Winning margins in presidential elections by state, 1856-2008

These charts depict each state's voting history in presidential elections going back to the 19th century. The bars show the size of the winning margin in each election (blue bars on the left for Democrats who won the state, red bars on the right for Republicans who won the state). The goal is to give some sense of how each state has evolved in terms of partisan preferences. Click through for more analysis.
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ILLINOIS, like Michigan, was a highly contested state in the mid 20th century that seemed to trend Republican (1968-88) before doubling back to the Democrats from 1992 to 2008. Blue-collar "Reagan Democrats" in the immediate Chicago area contributed to the GOP's rise, but then Clinton and Obama made big inroads into the suburbs as Chicago itself became more Democratic than ever. Illinois was the rare Northern state where Obama set a record for a popular-vote margin (1,141,288). Michigan, Chicago, The Suburbs, Illinois, 20th Century, Collar, Blue
Victory margins in presidential elections: Illinois, 1856-2008
ILLINOIS, like Michigan, was a highly contested state in the mid 20th century that seemed to trend Republican (1968-88) before doubling back to the Democrats from 1992 to 2008. Blue-collar "Reagan Democrats" in the immediate Chicago area contributed to the GOP's rise, but then Clinton and Obama made big inroads into the suburbs as Chicago itself became more Democratic than ever. Illinois was the rare Northern state where Obama set a record for a popular-vote margin (1,141,288).
MICHIGAN was once the most Republican big state in America. Calvin Coolidge got 75% in 1924, and his margin of 722,272 votes remained a state record until 1964. That was when Lyndon Johnson got 67% and a new record margin of 1,076,463. The Democratic advantage didn't last long, as Michigan voted for Republicans in five consecutive elections from 1972 through 1988. Since then, it's been part of the "blue wall," and the state cast a record 5 million votes in 2008, giving Obama a margin of 823,940. Lyndon Johnson, Calvin Coolidge, States In America, Rear Window, In America, Victorious, It Cast, Wall
Victory margins in presidential elections: Michigan, 1856-2008
MICHIGAN was once the most Republican big state in America. Calvin Coolidge got 75% in 1924, and his margin of 722,272 votes remained a state record until 1964. That was when Lyndon Johnson got 67% and a new record margin of 1,076,463. The Democratic advantage didn't last long, as Michigan voted for Republicans in five consecutive elections from 1972 through 1988. Since then, it's been part of the "blue wall," and the state cast a record 5 million votes in 2008, giving Obama a margin of 823,940.
NORTH CAROLINA was solidly in the GOP camp in 2004, when a record 3,501,007 voters gave Bush II a 56-44 victory. But four years later, turnout in North Carolina jumped by 10.8 points to 66.5%, the strongest improvement in the US, and Obama eked out a win of 0.3 points and 14,177 votes. This was the first Democratic win since 1976, when a (smaller) boost in turnout helped Carter, another fresh face, easily carry the state for the party. Republicans hope that the Obama win is just as fleeting. North Carolina, Fresh Face
Victory margins in presidential elections: North Carolina, 1856-2008
NORTH CAROLINA was solidly in the GOP camp in 2004, when a record 3,501,007 voters gave Bush II a 56-44 victory. But four years later, turnout in North Carolina jumped by 10.8 points to 66.5%, the strongest improvement in the US, and Obama eked out a win of 0.3 points and 14,177 votes. This was the first Democratic win since 1976, when a (smaller) boost in turnout helped Carter, another fresh face, easily carry the state for the party. Republicans hope that the Obama win is just as fleeting.
GEORGIA is another Southern state where the rapid growth of the electorate has so far benefited Republicans. It first hit 1 million votes in 1964, when Goldwater was the first GOP nominee to ever carry the state. Southern Democrats Carter and Clinton each briefly interrupted the Republican flow, but when Georgia hit 3 million votes, in 2004, it gave a 17-point victory to Bush II. Turnout was up again in 2008, falling just short of 4 million votes, but this time the GOP edge was down to 5 points. 1 Million, Georgia
Victory margins in presidential elections: Georgia, 1856-2008
GEORGIA is another Southern state where the rapid growth of the electorate has so far benefited Republicans. It first hit 1 million votes in 1964, when Goldwater was the first GOP nominee to ever carry the state. Southern Democrats Carter and Clinton each briefly interrupted the Republican flow, but when Georgia hit 3 million votes, in 2004, it gave a 17-point victory to Bush II. Turnout was up again in 2008, falling just short of 4 million votes, but this time the GOP edge was down to 5 points.
