Alaska: The Republican Party's Last Frontier?

17/10/2016 12:49

The 2016 election is potentially the most bizarre and widely reported presidential election ever. After many controversies from both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump's campaigns, polls have tightened in many states, albeit generally to Clinton's advantage. They currently poll equally in Utah, the state that most strongly voted Republican in 2012 - although Mitt Romney had home state advantage - and Clinton is only 4 points behind Trump in Texas, widely regarded as the largest, safe Republican state.

However, there has been very little discussion about Alaska, America's newest and largest state, and a state that has become increasingly blue since 2000. It is hard to imagine that a state that elected Sarah Palin for Governor in 2006 could become a battleground state in 2016, or at least 2020. As of October 16th, polls Trump at 45.7% and Clinton as 40.7% - Clinton is only 5 points behind Trump in a state that has only voted Democrat once, for President Johnson in 1964.

Around 300,000 voters vote in Alaska in the presidential election. If this holds, and Clinton is 5% behind Trump currently, she has a 15,000 vote deficit. 15,000 votes may be a lot in Alaska, but it is not enough to for a firm victory for Trump in America's largest state. 15,000 voters could easily not vote for Trump in protest, or vote for a third party candidate, in which Clinton would edge closer to winning Alaska's three electoral votes.

So why is Clinton projected to do well in the state? There could be a number of reasons.

Alaska has swung toward the Democratic Party in Presidential elections since 2000. George W. Bush cleared 30.5% ahead of rival Al Gore in 2000 - a decisive victory for Bush. However, 4 years later this had shrunk to a 25.6% lead. John Kerry also won counties in southeast Alaska, its most populous area. Obama held this county and won parts of western Alaska in 2008, shrinking the lead to 21.53% despite Palin being the first Alaskan to run in a presidential race. In 2012 this shrunk further, to a 13.99% lead for the Republicans. With a 7.5% swing to the Democrats between 2008 and 2012, this was the largest swing to the Democrats that season, despite the Democrats having a sitting President.

Clinton may also favour well this election because of increased literature being printed in Native Alaskan language (Yup'ik and Gwich'in). This is likely to increase the percentage of votes by Native Alaskans, who like Native Indians are keen on Clinton's overall support for increased native rights and her opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Democrats have also put a lot of effort into understanding and attracting Native Alaskans and Native Americans for years, realising their Senate majority may depend the Native American vote. President Obama and President Clinton are the last two Presidents to spend much time on Native American land, demonstrating an appeal from Democrats to these tribes.

Native Alaskans often pick a candidate rather than their party. They elected Lisa Murkowski, a write-in candidate for Senate in 2010 and are likely to elect her again in 2016. However, this year they are faced with a choice between Clinton and Trump for President. Native Alaskan tribes are societies that tend to be matriarchal. The Trump tapes, in which he brags about sexual assault, could lead Trump into problems with Native Alaskan communities. In contrast, Clinton may benefit not only because of her policies but also because of her gender in a society that endorses matriarchy.

Alaska has around 88,000 Alaskan natives eligible to vote. No Presidential election in Alaska has been decided by more than 88,000 votes. Simply put, if Native Alaskans decided to fully support one candidate over another, and vote, that candidate is likely to win Alaska and their three electoral votes. Trump is unlikely to gain the support of this growing electorate and it is up to Clinton to earn it.

In many ways, Alaska is the most likely 'strong Republican' state to swing, purely from a mathematical point of view. If Clinton wins this state, it will send a powerful message to the Republicans that no state - even Sarah Palin's - is safe from the Democrats and make their work leading up to 2020 even more difficult.