A changed political landscape
As U.S. presidents born nearly a century ago, the late George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter each reached the age of 94. Observing Carter seated in the front row during Bush’s funeral, we couldn’t help but reflect on how dramatically the nation’s political landscape has changed since these men were elected president.
In 1988, Bush, then serving as vice president under President Ronald Reagan, won election to the nation’s highest office. Bush, a Republican, defeated Democrat Michael Dukakis by an Electoral College vote total of 426-111.
Even with Dukakis being the sitting governor of neighboring Massachusetts, New Hampshire voters gave Bush more than 62 percent of the Granite State’s vote in 1988.
Bush is also the last Republican presidential candidate to carry the nation’s largest state, California, pulling in more than 51 percent of the vote in the Golden State.
By comparison, President Donald Trump, in 2016, lost California by more than 30 percentage points — or 4.3 million votes.
For New Hampshire in 1988, Republican Bush defeated Democrat Dukakis by 26 percentage points. Twenty-eight years later, Republican Trump lost the Granite State to Democrat Hillary Clinton.
For Carter, a Democrat, his 1976 winning Electoral College map is literally unimaginable today. States the Democrat won 42 years ago include New York, Massachusetts, Alabama, West Virginia and Texas.
Let that sink in for a moment. A Democratic president who is still alive carried both West Virginia and Texas on his road to the White House, yet lost both California and New Jersey.
Forty-two years worth of globalization and shifts in party platforms make such an Electoral College map unthinkable today. After all, someone would have to be at least 60 years old to have voted for Carter in 1976.
As different as they may have been politically, one thing Presidents Carter and Bush 41 have in common is that they were elected before the terms “blue state” and “red state” came into fashion. Those running for president once had to compete for the Electoral College votes of every state.
As the 2020 election nears, our nation would be well served if a candidate with the ability to make all 50 states competitive again were to emerge from the pack.