NEW JERSEY has been part of both recent Electoral College "locks," voting Republican six consecutive times from 1968 to 1988 and then Democratic five consecutive times from 1988 to 2008. But the Democrats have a history of winning big here, then fading. It happened most dramatically in the 1960s: Johnson got 65.6% and a record margin of 903,828 votes in 1964, and four years later the Democratic share plunged to 44.0%, creating a hole it took the party more than 20 years to crawl out of. New Jersey, History, Electoral College, 20 Years, 1960s
Victory margins in presidential elections: New Jersey, 1856-2008
NEW JERSEY has been part of both recent Electoral College "locks," voting Republican six consecutive times from 1968 to 1988 and then Democratic five consecutive times from 1988 to 2008. But the Democrats have a history of winning big here, then fading. It happened most dramatically in the 1960s: Johnson got 65.6% and a record margin of 903,828 votes in 1964, and four years later the Democratic share plunged to 44.0%, creating a hole it took the party more than 20 years to crawl out of.
VIRGINIA provides an example of big partisan changes driven by population growth. Obama's 2008 showing (52.6%) was the best for a Democrat since Johnson in 1964 (53.5%), but the electorate over that period more than tripled, from 1,042,267 to 3,723,260. So Obama set a record for a Democratic raw-vote margin (234,527), even though Democrats routinely carried the state by at least 20 points during the "Solid South" era of the first half of the 20th century. Population Growth, Rising Tide, Virginia, Period
Victory margins in presidential elections: Virginia, 1856-2008
VIRGINIA provides an example of big partisan changes driven by population growth. Obama's 2008 showing (52.6%) was the best for a Democrat since Johnson in 1964 (53.5%), but the electorate over that period more than tripled, from 1,042,267 to 3,723,260. So Obama set a record for a Democratic raw-vote margin (234,527), even though Democrats routinely carried the state by at least 20 points during the "Solid South" era of the first half of the 20th century.
MASSACHUSETTS is the most famously blue state, but it's not quite the outlier it used to be. By 1964, turnout was up to 2.3 million, and Johnson set records for both his percentage (76.2%) and margin of victory (1,236,695). Obama's victory in 2008 was impressive (61.8% and a margin of 795,244) was impressive, but the slow-growing Bay State is not a big source of new Democratic voters these days. Red Bar, Massachusetts
Victory margins in presidential elections: Massachusetts, 1856-2008
MASSACHUSETTS is the most famously blue state, but it's not quite the outlier it used to be. By 1964, turnout was up to 2.3 million, and Johnson set records for both his percentage (76.2%) and margin of victory (1,236,695). Obama's victory in 2008 was impressive (61.8% and a margin of 795,244) was impressive, but the slow-growing Bay State is not a big source of new Democratic voters these days.
WASHINGTON was a swing state for most of the 20th century and was a bit more Republican than the US as a whole as late as 1976, when Ford beat Carter here. SInce then, the state has become more solidly Democratic as it's grown in population. In 1972, 1.5 million people voted in Washington, and Nixon carried the state for the Republicans with 56.9% and a margin of 268,801. By 2008, the electorate had doubled, to 3.1 million, and Obama carried the state with 57.3% and a record margin of 521,632. The 20th Century, Seattle Washington, Nixon, Washington, Ford
Victory margins in presidential elections: Washington, 1892-2008
WASHINGTON was a swing state for most of the 20th century and was a bit more Republican than the US as a whole as late as 1976, when Ford beat Carter here. SInce then, the state has become more solidly Democratic as it's grown in population. In 1972, 1.5 million people voted in Washington, and Nixon carried the state for the Republicans with 56.9% and a margin of 268,801. By 2008, the electorate had doubled, to 3.1 million, and Obama carried the state with 57.3% and a record margin of 521,632.
WASHINGTON was a swing state for most of the 20th century and was a bit more Republican than the US as a whole as late as 1976, when Ford beat Carter here. SInce then, the state has become more solidly Democratic as it's grown in population. In 1972, 1.5 million people voted in Washington, and Nixon carried the state for the Republicans with 56.9% and a margin of 268,801. By 2008, the electorate had doubled, to 3.1 million, and Obama carried the state with 57.3% and a record margin of 521,632.
Victory margins in presidential elections: Washington, 1892-2008
WASHINGTON was a swing state for most of the 20th century and was a bit more Republican than the US as a whole as late as 1976, when Ford beat Carter here. SInce then, the state has become more solidly Democratic as it's grown in population. In 1972, 1.5 million people voted in Washington, and Nixon carried the state for the Republicans with 56.9% and a margin of 268,801. By 2008, the electorate had doubled, to 3.1 million, and Obama carried the state with 57.3% and a record margin of 521,632.
WASHINGTON was a swing state for most of the 20th century and was a bit more Republican than the US as a whole as late as 1976, when Ford beat Carter here. SInce then, the state has become more solidly Democratic as it's grown in population. In 1972, 1.5 million people voted in Washington, and Nixon carried the state for the Republicans with 56.9% and a margin of 268,801. By 2008, the electorate had doubled, to 3.1 million, and Obama carried the state with 57.3% and a record margin of 521,632.
Victory margins in presidential elections: Washington, 1892-2008
WASHINGTON was a swing state for most of the 20th century and was a bit more Republican than the US as a whole as late as 1976, when Ford beat Carter here. SInce then, the state has become more solidly Democratic as it's grown in population. In 1972, 1.5 million people voted in Washington, and Nixon carried the state for the Republicans with 56.9% and a margin of 268,801. By 2008, the electorate had doubled, to 3.1 million, and Obama carried the state with 57.3% and a record margin of 521,632.
