Monday, June 30, 2008

More Discussion of the South's Competitiveness

Today's New York Times has a long piece on the continuing debate about whether the south is potentially fertile ground for the Obama candidacy. As I wrote a while back, certain states may come into play by virtue of 1) the size of the African American electorate; 2) expected higher turnout among these black voters; and 3) a sizable "ideopolis" population of highly educated whites. The current sexy pick for a state that could tilt blue in November--and one discussed in the Times article--is Georgia. With some arguing that there are 500,000 unregistered African American voters in Georgia, a concentrated effort to turn these folks out, along with a respectable showing by Libertarian candidate and former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr, could be enough to give Obama Georgia's 15 electoral votes.

As I've discussed, Thomas Schaller (among others) is skeptical of this possibility because of the inability of Obama--or any other Dem.--to get enough of the white vote. I'm not sure which side I fall on yet, but the potential of unprecedented turnout increases among African Americans and young voters is certainly possbile. Also worth noting is the Times' contention that turnout among white conservatives is unlikely to exceed what we saw in 2004. Bush fatigue, economic woes, and McCain's uneasy relationship with the evangelical base would suggest to many that Bush's re-election marked the high water mark for Republican support in Dixie. The recent House special election losses in Louisiana and Mississippi can be viewed as further evidence of the decline of the Republican brand since '04.

Perhaps the most important variable mentioned in the story--and one that has gotten increased attention with Obama's decision to decline public financing--is that Obama will be able to spend money wherever he wants. Whereas previous candidates (see Kerry in '04) have had to make strategic choices about resources--and have therefore tended to concentrate money in a few truly tossup states (Ohio, Florida)--Obama will be able to do this while also putting money into more long shot states in hopes of getting lucky. The other benefit of this strategy is that it forces McCain to spend a portion of his more limited resources in states that should easily be his. If McCain has to defend Georgia, he'll be less able to compete in states like Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado, and elsewhere.

It appears, then, that the groundwork is being laid for a replay of Obama's primary strategy against Clinton, writ large...Dollars + Demographics = Victory

**Update: On a similar note, but focused more on the upper South and Obama's perceived problems among whites there is this long profile of Dave "Mudcat" Sanders, consultant to such Dems as Mark Warner and John Edwards. Hailing from southwest Virginia, Sanders has gained fame for his ability to tap into this region's political culture on behalf of liberal candidates. The idea to have Mark Warner sponsor a race truck (discussed in this post) was his idea. Well worth a read, especially his emphasis on "twofers."

**Update--July 1: Thomas Schaller responds to this debate in today's New York Times.

**Update--July 1: A story in yesterday's Wall Street Journal about the Obama campaign's voter registration efforts in the south.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 Book Club

Next up on CBMurray's Book Club will be James N. Gregory's "The Southern Diaspora." I've been on a Great Migration kick over the last few weeks, having just finished Nicholas Lemann's "The Promised Land." In doing all this reading on the massive internal migration within the U.S., especially during and after WWII, one can't help but be struck by how much our recent political history has been shaped by the demographic changes that rapidly altered so many cities and states. New political alignments were able to emerge with the arrival of millions of new voters. As these groups brought with them their histories, cultures, and worldviews, the Democratic and Republican blocs were reconfigured. What is unique about Gregory's book--and I've only just started it--is that he looks at both the black and white migration (both massive in scope) that transpired during the 20th century.

I've never really read much about the white migration but, browsing toward the later chapters, its apparent that Gregory will use it to explain much of the rise of modern conservatism (a la "Nixonland") that arose in the mid-60's. Also, when we revisit Wallace's northern successes, we'll note that his votes came not just from white ethnics whose families had been established in the north for generations but also from whites who were just recently removed from the deep south. The heritage of many of these voters helps explain how someone like Wallace was able to establish support in places like Baltimore, Cleveland, and other northern industrial cities. As I start to pull data from the book, I'll make sure to post it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Does Obama Have a Polish Problem???

