Friday, March 28, 2008

"I was Born on this Mountain"
Who's the "Hillbilly Firewall" Keeping at Bay?

Thursday marked the release of a chock-full-of-data Pew Research poll, and the attention that a stat tucked away on page 16 has garnered brought this week’s media chatter – the idle speculation over how much a continued Democratic presidential nomination battle might hinder the eventual nominee in November – to a deafening pitch. (To counter this conventional “wisdom,” let’s invoke WaPo’s incomparable Dan Balz)

The poll’s findings indicate that, thanks to the bad blood between the Obama and Clinton camps, around a quarter of each candidate’s supporters will refuse to support the other candidate, potentially defecting to presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. Of course, both sides are jumping all over this tidbit to argue that their opponent is the one who will dampen Dem turnout or drive their base to the GOP. Some commentators are putting a cultural slant on this notion. The Washington Examiner’s political editor, Chris Stirewalt relishes the irony that this Democratic primary season’s unlikely key demographic, Appalachia’s Scots-Irish “Hillbilly Firewall,” may well sustain HRC – that product of Wellesley and affluent Midwestern suburbs reborn as the coal miner’s champion - through the rest of the primary season. Not only in West Virginia is Hillary Clinton expected to fare well, but in the Appalachian regions of other remaining primary states: Eastern Kentucky, Western North Carolina, “Pennsyltucky” and southeastern Indiana. Stirewalt hints that if Obama wins, the cultural biases of his coalition of affluent Northern liberal and Afro-Am voters may drive Appalachia into the arms of the GOP, following the decades-old lead of the Deep South.

HRC’s has performed well in Appalachia(& like regions): from southern Ohio to Missouri’s Ozarks to East Tennessee. A glance at a few similar maps, however, indicates that the “Hillbilly Firewall” is skeptical of outsiders of all stripes – as Stirewalt suggests, Bill Clinton’s Arkansas roots may be the source of HRC’s appeal here – though it’s not necessarily due to animus towards Afro-America.

Note the uncanny overlap of these maps:

HRC racked up her biggest percentage in Appalachian Southwestern Virginia.

Pary Map

But this part of Virginia is home to smallest percentages of black residents.

And while George Wallace’s 1968 campaign expanded his base from the “Black Belts” of the Deep South to the Upper South and the Urban Ethnic North, for the honkies in the hills and hollers of Southwestern Virginia, his segregationist rhetoric had very limited appeal:

Pary Map

As for John McCain sweeping up this region, well, even though by the time Old Dominion’s primary rolled around, he was widely regarded the eventual nominee, SW Virginia counties rejected him, going for another former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee by 2 to 1 ratios and more.

Pary Map

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