Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Washington Bach Consort: where D.C. can converge, Left, Right & "Indie"

Last Sunday saw the fifth installment of the Washington Bach Consort's 2012-2013 season, held at its usual venue, in the chapel at the National Presbyterian Church's Upper Northwest Washington perch on Nebraska Ave.

Seated on the aisle a few rows back, Orchestra Right, was retiring U.S. Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV.  Rockefeller (D-WV).  Rockefeller is no stranger to these concerts, it seems, as a flip through the Consort's program reveals that Rockefeller is listed as an "Honorary Board Member" of the .org's Board of Directors.

No surprise there, as the fabulously wealthy Senator from an impoverished state has compiled a long track record of philanthropy in the arts.  The Senator and his spouse, Sharon Percy Rockefeller is president and CEO of the board at WETA, Washington's PBS affiliate, and are famous for throwing fundraising galas at their manse hugging Rock Creek Park.

Despite the decrying in the press of the partisan poison in the Capital's air, the Consort remains refuge from that and serves as comfortable crossroads where those from divergent D.C. social strata can come together and enjoy a common appreciation of classical music.

Yes, Rockefeller is married to the daughter of a former Republican U.S. Senator, but the late Charles H. Percy of Illinois was a Republican of a notoriously liberal stripe.  (FUN FACT: Sharon Percy Rockefeller's father was booted from the "World's Most Exclusive Club" the very same day that her husband was admitted.)

Sen. Percy would certainly be considered "notoriously" liberal by the only other name that jumped out from that Board of Directors: L. Brent Bozell III.

Bozell, a conservative movement scion (Buckley in-law, his father labored in the trenches of the Goldwater insurgency), has compiled his own track record over the years as a social conservative, traditionalist and culture critic.

Bach seems to pass the Cultural taste test with Bozell, who has carried on his late mother's support for the Consort.  But would a of the side projects of a musician onstage that afternoon arch Bozell's brow?

In the orchestra, the program listed Amy Domingues as "principal" of the viola de gamba section.   Domingues has been dubbed by Washington CityPaper to be the "No. 1 cellist-for-hire in D.C.’s indie-rock scene."

The now walking cane-reliant Rockefeller isn't running for re-election next cycle, the first time Republican strategists have openly salivated over taking on the billionaire senator since West Virginia's post-2000 reddening started to set in.  Sitting in that chapel, it wasn't difficult to take the mind frame of an ambitious, mischievous GOP strategist, dreaming up attack ads mocking a billionaire long-term incumbent named Rockefeller nodding along to a viola solo from an indie rock figure at a fancy Bach concerto for being "out of touch with West Virginia values."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Good Geographic Primer For the IL Primary

Fivethirtyeight.com has this really good primer on the political geography of Illinois in preparation for today's voting.  The key takeaway is that Romney's goal is big margins in the Chicago collar counties while Santorum needs huge turnout and margins downstate.

We'll see how things play out and have some analysis tomorrow.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

How Crucial Is It To Win Primaries In Swing States???

With Mitt Romney escaping Michigan bruised, but intact, his attention now turns to a perhaps more crucial contest—Ohio.  Among the Super Tuesday contests, Ohio is important not just for the number of delegates it will award but because the Buckeye State will garner intense interest in the fall.  Whereas President Obama’s polling numbers in Michigan have been quite strong, and he won the state by more than 16 points in 2008, Ohio is less friendly territory.

One question we might ask is whether there is a correlation between a candidate’s performance in a state’s primary and how they will fare in November. The ability to pivot from the primary to the general is a skill that all winning candidates must develop.  On one hand, there’s reason to doubt a clear connection between a state’s primary and general contest.  Primaries, we know, bring a much more ideological electorate to the polls.  A losing primary candidate may have been “too moderate” for the party faithful—but consequently more competitive in the more moderate fall electorate. 

On the other hand, primaries give candidates the opportunity to build an organization and campaign infrastructure that can be put to work in November.  Those candidates who can win primaries and caucuses are those who demonstrate the ability to build the massive organization that will be crucial to winning the general.  Much of this organization will be directed toward the larger general election audience once the nomination is secured.  If they fail at this during the primaries, they may fail at it during the fall.
Should a connection between the primary and general exist, it is of most importance in “toss-up” or “swing” states.    Mitt Romney’s primary loss in South Carolina will not—absent complete collapse—matter in the fall.  Clearly more important was what transpired the next week in Florida.  It’s almost impossible to conceive of a Romney (or Santorum for that matter) win in November that doesn’t include winning the Sunshine State. 
So what does history tell us???

Most recent nomination contests—with the exception of the Democrats in 2008—have wrapped up quite quickly.  With the winner rolling through state after state there haven’t been a large number of states that allow us to explore the question of whether candidates can bounce back from primary losses.  However if, as it now seems, the GOP contest is going to go on for a while, we should have the opportunity to dig into this phenomenon some more.  Despite the relative lack of test cases, there are some examples that jump out.

Looking at those competitive or “toss-up” states, we find relatively few instances in recent cycles where a candidate lost his party’s primary or caucus there, and then recovered to win the state in November.  The one exception to this is Barack Obama.  In 2008, Obama lost spring contests in New Hampshire, Nevada, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Mexico.  Despite this, he won all of them in the general.  In this sense, the long nomination fight that forced Obama to build statewide organizations may have paid off in the fall.
John McCain, who wrapped up the GOP contests more swiftly and with fewer losses, failed to win any swing states that he also lost during the primaries.  In 2004, John Kerry swept to the nomination in even faster order with only a small handful of primary losses.  None were in states seen as competitive at the time.   In 2000, George W. Bush won one swing state he lost in the primary—New Hampshire—while losing another--Michigan.  Bob Dole, in 1996, lost Missouri during the nomination contest but bounced back to win it in the fall.  In 1992 Bill Clinton managed to lose 3 spring state contests that he put in his column in November—New Hampshire, Colorado, and Nevada.  Finally, in 1988, Michael Dukakis managed one of his few fall wins in Iowa, whose caucuses he lost.  On the flip side, whereas George H.W. Bush only lost nine states in the general, three came in normally competitive states that he lost during the primary season—Iowa, Minnesota, and Washington.

So, despite the small number of cases that fit our definition—primary losses in swing states--there seems to be pretty good reason for Mitt Romney to worry about next week’s vote in Ohio.   Like Florida, Ohio is a state that GOP badly needs in November.  Should he fail to defeat Rick Santorum there next week, the loss may prove to be more lethal than even Michigan would have been.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Jesse Jackson in Appalachia

In my exploration of voting in counties heavily dependent on government income, I've found myself digging deeply into the politics of Appalachia.  This region's political behavior seems to confound liberals' expectations that those who are among the poorest and most dependent on policies championed by the Democrats should reward that party with their votes.  As I've shown, that's rarely been the case over the past several decades.  In my last post, I suggested that part of the Democrats' problem is that they haven't always tried to connect with these voters and that some candidates--especially Bill Clinton--offer a blue print for future candidates in the region.

