There have been 30 presidential elections since 1896; the state of Ohio sided with the winner in 28 of them. Thats the best record in the nation, as Kyle Kondik examines in his new book, The Bellwether: Why Ohio Picks the President (Ohio University Press) and a likely harbinger again come November.
Why is Ohio so good at predicting the next president?
Most states have a dominant city or industry or issue. Think Iowa and ethanol or West Virginia and coal. Ohio has many of those components, but none of them dominate. That anchors the state to the national result.
How did Ohio become so typical?
It was created soon after the nation’s founding, and it was settled from all over—Yankees in the northeast, Southerners in the southwest, Pennsylvania Dutch in the middle. Ohio is in some ways a combination of the North and the South, the East and the West. Over time it has changed in ways that reflect the nation.
One change your book describes is how African-Americans came to support FDR and the Democrats.
Ohio has always had a substantial African-American population, and prior to FDR’s election, African-Americans were primarily Republicans—which made sense, given their allegiance to the party of Lincoln. But with the New Deal, African-Americans became very loyal to FDR, and over time, to the party as a whole.
A more recent change is how America has become more polarized—Republican vs. Democrat, rural vs. urban, and so on.
All around the nation, big, urban counties are trending Democratic. Hamilton County is kicking loose its longstanding Republican nature and becoming a swing county that trends Democratic. Thats one example of how the two electoral coalitions are changing. But in Ohio, those changes have sort of canceled each other out. Hamilton County has become more liberal, but southeast Ohio has become more conservative. It keeps the state in equilibrium. [Ohio] remains as good a bellwether as ever. In fact, it may be better than ever.
Kondik will discuss his book at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County main branch on Sept 19.