You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Breaking Down The Buckeye State

Hillary Clinton started in Ohio with "every advantage you can think of," as John C. Green, a professor at the University of Akron, explains--endorsements, support from the party machinery, and relatively favorable demographic terrain. But Barack Obama, down as many as 17 points just three weeks ago, has been making up ground, and with speed. Will he make up enough to win? That depends on whether he’s had enough time (and spent enough money) to set up an organization that can drive up turnout in favorable districts, and whether he’s able to chip away enough support among Hillary's core constituencies: working-class white ethnics and union members. In anticipation of the results, we’ve put together a massive guide to the Ohio primary, complete with all the information you need on the state’s key demographics and districts.


Modified open primary. A voter can choose to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary, but if a Republican votes in the Democratic primary, she’ll officially be changing her party status.

Delegate Count

161 delegates total (92 delegates are allotted proportionately by district, 49 delegates are allotted based on statewide vote percentages, and 20 are superdelegates).            

The stakes are highest in districts with an odd number of delegates. (Districts 3, 6, 12, 16, 17, and 18). In these districts, you need only 51% of the vote to capture a majority of delegates (say, three out of five) instead of the 62.5% needed to capture a majority in an even numbered district (say, three out of four). Realistically, only seven-to-nine delegates are up for grabs among the 92 allocated by district.

Candidates win a share of the 49 statewide votes according to the percentage of the popular vote they receive. This is the breakdown:

42.8% of the vote translates into 21 delegates

44.8%: 22

46.9%: 23

48.9%: 24

51.0%: 25

53.0%: 26

55.1%: 27

57.1%: 28

59.1%: 29

Assuming that the popular vote spread between Hillary and Obama will not be larger than about 15%, then only 10 delegates are seriously in play in the popular vote tally. Therefore, the max number of non-superdelegates that each candidate can "win" or "lose" is right around 19.  

In-state fundraising  through February 29

Clinton: $980,859

Obama: $1,081,172

Latest Polls 

Rassmussen: (2/28) Clinton 47; Obama 45

SurveyUSA poll: (2/25) Clinton 50; Obama 44

Ohio Poll: (2/24) Clinton 47; Obama 39


Total Population: 11,478,006

White: 85%

Black: 12%

Hispanic: 2.3%

Median income: $43,371

College graduates: 21.1%

(These are statewide numbers--not just registered Democrat numbers--since anyone can theoretically vote in the Democratic primary.)


Clinton: Governor Ted Strickland*, Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones

Obama: Representative Dennis Kucinich, Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman, Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, and State Treasurer Richard Cordray

*Strickland has been very popular since assuming office last year, and he’s been pulling out all of the stops in order to support Hillary. (She should get a particularly big boost in southeast and northeast Ohio.) Even still, there are grumblings that he may be pushing his subordinates too hard. One Ohio expert explained that while many of Strickland's people are publicly supporting Hillary, they’ll probably vote for Obama.

Recent dynamics:

1) If early voting numbers are any indication, turnout will be massive.

2) Ohioans, especially after the recent debate, may be suffering somewhat from "buyers' remorse" with Obama. Some party insiders, according to Ohio analyst Brian Usher, are reportedly worried about Obama's electability following John McCain's attacks and the scuffle over images of Obama wearing a turban.

3) McCain's success at locking up the GOP nomination means that fewer Republicans will be interested in the GOP race. Usher says this may make them more likely to cross the line and vote in the open Democratic primary.

4) In Wisconsin, Obama took just over 50 percent of lower-income voters, but he will probably face more resistance among Ohio’s working class white population. This partly has to do with a legacy of black labor unrest in the state and a weaker progressive tradition. Historically, higher levels of black migration to Ohio's industrial cities produced higher levels of racial friction, and, in the 1970s, high degrees of white flight. Hillary's message should resonate with these voters, since they have a history of supporting senators who portray themselves as "fighters," like Sherrod Brown and Howard Metzenbaum.

5) The Clintons have traditionally owned the labor leadership in Ohio, but--according to Usher--Obama's Teamster endorsement is causing the rank-and-file to take another look at him.

6) The Ohio polls have thus far accounted for implausibly low African American support for Obama. As has been the case elsewhere, this may be due to what Noam Scheiber calls the reverse Bradley effect. Black support will probably be much higher in the actual primary.



Ohio political scientists John C. Green, Stephen T. Mockabee, Michael Margolis, Stephen Brooks, and Rick Farmer discovered that one of the best ways to predict Ohio voting patterns is to divide Ohio up into five city-states. This regional analysis has become conventional wisdom among Ohio watchers. Here’s the list of city-states (sounds like 9th grade social studies!) and an explanation of the important battles within:

1) Northeast and the lake counties: Northeast Ohio (including Cleveland) is the most populous--and most liberal--sector of Ohio. Just inland, unions call the shots in economically devastated Youngstown, which still has the feel of New Deal-era America. Voters here are staunchly Democratic, passing down union values from generation to generation.

Battleground districts

District 11 (8 delegates): This east Cleveland district is Obama Central--56% of its voters are black, and Cleveland's eastern suburbs are filled with the type of upscale, social liberals who are presumably moved by celebrities singing "Yes, we can." If his organization is up to snuff, Obama should be able to bank on massive turnout here, which could win him a 6-2 delegate victory and push him towards a victory in the popular vote.

