The last Republican presidential candidate to win the state of New York was Ronald Reagan in 1984, which helped him achieve his bid for re-election quite handily.
At the time, New York had 36 votes in the Electoral College, which was 11 votes less than its high of 47 in 1948. Despite that loss, the state was second only to California for the most in the nation.
The distribution of electoral votes reflects the number of U.S. senators and representatives a state has. While each state has two senators, the number of representatives it has is in proportion to the state’s total population.
The Census performed every 10 years calculates the fluctuations in population on a state-to-state basis and determines if a state will add or lose representatives, or keep the same number. This, of course, affects how many electoral votes a state may gain or lose as well.
Since 1964, there has been a total of 538 electoral votes dispersed among all states, including the District of Columbia. Two-hundred and seventy is the number needed to win the presidency.
States like Texas and California have continued to see growth in population over the past few decades, which has resulted in an increased number of representatives, and therefore electoral votes.
New York, on the other hand, has seen its electoral clout drop precipitously. Despite an increase of 2.1 percent in population, according to the 2010 Census, New York suffered its seventh consecutive loss of at least one electoral vote, which brings it currently to 29.
With Southern and Midwestern states seeing large increases in population over the past decade, New York is no longer the electoral powerhouse it once was. Now tied in votes for third with Florida, the state is far behind the likes of California (55) and Texas (38).
That being said, New York is still a must-win state for Democrats, along with California, while Republicans greatly depend on Texas. Florida has voted more Republican than Democrat over the past few decades, but it is considered a swing state and probably the most important of them all — see the Gore/Bush 2000 presidential election.
The opinion among the national media seems to indicate that this year’s presidential election could go either way. However, in-state polls suggest that New Yorkers favor President Obama over Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney by an average of 23 percent.
This would seem to indicate that New York is a strong Democratic state and a shoo-in for Obama come November.
What many might not be aware of is that New York has voted Republican 10 times out of 25 presidential elections over the past century. Of those 10, eight Republican presidential candidates have gone on to win the White House.
The exceptions were Charles Hughes’ tight race against Woodrow Wilson in 1916 and former New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey’s run in 1948 against Harry Truman.
Since Dewey, New York is five for its last five when voting Republican. Given that history and high probability, if New Yorkers were to change their minds come November and vote for Romney, he very well might be a lock for president.
Recent economic indicators and job reports show that the economy is continuing to grow, but at a sluggish and uninspiring pace. Unemployment rose to 8.2 percent from April to May and there are still millions of Americans who are unaccounted for because they are either underemployed or have stopped looking for employment altogether.
This does not bode well for Obama, whose job approval rating, according to a recent Gallup poll, is at 47 percent (plus or minus 3 percent). Furthermore, in most national polls, Obama and Romney are virtually tied.
As the summer approaches, we are sure to see the gloves come off. Super PACs will be pouring more and more money into negative campaign ads and both candidates will use misinformation and fear-mongering in hopes of scaring people into voting for them.
While an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers voted for Obama in 2008, his support is waning. However, the president has a few allies in Gov. Cuomo, Sen. Charles Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand that are sure to provide him with much-needed support before Election Day.
His recent visit to Albany’s Nanotechnology Campus is sure to boost support among Capital Region residents, even though some pundits have questioned why he has visited the area three times since he took office.
Potential for battle
It’s safe to say that the president and his re-election team are not taking any chances. They must act as if every state is up for grabs, and New York is no exception.
Seeing that Romney is receiving a large portion of his campaign cash from fund-raisers in New York City, it might behoove him to make a trip or two to the upstate area. While many of his recent predecessors have conceded New York to the Democrats, he should not be so dismissive.
With roughly five months left of campaigning, a battle could brew in the Empire State if Romney, along with his Super PACs, were to roll the dice.
While the number of New York’s electoral votes continues to trend downward, the state remains as significant as ever and has the potential to be an important battleground this year. The likelihood of such an occurrence is doubtful, but not completely out of the question.
Robert Caracciolo lives in Schenectady and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.