During the 2008 campaign, part of the narrative revolving around Barack Obama was that his race was the primary reason why he wasn't able to win downscale white rural voters.  While there might be some evidence of this, while doing some web surfing on Appalachian politics I came across this interesting article from the great site, Daily Yonder, about Jesse Jackson's 1988 campaign.  The more I read about Jackson's presidential runs, the more I believe they've been overlooked by students of elections.  Too often Jackson is dismissed as either a fringe candidate or one whose campaigns were exclusively about race.  Rather--as this story argues--Jackson was extremely successful in uniting downscale whites and minority voters.  For example, when I dug up the results of the 1988 Kentucky primary, I found some interesting results.  Kentucky was won overwhelmingly by Al Gore, who won all but one county.  However, Jackson ran ahead of eventual nominee Michael Dukakis in 18 counties, highlighted below:

Using Census data, eight of these counties had a population that was 95% or more white.  Only four have an African American population above 10%.  Thus, twenty years before Barack Obama's emergence, in an era much less "post racial," Jesse Jackson was able to perform quite well in an area we might expect to be hostile to his candidacy.  What seems to have helped him was that he didn't write these voters and these areas off.  Like the New Yorker piece I linked to last week argued, showing up, making an effort, and taking these voters and their concerns seriously can go a long way.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Some More Data On The Voting Of Lower Income Whites

As I hinted at in my post a few days back, the question of why lower income--or more governmentally dependent--white voters have shown a tendency to vote Republican has vexed many on the left for years.  Over at The Monkey Cage, John Sides provides some evidence--as produced by Larry Bartels--that white working class voters have not, overall, become more Republican:

Among whites without a college degree, income has become a stronger predictor of the vote over time. But actually it’s those with less income, not more income, who are more likely to support Democratic presidential candidates. And again, there certainly no trend by which whites with below-average incomes and no college degree become more Republican.

What shift to the right there has been seems to be confined to the south.  Thus, my highlighting of the Appalachian/Ozark region seems to have some confirmation.  When I was doing some Google surfing last night trying to track down some writing on this region, I came across this story that I remembered from back in the fall of 2008.  In it, you get a sense of the obstacles--and opportunities--that Democrats have among these voters.  While I noted the success of Bill Clinton in both 1992 and 1996, the New Yorker piece uses Virginia Senator (and previously Governor) Mark Warner as a more modern example of how Democrats can win in the hollers.  Here's a map of the 2001 Virginia Governor's race, won by Warner:

As you can see, Warner did exceptionally well in the southwestern corner of the state, allowing him to pad the large lead that he built up in the much more solidly DC suburbs.  Ultimately, Barack Obama wasn't able to duplicate Warner's success in this region.  Nonetheless, he became the first Democrat to win the Commonwealth since Lyndon Johnson.

In the end, as candidates prioritize where they spend their time and resources and how they put together a strategy, they must confront the reality of where they are likely to be successful.  Coalitions (and the size of their component parts) are cobbled together.  The math begins to take over.  Despite the fact that those voters discussed in the NYT story might seem like they "should" vote Democratic, so much history suggests that they won't, regardless of how much effort is expended.  In states like Virginia that offer large numbers of other more reliable coalition members (minorities for example), winning the state remains a possibility.  In other states--say Kentucky--there exists no realistic path to victory given the composition of the electorate.  Hence, a candidate like Obama turns his attention elsewhere. 

A Quick Addendum To The Previous Post

Here's a quick addition to the previous post, looking at the data in a slightly different way.  Whereas the NYT story looked just at spending on government benefits, Talking Points Memo puts this spending in comparison to the amount of money contributed by each state.  While not at the county level, we do get to see the variance across states from those that get relatively little back relative to their tax contributions versus those that receive much more.  Like I discussed previously, those places that not only have a heavy reliance on government benefits, but also contribute relatively little for them, oftentimes vote consistently for the GOP.

As an editorial aside, I'd also point people's attention to the one place that has the lowest return on its tax contributions--Washington, DC.  As a DC resident and taxpayer, it is data like this that drives us Washingtonians nuts.  "Taxation Without Representation" indeed.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why Don't People Who Benefit From Government Vote For The Democrats???

Since it was published last week, this story by the New York Times has been garnering a lot of coverage.  In great detail and nuance, it tackles a theme and a dilemma that has dominated our politics for at least the last generation.  As the story illustrates, and as their fantastic mapping shows, Americans have become increasingly dependent on government programs, especially entitlements--Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, veterans benefits, and other forms of income support.  At the same time, the willingness to pay for these programs has declined precipitously.  Hence, the current fiscal straits in which we find ourselves.  Ironically, among those most benefiting from these programs has been an attraction to anti-government rhetoric from the right.

In reading this story and exploring the corresponding map, I began to wonder just how those areas most dependent on government income voted over time.  While the story focused in on one county in Minnesota, I wanted to broaden the scope and see if any interesting patterns emerged.  What I decided to do was zoom in on those counties who had the highest degree of what we might call "dependence"--those who received more than 40% of their income from these sources--these are the counties colored dark red on the NYT map. 

In total, there are 82 counties nationwide that fall into this category (I excluded the Alaska census area because voting data wasn't available for it).  I produced a spreadsheet, seen below, that lists these counties--by state--along with their percentage of government "dependence" as well as two other variables that I thought might be revealing: their racial makeup shown as % white; and their poverty rate (both from Census data).  Oftentimes in our politics there has been an assumption that poverty and government dependence is concentrated in minority communities.  This data clearly refutes that.

Next, I wanted to see how each of these counties voted in recent elections.  Rather than code each election, I picked a few that I thought might be of particular interest.  I coded the two most recent presidential elections to see the most recent political behavior of these areas and to explore whether there was any noticeable short term change.  I then decided to look at 1992.  1992 is of note in that it, like 2008, was an election contested during an economic downturn and might produce similar "pro-government" sentiment in those areas of greatest need.  Similarly, I picked 1980.  Also conducted during economic difficulties, 1980 is notable for the rise of Ronald Reagan and the ascendancy of anti-government rhetoric.  Thus, as American politics began to transition away from the New Deal assumptions of the previous generation, we might wonder if areas strongly dependent on government resisted Reagan.  Finally, I picked the 1964 Johnson landslide.  The thinking here is that this election would probably represent the apex of pro-government voting.

In looking at the spreadsheet, very few clear cut trends emerge and there is certainly no correlation between government dependence and support for the Democratic party.  Things are much more complicated (and hence interesting).  Nonetheless, there are a number of things to take note of and explore.  In 2008, of these 82 counties, only 30 voted for Barack Obama.  This is the type of result that makes many Democrats' heads spin.  How is it, they ask, that those voters most benefitting from programs championed by Democrats vote "against their interests"???  This phenomenon garnered a lot of attention a few years back with the publication of Thomas Frank's "What's The Matter With Kansas?"  If we map this voting--coloring Obama counties Blue and McCain counties Red--we get the following:

The most interesting aspect of this map, I think, is the clustering of McCain counties in the Kentucky, Tennesse, Missouri region.  These counties are, as the data suggests, overwhelmingly white and poor.  They also tend to be mountainous, low population, counties in the Appalachian and Ozark ranges.  Looking at the voting over time, these are also counties that have remained, for the most part, consistently Republican.  Clearly, it seems as if there is more than just economics at play here.  Indeed, these areas have long had a political culture that has confounded Democrats' ability to compete, going back generations.  The one modern Democrat who performed well in this region, perhaps not surprisingly, was Bill Clinton.  Not only did Clinton win 60 of the 82 counties nationwide, he did particurly well in this cluster of KY/TN/MO counties--so much so that he won all three states in both 1992 and 1996.  No Democrat has won any of the three since.

