The political map has shifted significantly this year -- partly due to demographic changes, and partly due to the deficiencies of Donald Trump.
Niall Stanage has written an excellent article on this phenomena for The Hill. He writes:
This year’s electoral map is shifting, with Hillary Clinton competitive in several states that are normally reliably Republican.
What’s unclear is whether those changes will be lasting.
Democrats broadly hope so.
They have been waiting for the nation’s changing demographics to make them competitive in GOP states such as Georgia, Arizona and even Texas, where rising Latino populations, in particular, are seen as helping Democratic candidates. They believe the shifts are already helping the party in Virginia, Colorado and North Carolina.
Republicans hope this year’s tighter races in Georgia and Arizona are merely a consequence of presidential nominee Donald Trump’s candidacy — and his unpopularity with minority voters in particular.
At the same time, the shifting map has also offered some benefits for Trump and Republicans.
Trump's poll performance has been especially resilient in Ohio and Iowa, two states that President Obama won in both 2008 and 2012. Trump has a narrow advantage in Ohio and a lead of almost 4 points in Iowa, according to the RealClearPolitics (RCP) polling averages.
The simplest explanation is that more diverse states are trending Clinton’s way, while older, whiter states are going for Trump.
Iowa has a higher share of white non-Hispanic residents than all but four states in the nation, according to Census Bureau statistics. Ohio ranks 17th by that measure. The newly competitive red states of Arizona, Georgia and Texas rank 42nd, 44th and 47th, respectively.
Democrats are throwing resources at Arizona, with a recent $2 million investment in TV and digital ads from the Clinton campaign and visits from high-profile surrogates including first lady Michelle Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Chelsea Clinton.
It amounts to a serious push in a state that 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney won by 9 points over Barack Obama. Clinton, the Democratic nominee, has a narrow lead in the RCP average of Arizona polls, even though the state has only backed a Democrat for president once since 1948.
Arizona has a large Hispanic population, accounting for 30.7 percent of the total, according to the most recent Census figures. But that figure has inched up relatively slowly — it was 29.6 percent in 2010 — so it is hard to attribute Clinton’s competitiveness purely to demographic shifts.
The state’s senior GOP senator, John McCain, also leads his Democratic challenger, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, by double-digit margins in recent polls.
Those data points lead many in the state to suggest that even if Democrats did succeed in flipping Arizona at the presidential level this year, their dominance would be short-lived.
Mike Noble, an Arizona pollster who works mostly with Republicans, asserted that “maybe 20, 30 years from now, the demographic trends will make the difference."
“But it’s only been four years [since Romney’s comfortable win] and the demographics have not changed that much,” he said. “It is a direct correlation with our current presidential nominee.
“Four years from now, it definitely goes Republican. It’s just this crazy election year.”
The dynamics of this year’s campaign are complicated and don’t come down just to minority voters.
Polls show Trump is outperforming Romney among white voters without college degrees, even as he lags badly among college-educated whites.
A Washington Post analysis, based on 2012 exit polls and its own polling last month, found Trump besting Romney’s performance with noncollege-educated whites by 6 points, but doing worse with college-educated whites by 23 points.
That’s bad news for Trump overall, but it goes some way in explaining his relative strength in Ohio and Iowa.
Those states are tied for 36th in the nation in terms of the share of the adult population with degrees.
By contrast, two of the traditional swing states that have trended most firmly toward Clinton, Colorado and Virginia, are ranked near the top of that league table, in third and seventh place, respectively.
Iowa is “one of the oldest states in the country, it is very white and it has a lot of non-college voters. You add that all up and that’s the profile of a Trump voter,” said David Yepsen, who covered presidential elections over several decades for the Des Moines Register and is now director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.
While Yepsen emphasized that Iowa “is a close state, no doubt about it,” he also suggested that other Republicans — not just Trump — could benefit.
The demographics, he said, are “potent for Trump. They may be potent for the Republican Party and [Sen.] Joni Ernst [R-Iowa] in particular.” The GOP has an even stronger wind at its back, he added, because “the rural economy is not doing very well. People in the state are in a particular funk about the direction of things.”
Although Ohio is more ethnically diverse than Iowa, it’s large white working-class population could also be responsible for Trump holding Clinton in at least a statistical dead heat there.
Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia wrote in a recent article that the “growing educational difference in white voter preference — with Trump over-performing with non-college graduates and underperforming with college graduates — probably works more to Trump’s advantage in Ohio than it might in some other states.”