ANALYSIS — A decade ago, Virginia and Colorado were two of the most competitive states in the country. They’ve both shifted to the left since then, but how else has the battleground changed?
With the benefit of the 2022 election results, we can look back at which states have evolved and changed the most over the past 10 years and identify the ones that will be the most competitive heading into 2024.
Inside Elections’ Baseline captures a state’s political performance by combining all federal and state election results over the past four election cycles into a single score (a trimmed mean, to be specific). It seeks to approximate what share of the vote the “typical” Democrat or Republican might receive in any given state, showing trends that have emerged over the past few election cycles.
No state has become more Republican over the past decade than West Virginia, according to Baseline. Following the 2022 elections, the average Republican would receive 59.2 percent compared to 47.4 percent in 2014. That’s a difference of 11.8 points.
That shift demonstrates the partisan turn of the state as well as the Baseline calculation. The post-2014 number includes races from the 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 elections, when Democrats were still winning statewide offices. Now, Sen. Joe Manchin III is the only Democrat elected statewide, and West Virginia is becoming more Republican at the presidential level.
Missouri used to be considered a bellwether but is now staunchly Republican. A typical Republican would receive 56.3 percent, according to the post-2022 Baseline, an improvement of 8.9 points from 2014. Republican performance also improved dramatically in Arkansas (8.4 points), Kentucky (5.6 points) and North Dakota (5.3 points), as former Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s 2012 victory is no longer included in the average.
Banking on blue
The two states that have shifted toward Democrats the most over the past decade have limited political impact. A typical Democrat receives 61.4 percent in California (an improvement of 5.7 points compared to 2014) and 63.7 percent in Massachusetts (a 5.6-point difference) following the 2022 elections.
But the next three states that have gotten more Democratic exemplify the changing political landscape. Democrats’ performance in Colorado has improved by 5.2 points since the post-2014 calculation. A typical Democratic candidate would now receive 52.9 percent, according to Baseline. Democratic performance has also improved by 4.5 points in Georgia (to 47.2 percent) and 4.4 points in Texas (to 43.4 percent). Colorado has shifted off the battleground map; Georgia is firmly on it; and Texas is still on the outside looking in, but looking better for Democrats.
States are shifty
With a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate, a narrow incoming Republican majority in the House and consistently competitive presidential contests, there’s plenty of evidence that the country is evenly divided. But digging below the surface, the terrain might be slightly better for Democrats in the battlegrounds.
Using Baseline as a measuring stick, most of the states in which the difference between the two parties has changed the most over the past decade have been in the GOP’s favor. But that’s happening largely in Republican states that became more Republican: West Virginia (25.5-point difference between the two parties since 2014), Missouri (17.7 points), Arkansas (15.8 points), North Dakota (12.8 points), Kentucky (11.2 points), Montana (10.5 points), South Dakota (8.1 points) and Alabama (6.8 points).
The battleground state that has improved the most for Republicans has been North Carolina, where there was a 5.4-point shift in the difference between the two parties toward the GOP since 2014. Meanwhile, six former, current or future battleground states have shifted toward Democrats in the past 10 years — Colorado (9.2 points), Georgia (8.1 points), Texas (7.8 points), Arizona (7 points), New Mexico (5.7 points) and Virginia (5.6 points).
Looking way down the line, Kansas got 8.7 points more Democratic since 2014, and Nebraska got 6.6 points more Democratic. New Hampshire (3.4 points), Pennsylvania (1.9 points) and Minnesota (1.6 points) have trended toward Republicans over the past 10 years but have been less dramatic in their movement.
The new battleground
The post-2022 battleground looks similar to what it was a decade ago, but it’s smaller and has a couple of new faces.
Following the 2014 elections, there were 13 states in which the Baseline margin between the two parties was 6 points or less. That includes four states in which Republicans had an advantage: Iowa (R+4.3 points), Wisconsin (R+2.8), Nevada (R+2.5) and Montana (R+1.2). Democrats had the advantage in eight states: New Mexico (D+6), Pennsylvania (D+6), New Hampshire (D+5.5), West Virginia (D+4), North Carolina (D+2.5), Missouri (D+2), Michigan (D+1.8) and Colorado (D+0.1). Virginia was dead even.
A decade later, the map looks a little different, as six states dropped off the battleground and two states came on. Iowa, Montana, Missouri and West Virginia became less competitive as they moved toward Republicans, and Colorado and New Mexico became less competitive as they moved toward Democrats. Georgia and Arizona are new to the list of most competitive states.
Following the 2022 elections, the Baseline battleground consists of nine states in which the Baseline margin between the two parties is 6 points or less. Republicans have the advantage in Georgia (R+4.5 points), North Carolina (R+2.9) and Arizona (R+1.8), while Democrats have the edge in Wisconsin (D+1), Nevada (D+1.7), New Hampshire (D+2.1), Pennsylvania (D+4.1), Michigan (D+5) and Virginia (D+5.6).
Florida, which has seemingly been talked about as a swing state ever since the 2000 presidential election, wasn’t particularly close after the 2014 or 2022 elections. It qualified as a battleground following the 2018 and 2020 elections, but it’s now close to where it was a decade ago (R+8.8 points now, compared to R+8.6 points after 2014).