How do we explain this change?  While these counties and regions have changed little over the past  decades, they were receptive to Clinton but not Obama (and Kerry).  Going back further, these counties also supported Carter and Johnson.  Is the shift a result of a broader movement against the Democrats, as hinted at in the original NYT story?  Is it the result of the fact that the most recent Democratic nominees were northerners who were perceived as foreign to this region's culture and people?  Clinton hailed from this area and both Carter and LBJ were southerners so there might be some credence to this hypothesis.

A few other observations. 1980 stands out as the year in which these counties' vote was most divided, with Reagan winning 42 and Carter 40 counties respectively.  Thus, the notion that this was perhaps a "tipping point" election may have some confirmation.

Looking at the race variable, while I've so far discussed the overwhelmingly white KY/TN/MO counties, there are a number of overwhelmingly African American counties represented in the data.  Specifically, Perry and Wilcox County Alabama, Marion County South Carolina, and Holmes, Jefferson, Humphreys, and Quitman Counties in Mississippi.  Here, as expected, there was overwhelming support for all of the recent Democratic candidates (back during the lead up to the 2008 election I did a series of posts on the interesting political geography of these regions--see here and here).  Also remember, when looking at the 1964 vote in these counties, that the Voting Rights Act had yet to be passed.  Next, there are a few counties with large Hispanic populations--see those in Texas as well as Mora and Guadalupe in New Mexico.  Finally, make note of some counties with a large Native American population--Apache in Arizona; Sioux in North Dakota; Buffalo and Shannon in South Dakota.  Like with the heavily African American counties, those with large Hispanic or Native American populations have voted as we would expect.

Perhaps the most confounding set of counties--and those that I will need to research more deeply--are those found in Michigan.  What is interesting about these counties is that they are overwhelmingly white, have high degrees of governement "dependence," but are not terribly poor.  Their poverty rates all hover near the statewide average of 15%.  So what explains this?  Going back to the original NYT map, you can separate out the different components of government support.  These counties show a heavy reliance on both Social Security and Medicare, suggesting a large elderly population.  At the same time, though, these counties also have large reliance on unemployment insurance.  In a lot of ways, these counties seem quite similar to Chisago County Minnesota which was the focus of the NYT story.

These are just a few observations based on a cursory examination of this data.  There's a lot more that I hope to delve into, especially focusing on individual counties or regions, in the coming weeks.  What does come through, though, is that voters and regions have voting histories and behaviors that don't fit into a simple narrative or explanation.  This is especially the case when it comes to the correlation between reliance on government and party support.  As the Times story makes clear, voters possess a series of often contradictory feelings and beliefs.  For those on the left who aspire for an electorate that will vote strictly along economic lines, this data is bound to frustrate. 

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Visualizing Polarization in Congress

I've written a bit about polarization in Congress.  Every semester, as I teach my students about the nature of partisanship, I try to give them a visual sense of how the membership has changed over time.  Most often, I rely upon the work of Keith Poole, who has pioneered the study of congressional partisanship by creating a methodology that allows for the comparison of the membership over time.  DW-NOMINATE scores give individual members a place along a liberal / conservative continuum based upon their voting behavior.  By comparing individual members with their partisan colleagues, one is able to gauge each party's internal cohesion.  By comparing individuals with members of the opposite party, one can see how much polarization exists between Republicans and Democrats.

When one takes this data across all Congresses, one gets the amazing short video above.  As one plays through the 112 Congresses that we've had, one sees how polarized the current era has become.  Both the Democrats and Republicans have become more internally cohesive and more distant from each other.  Fewer and fewer members find themselves crossing party lines, making the passage of legislation that is broadly accepted across the ideological spectrum more difficult.

Check out Poole's site for more visualization of this dynamic.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Seeking Single Women

I am working my way through Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin's "The Path To 270" and wanted to do a quick post on a fascinating bit of data.  Teixeira, co-author of "The Emerging Democratic Majority," is the primary influence on how I tend to approach election analysis given his emphasis on demographic change and political geography.

In "The Path To 270" Teixeira and Halpin delve into the major components of the coalition that elected President Obama with an eye to how these groups have increased or decreased in number and how they will approach the 2012 election.  Beyond their focus on minority voters and college educated whites (topics which I'll try to cover in future posts), I was struck by the data they present on single women.  To quote...

Unmarried women were also strong Obama supporters in 2008, favoring him by a 70-29 margin.  Unmarried women now make up almost half, 47 percent, of adult women, up from 38 percent in 1970.  Their current share of the voter pool--a quarter of eligible voters--is nearly the size of white evangelical protestants, the GOP's largest base group.  And since the growth rate of unmarried women is so fast (double that of married women) the proportion of unmarried women in the voting pool will continue to increase.

Teixeira and Halpin's analysis draws upon an earlier study of unmarried voters, "A New America," produced by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in 2007.  Further putting the numbers in context, they note "there are over 53 unmarried women of voting age, a number that dwarfs the percentage of seniors, people of color and even union members."  In comparing marital status with other variables, they find that "marital status is a powerful predictor of the vote within other voting blocks; unmarried women tend to vote like other unmarried women, regardless of other powerful demographic variables such as age, income, and education."

To connect these demographic trends with policy, Greenberg and his co-authors make a strong case that unmarried women, in particular, have been strong proponents of health care reform, reduced American military involvement overseas, and economic parity in the workplace.  Given what Obama has achieved in these areas, it will be interesting to see how his campaign messaging targets unmarried women.  While health care reform, specifically, has been a subject that Obama has been hesitant to discuss with broad audiences, I would bet that there will be a great deal of "microtargeting" directed at unmarried women.

If we were to extend our analysis to include unmarried men as well (who also favored Obama in 2008 but to a lesser degree than women), the numbers are even more staggering.  As this recent piece notes (and the visual at top shows) not only are single people becoming more numerous, but they tend to be concentrated in certain geographic areas.  Again, from Greenberg...

From 1960 to 2006, the percentage of the voting age population that was unmarried grew from 27 to 45 percent.  Between the 2002 and 2006 elections, the growth rate of unmarried Americans was double that of married Americans.  If this trend continues, the unmarried will be a majority of the population within 15 years.