With the primaries over and the nomination decided, we have some time to go back and look at some data that got lost in the bustle of the unfolding contests. I’ve done a lot of reading over the last few years on Chicago politics and history, including some recent study of the Great Migration. I thought I’d go back to the Illinois primary and see if anything jumped out about the voting in the Windy City. Given that this is Obama’s backyard, any strong Clinton showing could highlight potential problems for the Illinois senator.

Indeed, when we start looking at smaller units of analysis, we see that the Chicagoland voting was not uniformly for Obama. Statewide, Obama received 64.7% to Clinton’s 32.8%. In Cook County, he received 68.9% to Clinton’s 29.2% and in Chicago proper Obama got 72.8% to Clinton’s 25.6%. Within both Cook County and the city, we see some areas of Clinton strength.

Cook County, for tax assessment purposes mainly, organizes itself into a number of townships. The County also uses these townships to report election returns (get the full primary election returns, by township, here). Of the 30 townships outside the city of Chicago, Clinton actually won 9 (Berwyn, Cicero, Lemont, Leyden, Maine, Norwood Park, Orland, Palos, and Stickney). Mapping these (Clinton in red; Obama in blue), one sees a clustering effect. Wondering if there was any correlation between the demographics of these inner suburbs and the vote (as we saw in virtually every primary nationwide), I got some census data and found that Clinton's wins tended to be in townships with either 1) a very large white electorate or 2) a very large Hispanic electorate. The correlation is not perfect but there is a general trend. Of the four townships that are over 90% white, Clinton won three (Lemont, Norwood Park, and Orland). The Obama win in this category, New Trier, comes in a township of very high income and education levels and conforms with trends we found earlier in the primary season. New Trier Township includes such villages as Wilmette, Winnetka, Kenilworth, and Glencoe. To use a pop culture reference, this was the area where Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and a number of other John Hughes movies were filmed and set.

For the Hispanic dimension, Cicero stands out. With a Hispanic population of 77%, it gave 65%--her largest total in any township. Also Berwyn (38% Hispanic) and Leyden (23% Hispanic) went Clinton although Hanover (23% Hispanic) and Calumet (23% Hispanic) went for Obama. In the case of Calumet, though, it is also the township with the largest African American percentage, explaining the tilt to Obama. I’ve produced a rudimentary graphic to show the relationship between each township’s white population and Obama vote (as I get more skilled in chart making the visuals should improve here).

When we look at the vote in Chicago proper (see results here), we see a similar ethnic dimension to the voting. Chicago is divided into 50 wards. Of these, Clinton won 14. Like with the township vote, there is a definite clustering of her support. I’ve highlighted the Clinton wins in the below map.

To get a sense of the correlation between ethnicity and the vote, compare the map on the right with this amazing map produced by the Newberry Library and the Chicago Historical Society, entitled “Chicago’s Ethnic Mosaic in 2000.” Two things jump out. As with the township voting, the heavily Hispanic areas of the city went for Clinton. Of perhaps more interest, one sees a rough correlation between the Polish vote and Clinton. Most notably, the areas around Midway Airport in the southwestern part of the city and O’Hare Airport in the northwestern part are heavily Polish (shaded purple). They also were areas of strong support for Clinton. I'd also note that these were areas where Harold Washington fared very poorly in his historic 1983 mayoral victory. In the southwestern part, one sees how the Polish population extends outside of the city limits into the neighboring townships that also went for Clinton.

Come November, all of this may not mean much. Obama is expected to win Illinois easily. Nonetheless, even in his home state, his support was not universal and may signal broader, more national, areas of weakness. While recent polling on the Hispanic vote seems to show Obama making tremendous gains, his white ethnic support isn't yet where he'd like it to be.

The Clinton Aftermath--And Future???

With the end of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, much time will be spent over the coming months on post mortems that will try to explain her failure to achieve the Democratic Party’s nomination. One question that will surely be asked in these analyses is why Senator Clinton continued to run well after it became clear that the mathematical possibility of winning a majority of elected delegates was gone. As her campaign continued though the latter contests, Obama supporters, and no doubt a number of realists within the Clinton campaign, worried that her tactics would irreparably damage Obama’s chances in the fall.

