In the wake of the turmoil of Super Tuesday and hectic weeks following, as the dust as settled, it looks more likely than ever that the election for the 45th President of the United States will be between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
There will be plenty of time to cut and slice this competition after the Conventions in July, when the nominees are confirmed. Yet the results of Democratic and Republican primaries thus far suggest that there may be a new battleground in 2016.
Highlighted in red in the image above, the Midwest is often referred to as America’s heartland. Comprising roughly a fifth of the population of the United States, the economy of the region is largely defined by agriculture and heavy industry.
Traditionally Democrats have been strong in the Midwest: in 2008 Obama practically swept all the delegate-rich states, Bill Clinton took all the big Midwest states besides Indiana, and even with the losses to George W. Bush the Democrats won the populous states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois.
Meanwhile the Republicans have been kept at bay, only regularly winning Indiana and the sparse states to the west of the region (the Dakotas, Kansas, Nebraska).
Yet the popularity of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders with poorer working white men could change all this in 2016. The manufacturing industry in the Midwest has floundered in recent years, as free trade swamps the American market with cheaper foreign goods.The situation was bad enough to warrant President Obama saving Chrysler and General Motors back in 2009 during the auto industry bailout.
On the ground, this has meant factories closing down, stagnant wages and stubborn unemployment figures. Motor City itself, Detroit, has been among the worst hit.
Pundits believe it is not a coincidence, therefore, that platform of Bernie Sanders scored a surprise victory in Detroit’s state, Michigan, in March. Sanders’ opposition to international trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, appeals to voters who have felt the downsides of globalisation in the closure of local plants and factories. Sanders positions himself as an ally of the working man, a partner to American industry, in opposition to Hillary Clinton who supposedly ignores their plight.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Donald Trump is making a similar appeal. He is outspoken is his anger concerning what he deems to be poorly written trade agreements, and guarantees voters that he will defend their industries with greater ferocity than any other.
So in a potential Trump-Clinton showdown, the Midwest may suddenly be in play for the Republicans. Clinton performs relatively poorly with white blue-collar workers, and Trump could theoretically mobilise enough of these disaffected voters to challenge the Democrats’ hold on the region.
What’s more, the Republicans sorely need the Midwest to turn into a mix of battleground states. There are 18 states that the Democrats have won in each of the past six elections. This ‘blue wall’ of states give the Democrats around 242 electoral votes, leaving them just shy of the magic number 270 needed to win an election. That is why the large swing states of Florida (29 electoral votes) and Ohio (18) are so important for the Republicans.
A Trumpian, working-man brand of economic populism could threaten the Democratic dominance in the Midwest, or draft a blueprint for how Republicans may fight for these states in the future.