District 17 (7 delegates): Youngstown is America's quintessential down-on-its-luck, heavily unionized, politically important steel town--so much so that courting laid-off Youngstown steelworkers has become an American political cliché. Youngstown voters, older and not particularly receptive to Obama's charisma, are expected to break for Clinton, though some local analysts believe Obama's union endorsements mean the area is still up for grabs. He also has the endorsement of Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, the city’s first African American mayor, and should do well with the student body at Kent State University.

If District 17 flips to Obama, that's an indication that he’s riding a surprisingly strong wave of union support. If Clinton racks up big margins in CD17, it's a sign she's holding the line.

District 10 (6 delegates): West Cleveland is the downscale, white ethnic half of Cleveland--represented by Dennis Kucinich. This highly Catholic urban district is 87.2% white, 5% Hispanic, and only 4.2% black. While Hillary has good prospects here, watch for an Obama insurgency, as he has slowly been chipping away at Hillary's support among Catholics.

District 16 (5 delegates): This district is the home of Stark County, the bellwether county for the United States--having voted with the country in nearly every Presidential election over the last half-century. While the county is expected to flip for Hillary, there are cracks in her support there. Todd Bosley, the local commissioner, has endorsed Obama--and Canton mayor William J. Healy II has made it known that even though he publicly supports Hillary in order to maintain his good relationship with Governor Strickland, he privately supports Obama.

Much in this district depends on the way voters here perceive the candidates' positions on the war--since a high percentage of its citizens are serving in the military. If Obama's anti-war message resonates, then he could do unexpectedly well in CD16.

2) Appalachia: Southeast Ohio's coal mining country, which is culturally and geographically similar to nearby West Virginia, constitutes Hillary's in-state "base." This area contains around 1.2 million citizens--and one in five has never finished high school. As one Ohio political analyst put it, in other states, "we’d call them rednecks." Voters here are economically populist, pro-military, and culturally conservative, with nearly a fifth of them working in the beleaguered manufacturing sector.

Key Battlegrounds

District 6 (5 delegates): This district is Hillary's mountain fortress. She should turn out as many voters here as possible in order to win the district and boost her statewide numbers. Strickland should help: He represented this district from 1992-2006.

District 18 (5 delegates): While this Appalachian district should be fertile Hillary country, it also contains a massive student population centered on Ohio University. This district could go for Obama if his ground operation succeeds in boosting turnout past its usual levels.

3) The Southland: Southwestern Ohio has been fiercely Republican--House minority leader John Boehner hails from District 8--since the Civil War era, when Cincinnati was a bastion of Unionism just across the river from slaveholding Kentucky. Obama has an edge with African Americans (mainly in Cincinnati), and Hillary is strong with working class folks on the outskirts of town. The outcome here rests largely on turnout--how many members of each candidate’s base actually show up at the polls. Also keep an eye on Republican-leaning swing voters, whom Obama has lured in other states.

Key Battlegrounds

District 1 (4 Delegates): This district includes Cincinnati, with its large African American population, and the upper-middle class suburbs on its eastern edge--both strong groups for Obama. He won’t do as well, however, in the solidly middle class suburbs on the western edge, so it won’t be a blowout for either candidate.

District 3 (5 Delegates): Home of Dayton, an innovative industrial city, and the huge Wright-Patterson Air Force base, CD 3 has been considered a bellwether since the 1970s. The district has a fairly large African American population and a considerable student population; and Obama is aiming to pick off three of the district’s five delegates by boosting turnout.

District 2 (4 Delegates): The Cincinnati suburbs are staunchly Republican, and CD2 also contains Appalachian counties that should go for Hillary. If Obama amasses enough suburban Republican votes to overcome Hillary's base here, it's a sign that Republicans really do like the guy.

4) Columbus: Columbus is the only city in Ohio that gained new residents during the 1990s, and since its white, suburban population is more of a "swing" constituency than Cleveland's, Columbus also serves as an important symbolic battleground. Obama wants to make a splash here. He’s relying on Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman's get-out-the-vote machine as much as he can, and he’s blanketing the region with heavy ad buys.

Key Battlegrounds

District 12 (5 Delegates): The district contains approximately 684,000 people, many of them Democrats. If turnout is as high as expected, Mayor Coleman will have earned a major chit.

District 15 (4 Delegates): People affiliated with Ohio State University make up about 13% of the district’s population. The large student body generally tilts left and should help Obama. However, strong blue collar blocs in the southern and western suburbs will pull towards Hillary.

5) Northwest farm belt: This area, replete with family values-oriented Lutherans and Catholics, is not a major battleground because none of its districts have an odd number of delegates.

Key Battleground

District 5 (4 Delegates): In the 1990s, this area had the largest blue collar population in the state. Failing industry has since driven them out. Enrollment (about 16,000) at Bowling Green State University remains strong, however, and this should allow Obama to eat in to what should be a safe region for Hillary.

Adam Blinick is a web intern at The New Republic. Cara Parks is a web intern at The New Republic. Barron YoungSmith is a web intern at The New Republic.

By Adam Blinick, Cara Parks, and Barron YoungSmith