Friday, January 30, 2009

50 State Steele?


A rudderless Republican National Committee wrapped up a raucous winter meeting today, selecting Michael Steele, a man who whiffed on a primary for Maryland state comptroller he was favored to win against a field of unknowns just a decade ago, as their new face in the post-Obama drubbing era.

Both of ElectionDissection.com’s editors secured press credentials - just like a legitimate news media outlet! – and were on hand, crowded into the designated press corner for all six, tension-fraught ballots that committee members needed to elect a new chairman.                                        

Steele boasted repeatedly of his tenure as Maryland GOP chair, and the election of Bob Ehrlich as governor and himself as Lt. Governor, under his watch.  Of course, Steele glossed over his ticket’s ousting four years later by then-Baltimore mayor Martin O’Malley, and falling 10 points short in his 2006 U.S. Senate bid against Ben Cardin. 

Word around the hall had it that Steele enjoyed strong support fellow Blue Stater RNC members.  Indeed, Steele enjoyed the support of DC’s Republican Party Chair Bob Kabel and national committeewoman Betsy Werronen.  

ElectionDissection ran into Patrick Mara, the Republican who fell short for an at-large DC Council seat last fall, after unseating veteran Republican Council Member Carol Schwartz in a bitterly contested, low turnout primary. 

Mara voiced his support for Steele, citing not only his support for his recent council bid, but also - reminding us that he cut his political teeth in his native heavily Democratic Rhode Island - an affinity for Steele as a Blue State Republican.  Mara explained that Steele understands that it takes a different sort of Republican, a more moderate Republican or one from a more diverse background, to compete in unfavorable terrain.  

Steele’s own rhetoric and from those who advocated on his behalf insisted that only he, the RNC’s media savvy first Afro-Am chairman, could appeal to diverse constituencies, rebuild party infrastructure and reinvent the partisan brand.  Critics drew parallels to the Obama campaign’s “change” theme that opponents found sorely lacking in specifics.  

But in his victory speech, Steele thanked RNC members from all regions of the country, including those from the Northeast, where Republican support has almost dried up in recent years.  (He also thanked the 18 members from the territories, key players on a committee of only 168, where the national committeewoman from the Northern Marianas Islands has a vote equal with the Republican chair from Texas, the nation’s largest Red State.)  “Get ready, baby,” he advised them.  A Steele-led RNC intends to compete there, too.  This was meant to contrast sharply with the man who was his last standing challenger, Katon Dawson, the slick, Southern, well-coiffed chairman from the Deep Red, Deep South Palmetto State, who resembled much of the traditional RNC membership.

Those remarks reinforced what occurred to me during our conversation with Mara: that a Steele chairmanship would implement a strategy similar to Howard Dean’s 50 State Strategy, one that’s built up infrastructure in Deep Red states and enable Democrats to win recent races that they couldn’t contest earlier in this decade.  Given the daunting demographic trends that Republicans face these days, it’s hard to conceive how even more durable infrastructure can save the GOP.  But then again, few foresaw Democrats snaring the seat of a retiring Republican House Speaker, after Dean put his strategy into effect.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Can You Have Bi-Partisanship When You're Highly Polarized???

Today’s big story is the House’s passage of President Obama’s economic stimulus bill without a single Republican vote. The 244-188 vote saw all 177 Republicans vote against the package of tax cuts and spending increases aimed at job creation, infrastructure improvement, and other investments. In the early days of his administration, Obama had made numerous attempts at reaching some accord with the Republican membership, including visiting the members on Capitol Hill and engaging them in a wide ranging discussion and debate about the legislation. For those looking for a new era of bi-partisan cooperation, these early efforts were greatly welcomed. With yesterday’s vote, though, many of these same people are asking whether anything in Washington has changed. While some commentary has scolded Republican House members for talking a good game of bi-partisanship without being willing to walk the walk, a larger question must be explored—one that goes to the heart of the modern day Congress. Namely, why would we have expected many Republican votes in the first place???

Over the last several election cycles, we’ve seen the membership of the House of Representatives become increasingly polarized. This has been due to changes in both the Democratic and Republican caucuses. For the Democrats, the decline of the party’s fortunes in the south over the past generation or so has led to the virtual disappearance of the southern conservative (often rural) Democrat. As these seats became solidly Republican the Democratic caucus became increasingly liberal ideologically. While we’ve seen a slight reversal of this trend with the election of some more Blue Dogs recently, the Democrats nonetheless remain, as a whole, a more liberal bunch than their predecessors. For the Republicans we’ve also seen a geographic shift with the emptying of New England GOP seats as well as losses in the industrial Midwest. Thus, the GOP ranks have become increasingly conservative ideologically. As a consequence there are fewer members who find themselves occupying the middle range of the political spectrum—and thus acting as potential votes for the opposite party from time to time.