Much of this handwringing has sought to get inside Senator Clinton’s psyche and decipher her true motivations. Was her pyrrhic campaign indeed designed to bring down Obama so that she could rescue the Democratic Party in 2012? Knowing that she wouldn’t be the nominee, did she persevere in order to assure an offer of the Vice Presidential spot? Did she feel that the Democrats’ chances of winning the White House were so good that she could capture the nomination, despite taking the party through a divisive and protracted fight, and still become President?

The answers to these questions, rather than being gleaned from armchair psychoanalysis, might rather be found in exploring the recent history of the Democratic Party’s nomination process. In looking over the last several decades, one notices that a clear pattern emerges when the Democrats choose their standard bearer. In short, in only rare instances has a candidate who at one time sought the nomination, and lost, been able to win the nomination at a later time. The Democrats reward newcomers. Since the modern primary process has been in place, only one Democratic nominee has at an earlier time been a failed candidate. That one nominee is Al Gore, who first ran for president in 1988. Even here though, Gore received the nomination through what we might call an “heir apparent” candidacy, having served as Bill Clinton’s Vice President. Facing only Bill Bradley in 2000, Gore was essentially handed the Democrats’ nomination without a fight.

All of the other recent Democratic nominees, however, received the nomination during their first run for President. Rather than being the anomaly that many view him to be, Senator Obama in fact is the norm for modern Democratic nominees. John Kerry, Bill Clinton, Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, and Jimmy Carter were all nominated for President during their first run for the White House. Each was relatively unknown on the national scale, with the exception of Mondale who had been Carter’s Vice President. A look at the Democratic fields over this recent history reveals several candidacies that having failed once, failed again—John Edwards, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, Richard Gephardt, Jesse Jackson, and Gary Hart come immediately to mind. In fact, being an unsuccessful Vice Presidential nominee doesn’t seem to give one a later advantage either, as John Edwards and Joe Lieberman can attest to.

To understand why the Democratic nomination process tends to benefit newcomers, we might look at another part of this year’s drama for the answer—namely the rules for awarding elected delegates. The proportional allocation of elected delegates ensures that should the primaries and caucuses be highly competitive, no candidate is able to run away with the nomination. Candidates who have run, but failed, for the nomination before presumably have a degree of name recognition, party service, and fundraising prowess that should help them in their second run for President. Senator Clinton, though a first time candidate, had these qualities in spades going into 2008. These advantages, however, haven’t translated into the nomination. Once Senator Obama pulled his upset in Iowa, and then followed it up with a victory in South Carolina and several key Super Tuesday states, it became clear that the dynamic had changed. Having proven the validity of his candidacy, Obama was in the race for the long haul and there was little Clinton could do to stop him. While Senator Clinton won a number of late contests, Obama’s delegate lead held.

Therefore, when one looks at the recent history of Democratic nomination fights, the motivation of Senator Clinton for staying in the race until the end becomes somewhat clearer. Recent history suggests that if she didn’t win this year, she would probably never win. The Democratic Party has a history of moving on to someone new. Having now ended her campaign, Clinton’s White House aspirations seem to rest not only with Obama’s willingness to pick her as his running mate, but on his victory in November as well. While the selection of Clinton to the number two spot seems increasingly slim as the days go by, these fading hopes may be her only chance of reaching the White House.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Obama Back in Wisconsin

Continuing our coverage of where the candidates are--and why--Barack Obama is in Kaukauna, Wisconsin today. See coverage via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here. Kaukauna is about 30 miles north of my hometown so I know a bit about the area.

Kaukauna is in Outagamie County, which has historically been reliably Republican. Bush had a 10 point victory in '04. Outagamie gave Clinton a 2% win in '96 but hadn't voted Democratic since LBJ in '64, and before that FDR in '36. In the '06 governor's race, Democratic incumbent Jim Doyle narrowly won the county, somewhat surprising because the county was part of his challenger's (Mark Green) congressional district. To give you a sense of the historical flavor of this area's Republicanism, the neighboring city of Appleton is the headquarters of the John Birch Society and the birthplace of notorious Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy is next door in Grand Chute.

