The Last Election Anyone Cared Which President Rhode Islanders Were Voting For Was…

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A long, long time ago.

There’s one thing we know about Election Day 2016. Before most Rhode Island voters have even stepped into a voting booth, we can be sure of one thing more so than gravity and the sunrise.

We’re calling Rhode Island for Hillary Clinton.

We can do that because Rhode Island has voted for the Democrat’s candidate in every Presidential election since 1988. Prior to that (in “recent history”), the Ocean State voted Republican in two massive landslide elections (Nixon in 1972 and Reagan in 1984). Otherwise, it’s been a solid blue state, delivering its four electoral college votes to the Dems.

So commentators have two modes when it comes to commenting on Rhode Island on Election Night:

  1. “Of course, Rhode Island” is voting Democrat.
  2. “Even Rhode Island” voted Republican (32+ years ago).

So like the Plain Jane in love with the high school quarterback, Rhode Island hopes to be rewarded for its loyalty. Instead it only finds itself taken for granted. When it comes to bringing home the bacon, Senator Jack Reed boasts about keeping the lights on at Newport Naval Station and the Air National Guard base at Quonset. Meanwhile, we’re sure that Senators in battleground states like Ohio get to add an extra story to all of their constituents’ houses.

So we went back through Rhode Island’s contribution to the Electoral College over the last century, trying to work out a time where Rhode Island would have been in play for both parties in competitive races. Interestingly enough, through the first half of the 20th century, the electoral college map serves as an afterthought. For example, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected four times, never with less than 432 electoral votes (and always with Rhode Island’s support).

Rhode Island In Play

So when was the last time that Rhode Island was really “in play” in a close election?

We’re going to say it’s the election of who is likely Rhode Island’s and definitely Newport’s favorite President.


In the 1950s, Rhode Island helped deliver two landslide elections to Republican Dwight D Eisenhower. But when Eisenhower’s Vice President, Richard Nixon ran in 1960, Rhode Island went with an Irish-Catholic Democrat from neighboring Massachusetts named John F. Kennedy.

It was a much closer race than had been typical at the time. Eisenhower had won 457 electoral votes in 1956. Kennedy only had 303 in 1960. (A candidate needs 270 t0 win.) Given that Dixiecrats then gave 15 Democrat electoral votes to Harry F. Byrd,  Rhode Island’s four electoral votes weren’t necessary to get the win, but they did help provide some legitimacy to the nation’s youngest President.

1960 was also the election which established Rhode Island’s course into deep blue territory (though the actual Red State/Blue State color designations weren’t finalized until the 1990s). Aside from the two aforementioned landslides in 1972 and 1984, Rhode Island has voted for the Democrat candidate ever since 1960.


We’ll give a quick mention to the 1976 election of Jimmy Carter. It was a closer race (297 electoral votes to 240) than Kennedy’s but by that time, Rhode Island was a solidly Democrat state, having voted for the party’s nominee in 4 out the the 5 previous elections. That meant that barring a 49-state stampede like we saw in 1984, Rhode Island was going to vote for the guy (or gal) with the “-D” after their name.

What This Means For The Rhode Island Voter

Simply put, it means don’t put too much thought into who you’re going to vote for President because it’s really not going to matter.

It’s the rest of the ballot that you should be concerned with. If you’re going to take an intelligent approach to voting, you should realize that state and local races will likely have a far greater bearing on the events of your life than whoever will occupy the Oval Office for the next four years. That said, these are the races that tend to be a lot less fun, especially at the city or town level. Most candidates forgo party affiliation and, to be honest, they’re all going to vote the same way ~80% of the time, because in a city like Newport, the vast majorities of bills that come before the City Council are just a step above “Light bulb #456 burned out. Shall we purchase a replacement and change it?”

However, depending on whether you work, live and/or own a business in town, you can find that the laws passed on Smith Hill and Town Hall can be far more arbitrary than those in the US Code. So while the Presidential race is essentially a waste of Rhode Islanders’ time, efforts and emotions, it’s actually doubly important to know and understand the candidates down-ballot.

-Tristan Pinnock, Blast Politics Correspondent

Tristan's just this guy, ya know?