This polarization has also been aided, many argue, by the redistricting process that tends to create safe districts for members of both parties. With little fear of a serious electoral challenge, members don’t perceive any cost to adhering to their party’s agenda as opposed to their constituents’. Both agendas, are in essence, the same. To get a sense of this, I’ve taken a look at the last two House Republican caucuses. What we’re seeing is that the Republican members in office now have become quite safe in their re-election, despite going through two pretty wretched cycles. When defining what makes a member potentially vulnerable for defeat, political scientists have tended to use either 55% or 60% of the vote in one’s most recent campaign as a warning sign. So, for example:

In 2008, 37 Rep. House members received 55% of the vote or less
In 2006, 41 Rep. House members received 55% of the vote or less


In 2008, 38 Rep. House members received 55-60%
In 2006, 60 Rep. House members received 55-60%


Thus, close to 60% of the House Republican caucus received over 60% of the vote in 2008. Overall, 2006 seemed to be considerably worse than 2008 in putting members in the “danger zone.” Another way of looking at these numbers is to look at each member’s performance in 2008 compared to 2006. Here again, we see more members doing better. In 2008, 79 House Republicans got a higher % than they did in 2006; 66 got a lower %; and 9 received the same %.

So, for your average House Republican, despite the fact that your party has taken a beating over the past two cycles, their individual performance hasn’t been quite as bad. While a number of members have been swept out of office—thus Democratic gains of 32 and 21 seats—those that are left would seem to be quite secure. So perhaps expecting large swaths of them to start voting Democratic was premature. While trying to be bi-partisan is certainly admirable, the distance that Obama was trying to cover may have been too far. One might also argue that given the cushion he had given the large Democratic majority, he could afford to make bi-partisan overtures and still be rebuffed. The Stimulus bill still passed handily.

One group of members that we might want to focus on more closely, especially when the Stimulus bill comes back to the House for final passage, is the freshman class. The Republicans have 23 members who have never been through this type of process before and for whom the Stimulus vote was their first consequential decision. When we look at this group we see a much more insecure bunch. Of these 23 members, 13 received less than 55% last year and another 6 received between 55 and 60%. With their no votes they have served to put a big target on their backs.

When yesterday’s vote took place, I was reminded of a similar vote that took place at the beginning of the last Democratic presidency. In 1993, the House vote on President Clinton’s $500 billion deficit reduction package transpired in a very similar fashion. With every Republican vote against the bill, the legislation managed to pass by a single vote. The story of this vote is one I use in the first lecture I give as a part of my course on the U.S. Congress. With the vote of freshman House Democrat Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky of Pennsylvania, the budget resolution squeaked through giving the new president his first major legislative victory. In making her decision, Mezvinsky angered a large segment of her suburban, affluent constituency. Because of the bill’s provisions to increase taxes on upper income earners, she immediately put herself in electoral jeopardy. Sure enough, in the 1994 Republican landslide, Mezvinsky was a casualty.

The reason I bring this story up is because Mezvinsky, like all freshmen members, was just learning how to do her job when this vote took place. Unlike her more senior colleagues, she didn’t have much experience in determining how her constituents would react to her vote and how she could regain their trust. The big difference between the 1993 vote and yesterday's, of course, is that the Clinton package raised taxes while the Obama bill cuts them. While it has been proven dangerous to vote for a bill that hits your constituents in the wallet, we don't know whether there's a cost in voting against a bill that will add money to them. This uncertainty is no doubt running through many of the current freshmen after yesterday’s vote. While we’ll have to wait a while to see how their votes play out both at home and in Washington, you can be sure they will be getting a lot of attention—attention they’d no doubt rather avoid—over the coming weeks.

Tomorrow, ElectionDissection.com will be at the Republican National Committee meeting in Washington to get a sense of how the party is grappling with the state they find themselves in. We'll report back, with special focus on the election of the new party Chairman.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

From Campaigning to Governing--"Going Public" Version 2.0

In the mid 1980’s presidential scholarship by political scientist Samuel Kernell argued that presidents were able to gain bargaining power and leverage with Congress by “going public.” In an environment in which politics was becoming increasingly individualized and fragmented—due to the decline of political parties, candidate-centered campaigns, and greater constituency driven pressures on legislators—presidents found it necessary to go outside of Washington to generate support for their agenda. By going over the heads of recalcitrant legislators and appealing directly to the public, presidents could get constituents to, in effect, do the work of compelling Congress to act. Whether it be through public appearances and speeches in person or through the air waves, the office of the President, aided by technology and its ability to draw media coverage, was at an advantage vis a vis a more fractured Congress.

