Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wall Street Rescue--The Mother of All House Votes

Monday's House vote on the financial bailout plan was the mother of all case studies in congressional politics. I'm tempted to simply hand the roll call to the students in my Congress class as the final exam and have them explain it to me. In looking at the yeas and nays, a couple of patterns seem to emerge, many of which have been highlighted by media observers. The first, as noted by Chuck Todd, is that--as we would probably expect from House members--the fear of electoral repurcussions affected the vote of many. Those who have recently had close races, or have close races coming up in November, were likely to vote no. On the Democratic side, the examples of Nick Lampson (TX), Steve Kagen (WI), Nancy Boyda (KS), Don Cazayoux (LA), Travis Childers (MS), and Carol Shea-Porter (NH) jump out. For Republicans, Dave Reichert (WA), Robin Hayes (NC), Steve Chabot (OH), Ric Keller (FL), and Randy Kuhl (NY) are of note.

In a similar vein open seats were a good cue, especially on the Republican side. Free of electoral pressure, departing members were more likely to vote yes. Of the 29 Republicans not on the ballot this fall, 21 voted yes (with one not voting). Four of the six departing Democrats voted yes. For those leaving the House to seek another office, short term considerations seemed to compel a no vote, adding 4 to the total number of no's (2 Republican and 2 Democratic). The two nominees for New Mexico's open Senate seat, Reps. Steve Pearce (R) and Tom Udall (D) voted no; Colorado Senate candidate Rep. Mark Udall (D) voted no; as did Missouri gubernatorial candidate Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R).

Another dimension of the voting that some have discussed is the role played by the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus. By the numbers, of the 39 members of the CBC, 18 voted yes and 21 voted no. A story in today's Politico points to concerns among many African American members about the bill's failure to include enough foreclosure protection and how its addition might be enough to salvage the bill in the coming days. The Hispanic membership was more lined up against the bill than the CBC. Of the 21 Democratic members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, 14 voted no. In addition, the 3 Republican Hispanic members (not part of the CHC) voted no (Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart).

*Image courtesy of the New York Times

Where They're Campaigning--Obama Along the Mississippi

Tomorrow the Obama campaign will hit La Crosse Wisconsin (see coverage here)—his fourth visit to the Badger state since the convention. La Crosse, population 52,000, sits along the Mississippi River, and is the hub of a region that I’ve argued is crucial to Democrats’ success in Wisconsin (see post here).

La Crosse county has voted Democratic in the past five presidential elections. Kerry received 53% in 2004 here. The county has also gone Democratic in the past two gubernatorial races. At the congressional level, La Crosse is the largest city in Wisconsin’s Third Congressional District, currently represented by Democrat Ron Kind. Kind, first elected in 1996, has been comfortably re-elected in all of his campaigns with vote totals in the neighborhood of 65%. Prior to Kind’s arrival, the district had a more Republican (albeit very moderate) bent, sending Steve Gunderson to the House for eight terms.

One component of this region’s demographics that is surely attractive to the Obama team is the fact that five campuses of the University of Wisconsin system fall within the 3rd district (UW La Crosse, Eau Claire, Platteville, River Falls, and Stout), thus providing a sizable youth vote. Many suggested that this vote was crucial to the Democrats’ ability to regain control of the Wisconsin State Senate in 2006 (see post here).

Another fact of note about the area is that this district also includes Wisconsin’s fastest growing county—St. Croix. About 150 miles north of La Crosse, St. Croix County has increasingly become exurban Minneapolis/St. Paul. In fact, this whole region in many ways has a dual identity as it is pulled between the Twin Cities and Wisconsin. The Minnesota counties that sit directly across the Mississippi River from La Crosse—Houston and Winona—are very competitive. Winona County has been decided by less than 2% for the past five elections (with the Democrats winning the past 4) while Houston County has been decided by less than 2% in each of the past six elections (with Republicans winning all except ’96). Thus, the Obama campaign may be hoping for some residual benefits of this visit to accrue across the river in another swing state.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

New Census Data On Mobility--How Does It Affect Politics???

Earlier this week the Census Bureau released new data on mobility in the U.S. The data shows us the percentage of each state's population born in that state. Thus, Louisiana ranks first with 82% of its population native born. The state with the highest non-native population, not surprisingly perhaps, is Nevada with just 29% of its population born in state.

I find this type of data interesting because it raises questions about how the politics of a state might or might not change over time. One would assume that states with higher numbers of residents born out of state would have politics (voting behavior, partisan identification, etc.) more subject to flux, whereas states without much internal population change would have more stable and enduring politics. I'd note, with just a cursory examination of the rankings, that some of those states with a higher out of state born population are very much competitive this year--Nevada, Florida, Colorado, and New Hampshire.

However, one would also note that a stable population can also produce a competitive electorate. Looking at the top of the rankings, one sees Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin ranked 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 7th (tie) respectively.

There's a lot to think and hypothesize about here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

ElectionDissection.com Book Club--David Foster Wallace, R.I.P.

