An Ohio in 2008 Unlike Almost Any Ohio We've Known Before
by Jonathan Singer, Tue May 15, 2007 at 05:52:21 PM EDT
Back in 2004, George W. Bush topped John Kerry in Ohio by just a hair over two points, allowing him to take the state and indeed the White House (as a Kerry win in the Buckeye state would have secured him the presidency). Exit polling from the state that year showed an electorate decidedly tilted towards the Republicans, with 40 percent of voters identifying with the GOP and just 35 percent identifying with the Democratic Party.
Flash forward two years. Ohio seemed to be an entirely different state than it was during the previous election. On November 7, 2006, the Ohio electorate skewed more to the Democrats than in the previous election, with 40 percent of voters identifying as Democrats and just 37 percent identifying as Republican, according to exit polling. Ohioans elected a new Democratic Senator over a two-term incumbent Republican by more than a 12-point margin. They elected a new Democratic Governor to replace an outgoing Republican by close to a 24-point margin. They elected a new Democratic Attorney General to replace an outgoing Republican by more than a 5-point margin. They elected a new Democratic Secretary of State to replace an outgoing Republican by nearly a 15-point margin. They elected a new Democratic Treasurer to replace an outgoing Republican by better than a 15-point margin. And they also boosted the number of Democrats serving in their state House by seven (to 46 in a chamber of 99) and in their state Senate by one (to 12 in a chamber of 33), according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and elected a Democrat, Zack Space, to replace imprisoned GOP Congressman Bob Ney.
Importantly, the numbers from 2006 seem to be holding in 2007 -- perhaps a good sign that voters in the state in 2008 will treat the Democrats more like they did last fall than they did in 2004. A new poll from Quinnipiac University pegs the approval rating of Democratic Governor Ted Strickland at 54 percent, with just 16 percent disapproving. A recent Ohio Poll (.pdf) from the University of Cincinnati pegs Strickland's numbers even higher, with 68 percent approving and just 16 percent disapproving. And polling undertaken by SurveyUSA last month showed Strickland with an approval rating of 57 percent, though with 32 percent disapproving.
Yet it is not just the Governor's approval ratings that may augur well for Democrats hoping to move Ohio from the red column to the blue in the 2008 presidential election. In SurveyUSA polling from April, the approval rating of the state's Democratic Senator, Sherrod Brown, was a net 9 points better than that of the state's Republican Senator, George Voinovich. Even more importantly, the party affiliation of respondents from that poll was noticeably Democratic, with 42 percent identifying as Democrats and just 29 percent identifying as Republican. These numbers represent about the same ratio as found by SurveyUSA in polling from the state just after the 2006 midterms in which 42 percent identified as Democrats and 32 percent identified as Republicans -- and a much better ratio than back in May 2005, when SurveyUSA found an electorate 31 percent Republican and just 35 percent Democratic.
Of course these numbers do not necessarily indicate that voters who show up to the polls in November 2008 will be 10 or more points more Democratic than Republican. As we saw last November, such a margin in polling only correlated to about a 3-point lead for Democrats in self-identification on election day. But if the Ohio electorate on election day 2008 is three points more Democratic than Republican -- rather than five points more Republican than Democratic, as it was in 2004 -- the results out of the state could look a lot more like they did in 2006 than they did in 2004, with Democrats winning by somewhat sizeable margins, perhaps even in the presidential election. The fact that the Secretary of State is a Democrat, not a Republican intent on helping George W. Bush carry the state, can't hurt.
Certainly a lot can change between now and election day, both around the country and within the state of Ohio. Nevertheless, the leading indicators out of the Buckeye State are remarkably clear: The Democrats are in a great position to build on their successes in the state from 2006 and perhaps even move Ohio from a reddish-purple to a noticeably blue-purple.
For more on Ohio in the 2008 elections, check out my look at congressional races in the state.