Ballotpedia has published political profiles of each state, courtesy of the Almanac of American Politics 2016. Reading these profiles are essential to fully understanding American politics.
The largest states lean heavily toward the Democrats: New York, Illinois (Chicago), the Northeast and the West Coast states (California, Washington, Oregon) are generally considered Democratic, in contrast to Texas, the Western states, and Southern states are generally considered Republican.
But sometimes states can surprise you.
- Arizona: Traditionally a Republican state, Democrats have been gaining ground.
- Florida: The ultimate swing state. Florida was so close in 2000 that it caused a constitutional crisis. The US Supreme Court had to decide who won that election — Clinton Vice President Al Gore, who won the popular vote, or Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who won more states and an electoral college majority. In 2016, Florida was an essential state for Donald Trump.
- Nevada: Until 2016, this state voted for the winner every year since 1980. But Trump lost it, despite (or because of) his casino investments and the fact that Nevadans tend to be “risk-takers” who would like to see a return to Las Vegas’s salad days. Trump’s feud with a Latina beauty queen, in which he fat-shamed her and called her “Miss Housekeeping,” was a gift to Democrats.
- New Hampshire: Historically conservative — remember the license plate, “Live Free or Die”? But its proximity to liberal Massachusetts and an influx of population from that state has made it a fairly reliable Democratic state.
- North Carolina: This state was reliably Republican red in presidential politics for 28 years, from 1980 (Reagan’s election) until 2008. But during that time, NC elected moderate Democratic governors (Jim Hunt for 16 years, Mike Easley for eight years), and moderate Democratic legislatures. Obama won the state narrowly in 2008, with 49.9%. Republicans took the legislature in 2010, with a super-majority. Romney won the state narrowly in 2012, with 50.3% and “moderate” Republican Pat McCrory won the governorship. Democrats also lost a Senate seat that year. Trump won the state with just 50.5% of the vote in 2016 to Clinton’s 46.7%. A Democrat, Roy Cooper, beat Pat McCrory in the governor’s race by just 5,000 votes. NC is a rapidly growing state; more than half of the population wasn’t born there.
- Ohio: No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. But in some ways, it is less representative of the nation as a whole than it used to be, because it is older, whiter and less educated, with fewer college-educated voters and is still reeling from the loss of the manufacturing base. Trump won it narrowly.
- Pennsylvania: This state has a lot of working-class white voters that have been part of Trump’s base. The question is often Democratic turnout in the cities — Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The state went for Trump in 2016.
- Iowa: This state was reliably Democratic in the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama years. Hurt by the loss of manufacturing jobs, Iowa has been fertile territory for Donald Trump. He won it in 2016.