The city of Kaukauna, though, has more of a Democratic lean to it, recently giving majorities to both Kerry and Gore. It gave Governor Doyle a big margin-61%-in '06. Demographically, it is almost totally white with minority populations--African American & Hispanic--each less than 1%. There is a manufacturing presence which contributes to the slight leftward leaning of the electorate--papermaking is the main industry. The string of cities that runs through Kaukauna, Appleton, Neenah, and Menasha is home to a number of paper mills and companies such as Kimberly-Clark.

In the first Wisconsin poll (directed by my former stats professor & co-editor Charles Franklin) released since the nomination fight became settled, Obama has a 13 point lead. See details here.

**Update June 16--Here is the complete UW Polisci Department poll, with answers to all questions. A quick read shows good news for Obama beyond the 13 point lead, especially questions dealing with Iraq war.

Monday, June 09, 2008

"And the Migrants Kept Coming"

On Saturday I went to an amazing exhibit at the Phillips Collection. Over the course of the next few months, the museum will be showing Jacob Lawrence's "The Migration Series." Rarely shown in its entirety, the series is a dramatic depiction of the great migration of African Americans from the rural south to the urban north in the years during and after World War I. The work was commissioned in 1940 and contains 60 individual panels showing the social, economic, cultural, and demographic dimensions of the Great Migration. While this site is not meant as a venue for art appreciation, I will say that the work is absolutely stunning and incredibly moving.

As I was viewing the work, though, I couldn't help but think of the political consequences of the Great Migration. While I've written about this from time to time, it was interesting to have a different frame of reference through which to view this event. One cannot overstate, I don't think, the ways in which our political system was affected by this unprecedented movement of people. As northern industrial cities like Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia saw their black populations explode, their politics were altered as well. For a sense of this urban demographic change, check out this table from the "Historical Statistics of Black America":

A city like Detroit went from having a black population of just under 6,000 in 1910 to 120,000 in 1930!! Chicago saw its African-American population grow six fold during the same time period. As we explore the contours of political change, the affect that the Great Migration had on our politics is staggering.

Whereas Lawrence subtitled Panel 60 of his work "And the Migrants Kept Coming," he could have just as easily said "And the Voters Kept Coming."

***Above--Panel 1 of the Migration Series

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Lets Go Racin'!!!! Barack Obama Goes to Bristol

Now that the Democratic nomination has been settled, we’ll
start to transition into general election mode a bit. As the candidates criss-cross the country, we’ll try to add a little background to the places they visit and speculate about why they’re there and what they hope to accomplish.

A good way to kick this off is to look at Senator Obama’s events over the next few days. Tomorrow, he’s heading deep into the part of the country that vexed him throughout the primary season, Appalachia. He’ll be hosting a town hall meeting in Bristol, Virginia, located right on the state's border with Tennessee. Just across the state line is Bristol Motor Speedway, a stop on the annual NASCAR circuit. When running for governor of Virginia in 2001, Democrat Mark Warner capitalized on the area's passion for racing, sponsoring a race truck at the nearby Martinsville Speedway, using the sponsorship to both advertise his candidacy as well as show kinship with the local folks. When driving to New Orleans a few years ago, the fact that there was a Bristol, Virginia and a Bristol, Tennessee confused me to no end.

We know from the primary season (Clinton counties red; Obama counties blue) that Obama fared poorly in the region. I noted last week that the area, however, has been receptive to recent Democratic candidates in statewide elections. Bristol is actually an independent city, not part of a county. Bristol borders Washington County and gave Hillary Clinton a 35 point victory. Looking at its voting in presidential races, Bristol was last won by a Democrat in 1976. LBJ, Truman, and FDR won the city in each of their elections as well. Washington County has largely mirrored Bristol's voting. It hasn't given a Democratic nominee more than 40% since Jimmy Carter in both ’76 and ’80. It did give LBJ a ten point margin in 1964 and voted for FDR in each of his four victories.

