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If purple’s the color of viable democracy reform, this new roster of tossup states matters

The realists strategizing to make our democracy work better understand our nation's close but emphatic partisan divide – and that big changes to the system will require buy-in from plenty in both parties. Given that, it makes sense for avowed "democracy reformers" to keep a close eye on places where the dominant ideology is neither solidly liberal nor unalterably conservative.

Now there's a new map of those Purple States of America, and it's a little different from the usual roster of perennial presidential battlegrounds.

Editor Nathan Gonzales of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan forecaster of congressional and gubernatorial races, spent much of last year crunching the results of every statewide and House election in the country this decade. The resulting numbers reflect the share of the vote that each party can count on securing in all 50 states.

The difference between those Republican and Democratic baselines, in turn, becomes a solid reflection of the degree of statewide competitiveness. Wyoming, for example, is the darkest red state by this measure because the GOP baseline is 68 percent and the Democratic baseline just under 27 percent – a difference of 41 percentage points. All the elections between 2012 and last fall in Hawaii come in at the other extreme, yielding a 38-point advantage for the Democrats.

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And then there are the 11 states where, over the course of this decade, neither party's baseline advantage has become greater than 5 points. (And in Wisconsin it's a dead heat, with each party claiming a base vote of 49 percent of the statewide electorate.)

Wisconsin: EVEN
North Carolina: R +1
Nevada: R +2
Maine: D +3
Colorado: D +3
New Hampshire: D + 3
Florida: R +4
Iowa: R +4
Michigan: D +4
Arizona: R +5
Virginia: D +5

At a time of such national polarization, the political behavior in these places suggests that cross-partisan policymaking and appeals to the ideological center just might have a shot at success.

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