First, remember that correlation is not causation. Ohio voters do not cause voters in other states to vote one way or another, such that securing Ohio votes secures votes in other states. Ohio reflects a larger trend, but it is the best predictor of who will take the White House?
Second, it’s true that since the first election in which Republicans participated in 1856, the party that won Ohio, won the White House. However, since 1928 the same statistic is true for Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Virginia, all swing states. Why the obsessive focus on Ohio?
For the first 75 years following the Civil War, Ohio was a much more Republican state than it is today. Thus, it’s not surprising that Ohio had a perfect record predicting Republican wins during that period.
Then Ohio went for Roosevelt in 1932, 1936, and 1940. Since then, shifting demographics morphed Ohio into its present-day, racially-mixed, blue-collar, purple condition.
After 75 years of being solidly Republican, another 75 years of good luck as a swing state in predicting elections—but no better than Florida, Virginia, Colorado, or Nevada—gave Ohio its current bellwether reputation.
But none of those swing states was as Republican as Ohio in the 75 years prior to 1928. This explains why none of their track records goes as far back as Ohio’s in picking Republicans. Specifically, Ohio voted for the Republican candidate 89 percent of the time in elections between 1856 and 1924, compared to 60 percent for Nevada, 58 percent for Colorado, 18 percent for Florida, and 6 percent for Virginia.
Saying Ohio was a bellwether state for Republicans from 1856 to 1924 is like saying Kansas was a bellwether state for Republicans during that period. Imagine if Kansas’s demographics had shifted during the Great Depression, such that a greater proportion of Democrats began flooding in, and Kansas suddenly became a swing state. Then everyone would be proclaiming today that no Republican president has ever won the White House without winning Kansas.
In short, for 75 years Ohio was Kansas, then it turned purple and had a string of luck predicting elections for 75 years (like Florida, Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada); ergo, pundits consider Ohio an infallible barometer of the national political soul back to Abraham Lincoln.
Ohio is the Republican bellwether state—until it isn’t. One of these days, a Republican is going to win the election without Ohio, and it could happen in 2012. Pundits will simply move the starting date of their metric to the earliest date after which one of the other swing states had a perfect record, then declare this new state the hurdle Republicans must clear to win the general election.
Instead of camping out in Ohio for the next week, Romney should focus on connecting with as many voters in all of the swing states as possible, and hope that his nationwide momentum spreads to the important, but not eternally-important Ohio.