So, moving forward it will be worth paying attention to this dimension of the voting public.  While there seems to be little discussion of how marital status affects policy beliefs and voting preferences--at least in more mainstream venues--the data on single Americans is pretty compelling, especially as their numbers increase so dramatically.  In this regard, it would seem as if the recent economic downturn would have been felt particularly hard by single Americans.  A married couple is better able to absorb a loss or decline in income than a single individual.  Thus, how these folks perceive the past four years--and assign responsibility for the downturn--will be crucial to both parties in November.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

A Short Take on Florida, Including Ominous Turnout Numbers

Mitt Romney's victory yesterday in Florida is obviously a shot in the arm to his campaign, especially after the shock of South Carolina.  Above, I've posted a map of the primary results, courtesy of Dave Leip's U.S. Election Atlas.  The counties highlighted in Green were won by Romney; Blue were Gingrich victories.  To make some sense of the map, I'd refer back to a post I wrote in the weeks leading up to the 2008 election.

Florida's political geography is extremely fascinating.  The northern part of the state, including the panhandle, more closely resembles the neighboring states of Georgia and Alabama than it does the rest of the state.  More rural and with a large military presence, these counties have a stronger "Deep South" flavor--more Evangelicals and social conservatives.  Though less populous than other regions in the state, it favored Gingrich.  Exit polling from yesterday's vote confirms Gingrich's (and Santorum's) appeal to these voters and serves to confirm that Romney has still not sold this important GOP bloc on his candidacy.

On the turnout front, some more troubling news for the GOP.  As I wrote recently, turnout in New Hampshire, while up compared to 2008, did not increase at the rate we might expect for a party energized and positioned to recapture the White House.  I did some quick calculations on the most recent contests.  South Carolina saw an impressive 36% increase in Republican primary turnout over 2008 (603,856 votes vs. 445,677).  In Florida, however--a much more important state in November--turnout was actually down 14% compared to four years ago (1,669,585 votes vs. 1,949,498).

Here's some Florida turnout analysis (including an interesting graph of county data) from Michael McDonald, one of the foremost scholars of voter participation.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Does President Obama Have A "Cushion" In 2012???

As we get more and more polling data about how President Obama stacks up against his potential Republican rivals, it's important to remember that in many ways the national percentages are irrelevant.  Presidential contests are really state by state races.  The ultimate goal is to compile the 270 electoral votes necessary to win.  Because of the vast differences across states and regions--something that this site aspires to capture--neither Obama or Romney/Gingrich will have the same level of support everywhere.

Thus, as we begin to look to November, it's useful to look back at recent elections, especially 2008, and see how the candidates varied across the states.  This will give us the opportunity to see how likely it is that either candidate will be able to bring new states into their coalition. 

Another way to state this is: how much ground must the Republican nominee make up based upon what happened in 2008?  How much of a "cushion" does Obama have?  Does he have any realistic opportunity to build upon his 2008 margin?

To help answer this, I decided to look at how many states were actually closely decided in 2008.  These would be the main targets for both candidates, especially the Republican nominee who needs to improve dramatically on John McCain's 173 electoral votes.  I produced the following table that lists each state based upon the winning candidate's margin of victory.

What we see is that, beyond the 7% national spread between Obama and McCain, the state by state results are even more impressive for the Presdident.  If we use a spread of 5% as an arbitrary definition of a "close" outcome, we see (highlighted in yellow) that only six states were decided by such a margin in 2008.  Of these, Barack Obama won 4 (NC, FL, IN, OH) while McCain won 2 (MO, MT).  If we wanted to be a bit more generous in our definition of "close" to include states decided by 10% or less, we get an additional nine states, 4 won by Obama (VA, CO, IA, NH) and 5 won by McCain (GA, SD, AZ, ND, SC). 

In the final column of the table, I've listed the number of electoral votes that will be awarded by these states in 2012.  Here is where we can get a real sense of the magnitude of the task for the Republican nominee.  If we assume that states in 2012 will vote roughly as they did four years ago, the GOP nominee must win every state they won in 2008, plus North Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, AND Iowa in order to caputre the White House.

When we look at previous presidential elections, we see that there were many more "close" states than we saw in 2008.  For example, in 2004 we saw twelve states decided by 5% or less and twenty one with a 10% or less margin:

In 2000 there was a similar bunching of states, also with twelve decided by 5% or less.  Twenty two had a 10% or less margin:

When we look at the data on a state by state basis, the magnitude of each party's win over these past three cycles becomes magnified.   This is especially true, it seems, for 2008.  While Obama's 52.9% of the popular vote was the highest of any Democratic nominee since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, it is also true that he managed to win a lot of states by a large margin.  One might miss this if they were concerned only with the national numbers.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Is There An Enthusiasm Gap Among Republicans???

Things have been dark here for many months.  Now that the campaign is heating up, I'm going to try getting some things up on a more regular basis.  I've got a couple of posts in the works but let's start with a short little data exploration.

With two Republican votes already in the books and another taking place in South Carolina this weekend, one question that has gotten a bit of attention is whether Republican voters are enthusiastic about their choices, especially now that the field is winnowing.  For any party hoping to win the presidency--or any other election for that matter--turning out your voters is of primary importance.  The assumption going into 2012 for Republicans was that given the degree of opposition on the right to the Obama presidency, and coming on the tails of their success in the 2010 midterms, there would be tremendous energy and activism mobilized to propel whoever won the nomination into the White House.

While we've only had a few contests so far, there is reason to wonder whether this assumption is in fact true. 

If we look at the results from New Hampshire, a total of 248,447 votes were cast in the Republican primary across all candidates, more than in any recent Granite State GOP primary.  When compared to 2008, this year's vote was an increase of 3.6%.

To get a sense of whether this increase is significant or tells us anything about the state of the GOP electorate, though, we need some baseline of comparison.  I decided to look at recent New Hampshire primaries in which one party was trying to take over the White House from the other--a scenario that would seem to be ripe for increased turnout and mobilization.  When we look at these contests, 2012 doesn't stack up well.

For example, in 2008 the Democrats saw a 31% increase in turnout over 2004 (287,556 vs. 219,787 votes).  Also on the Democratic side--and also a successful party flip of the White House--1992 saw the Democrats increase their turnout by an even more impressive 36% over 1988 (167,664 vs. 122,912 votes).  Looking at Republicans, in 2000 the GOP turnout was 16% higher than it was in 1996 (238,206 vs. 205,856 votes).

Unlike in later contests where the eventual nominee becomes established and most candidates have dropped out, New Hampshire primaries have full fields and permissive voting procedures--it is an "open" primary.  Thus, we would expect the voting there to be a relatively good barometer of the party's enthusiasm.  If the turnout results in New Hampshire continue into the later contests, there's reason for GOP leaders--and the eventual nominee--to worry about the fall.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Once Upon a Time There Was Such a Thing as a Liberal Republican

Apologies for the absence of posting over the past few months.  Summers are always more busy than I think they'll be.  Plus, the toxicity of the recent debt ceiling debate hasn't put me much in the mood for writing.  Today, though, is a big day with the Wisconsin State Senate recalls so I'll try to get some posting up tonight as the results come in.  Democrats need to capture three seats to gain the majority.  The most likely gains, in my estimation and in order, would be Kapanke, Hopper, and Darling.

