Rather than spend all of my time on the more traditional number crunching and map making, I thought I’d take a different approach to looking at last week’s election. One thing we know about American politics—and something I’ve written a lot about—is that it’s very regional. Different parts of the country tend to have different types of politics—driven by different demographics, economies, cultures, etc. Another part of American life that is heavily regional is sports. Where we live, where we go to school, and where we were raised tend to affect not only which sports we tend to be interested in (if any) but also the teams to which we’re loyal.
Both candidates this year, we’re told, are rabid sports fans. Much has been written about Obama’s love of basketball and his election day ritual of starting his day with a pick-up game. McCain, from what I’ve read, is a rabid boxing fan. So, can we merge politics and sport—in other words, how might we use the lens of sports to view the returns? As the college football season is approaching its most crucial weeks and college basketball is just gearing up (Go Marquette!!), I thought I’d see there were any parallels to the regionalism of college sports and the election returns.
College athletics is organized around a series of regionally based conferences, the six largest of which are part of the BCS (Bowl Championship Series). These six conferences are the Big East, Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Southeastern Conference (SEC), Big Twelve, Big Ten, and Pac Ten. The membership of each conference is as follows:
Big East: Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Providence, Rutgers, Seton Hall, South Florida, St. John’s, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia
ACC: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina St., Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
SEC: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi St., South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Big 12: Baylor, Colorado, Iowa St., Kansas, Kansas St., Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech
Big Ten: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan St., Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio St., Penn St., Purdue, Wisconsin
Pac 10: Arizona, Arizona St., California, Oregon, Oregon St., Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington, Washington St.
These conferences cover the entire geographical breadth of the U.S. Thus, they represent the diversity of the American voting public. What I thought would be fun to do is look at how each conference voted last Tuesday. I took each school and looked at how its state and county (in which the school resides) voted. You see some pretty interesting things. The Big Ten, for example, is the most pro-Obama conference. All 8 states in which its schools reside voted for Obama, as did all 11 counties (there are 11 schools in the Big Ten since the addition of Penn St.). The Big Ten schools occupy the industrial Midwest from Pennsylvania to Iowa, the region of the country that Obama dominated, including his pickups of Indiana and Ohio.
The most pro-McCain conference?? Not surprisingly it’s the SEC. Encompassing the deep south, McCain’s base of support, McCain won 8 of the 9 SEC states (losing only Florida). At the county level, however, Obama actually did much better. He won 7 of the 12 counties in which these schools reside (Alachua—Florida; Athens-Clarke—Georgia; Fayette—Kentucky; Oktibbeha—Mississippi St.; Richland—South Carolina; and Davidson—Vanderbilt). Thus, we may see some evidence of the youth vote (which gave Obama 2/3 of their vote) coming through for the Democrat as well as all those liberal faculty members.
The most interesting conference—and the one that got me thinking about this question in the first place—is the ACC. Since the flip of North Carolina and Virginia from the Republican to the Democratic column, many are wondering if the “solid South” is beginning to disintegrate. Given that the ACC encompasses the border area of the east coast—part northern, part southern—its voting might reflect the bipolar nature of the region and whether it is now being pulled in one direction more than the other. Indeed, 5 of the 7 ACC states went to Obama (Clemson in South Carolina and Georgia Tech in Georgia went McCain). At the county level, Obama won 11 of the 12 ACC counties (losing only Pickens County South Carolina, home to Clemson). In most of these counties, the Obama margin was quite large. Only in Montgomery County Virginia (Virginia Tech) did he get less than 55%.
To round out the remaining conferences, the Big 12 was McCain’s next strongest at the state level. This conference encompasses the central plains, another area of Republican strength. Of the seven total states McCain won 5 (losing Colorado and Iowa). Like with the SEC, however, things at the county level were more evenly matched as each candidate won 6 counties.
The Big East is the largest conference geographically (I’m using its expanded basketball membership rather than its 8 team football membership). Stretching from Rhode Island to Wisconsin (Go Marquette!!) and also having South Florida, it’s the least geographically distinct. Nonetheless, it was strongly in the Obama camp. He won 11 of the 13 Big East states (losing Kentucky and West Virginia). At the county level, though, he made a clean sweep of the 16 counties. Monongalia County West Virginia (Morgantown) gave Obama a slim win with 51% as did Hamilton County Ohio (Cincinnati) with 52% and Hillsborough County Florida (USF) with 53%.
Finally, the PAC 10 was strongly Obama and might have given him a clean sweep had it not been for Senator McCain’s presence on the balance. With the exception of Arizona, Obama won 3 of the conference’s 4 states. At the county level, he won 9 of 10, losing only Maricopa County Arizona (Arizona St.) where McCain got 55%.
So, what can we learn from this?? All in all this may not teach us much new but rather allow us to use a different lens through which to view our politics. The dominance of Obama at the county level—he won 89% of the counties surveyed (57 of 64) illustrates, it seems, not only the role of the youth vote but also something about areas that revolve around university life. Even in the Deep South, Obama did well in those areas that have universities in their midst. Beyond students, one is likely to find a populace in these cities and counties with a higher degree of education and income than in the surrounding parts. As the Democrats’ share of the vote among the high education/high income demographic continues to grow, we might begin to see more change at the state level. The concept of the “ideopolis” is key to “The Emerging Democratic Majority” thesis. What we saw last week in North Carolina and Virginia (home to 6 schools in this survey) might be a harbinger for things to come.