The Very Bad Electoral College News for Democrats


The 2020 round of redistricting didn’t just create new maps for the House of Representatives in most states—it also changed some of their electoral vote numbers. And those changes were not great for Democrats in the event of a close election in 2024. Unfortunately, not much else has shifted blue to offset those changes—at least not that know of. And if President Biden and his allies want to hold the White House for another four years, they need to make sure that next year’s presidential election isn’t terribly close.

Let’s take 2020 as the baseline. President Biden scored a 306 to 232 victory in the Electoral College, which looks like a blowout until you remember that his margins were razor thin in Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, and uncomfortably close in Pennsylvania. On the 2024 map, that result now yields a 303 to 235 victory for the president, thanks to a net gain of three electoral votes for 2020 red states. I think I speak for everyone on Team Blue when I say: We’ll take it.

The bad news for Democrats is what happens if several of those battleground states revert back to Republicans next year. That’s not exactly a far-fetched scenario given current polling. For example, freeze the 2020 map but give Arizona, Wisconsin and Georgia back to the GOP nominee. Three years ago, that would still have yielded a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College. While that tie would likely have been broken in favor of former President Donald Trump (each state House delegation gets one vote), at least there is a chance of prevailing depending on the outcome of congressional races. Today that same result gives Republicans a 272-266 outright win.

President Joe Biden addresses the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at U.N. headquarters on Sept. 19, in New York City.
Adam Gray/Getty Images

Another scary scenario—what if Democrats hold Arizona and Wisconsin, but give back Pennsylvania and Georgia? In 2020, that would’ve yielded a 270 to 268 win for Biden. Next year the same map is a 270 to 268 win for the GOP nominee. And one plausible scenario is that Democrats hold Arizona as it continues to trend blue, but Republicans win Wisconsin, Georgia, Nevada, and New Hampshire. While Biden won the Granite State by 7 points in 2020, a different GOP nominee would likely be much more competitive there. Again, that map yields a 270-268 win for Biden in 2020 and a 271-267 loss in 2024.

What if Democrats hold Arizona and Georgia, but Republicans flip Wisconsin, Nevada, and Pennsylvania? That would’ve made Biden president in 2020 but now leads to a 270 to 268 win for the GOP in 2024. Not all these scenarios are equally likely, but you get the idea—it’s impossible to find any kind of close election result that’s better for Democrats in 2024 than in 2020. Play around with this interactive map at 270 to Win and see for yourself.

It would help if Democrats could break through in Florida or Texas. But the former is clearly drifting rightward, to the point that it seems unlikely that Biden will seriously contest it, and Democrats still haven’t gotten close enough in the Lone Star State to dream of winning it in an otherwise close national election. Texas voted about 10 points to the right of the nation in 2020, and even if you spot Democrats five more points nationally (a 9.45-point win in the popular vote) it probably only makes Texas a coin flip. And a win of that magnitude by Biden would mean Texas would be irrelevant to the outcome anyway.

This is all extremely maddening. If the United States elected its president by a direct popular vote, there would have been only a single, one-term Republican president since 1992 and Democrats would be sporting a 5-4 or 6-3 advantage on the Supreme Court. No one would be sweating marginal shifts in population between states because Democrats would be heavily favored in any election decided by which candidate gets the most votes. But until reformers succeed in making the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (in which states pledge to give all of their electoral votes to the candidate who gets the most total votes nationally) law in states totaling 270 electoral votes or more, this is the landscape that we face.

Another way out for Democrats is to invest serious capital and organizing resources in North Carolina, which has been decided by fewer than 4 points in four straight presidential elections. Biden lost it by just 1.3 points in 2020, and Democrats have long dreamed of a Virginia scenario where the Tar Heel State becomes part of the so-called Blue Wall. That hasn’t happened, but at the moment, it’s a more plausible target than Texas and should be the site of a major, Georgia-style organizing investment starting now.

But Democrats also shouldn’t let this problem paralyze them. After all, large shifts in a state’s partisanship between elections are hardly unprecedented. Between 2004 and 2008, for example, Virginia went from voting 5.8 points to the right of the country to less than one point. Ohio went from 0.9 to six points to the right of the national electorate between 2012 and 2016. Few saw changes of that magnitude coming, and there will almost certainly be at least one such surprise in store for 2024. If it is Democrats who dramatically improve their position in a battleground state like Arizona or Georgia, the GOP’s Electoral College advantage could be gone overnight.

To be clear: I’ll take that too.

David Faris is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Roosevelt University and the author of It’s Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. His writing has appeared in The Week, The Washington Post, The New Republic, Washington Monthly and more. You can find him on Twitter @davidmfaris.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.


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