Before we get to that tonight, though, yesterday brought news of the passing of former Oregon governor and senator Mark Hatfield (see obits and rememberances here, here, and here).  Hatfield, who retired from the Senate after 30 years of service in 1996, was someone who would, unfortunately, be completely unrecognizable in today's Congress.  Today we find ourselves in an era when every Republican Senator ranks ideologically to the right of every Democratic Senator.  Hatfield was interesting in that although he was a "liberal Republican," his positions didn't necessarily fall in line with what we've come to understand that label to mean.  Yes, he was more socially liberal, but he was also staunchly pro-life.  Heavily steeped in his Baptist upbringing, his pro-life stance though (counter to what we see today) extended to opposition to the death penalty--an issue he grappled with as Oregon's governor--and most importantly the use of the U.S. military.  Serving in the Navy during WWII, Hatfield saw first hand the devastation of Hiroshima.  Upon election to the Senate he became an outspoken critic of the war in Vietnam and throughout his career was a reliable vote against authorizing the use of force, including the Persian Gulf War.

Hatfield's tenure in Congress is also of note in that he embodied the old style independent committee chairman.  He was the top Republican on the powerful Appropriations Committee, both during the Republican majorities of 1981-1987 and 1995-6.  Staunchly protective of his prerogatives as chief appropriator, he famously defended his turf against an intra-party uprising brought about by his refusal to support a Balanced Budget Amendment.  It was his vote that sent the measure down to defeat.

While it's easy to become overly nostalgic when thinking about politicians and Congresses long gone, there can be little doubt that our political system would be better off if there were more people like Senator Hatfield still around.

Friday, May 27, 2011

What Does the Death of a Reclusive 104 Year Old Copper Heiress Have to Do With U.S. Senate Elections???

Every once in a while you come across a truly wild and fascinating story that seems to defy belief.  Even better, sometimes these tales have embedded within them some obscure bit of political trivia.  The death of 104 year old Huguette Clark, a long reclusive heir to a massive copper and timber fortune, is filled with the stuff of legend.  As the coverage has discussed, Clark's assets were not only massive, but largely unused.  Last photographed in 1930 (!!!) Clark had lived the last several decades of her life secluded in a variety of New York City hospitals, reportedly surrounded only by her doll collection.  With no direct heirs and few, if any it seems, personal friends or confidants there is very little information about her that might shed light onto her strangely interesting life.

So why am I writing about this?  Well, it turns out that Clark is a direct link to the politics of a bygone American era.  I've always found the Gilded Age to be probably the most interesting period of our political history.  While the post Civil War period is not known for its stellar presidents (although I do admire Grant), the times saw the massive growth of American industry and the rise of such titans as Rockefeller, Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and the like.  The politics that developed around and in reaction to this transformation of America was raw, crass, and rough and tumble.  The country was moving westward at a fast clip with a population boom to match.  Industrialization, urbanization, and immigration fueled the birth of modern America...and a lot of people got rich.  The consequences of this unbridled expansion led to a number of policies and movements that are still with us to this day--think Progressivism, the birth of the regulatory state, etc.

This is where Clark comes in.  Her father, Willam A. Clark, was an industrial heavyweight on par with the greats of his time.  Making his fortune in the copper mines and timber fields of the American west, Clark used his millions to try and build political influence and gain elective office.  He bought newspapers and banking interests to further promote his interests.  He was instrumental in the development of Montana and was also an early booster in Nevada.  Clark County, which encompasses Las Vegas, is named after him.

It was his blatant attempts to parlay his fortune into a Senate seat from Montana that brought him some degree of notoriety.  Remember that until the passage of the 17th Amendment, senators were chosen by state legislatures, not direct election.  The backroom dealings that could lead to such appointments invited all types of corrupt behavior.  Clark's original campaign for the Senate was derailed in 1899 when it was revealed that he engaged in blatant bribery of the legislature.  Nonetheless, he succeeded in capturing the seat two years later and served a single term from 1901 to 1907.  With the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913, such decisions were finally put in the hands of voters.  For those who fret about the corrupting role of money in our politics and elections, it's useful to remember just how much better the current system is than the one that preceded it.

It's not often that we get to establish a direct linkage with such distant eras of our society and politics.  While Clark herself didn't directly allow for this, her death does send us back to the time of robber barons and their Gilded Age fortunes.  As her father was quoted as saying, "I never bought a man who wasn't for sale."

Monday, April 04, 2011

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Dramatic Diversification of America: Census 2010

Up until this point I've been reporting on the release of Census data in a piecemeal way.  In fact, it's actually quite overwhelming to try and keep up with each new batch of numbers.  The directions that one could take their analysis is unending.  Nonetheless, a new story by Ronald Brownstein over at National Journal does an excellent job of putting into context just what the Census is now telling us about America.

The take away...the pace of diversification in the U.S. over the past decade has been staggering.  This will have consequences not just for how we view ourselves, but for our politics as well.  Consider some of the following:
  • The minority share of the population increased in every state between 2000 and 2010
  • The percentage of non-Hispanic whites is 5.4% less than it was in 2000
  • Minorities now make up 46.5% of the under 18 population (up from 39.1% in 2000)
  • Four states are now majority minority--Hawaii, New Mexico, California, and Texas.  In eight other states, minorities comprise between 40 and 50% of the population
This growth has been overwhelmingly driven by Hispanics.  As Brownsein writes:

On the national level, Latinos now represent one in six Americans, or nearly 50.5 million in all.  That's up from one in eight, about 35.3 million, in 2000.   The Hispanic share of the population increased over the past decade in every state, with dramatic gains recorded not only in Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas but also in Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, and Rhode Island.  Latinos accounted for a majority of the population growth in 18 states, at least 40 percent of the growth in seven more, and at least 30 percent in five others.  In sum, Hispanics fueled about a third or more of the population growth in 30 states.

So what does this mean electorally???  The premise of this site from its beginning was that demography matters...a lot.  While I never want to discount other factors that shape elections--candidate quality, campaign organization, rhetorical skill, underlying fundamentals like the state of the economy, money, etc.--the driving set of variables for me has always been those that describe who the voters are.  Furthermore, we know that so much of our demographic profile is wrapped up in a historical and cultural narrative as well--look no further than our history with race in this country.  Thus, if you tell me who the voters are and where they are I'm pretty confident that I can tell you what they're going to do.

Which gets us to the second part of Brownstein's article.  Given what we know about how the minority vote has broken down over recent cycles, these numbers are very good news for the Democrats not only in the short term but especially long term.  Republican success in 2010 was built upon 1) decreased turnout among minority and new voters and 2) overwhelming support from whites.  In 2008, Barack Obama received 43% of the white vote yet won the largest share of the popular vote of any Democrat since LBJ.  National Journal ran a series of scenarios based on a further erosion of white support for Obama in 2012 and found, nonetheless, little reason to bet against him.  Consider:

Obama, for instance, won Florida last time with 42 percent of the white vote; under this scenario, if he maintains his minority support he could win the Sunshine State with just under 40 percent of the white vote.  With equal minority support in Nevada, the president could win with only 35 percent of the white vote, down from the 45 percent he garnered in 2008.  Likewise, under these conditions, Obama could take Virginia with just 33.5 percent of whites, well down from the 39 percent he captured last time.  In New Jersey, his winning number amon whites would fall to just over 41 percent (compaerd with the 52 percent he won in 2008).  In Pennsylvania, under these circumstances, 41% of white votes would be enough to put the state in Obama's column, down from the 48% he won in 2008.

