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.