05 November 2008

The Geography of Republicans

The crude version of the thesis is that the Republicans are becoming a Southern regional party. In the Northeast, Republicans are a dying breed:

Democrats captured five Republican Congressional seats in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut on Tuesday, including that of Representative Christopher Shays, the last Republican member of the House from New England . . . With the five victories, Democrats held 65 of the Northeast region’s 81 House seats, with several other Republican seats still in play early Wednesday.

Almost from the start, the political climate for Northeastern Republicans was brutal. In the 11 most competitive races in the Northeast, Democrats had to defend only two; the nine others involved either Republican incumbents or Republican-held seats that were being vacated.

More sophisticated versions look at evidence like the 22% of counties where Republicans did better in 2008 than they did in 2004 (maps here). There are really three separate effects going on.

One is obvious, the hometown effect. A number of counties in Arizona and Alaska saw improved Republican performance in 2008 because an Arizona Senator and an Alaskan Governor were on the ticket. Hometown effects also explain strong improvements in Democratic performance in Illinois and Hawaii, two states that Obama calls home.

The second is the hurricane effect. Areas hard hit by Katrina and other recent Hurricanes have seen a mass migration of poor residents, many African-American, to other locations, leaving the counties that they left more Republican.

The third is "that the Appalachian region is a political enclave with distinct cultural and social characteristics from the rest of the country. And in this election, it's the only region where Republicans gained ground." Hillary Clinton was far more popular in Appalachia than Obama, and many Clinton Democrats there apparently voted for McCain. More analysis of the Appalachian voting block, which likes Republicans a lot, can be found at the New York Times Blog.

None of these effects explain another stark improvement in Democratic performance. Democrats have done markedly better in many Western states. Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico and the Rio Grande border in Texas have all seen stark improvements in Democratic performance. The percentages aren't as dramatic in Colorado, but Colorado's red to blue transition is remarkable. Nevada is moving in the same direction.

The electoral college map invites intepretation along the same lines, as MSNBC blog First Read articulates:

He won the state that eluded Gore in 2000 (Florida), as well as the one that escaped Kerry in 2004 (Ohio). But those weren't the only battleground states Obama went on to win. In fact, he won in several different parts of the country: 1) the Midwest, especially the states surrounding Illinois like Iowa, Indiana, and Wisconsin; 2) out in the West, in Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico; 3) the Rust Belt, in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania; and 4) the New South, including Florida, Virginia, and (perhaps North Carolina). The only places where Obama didn't win: the Deep South and the Plains. By the way, take a look at Indiana one more time. This is a state Bush won by 20 points… TWENTY?!?!?? And Obama flipped it. Every other flip Obama made was explainable in some way -- demographics, etc. But to flip Indiana, not a growth state like Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina or Florida. If any state screams, "It was the economy, stupid" it was Indiana. . . .

Lost in Obama’s impressive 11-point win in Pennsylvania is that McCain’s Western PA strategy worked. The problem? There weren’t enough votes out there. Eastern PA, from the Philadelphia suburbs to Scranton (thanks Joe the Senator and Hillary), went in blowout margins for Obama. Obama overperformed Kerry in places like Lackawanna -- where Scranton is – which went for Obama, 63%-36%. Kerry carried it 56%-42%. We weren’t sure Obama could hold THAT margin. It was the same story all throughout the Eastern counties – Lehigh (51%-48% for Kerry, 58%-41% for Obama); Luzerne (51%-48% for Kerry, 54%-45% for Obama); Monroe (which Bush won by four votes, went for Obama 58%-41%); Northampton (Kerry 50%-49%, Obama 56%-43%). In the Philly ’burbs, Obama got big margins out of Bucks, Chester (which Bush won) and Montgomery counties. In fact, in Montgomery, Obama got 249,000 votes from a 60%-39% win; Kerry got 222,000 from a 56%-44% victory. In Western PA, First Read was watching three counties -- Beaver, Washington and Fayette, all counties Kerry carried narrowly. McCain flipped each of them, but the three counties combined had about 227,000 TOTAL votes. . . .

It's hard not to look at the map -- particularly in the House -- and not view the GOP as a regional party right now. If it weren’t for the party's relative strength in the South, the party would be in even worse shape.

In more conservative times, the entire South looks pretty similar economically. But, Obama's candidacy and dissatisfaction with the Bush Administration has brought out the distinction between the "New South" and the "Old South."

Obama is the first Northern, urban Democrat that the predominantly Northern, urban Democratic party has run in a long time, and it paid off. Key to his success was increasing turnout.

[T]he turnout rate for yesterday's election was the highest in 100 years, according to the estimate from turnout guru Dr. Michael McDonald at George Mason University. Almost 137 million (136,631,825) went to the polls -- 64.1% of the voting-eligible population. 1960 saw 63.7% of the populace go out to vote; In 1908, 65.7% voted.

Note that in 1908 that women and people under the age of twenty-one couldn't vote, and that voting by African-Americans was dramatically restricted in the segregated South. High turnout in 2008 was achieved despite a far broader voting eligible population, and boht the young and African-Americans have historically had poor turnout. Some of this shift is particular to Obama. Some of it flows from expanded early and mail-in voting.


Dave Barnes said...

If the Republicans become the "cracker" party where are they going to get the money to play/stay in the game?

Let's face it. You need those country club members to help with finances.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

You are right, which is one of the reasons that I think the most significant number in this race was the fact that 2 out of 3 investment bankers supported Obama.