IDEAS: Sorry, Ohio. You are not the bellwether you used to be.

Note from Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson: This guest opinion column by Sean Wilson, a professor of American politics at Wright State University, appeared on the Ideas and Voices page Wednesday, October 28.

As a political scientist who watched Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, I had an interesting revelation: Michigan was the new Ohio. I was wrong, of course — it’s Wisconsin.

There is a myth out there that says, “as Ohio goes, so goes the nation.” Like the groundhog, we are the bellwether that can foretell presidential weather.

Don’t buy it.

Ohio is trending far too red to be the epicenter of the race. The most critical states this year are the Big Three: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

In 2016 Trump won this state by an amazing 8 points, yet he won by less than 1 point in each of the Big Three.

Adding in third parties makes this much worse. If you give Hillary the votes of the Green Party and Donald the libertarians, conservatives win by about 12 points, which is gargantuan. Do the same thing in the Big Three, and the win is only 2 or 3.

And the midterms are telling. While much of the country experienced a “blue wave” in House elections in 2018, Ohio voted red. Republicans had a 5-point victory with no seats lost. In contrast, Democrats won the Big Three by at least 8 points, usually getting seats.

And the state government situation is especially bleak. The last 7 of 8 Ohio gubernatorial races have been won by Republicans. Democrats haven’t controlled both houses of state government in Ohio since Ronald Reagan was in office. Travel anywhere in this state and conservative political talk dominates radio stations.

Why does this matter?

It means that Ohio is not as outcome-determinative this year. To put it bluntly: if Trump loses here, he’s not going to win anything close to enough states nationwide. It will be a blowout. But that is not true with Biden: he can lose Ohio and still have a very reasonable path forward.

For Trump to win, if the 2016 map holds, he needs Ohio plus one of the Big Three. Ohio is just one of his stepping stones. And his fate here will be linked to what it is over there. You can pretty much take whatever share of the vote he gets in Ohio and subtract a few points to find out his totals in the Big Three. He’ll be weaker over there.

Polling data supports this. Trump is tied in Ohio but losing by around 6-8 points in the Big Three. As far as party affiliation goes, Republicans had a 4-point advantage in midterms in Ohio, but Democrats had a 6 point advantage in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Only in Wisconsin was it evens-Stevens.

And so there you have it Ohio.

Proud footballers for sure, but this year you are not in the big conference. And you live in a world where Michigan finally beat you and Wisconsin is the prize.

Sean Wilson is a professor of American politics at Wright State University where he teaches the American Presidency. Guest columns are submitted or requested fact-based opinion pieces typically of 300 to 450 words. Have an idea? Contact Amelia Robinson at

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