All of this takes place even though minority turnout, especially among Hispanics, lags behind that of whites (African American turnout was up substantially in 2008).  If, going forward, mobilization and turnout among Latinos were to approach that seen among African Americans, the situation for Republicans would get even more dire.  If I were going into politics today as a young progressive and wanted to find a niche for myself that guaranteed I'd have meaningful work for the rest of my career, I'd focus on Latino mobilization and turnout. 

This all assumes, of course, that minorities' allegiances stay firmly in the Democratic camp.  For the party's sake, one would hope that Republicans would figure out a strategy to cope with these numbers.  Watching the current crop of GOP presidential candidates as well as those on Capitol Hill, it's clear that they haven't figured this out yet.  Pointing to Marco Rubio as a reason to believe you can win Hispanics is not a strategy.  Party allegiances and loyalties are formed over time and require an understanding of why voters evaluate the parties the way they do.  For Latino and African American voters, the Democrats have had this understanding--and a willingness to seek it--for much longer.  These new numbers seem to suggest that they are in position to reap the benefits for years to come.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Remembering "The Day The New Deal Began"

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of an event which did much to shape the direction of American politics throughout the 20th century. On March 25, 1911, the fire at New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory claimed the lives of 146 individuals, mostly young women. Though an accident, the fire did much to jump start reforms related to workplace safety, child labor, and wages.  One can view the list of the victims, plus short snippets about them, here.

Two years ago I did a post on probably the best history of the fire, David Von Drehle’s “Triangle.” In it, I noted how Von Drehle weaves together a number of strains of our political history around the event and shows how the fire served as a lens through which we can view such stories as those of women’s suffrage, the labor movement, urbanization, immigration, and the evolution of the modern Democratic Party.

This week the New York Times has been running a number of excellent stories about the fire and its legacy. All are well worth reading to get a sense of just how important an event this was to our history. Also, there are a few films that have been made recently worth checking out. PBS’s American Experience has their film on the fire available to view here. HBO also has a documentary that will begin airing this weekend. Both have websites with additional resources. Finally, the Center for American Progress will be hosting an event tomorrow with several commentators discussing the legacy of the fire.

On the day of the fire Frances Perkins, then the head of the New York Consumers League, was in her office just blocks away across Washington Park. A witness to the day’s horrific events, she became one of the most forceful activists pushing for the reforms that ultimately came out of city and state government. A loyal supporter of Franklin Roosevelt, she became Secretary of Labor during his first term and as such was the first woman named to a Cabinet position. Thus, she and FDR were in position to further their progressive reforms and embed them in federal policy. Reflecting on the fire many years later, she called March 25, 1911 “the day the New Deal began.”

With a lot of attention being paid to labor unions in recent weeks, it’s important to have a broad historical perspective about their development and role in our society and politics. Events like the Triangle Fire show us not only how the labor movement has contributed to the creation of many policies that we today take for granted; it also reminds us that for many Americans, like the women who died that day, they offered a voice, an entrance into political life, and a path out of poverty.

**For a list of events happening in commemoration of the anniversary, see here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

How Much Trouble are Democrats In If They're Losing the Most and Least White States???

Here’s an interesting finding from Lee Drutman at the Progressive Policy Institute regarding the decline in Democratic identification across the country. Testing a number of potential variables, the one with the strongest, statistically significant correlation is the percentage of the state’s population that is white. Thus, the more white a state is, the greater the decline in Democratic affiliation among its voters.

Back during the 2008 electoral season, I wrote a fair bit about Thomas Schaller’s “Whistling Past Dixie” which counseled Democratic candidates to essentially write off the possibility of winning Deep South states. Despite the fact that these states have the highest concentration of African American voters—the most solid part of the Democratic coalition—they have become the hardest states for Democrats to win. The reason, according to Schaller, is that the long history of racial polarization and antagonism in these states have produced a reaction among white voters:

The central irony of southern politics is that the nation’s most Republican region is home to half of all African Americans, the Democratic party’s most loyal voters. Unfortunately, racial antagonisms exacerbate the Democrats’ electoral problems in the South, creating a white countermobilization—a “backlash” so to speak—that fuels Republican victories. In the 2000 and 2004 elections, many of George W. Bush’s biggest wins came in southern states with the highest share of African Americans, and some Democratic congressional candidates are capturing as little as 30 percent of the white vote in the south.

Schaller’s book was written before the 2008 election and much of the analysis I did of President Obama’s victory confirmed his underlying thesis. For example, in a statistic that never fails to amaze me, John Kerry received a higher share of the white vote in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi than Barack Obama did.

Drutman doesn’t attempt to offer an explanation as to white might be driving the current trend of declining Democratic affiliation. He’s simply pointing out the correlation. It may, in fact, be a normal correction from the abnormally high gains made by Democrats in the 2006 and 2008 election cycles. For example, some of these homogenous states such as New Hampshire and other parts of New England have been home to a traditional Yankee Republicanism. The current emphasis on economic and fiscal issues re-enforces that tradition.

Nonetheless, these numbers should be worrisome to Democrats going into 2012 and are worth watching as we move closer to the election.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Another Time the State Capitol Was Overtaken

I’ve been writing a lot over at the Washington Examiner about the events in Wisconsin, trying to add a bit of context to what has transpired. To continue with the historical discussion, I thought I’d say a few words about another time when the state capitol in Madison was overtaken by protesters.

Late last year I came across a book that I had long hoped someone would write. "The Selma of the North" by Patrick D. Jones tells the story of the civil rights movement in Milwaukee. One of the shortcomings of a lot of the civil rights history (thankfully being rectified in recent years) is that it has focused almost all of its attention on the south. Whereas the movement in the south was directed largely on the issues of voting rights, public accommodations, and other basic constitutional protections, the focus in the north was on a wholly different set of problems. With voting rights not in dispute, the problems confronted in the north were in many ways more intractable and divisive—and in reality still with us to this day. The major conflicts were around school integration (with busing being an especially contentious component) and housing.

Jones centers his narrative around the figure of Fr. James Groppi. A charismatic priest in Milwaukee who was radicalized by his experiences in an inner city Milwaukee parish and by his participation in the protests in the south, Groppi was an immensely polarizing figure in 1960’s Milwaukee. He became a leader of Milwaukee’s NAACP Youth Core and helped channel the movement’s energies around issues of education and open housing in Milwaukee. A great on-line resource about Milwaukee’s civil rights protests can be found at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Library’s website.

