Ohio: bellwether or fairweather?

March 5, 2008 in Politics,Quotes

Hillary Clinton made an interesting comment in her victory speech last night:

[Ohio] is a state that knows how to pick a president. And no candidate in recent history, Democrat or Republican, has won the White House without winning the Ohio primary.

When Hillary originally made this statement to an Ohio TV station, she omitted the "in recent history" bit. It's a good thing she added it, because among the presidents Ohio has failed to pick are FDR, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and JFK -- though to be fair DDE wasn't on the primary ballot. Of course, in the 11 elections that presumably count as "recent history", Ohio has delivered such choices as George W. Bush - twice - so perhaps HRC should keep her praise of the state's precognitions to a minimum.

But if we can be rational for a second, there is nothing that remarkable about Ohio's predictive prowess, for two reasons:

  1. Ohio is a large state (meaning lots of delegates) without a dominant conservative or liberal population
  2. Ohio holds its primary relatively late in the primary process

By the first point, Ohio should be an important swing state. However, because it votes so late, often the frontrunner (or nominee!) has already been identified long before the primary date. It's hardly surprising, therefore, that the state's results agree with the prospective president -- they're just jumping on the bandwagon! The fact that Ohio's vote should be important means a disproportionate degree of attention is lavished upon it, even when it doesn't matter. Granted, in 2008, it clearly is an important state; it just that usually it isn't, so there's no justification for its bellwether status. It might more appropriately be termed a "fairweather state."

But back to superstition. There is another state whose predictive record beats even Ohio. Missouri has correctly picked the President in every single year since 1900, with just one strike (like Ohio, they missed DDE in '56). And who won Missouri? Obama.

Not that it matters.

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