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5 States Likely to Become Battleground States by 2016

Created: 30 April, 2014
Updated: 14 October, 2022
5 min read

Presidential politics are all about numbers, from campaign spending, third party interest funding, and electoral votes (EV). Battleground states, by definition, shift the winning side every 4 years or so, hence they are where both Democrats and Republicans fight the hardest for each vote.

Florida has nearly as many registered Democrats as Republicans, a diverse Latino population, and pockets of densely populated urban areas. It is expensive to run a campaign in the Sunshine State and with 29 electoral votes, it is sure to be a battleground state for many more cycles to come.

Other states that currently fall into the "battleground state" category are Ohio, the centerpiece in 2004’s election, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. These states will undoubtedly remain heavily contested, but there are others.

Nate Silver provided an excellent analysis after Obama’s 2012 victory, noting the traditional swing states like Iowa that leaned Democratic as well as newer ones like Nevada and Colorado. This article looks at that trend to see how 2016 is shaping up.

These battleground states arise from social issues and changing demographics. Voter turnout is worth considering, but so are recent elections. The 2010 midterm put a lot of states in danger for the Democrats, but Obama still won many of them in 2012. Much can happen in 2 years.



New Mexico is one of several states that show a growing Latino population that does not align to one political party. Bill Richardson was a popular Democratic governor and former cabinet member in the Clinton Administration. When he was term-limited, Susana Martinez, a Republican, won a tight race in 2010. Meanwhile, Obama’s margin of victory dropped from 15 percent to 10 percent from 2008 to 2012.

Are more Democrats losing momentum or are Republicans gaining some? The winner of the Latino vote is likely to win New Mexico and similar states.



Nevada is arguably the most under-reported bellwether state. Over the past 100 years, Nevada voted for the winner 24 out of 25 times with Jimmy Carter in 1976 being the lone exception. That impressive statistic was before 2012. Perhaps it was due to its small number of electoral votes, but Nevada has seen that number double to 6 since 1980.

There is still a long way to go to 270, but other stats show other reasons Nevada will play an important role.

Obama won Nevada in 2008 and 2012, but that doesn’t mean it will go blue in 2016. The Latino population growth is outpacing whites in Nevada. Fortunately for Obama, in Nevada the Latino vote edged his way 70-25. While it was lower than 2008’s share, there was a higher turnout among Latinos the second time around.

An increase in turnout is better for democracy, but it may not always favor the Democrats.



Obviously the Latino vote is important in Arizona. However, that is not the only thing that has changed in the state over the decades.

The Grand Canyon State has been safely red back well before Reagan, except in 1996 when the state went to Bill Clinton. When it seemed Arizona was turning left, the GOP gradually regained more ground. Meanwhile, Democratic candidates have made stronger inroads with the Latino population, although turnout is key and one of several problems holding Arizona from being a true battleground state.



Obama won the Centennial State back-to-back, an impressive feat considering the state’s past.

In 1992, Clinton was the first democrat since LBJ to carry Colorado. That did not last long because Colorado went to Bob Dole on the losing end in 1996 and went red in 2000 and 2004 as well. Is Colorado a swing state like Florida or Ohio or does this mean that Colorado went

from purple to blue fairly quickly?

Since U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a member of the Senate’s Gang of Eight on immigration reform, defeated Ken Buck in a close 2010 election, this may indicate that Colorado is more the latter -- more blue than purple.

However, another key factor to consider is the rise of independent voters in the state. From 2012 to 2014 alone, voters choosing not to affiliate with either major party rose 20.6 percent in Colorado, the largest increase among the key states in the 2014 elections.

Aside from the Latino population, there are other states that favored Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections.

Wisconsin is one of many states that switched parties in the governor’s mansion. While Pennsylvania’s Ed Rendell and New Mexico’s Richardson were term-limited, Republicans Tom Corbett and Susana Martinez grabbed their executive seats. Perhaps it was a weak set of Democratic candidates, but Republicans Rick Scott and Rick Snyder became governors of Florida and Michigan, respectively. Chris Christie and John Kasich even defeated Democratic incumbents in states traditionally considered solidly blue states. That is over 100 electoral votes in those seven states alone.



Scott Walker may currently be the luckiest governor. Since Jim Doyle, the previous governor, opted not to run for a third term, Walker defeated Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett twice, one in 2010 and again in a recall election. Meanwhile, President Obama carried Wisconsin in 2008 and 2012. When turnout is up, Wisconsin looks more blue.

There are multiple paths to victory in 2016 involving any number of these politically purple states and others. Whoever the candidates are, they will have to campaign through old and new battleground states to ultimately win 270+ electoral votes. The future may be uncertain, but change is always expected in politics.

Who knows, maybe Texas or California will become battleground states?