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As Ohio Goes, So Goes The Nation? Maybe Not This Election Year

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Ohio is used to getting a lot of attention when it comes to electing presidents. It’s been called a bellwether state. But is it?

If you live in Ohio, you’ve heard this phrase many times.

“As Ohio goes, so goes the nation.”

That was U.S. House Member Joyce Beatty this summer, when she introduced Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in Columbus, one of her first stops after the Democratic convention. Ohio has indeed been considered a bellwether state because of its reliability in predicting the political mood and makeup of the country – and predicting the winner.

“In this particular election, we may have slipped from our perch.”

That’s David Niven, a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati. He says Ohio might not be a bellwether state this time around.

“One of the major factors in this race is Hillary Clinton really doesn’t need Ohio to get to 270 so her campaign has placed a lower priority on Ohio. Donald Trump does need Ohio to get to 270 and you see that in the approach of the two candidates.”

While other Democratic surrogates have been in Ohio recently, Clinton herself has not been campaigning in the Buckeye State since Labor Day. That’s leading some national pundits to wonder if Ohio is as important to the political landscape as it once was. But Mike Dawson, a political strategist and elections expert in Ohio, isn’t willing to say the state is shedding its bell weather status at this point.

“Until it is proven otherwise it is. I mean it has a long history back to 1900 of being the closest to the national average.”

But a story in the New York Times says Ohio has not fallen in step with demographic changes transforming the U.S. The report says Ohio is older, whiter and less educated than the nation at large. But Dawson doesn’t think demographics are the reason Republican Donald Trump appears, at least according to some recent polls, to have a slight lead in Ohio and is doing better here than in some other states where Republicans have typically run away with the contest.

“You have another factor here in Ohio that plays well for Trump and against Hillary and that is the trade issue. And even though we don’t have a lot of immigration in Ohio, people believe those two issues, trade and immigration, are responsible for their losing jobs and whether it’s true or not, that’s what people think.”

John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron, thinks there is something to the demographics point because Ohio isn’t gaining population as quickly as some other areas of the country. But in spite of that, he thinks Ohio is still a bellwether state.

“A bellwether state is a state that predicts the national election very well and of course, Ohio has done that for a long, long time. You know it would be news indeed if the candidate that won Ohio didn’t win the presidency. That’s happened very rarely but it could happen this year. But it’s a little bit premature, though, with the very fierce, close campaign going on to make that kind of projection.”

Niven, Dawson and Green say they think Ohio is still a battleground state in this election, no matter what its demographic makeup. But if Trump wins here but ultimately loses the election, Ohio’s status as a bellwether state might be questionable for future elections.