A Bellwether Refresher: The States Most Likely To Mirror National Election Outcome | KUOW News and Information

A Bellwether Refresher: The States Most Likely To Mirror National Election Outcome

Nov 6, 2016
Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're not going to know the results of the election until Tuesday night - we hope, anyway. That doesn't stop us, however, from trying to predict the outcome of this presidential race. At this point, you may have heard a lot about bellwethers. For a little background on this, we now go to Professor Ron. That would be NPR's senior political editor Ron Elving.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: OK. Bear with me now. We're going to talk about sheep herding.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHEEP BLEATING)

ELVING: A wether is a neutered ram. And shepherds would tie a bell to one of their trained wethers and let that wether find the path or answer the call of the shepherd. And the bell would jangle, and the other sheep would go along.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS RINGING)

ELVING: So in politics, the bellwether is a state that signals the direction of the whole flock of states. Thus, we used to say, long ago, as Maine goes, so goes the nation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: As Maine goes...

ELVING: You can't talk about the bellwether without talking about the state of Ohio.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: It's a small Ohio town that's been called America's bellwether.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Which for years has been a bellwether location.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Bellwether state that could decide the outcome of the election.

ELVING: No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio, and precious few Democrats have done it either. In fact, Ohio has been with the winner a remarkable 28 times in the 30 presidential elections beginning with William McKinley, 1896.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: In the state of Ohio, Nixon is declared the winner by...

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #5: Zero for Mondale there. Ronald Reagan carries Ohio.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #6: State of Ohio has been won by President Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #7: We're about to call the state of Ohio, and in fact, we're going to put that in the column for George W. Bush, the governor from Texas.

ELVING: Ohio's success as a bellwether owes a lot to its resemblance - close resemblance - to the nation as a whole in demography, economics, party identification. But that resemblance may be fading in the 21st century, as Ohio looks less like the country as a whole. Another state with nearly as predictive a voting record as Ohio is, rather surprisingly, New Mexico. New Mexico has actually been with the winner 24 times in the 26 elections since it became a state in 1912. And one of its two misses was 2000.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #8: If you don't mind, I'm going to interrupt because we do have a call to make. CNN says that the state of New Mexico goes into the corner of Al Gore.

ELVING: So if states can't be relied upon to signal the winner, perhaps smaller jurisdictions can still do so.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #9: If you want to know who the next president of the United States will be...

ELVING: Surely, we must here tip our hat to Vigo County.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #9: Vigo County - they've correctly voted for the winning presidential candidate...

ELVING: In every election save two since 1888. At least all of these reputations are based in voting and have a reasonable relationship to politics. The same can't be said for some of the other talismans you will see noted and quoted.

(SOUNDBITE OF TWILIGHT TRIO'S "TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (STADIUM MIX)")

ELVING: For many years, the World Series has been cited as a mystical omen for the presidential outcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2016 WORLD SERIES)

JOE BUCK: This is going to be a tough play. Bryant - the Cubs win the World Series.

ELVING: Although there is no relationship between the two contests, there's been a longstanding correlation between the fates of the two leagues and the two major parties. When the American League team won in October, the Republicans won in November. And when the National League team won, the Democrats won. This pattern held through the 1950s and '60s and '70s.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1976 WORLD SERIES)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: And the Cincinnati Reds win their fourth World Championship.

ELVING: But since then, it's been no more than a coin toss. If you think any of these ideas is silly, consider the number of people who look to see what year the presidential candidate was born, believing that odd years mean the Republican wins...

(SOUNDBITE OF VANGELIS SONG, "ALPHA")

ELVING: ...The calendar day the presidential candidates were born or the number of letters in the candidate's last name. How much is any of this worth? Probably about as much as you think.

I'm Ron Elving, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF VANGELIS SONG, "ALPHA")

MARTIN: In that story, we heard tape from CBS, ABC, CNN and NBC. For more history with Professor Ron, you can check out his office hours on the NPR Politics page on Facebook.

(SOUNDBITE OF VANGELIS SONG, "ALPHA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.