: Gallup: Democrats’ dominance drops by half in Rhode Island (Aug. 16)