To appreciate the complexity and intensity of the protests around housing, one needs to wrestle with the reality of how many northern cities evolved in the early and mid part of the 20th century. As the two Great Migrations saw the African American populations of cities like Milwaukee explode (it grew 700% between 1945 and 1970) the white populations of these cities resisted the need to accommodate the newcomers in anything other than the already existing, overcrowded urban core. For perhaps the best examination of this tension, check out Beryl Satter’s "Family Properties" that explores how Chicago wrestled with housing at the same time Groppi was agitating up the interstate in Milwaukee. To this day, Milwaukee and Chicago remain two of the most segregated cities in America.

In 1969, toward the end of his work in Milwaukee and as his militancy increased, Groppi turned his attention to the issue of welfare. In response to proposed cuts in the state budget (sound familiar???) aimed at poor women and children, Groppi led a march of welfare recipients from Milwaukee to Madison. There, they took over the chambers of the State Assembly for eleven hours before they were ejected and Groppi was arrested. While the protests gained the support of many in the anti-war community in Madison, its numbers where nowhere near what we’ve seen over the past month. Nonetheless, I was reminded of the Groppi marches when watching and reading the coverage of the current protests.

As a final note, it’s important to remember that the Civil Rights movement in the north, including the Milwaukee protests, drove a wedge between what was at that point two pillars of the Democratic Party’s electoral coalition—African Americans and white, urban ethnics (many of whom belonged to unions). George Wallace, for example, received 31% of the vote in Milwaukee during his quixotic quest for the Democratic nomination in 1964. He famously kick started his Wisconsin campaign at Serb Hall, the hub of the white urban ethic community on Milwaukee’s South Side. As I wrote a few weeks back in discussing the plight of “Reagan Democrats,” the issue of race was one that led many of these voters to gravitate to the Republicans. While union voters have been coming back to the Democrats—and may now be in the midst of a sprint back to the left— what remains to be seen is whether a strong bond can be forged between these two oftentimes estranged voting blocs.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A Couple of Quick Notes of Demographic Interest

Two quick things of note based on recently released Census data:

Out of California, more evidence of the surge in the Latino population.  Now, more than half of the children in Califronia are Latinos.  Among all age groups, Latinos are now virtually on par with whites.  They represent 38% and 40% of the population respectively.

The political implications of this are obvious.  As the story notes, California was one state that withstood the gains made by Republicans across all other parts of the country.  While redistricting plays a part of this as well--California has perhaps the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the country--the importance of the Latino vote to Democrats will only grow.  While Latino turnout still lags considerably behind that of other groups, the sheer surge in the population is good news for Democrats, not just in California, moving forward.

The second story worth mentioning deals with a topic I've written about here before--namely the Great Migration.  Census data from Chicago shows, interestingly, that the African American population in the city actually declined between 2000 and 2010.  What seems to be happening is a larger pattern of the "Great Migration in Reverse."  Discussed in this earlier study by Brookings Institution demographer William Frey, recent years have seen large numbers of African Americans migrate from northern industrial cities like Chicago to southern metropolises like Atlanta, Charlotte, and Houston.  The proportion of the African American population now living in the south is the highest it's been since 1960.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Unions and the Democratic Vote

First off, some housekeeping.  The posting here has been extremely light as of late.  The reason for this is that I've recently joined the ranks at the Washington Examiner's Opinion Zone blog.  Thus, much of what has been running through my head has been appearing over there.  I'm going to work hard to keep posting over here as well.

The big story of the past few weeks has been the debate about the role of unions, specificially public sector unions, in our political system.  As numerous states, most notably Wisconsin, try to fix budget deficits, public sector unions have been called upon to increase their contributions to health care, pension, and other benefit packages.  While Wisconsin unions have agreed to these concessions, legislation that would take away their collective bargaining rights have set off a firestorm, resulting in large scale protests and a crippled state government.

In the commentary surrounding this, the role of unions more broadly in our politics has gotten quite a bit of attention.  I've written about this here and here.  To summarize, unions have been a key component of the Democratic Party's electoral coalition even as their membership has been declining and has been becoming more public than private sector oriented.  To get a sense of this, I thought I'd run an experiment whereby I rank states according to their level of unionization and see if there is a rough correlation with their statewide vote in presidential contests.  Thanks to the good folks over at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one can get this data quite easily.

I've put together the following chart which looks at the past five presidential elections.  For each year I've ranked the 50 states plus DC according to the percentage of the population that belongs to a union--represented in the second column for each year.  I've then color coded the state for how it voted.

One thing to note is that while there is some variation as to the relative rankings of the states as to their level of unionization, by and large the state orderings remain constant.  High unionization states include New York, Hawaii, Michigan, Alaska, Washington, and California while low unionization states include the states of the deep south.  As you can clearly see, highly unionized states have tended to vote Democratic (and vice versa for low unionization states).  This obviously isn't a huge surprise but it is nice to be able to view the data this way.  Consider that in 2008, Barack Obama won 23 of the 27 most unionized states in the country.  He also, interestingly, won 2 of the 4 least unionized. 

As I was creating this chart, the Clinton elections of 1992 and 1996 jumped out as having seemingly less of a correlation between state unionization and the vote.  Clearly there was some regional appeal taking place with his wins in Georgia, Louisiana, and Arkansas (wins that no subsequent Democratic nominee has been able to replicate).  However, at the top of the scale, Clinton did just as well as Obama.  Thus, equating national or statewide electoral outcomes simply with union presence is a mistake.  There are a variety of other variables at play--a point made the other day by Nate Silver in an excellent post on the subject.  Especially when we have elections that verge on entering "landslide" territory, isolating one variable and assigning causality is likely to steer us in the wrong direction.

Nonetheless, it shouldn't surprise us that the proposals unleashed over the past weeks by Republican governors across the midwest--where presidential elections are ultimately decided--have set off the reaction they have.  Unions clearly see these bills not just as part of a debate about fiscal policy, but as a more fundamental attack on their role in society and politics. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sargent Shriver R.I.P.

Yesterday brought the sad news of the passing of R. Sargent Shriver (more remembrances here and here).  Best known for his work in the creation and leading of the Peace Corps, his direction of LBJ's War on Poverty, and for his tireless work for Special Olympics, Shriver also played a crucial role in several elections, both as a candidate and a confidante.  I'm going to devote a couple posts to Shriver, someone who I was vervy fortunate to meet while in college and who was inspirational to me in a lot of ways.

The first electoral episode that I want to explore relates to Shriver's role in the 1960 Kennedy campaign.  As brother in law to then candidate Kennedy, Shriver played an active role in many aspects of the campaign--delegate courting, position development, and especially working the important Illinois operation given Shriver's close ties to Chicago as head of the Merchandise Mart and positions on numerous boards and community organizations.  Most importantly, Shriver was the head of the campaign's Civil Rights section.  One thing that I think a lot of people take for granted is up until this point the African American vote was not as monolithically Democratic as it is today, nor was it as important to candidates' electoral college math.  Prior to FDR's ability to pull black voters into the New Deal Coalition, African Americans--dating back to Lincoln and Reconstruction--had strong GOP sympathies.  Furthermore, prior to the Great Migrations around World War I and II, the blacks (with few if any voting rights) tended to be heavily concentrated in the already solid Democratic deep south.  Thus, by the time of the 1960 election, Democratic candidates were becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the growing northern black vote, especially in close elections.  The peril of courting this vote however, was that it endangered upsetting southern whites whose votes were also crucial to victory.