With the advent of the Obama administration, it seems as if we may be on the verge of a new, and potentially more powerful, iteration of this “going public” dynamic. As has been much discussed, one of the Obama campaign’s greatest strengths was its organizational muscle. By not only harnessing the best technology and social networking tools of the day, but pairing it with a campaign ethos premised on community organization and grass roots mobilization, Obama was able to register scores of new voters, provide continuous updates to a 13 million strong email distribution list, and repeatedly tap its network for campaign contributions. With victory in hand, the question then became—“Now what???” How do you keep this network engaged when the immediate pressures and excitement of a campaign are gone? Can you put the network to use in trying to enact your agenda? Can these people help you govern?

Initial indications are that this is exactly what the Obama Administration is hoping to do. Over the last few weeks, we have begun to see the roll out of “Organizing for America” (See NYTimes coverage here). While the specifics of this plan are still pretty vague, one can imagine how it could be put to use in pressuring Congress. Just as people were alerted to various developments in the campaign, a similar communications apparatus could be used as the House or Senate is preparing to vote on the Economic Stimulus plan, health care reform, etc. With individuals getting specific information on their particular member of Congress, the poor staff assistants who answer the phones in congressional offices might find themselves deluged with pleas for congressional action. Having answered such calls myself and knowing how legislative offices sometimes discount mass appeals of this type—especially when they seem generated by an outside entity—the team behind Organizing for America will need to be quite sophisticated in their methodology.

On a related level, another indication that Obama is going to attempt to maintain his organizational structure is the recent ascension of Virginia Governor Tim Kaine to the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. Hand-chosen by the President, Kaine shares not just a close relationship with Obama (he was one of Obama’s first high profile endorsers) but also a governing ethic. Both have fashioned themselves as pragmatists more than ideologues and Kaine’s success in Virginia (seen first by Mark Warner) showed the viability of a campaign premised on “expanding the map.” With Kaine now topping the Democratic Party, he seems charged not only with the more traditional party leadership responsibilities—fundraising, candidate recruitment, and organizational maintenance—but with using the tools developed by the Obama campaign to push its governing agenda. In fact, Organizing for America will be housed at the DNC. One potential outcome of this (and indeed danger) that I speculated about earlier in the campaign is that the “Democratic Party” ceases to exist in any true sense, and is replaced with the “Obama Party.” Given the unprecedented degree of marketing and branding that the Obama campaign did, one wonders if tensions could emerge down the road. Might rank and file Democrats bristle at being subsumed within the Obama machine? Might they resent pressure generated by Organizing for America? How do policy differences and conflicting agendas get resolved? While all of these questions will no doubt get answered—and probably in a messy fashion from time to time—what seems clear is that a new method and machinery for “going public” is in the offing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

TARP Trends

With its first notable post-Inauguration vote, the new Congress is indicating that, even if all those platitutudes heralding a new post-partisan and/or post-racial Era of Good Feelings should indeed dawn on us, ushered in by the new Administration, sectional rifts will still sometimes rend both parties.

A quick look at the break down of Members who crossed the aisle over today’s House vote amending the TARP econ bailout plan points to a more identifiable regional trend animating the votes of GOP rebels than the Dems who opposed their leadership. Although The Hill describes the vote as “largely symbolic” and the title of the WaPo article notes the bill includes “Strict New Requirements on Use of Bailout Funds,” this vote can be considered one of the Obama Administration’s first tests in Congress

Given that the House Democrats’ swelled ranks have brought in a caucus that is more diverse in age, ideology, region and in intesity of the loyalty each feels to various elements of the victorious Democratic majority of 2008 (to name a few), more splits seem likely on roll call votes, esp. should Obama’s honeymoon with Congressional Democrats prove to be abbreviated.

But on this early vote, the atrophied Republican rump in the House looks like it feels more confident in opposing their leadership now that Tom DeLay’s old mantra of keeping a Republican majority at any cost is a moot point.

