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Alaska has a long history of voting strongly Republican for president. Will it continue?

  • Author: Erica Martinson
  • Updated: November 8, 2016
  • Published November 5, 2016

As the 2016 presidential election heads into the home stretch and pollsters game out the likely Electoral College breakdown, Alaska is broadly expected to cast its three electoral votes as it has for decades — for the Republican candidate.

There are few things more reliable in Alaska than its presidential political leanings. A betting man wouldn't reap much by way of Vegas odds (if Nevada didn't bar gambling on elections) by wagering that the state ends up in the "red" column on election night.

In fact, it's been so long since the vote here even came close that some Alaska Democrats were looking for a refresher on the process for casting electoral votes, just in in case the public's distaste for Republican nominee Donald Trump — evidenced in recent polls — managed to hand the race to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

The state Democratic party's sole financial expenditure countering the Republican presidential candidate was an online ad in the final days of the election touting top Alaska Republicans that "don't support Trump."

That's how it goes in a red state.

Alaska first voted in the presidential election in 1960, and sent its three electoral votes to Republican Richard Nixon, who lost the national contest to Democrat John F. Kennedy. It was a tight election that year, with hardly more than 1,000 votes separating winner from loser in the 49th state.

Alaska’s presidential election results dating back to Nov. 8, 1960 (Kevin Powell / Alaska Dispatch News)

Kennedy actually won 15 districts to Nixon's nine, while Nixon did better in absentee ballots from across the state. Kennedy actually edged out a win among voters in the Interior. Kennedy's loss in the state came despite a September 1960 visit that included stops in Anchorage, a visit to the Alaska State Fair and a 1958 visit to Fairbanks.

In 1964, Democrat Lyndon Johnson took the White House, including a 2-to-1 sweep of Alaska's voters.

That would be the last time the plurality of Alaska's presidential votes went to a Democrat.

Alaska is one of eight states that have voted for Republicans in every presidential race since 1964. The others are Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming. Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana shared that electoral history until 2008, when they went "blue" for President Barack Obama.

Alaska's population has grown from 226,167 people at statehood in 1959 to more than 700,000. In 1960, 60,762 voters cast ballots in the presidential election. In 2008, a record 326,197 Alaskans voted in the presidential election, when then-Gov. Sarah Palin was the Republican vice presidential nominee.

Year after year, Republicans have dominated in statewide Alaska elections, as Democrats struggle to both go against their national party on oil development and Second Amendment issues and distinguish themselves from Republican incumbents.

Two days after the general election in 1992, Anchorage Daily News editorial writer Michael Carey wrote: "Let's face it, Democrats have almost no chance of winning a statewide general election against a sitting Republican." That year, the nation elected President Bill Clinton, while Alaska's electoral votes went to incumbent George H.W. Bush.

At a presidential level, Alaskans have strayed from the Republican ticket, but not to vote for Democrats. Instead, in years where third-party candidates gain a national foothold, they do extremely well in Alaska.

In 1992, Ross Perot gained nearly as many Alaskan votes as Democratic nominee Bill Clinton. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader took 28,747 votes in 2000. Those votes seem likely to have shifted to Democratic candidate John Kerry in 2004, when the Democratic candidate earned more than 30,000 votes more than four years prior.

Alaska Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock said enthusiasm for the Republican party waned in Alaska during the George W. Bush administration, when many in the state were turned off by the "Big Brother" implications of the Patriot Act and a GOP trend towards supporting "long-term military involvement overseas." The tension between Republicans and Democrats on resource issues lessened at that time, he said.

But overall, "I think that both Democrats and the Republicans, as a proportion of a whole, have stabilized in the last 10, 20 years," Babcock said.

That seems fairly clear in recent years' tallies. In 2008, with an Alaskan on the ticket, enthusiasm, and turnout, was high. The McCain-Palin ticket drew 193,841 votes in Alaska.

In 2012, about 26,000 fewer voters showed up at the polls, and about 26,000 fewer voters cast their ballots from the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney. President Barack Obama's percentage of the vote went up, but his vote tally was actually down by 954 votes.

In the betting spirit, Babcock said he thinks Trump will take the state by margins similar to 2012.

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