Here is where Shriver played a crucial role in Kennedy's election.  In Theodore White's magisterial "The Making of the President 1960," he recounts Kennedy's deft decision, orchestrated by Shriver, to swing large numbers of black voters to the Kennedy ticket, thus helping ensure his narrow victory.  I'll quote at length:

The most interesting and precise of the decisions of this period, however, was one made by the candidate himself--particularly as it contrasted with the simultaneous Nixon decision on the same problem.  This concerned the Martin Luther King affair--an episode that tangled conscience with the most delicate balancing of the Northern Negro--Southern white vote.

Martin Luther King is one of the genuine heroes of the tumultuous Negro struglle for authentic equality in American life; a luminous man, he speaks responsibly for the best there is in his community.  On Wednesday, October 19th--at about the same time of the day that John Kennedy and Richard Nixon were addressing the American Legion in Miami on the national defense--Martin Luther King was arrested with fifty-two other Negroes in Rich's Department Store in Atlanta for refusing to leave a table in its Magnolia Room restaurant.  On the following Monday, all other "sit-ins" arrested in this episode were released; King alone was held in jail and, worse, sentenced on a technicality to four months' hard labor and thereupon whisked away secretly to the State Penitentiary.  This was no ordinary arrest--no Negro in America has more deservedly earned greater warmth and adoration from his fellow Negroes, North or South, than Martin Luther King; but no Negro menaces the traditional prerogatives of Southern whites more importantly.  It was not beyond possibility that he would never emerge alive from Reidsville State Prison, deep in "cracker" country, where he had been taken; nor did anyone believe more in the prospect of his lynching than his wife, then six months pregnant...The American Negro community girded; so did Southern whites; during the previous few weeks, even before the arrest, no less than three Southern governors had informed Kennedy headquarters directly that if he intruded in Southern affairs to support or endorse Martin Luther King, then the South could be given up as lost to the Democratic ticket.  Now Kennedy must choose.  This was a crisis.

The crisis was instantly recognized by all concerned with the Kennedy campaign.  On the night of Tuesday, October 25th, the suggestion for meeting it was born to one of those remarkably competent young men that the Kennedy organization had brought into politics to direct the Civil Rights Section of their campaign, a Notre Dame law professor named Harris Wofford.  Wofford's idea was as simple as it was human--that the candidate telephone directly to Mrs. King in Georgia to express his concern.  Desperately Wofford tried to reach his own chief, Sargent Shriver, head of the Civil Rights Section of the Kennedy campaign, so that Shriver might break through to the candidate while barnstorming somewhere in the Middle West.  Early Wednesday morning, Wofford was able to locate Shriver, the gentlest and warmest of the Kennedy clan (he had married Eunice Kennedy, the candidate's favorite sister) in Chicago--and Shriver enthusiastically agreed.  Moving fast, Shriver reached the candidate at O'Hare Inn at Chicago's International Airport as the latter was preparing to leave for a day of barnstorming in Michigan.

The candidate's reaction to Wofford's suggestion of participation was impulsive, direct and immediate.  From his room at the Inn, without consulting anyone, he placed a long distance telephone call to Mrs. Martin Luther King, assured her of his interest and concern for her suffering and, if necessary, his intervention.

Mrs. King, elated yet still upset, informed a few of her closest friends.  Through channels of Negro leadership, the word swiftly spread from Atlanta, and thus to the press, that Kennedy had intervened to protect the imprisoned Negro leader.  And Bobby Kennedy, informed in the course of the day of the command decision, proceeded even further and the next morning telephoned a plea for King's release from New York to the Georgian judge who had set the sentence; on Thursday King was released from Reidsville prison on bail, pending appeal--safe and sound.

The entire episode received only casual notice from the generality of American citizens in the heat of the last three weeks of the Presidential campaign.  But in the Negro community the Kennedy intervention rang like a carillon.  The father of Martin Luther King, a Baptist minister himself, who had come out for Nixon a few weeks earlier on religious grounds, now switched.  "Because this man," said the Reverend Mr. King, Senior, "was willing to wipe the tears from my daughter-in-law's eyes, I've got a suitcase of votes, and I'm going to take them to Mr. Kennedy and dump them in his lap."  Across the country scores of Negro leaders, deeply Protestant but even more deeply impressed by Kennedy's action, followed suit.  And where command decision had been made, the Kennedy decision could follow through.  Under Wofford's direction a million pamphlets describing the episode were printed across the country, half a million in Chicago alone, whence they were shipped by Greyhound bus.  On the Sunday before election, these pamphlets were distributed outside Negro churches across the country.  One cannot identify in the narrowness of American voting of 1960 any one particular episode or decision as being more important than any other in the final tallies: yet when one reflects that Illinois was carried by only 9,000 votes and that 250,000 Negroes are estimated to have voted for Kennedy; that Michigan was carried by 67,000 votes and that an estimated 250,000 Negroes voted for Kennedy; that South Carolina was carried by 10,000 votes and that an estimated 40,000 Negroes there voted for Kennedy, the candidate's instictive decision must be ranked among the most crucial of the last few weeks.

Next time...Shriver is tapped, belatedly, as George McGovern's running mate in 1972.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Census Speaks

Well, now we know which states are going to win and lose (and by how much) in the upcoming apportionment and redistricting of House seats.  With the numbers released today, speculation is already beginning on how these numbers will play out both locally and nationally.  The following map gives a picture of how 12 seats will shift across the country:

Texas comes out, clearly, as the big winner with a gain of 4 House seats (followed by Florida with a pickup of 2) while New York and Ohio emerge as the big losers with a contraction of 2 seats each.

For most, these results aren't surprising.  The population shifts from the industrial north and midwest to the southwest and southeast have been going on for decades--and have been affecting our politics for decades as well.  Nonetheless, the quick analysis that many commentators are providing suggests a boon to Republicans.  For example, of the 8 states gaining seats, 5 voted for John McCain in 2008 while of the 10 states losing seats, 8 voted for President Obama.  Further boosting Republicans is the fact that Republicans will control the redistricting process in most of these states--both gaining and losing seats--putting them in position to further pad their House majority.

A big wildcard in thus, however, is the fact that much of this growth, especially in Texas and Florida, was due to the growth of the Latino population.  In Texas alone, Latinos accounted for 70% of the state's population growth.  Latinos now make up 37% of the Texas population (although only 25% of the electorate).  The fundamental question, for both parties, going forward is how they will appeal to this growing Latino vote.  Should Democrats succeed in further cementing their support in this community, they can mitigate some of the consequences of these broader population shifts to traditionally red states.