POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Bellwether State

Bellwether states are those states in the US whose electorates tend to reflect the voting behavior of the entire country. Thus, candidates favored in bellwether states in presidential elections generally end up winning the election as a whole.  

The Ohio Factor

A key example of a bellwether state is Ohio. No presidential candidate has won an election without also winning the state of Ohio since John F. Kennedy managed to do so in 1960. In the 2016 presidential election, Republican candidate Donald Trump won the state and its 18 electoral college votes with 52% of the vote.

The Missouri Bellwether

Missouri is another classic example of a bellwether state in the US, particularly during the 20th century. The state of Missouri voted for the eventual presidential election winner in every election between 1904 and 2004, except for 1956.

Since 2004, however, Missouri’s bellwether status has come into question. John McCain and Mitt Romney won the state in 2008 and 2012 respectively, however both ended up losing the presidential race to Barack Obama. On the other hand, 2016 has seen a return to form of sorts for Missouri, with Republican candidate Donald Trump taking the state and the White House. 

See also: Presidential election, ballot box election, republican party

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