WASHINGTON was a swing state for most of the 20th century and was a bit more Republican than the US as a whole as late as 1976, when Ford beat Carter here. SInce then, the state has become more solidly Democratic as it's grown in population. In 1972, 1.5 million people voted in Washington, and Nixon carried the state for the Republicans with 56.9% and a margin of 268,801. By 2008, the electorate had doubled, to 3.1 million, and Obama carried the state with 57.3% and a record margin of 521,632.
Victory margins in presidential elections: Washington, 1892-2008
WASHINGTON was a swing state for most of the 20th century and was a bit more Republican than the US as a whole as late as 1976, when Ford beat Carter here. SInce then, the state has become more solidly Democratic as it's grown in population. In 1972, 1.5 million people voted in Washington, and Nixon carried the state for the Republicans with 56.9% and a margin of 268,801. By 2008, the electorate had doubled, to 3.1 million, and Obama carried the state with 57.3% and a record margin of 521,632.
WISCONSIN is part of the "Blue Wall" of states that have gone Democratic in every election since 1988. But the outcome was quite close in 2000 and 2004, when the Democrats won by less than 1 percentage point and by raw-vote margins of 5,708 and 11,384. Obama won by 414,818 in 2008, the biggest margin in state history outside of FDR's reelection in 1936. In contrast to other states, this shift to the left was not the result of higher turnout. Wisconsin
Victory margins in presidential elections: Wisconsin, 1856-2008
WISCONSIN is part of the "Blue Wall" of states that have gone Democratic in every election since 1988. But the outcome was quite close in 2000 and 2004, when the Democrats won by less than 1 percentage point and by raw-vote margins of 5,708 and 11,384. Obama won by 414,818 in 2008, the biggest margin in state history outside of FDR's reelection in 1936. In contrast to other states, this shift to the left was not the result of higher turnout.
WISCONSIN is part of the "Blue Wall" of states that have gone Democratic in every election since 1988. But the outcome was quite close in 2000 and 2004, when the Democrats won by less than 1 percentage point and by raw-vote margins of 5,708 and 11,384. Obama won by 414,818 in 2008, the biggest margin in state history outside of FDR in 1936. In contrast to other states, this shift to the left was not the result of higher turnout, as the electorate actually dropped by some 14,000 (to 2,983,417).
Victory margins in presidential elections: Wisconsin, 1856-2008
WISCONSIN is part of the "Blue Wall" of states that have gone Democratic in every election since 1988. But the outcome was quite close in 2000 and 2004, when the Democrats won by less than 1 percentage point and by raw-vote margins of 5,708 and 11,384. Obama won by 414,818 in 2008, the biggest margin in state history outside of FDR in 1936. In contrast to other states, this shift to the left was not the result of higher turnout, as the electorate actually dropped by some 14,000 (to 2,983,417).
WISCONSIN is part of the "Blue Wall" of states that have gone Democratic in every election since 1988. But the outcome was quite close in 2000 and 2004, when the Democrats won by less than 1 percentage point and by raw-vote margins of 5,708 and 11,384. Obama won by 414,818 in 2008, the biggest margin in state history outside of FDR in 1936. In contrast to other states, this shift to the left was not the result of higher turnout, as the electorate actually dropped by some 14,000 (to 2,983,417).
Victory margins in presidential elections: Wisconsin, 1856-2008
WISCONSIN is part of the "Blue Wall" of states that have gone Democratic in every election since 1988. But the outcome was quite close in 2000 and 2004, when the Democrats won by less than 1 percentage point and by raw-vote margins of 5,708 and 11,384. Obama won by 414,818 in 2008, the biggest margin in state history outside of FDR in 1936. In contrast to other states, this shift to the left was not the result of higher turnout, as the electorate actually dropped by some 14,000 (to 2,983,417).
MISSOURI has done more swinging than the typical state — not surprising, given that it can vote with the South, the Midwest, or the Farm Belt, depending on which of its regions dominate in any given election. From 1904 through 2004, it voted for a losing candidate only once (Stevenson over Eisenhower in 1956), but that was a major deviation from the country as a whole (Eisenhower won by 15 points). In 2008, it went for McCain by a slender 3,903 votes, suggesting long odds for Obama in 2012. The Farm, The South, Missouri
Victory margins in presidential elections: Missouri, 1856-2008
MISSOURI has done more swinging than the typical state — not surprising, given that it can vote with the South, the Midwest, or the Farm Belt, depending on which of its regions dominate in any given election. From 1904 through 2004, it voted for a losing candidate only once (Stevenson over Eisenhower in 1956), but that was a major deviation from the country as a whole (Eisenhower won by 15 points). In 2008, it went for McCain by a slender 3,903 votes, suggesting long odds for Obama in 2012.