Despite its strong support for Republicans at the presidential level, however, the region has had Democratic representation in Congress. Interestingly, Rick Boucher, endorsed Obama early on in the primary season and has managed to represent the ninth district since 1982. Despite Clinton’s 30 point win in the district, Boucher has remained a strong supporter. He has consistently been re-elected by large margins, only getting less than 60% in 1994 and during his first two victories in ’82 and ’84.

One might also note that about 120 miles up the road is Blacksburg, home to Virginia Tech. During this year’s primary, Obama won Montgomery County, home to the school, a bright spot for him in area.

Obviously, Obama is showing a willingness to campaign in areas where he needs to build familiarity and trust. This move, in fact, seems to build upon his primary season strategy. In mapping out a plan for capturing delegates, Obama focused on states that one would have thought would have been unreceptive--Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, etc. but that offered, collectively, a bounty of elected delegates. As we know now, this strategy allowed him to tap into areas untouched by a Clinton campaign focused almost entirely on big states. Now that he is the presumptive nominee, he seems equally willing to reach into unfamiliar areas in search of votes. Hoping to turn Virginia blue in November, this seems like a wise strategy from a campaign that has, tactically and strategically, performed brilliantly to this point.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


An article yesterday by Minnesota political commentator Barry Casselman got me thinking about the politics of the Midwest again. As I wrote a few weeks back, the upper Midwest, especially the parts that border the Mississippi River, has a history of progressive politics that makes it fertile ground for Democratic candidates. Casselman has coined the term “Minnewisowa” to describe the Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa region. Noting that these states have similar demographics and economies, they have been hotly contested in past elections and are set up this year for attention by both parties. Collectively, the states award 27 electoral votes.

I thought I’d look at this region a little more closely to see how it stacks up for the coming campaign. While the three states are indeed characterized by close margins of victory every four years, the recent trends have all been in the Democratic direction. Furthermore, these states tend to vote as a block. In 2004, Iowa went to Bush by just one half percentage point while Kerry won Wisconsin and Minnesota. In each of the five previous elections (’04—’88), however, all three states went Democratic. A Republican nominee hasn’t won Wisconsin since Reagan’s landslide in 1984 and Nixon in 1972 was the last Republican to win Minnesota. In 1988, “Minnewisowa” gave Dukakis 3 of the 9 states he won nation wide.

If we look further down the ballot in recent years, we also see good Democratic trends. In the 2006 congressional elections, Democrats gained 2 House seats in Iowa (Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack) and 1 each in Wisconsin (Steve Kagen) and Minnesota (Tim Walz). Likewise in 2006, Iowa Democrats captured both houses of the state legislature while Minnesota and Wisconsin Democrats captured one state house each from Republican control. Iowa Democrats kept their governor’s mansion in Democratic hands while Wisconsin re-elected its Democratic governor. The one bright spot for Minnesota Republicans was that they managed to re-elect governor Tim Pawlenty (currently being bandied about as a possible VP pick), although with just 47% of the vote.

In speculating on how the region might go this fall, one might look at the recent primary season. Barack Obama won all three states’ contests, with Iowa especially propelling his candidacy. McCain, on the other hand, largely ignored Iowa to focus on New Hampshire. He came in fourth place and didn’t win a single Iowa county. Furthermore, he did virtually no campaigning in Wisconsin or Minnesota due to how rapidly he sewed up the nomination (He did visit Milwaukee last week). To get a sense of how often Obama and McCain have been to these states, visit Slate’s “Map the Candidates” page and one will see how the build up to the Iowa caucuses, especially, has allowed Obama to build a massive organization in the state that will surely be maintained and fine tuned with eyes toward November. I would also suggest that Obama’s recent campaign activities point to how seriously he is targeting the region. When he chose to hold a rally in Iowa on the night of the voting in Oregon and Kentucky, a fall strategy was clearly at play. Furthermore, note where he will be speaking tonight—St. Paul, Minnesota, site of this summer’s Republican convention.