When the votes were finally finished being counted, Obama's electoral vote count got increased by 1 due to an ununsual feature of one state's allocation of its votes. Nebraska is one of two states (Maine being the other) that awards its electoral votes by congressional district rather than giving the statewide winner the state's total haul. While Obama won each of Maine's two congressional districts, the Nebraska vote was split. Despite the fact that McCain won the state by about 15 points, Obama actually captured one of the congressional districts--the 2nd. As a result, he captured its electoral vote with the remaining 4 going to McCain.
While this outcome might be an interesting bit of trivia in its own right, its useful to compare 2008's numbers with 2004. In '08, Obama was able to claim the district with a narrow 3,370 vote margin of victory (138,809 to 135,439). In 2004, however, Bush won the district handily, capturing 61% of the vote (153,041 to 97,858). This historically strong Republican flavor of the district is seen in the fact that only once since voting for Harry Truman has it gone Democratic. It has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+9. Given this 11 point shift, I thought I'd explore the district a little more.
With the aid of Jack Huerter, one of my students and Omaha native, I got a sense of the district's demographics. The 2nd District is comprised of Douglas County and a small slice of neighboring Sarpy County. Douglas County is made up of the city of Omaha plus its suburbs extending westward from the city center. While being the most diverse of the state's 3 congressional districts, the 2nd is still overwhelmingly white with 10% of the population being African American and 6% being Hispanic. Overall, Douglas County provided 81% of the district's votes in 2008 while the Sarpy County portion provided the remaining 19%. Comparing the Douglas and Sarpy votes, we find that, using the 2 party vote totals, Obama beat McCain in Douglas 52% to 48% while McCain beat Obama in the Sarpy portion 57% to 43%.
To aid in the exploration of the district, I created the map shown above which focuses on Douglas County. Thanks to the Douglas County Elections Commission I was able to get both the precinct level voting data and precinct map. From it I created the color coded map that shows the distribution of Obama's and McCain's support throughout the county. I've created an excel file for the precinct level voting for Douglas County that is available here. Here is the original map without the color coding that provides a clearer picture of the boundaries and streets.
What we see is an Obama vote that is concentrated within the city of Omaha and some of its more western neighborhoods and a McCain vote that is, as we'd probably expect, heavily suburban. Within the city, the African American community is concentrated on the north side (see precincts in Ward 2 especially). For the Hispanic population of Omaha, the city's south side is where the largest concentration exists, especially in the areas around I-80. These south side neighborhoods were historically white working class and Omaha, like many cities, has seen this group move to the suburbs over the years. As we move westward out of the city, Jack suggests that the suburbs begin in the area of around 90th Street. We see from the map that this is where the McCain strength intensifies and we enter areas of solid red--the urban grid ends and is replaced by neighborhoods of winding streets and cul de sacs. A final group I was interested in was the Omaha student population. Creighton University is a mid sized Jesuit school located in the heart of downtown (precincts 2-15, 2-16). Its area went solidly for Obama. The University of Nebraska at Omaha has a sizable student body of about 15,000 but according to my Omaha expert is largely commuter based and thus not concentrated in any one voting area.
I had hoped to do a close comparison between the 2008 and 2004 numbers at the precinct level. However, in talking to someone at the Elections Commission, I was told that there were some pretty dramatic changes to the precinct boundaries, thus making a comparison difficult. Nonetheless, I did get the precinct level numbers that are available here so that you can make your own observations. On a very basic level we can get some sense of Obama's improvement over Kerry. In 2008, Obama won 151 of Douglas County's 350 precincts (43% of all precincts). In 2004, Kerry managed to win only 94 of the 341 precincts (28% of all precincts). While Obama's best precincts were no doubt some of Kerry's best, especially among African Americans, Obama would seem to have benefitted from a greater number of votes coming out of these areas.