Of the 18 Republicans voting “aye,” 11 hail from Rust Belt states hit hard by the economic downturn and who might expect constituents to benefit from bailout funds. (This group includes seven from Michigan alone, include the traditionally conservative Rep. Peter Hoekstra, from the state’s Dutch-settled southwest. Hoekstra was joined in this group by social conservative fire breather and Speaker Gingrich failed coup plotter Rep. Mark Souder, from a hard-pressed Fort Wayne-based northwestern Indiana district.):

Camp (MI)
Ehlers (MI)
Hoekstra (MI)
LaTourette (OH)
McCotter (MI)
Miller (MI)
Rogers (MI)
Schock (IL)
Souder (IN)
Turner (OH)
Upton (MI)

Reps. Lance of New Jersey and Castle of Delaware might be lumped in here too, hailing from industrial states.

Among other GOP rebels:

Rep. Dave Reichert, also, represents Washington state, home of heavy Boeing layoffs.

Rep. John Campbell, who’s made a name for himself as a spending hawk, hails from a far Southern California CD home to possibly ailing aerospace firms.

The last three rebels hail from Florida, including the brother duo of Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart. Interestingly, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, their Cuban-American Republican cohort who usually votes with them, stayed loyal on this vote, though Rep. Vern Buchanan of a demographically shifting Sarasota-based CD joined them.

Democratic apostates include a few Southern Democrats from Old South CDs who frequently defy their leadership: Reps. Shuler and McIntyre of North Carolina, Rep. Marshall of Georgia, Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi and freshman Rep. Bobby Bright of Montgomery, Alabama, whom is voting more with the GOP already despite their failure to recruit him as a candidate this cycle.

Other potential trends at work here:

Western freshman from districts that have boomed in recent years: Reps. Walt Minnick of Idaho and Ann Kirkpatrick of rural Arizona.

The other two rebels hail from Hillary-heavy voting and hurting Pennsylvania CDs – Reps. Jason Altmire and Tim Holden – who may think the package isn’t generous enough.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Can You Rebuild a Party Based On Nostalgia??? Or, What Do the Republicans Do About George W. Bush???


A few weeks back John wrote about the Republican party’s current search for a new Chairman. While I haven’t followed the sweepstakes blow for blow, some aspects have caught my attention and led me to think more broadly about the direction of the party.

In a much publicized debate (watch here) on January 5th hosted by Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform, all six of the candidates to head the RNC were asked to name our greatest president. Not missing a beat, each dutifully answered “Reagan” in an almost Pavlovian fashion. This fealty to Reagan seems to be the first commandment of modern Republicanism. While the Gipper was certainly the modern GOP’s most successful politician, there seems to me to be some real danger in trying to refashion the Republican Party around a theme of Reagan revival and nostalgia.

As much of the data on last year’s election has made clear, a strong predictor of the vote was age. Among the cohort of voters under the age of 30, Obama won two thirds of the vote. As much of the literature on political socialization has shown, party loyalties tend to be fashioned early in one’s life and endure rather well over time. Thus, the Democrats are salivating over these numbers, seeing a solid voting block extending well into the future. While its na├»ve to think that this age cohort will continue to have such solid Democratic loyalty as they enter their 40’s, 50’s, and beyond, its not far fetched to speculate on the numerical advantage they’ll have, especially when combined with other variables pointing in the Dems favor—increases is the minority population and the correlation between level of education and Democratic support.

So why the danger in dwelling on Reagan?? When this was originally reported I couldn’t help but think of the students that I teach. My current group of students—those just entering political life through voting, internships, and other types of mobilization—was born in 1988. They have absolutely no direct recollection or memory of Ronald Reagan. In fact, they were twelve when Bill Clinton left office!!! For them, the only President they’ve had any meaningful experience with is George W. Bush. And from the exit polling we’ve seen, that experience doesn’t appear to have been too positive. In thinking about this phenomenon, I got to wondering about how presidential legacies are both important in shaping people’s view of parties and policies yet also hindrances in allowing parties and politics to move forward.

When presidents get elected and parties come to power, they do so through the formation of coalitions—a collection of individuals and groups who, at best share a common set of policy preferences and interests, and at the very least, are drawn to one side more than the other, usually out of disappointment with the ruling party’s performance. These coalitions are oftentimes fragile as coalition members differ about policy specifics or priorities. In these cases, the interest of maintaining power takes precedence over ideological purity. Whether or not these coalitions remain intact and endure over time has been crucial to our thinking about eras of party dominance or “realignments.” When a coalition disintegrates, parties enter into periods of self-examination. They must figure out why their support disappeared and how to cobble together the support necessary to return to power.

Some historical examples can be used to illustrate this. In the aftermath of the Civil War, the Republican Party used the memory of Lincoln and "waving the bloody shirt” to ensure a series of victories throughout the Gilded Age. At some point, though, that was no longer enough to win. Lincoln, though an American giant, was no longer at the forefront of Americans’ consciousness and the Civil War generation had died off. A new strategy was needed. Later, the Democratic Party rose to dominance with the formation of the “New Deal Coalition.” With support from the South, big cities, unions, farmers, and increasingly African Americans, FDR was able to win 4 successive elections and the Democrats were able to control Congress consistently for over a generation. By the end of LBJ’s term, though, the coalition had frayed. This brings us to Reagan. Reagan’s success was not just in giving some clarity to the Republican Party’s policies, but in co-opting those prodigal members of the old Roosevelt coalition—working class whites, southerners, etc. and bringing them over to the Republican side.

While Clinton was able to bring some of them back, George W. Bush’s two victories, though extremely narrow, had many in the GOP ranks positing an enduring Republican majority. We now know how that turned out--and that’s where the GOP’s problem lies, in my view. I don’t know how you can rebuild the GOP by trying to act as if Bush never existed. How do you rewind to Reagan and start over? Again I think of my students’ generation. When they think of the Republican Party, they don’t think of Reagan, they think of Bush. Even on the Democratic side this year we saw how the American electorate has a short term memory. Much of Hillary Clinton’s campaign seemed premised on the notion of a Clinton Renaissance—“vote for me and we’ll go back to the 90’s when everything was great.” Again, we’ve seen how that turned out. A candidate who was wholly forward looking captured voters’ attention, offered a new type of politics, and rode to victory.

This brings us to Bush. As he prepares to leave office next week, a number of press outlets have been compiling retrospectives on the Bush years. As one might expect, the pictures have not been positive. Whether it be fiscal, foreign, or domestic policy, the Bush legacy is not one that many will point to, especially in the near term, as worth being repeated. How, then, does the Republican Party regroup? How do they address the Bush legacy? Do they, after a respectful period, go through a period of disavowing everything done over the past eight years—essentially arguing that Bush was not a true conservative? With explosive spending, hubristic foreign policy ambitions, and a regular disregard for limited government and “states rights,” there is certainly ample evidence for this claim. The question of Bush’s “real” conservatism was a subject explored in depth in Andrew Sullivan’sThe Conservative Soul.” The downside of this strategy, of course, is that you alienate much of the party’s base, those Americans who still give Bush relatively high approval ratings. The other downside is that, over the past two elections, there seems to be a greater willingness for Americans to accept “more government.” A more ideologically pure Republican Party may in fact be an even less popular one.

For a second strategy, on the other hand, do you try and move forward, acting as if the Bush years were a bit of an aberration in conservatism’s march (never articulating this belief, though) in hopes that the American electorate will forget, over time, their negative feelings about the past eight years and return to the Republican fold? While there is an ebb and flow to our politics--bringing parties in and out of power--that might justify riding out the storm, I’m still not convinced that pining for a return to Reaganism is the right course. A party built on an image or nostalgia for the way things used to be will have difficulty moving forward, especially when the electorate they are trying to court has moved on.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Some More Good Post-Election Analysis Coming Out

Another quick post while I keep digesting some of the more comprehensive post-election analysis that's coming out. The Forum is an on-line journal edited by UW-Madison political scientist Byron Shafer. The great thing about it, in my mind, is that it seeks to bring together a more academic mindset and rigor to the analysis of contemporary events. Thus, it acts as a first draft of political science research. They've just put out an issue that focuses on the election with articles on turnout, the role of race, the election results in historical perspective, and an interesting piece by Thomas Schaller that sees Obama's victory as a culmination of changes wrought by the Great Society. Good reading.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

ElectionDissection.com Book Club--The Rosetta Stone for 2008

The first comprehensive examination of the '08 election has been published this week and I'm just beginning to get through it. They'll be a lot of posts generated by this analysis so I'm going to wait until I've had a chance to digest the numbers. The book is "How Barack Obama Won" by NBC's Chuck Todd and Sheldon Gawiser. The best thing about the book is that it gives a state by state and regional analysis rather than simply a national one. As readers of this site know, we much prefer these micro level examinations over more generalized descriptions of electoral outcomes. There's too much variance across the country. Also at first glance, it seems, is that their analysis is heavily driven by exit polling data. While this is certainly a useful tool--and something I've relied on in some of my analysis--it can't be the only data we draw upon. Until I'm able to get through the whole text, though, I don't want to get too critical. So stay tuned.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Obama's 365th Electoral Vote



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.