On Saturday came the sad news that author David Foster Wallace had died. Since I first came across his writing about ten years ago, he has been my favorite contemporary writer so I've been pretty bummed about his passing. Best known for his massive tome Infinite Jest, Wallace was also an exemplary essayist. My introduction to him came via A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, a collection of non-fiction pieces on such subjects as David Lynch, the Illinois State Fair, and the hellishness of a cruise vacation. The latter two of these showcased his brilliance at taking events and situations and describing with incredible perception and humor the absurdity that underlies much of our (post)modern world. He was also an amazing sports writer, having written one of the best descriptions of the genius of high level athletics in his profile of Roger Federer.

So what does this have to do with politics? In 2000, Wallace was hired by Rolling Stone magazine to follow John McCain for a week and produce a story for a future issue. The result was typical Wallace, a 124 page deconstruction of the modern day campaign in which he grapples with our electoral process' competing dimensions of idealism vs. cynicism; showmanship vs. authenticity; boldness vs. caution--all with his unparalleled power of description. His portrait stands up, in my mind, with the best campaign commentary of recent years and is perhaps superlative in that he comes at his subject (as he does in many of his great essays) not as an insider, but from outside the bubble. The piece has since be published in his (now last) collection of essays Consider the Lobster. Here's a bit:

Because here's another paradox. Spring 2000--midmorning in America's hangover from the whole Lewinsky-and-impeachment thing--represents a moment of almost unprecedented cynicism and disgust with national politics, a moment when blunt, I-don't-give-a-s*%t (1)-if-you-elect-me honesty becomes an incredibly attractive and salable and electable quality. A moment when an anticandidate can be a real candidate. But of course if he becomes a real candidate, is he still an anticandidate? Can you sell someone's refusal to be for sale?

There are many elements of the McCain2000 campaign--naming the bus "Straight Talk," the timely publication of "Faith of My Fathers," the much hyped "openness" and "spontaneity" of the Express's media salon, the message-disciplined way McCain thumps "Always. Tell you. the truth"--that indicate that some very shrewd, clever marketers are trying to market this candidate's rejection of shrewd, clever marketing. Is this bad? Or just confusing? Suppose, let's say, you've got a candidate who says polls are bulls*%t and totally refuses to tailor his campaign style to polls, and suppose then that new polls start showing that people really like this candidate's polls-are-bulls*%t stance and are thinking about voting for him because of it, and suppose the candidate reads these polls (who wouldn't) and then starts saying even more loudly and often that polls are bulls*%t and that he won't use them to decide what to say, maybe turning "Polls are bulls*%t" into a campaign line and repeating it in every speech and even painting Polls Are Bulls*%t on the side of his bus...Is he a hypocrite? Is it hypocritical that one of McCain's ads' lines in South Carolina is "Telling the truth even when it hurts him politically," which of course since its an ad means that McCain is trying to get political benefit out of his indifference to political benefit? What's the difference between hypocrisy and paradox?

Unsimplistic enough for you now? The fact of the matter is that if you're a true-blue, market savvy Young Voter, the only thing you're certain to feel about John McCain's campaign is a very modern and American type of ambivalence, a sort of interior war between your deep need to believe and your deep belief that the need is bulls*%t, that there's nothing left anywhere but sales and salesmen. At the times your cynicism's winning, you'll find that it's possible to see even McCain's most attractive qualities as just marketing angles. His famous habit of bringing up his own closet's skeletons, for example--bad grades, messy divorce, indictment as one of the Keating Five--this could be real honesty and openness, or it could be McCain's shrewd way of preempting criticism by criticizing himself before anyone else can do it. The modesty with which he talks about his heroism as a POW--"It doesn't take much to get shot down"; "I wasn't a hero, but I was fortunate enough to serve my time in the company of heroes"--this could be real humility, or it could be a clever way to make himself seem both heroic and humble.

As our campaigns seem to digress further and further into bizarro world, Wallace's perspective is perhaps even more apt than it was eight years ago. For his thoughts on McCain's current campaign, see this interview he did with the Wall St. Journal a few months back. Also, here's an old interview he did with Charlie Rose and some links to a few of his essays. Finally, his much cited commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005.


1. Not to get too inside-jokey but I took the liberty of cleaning up the language. ElectionDissection.com is a family friendly repository of political analysis.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Where They're Campaigning: Palin “Mints” Jäger Moms in Carson City

Last weekend, GOP VPILF-designate Sarah Palin descended upon Carson City, swing state Nevada’s capital city.  Palin’s first solo foray – post-nomination – in the Lower 48 drew out her base and stoked their partisan fervor as much her previous joint whistlestopping with John McCain.

While most observers consider this booming, Hispanicizing New West state to be a longer shot for Democrats to capture this year than neighboring Colorado, the fact that Republicans are redoubling their efforts to maximize their vote in this far western sliver of the Silver State might be indicative of longer term trends, perhaps foreshadowing an end to decades of GOP dominance. 

As recently as 2002, two of Nevada’s U.S. House seats were safe Republican, and Dem. Rep. Shelley Berkely’s Las Vegas seat was in play.  Her 11 point margin over Vegas City Councilor Lynette Boggs-McDonald may have been amplified by the mercurial Afro-Am Republican challenger’s antics, hinting that the race might have been closer if Berkely faced a more disciplined opponent. 

Contrast that to this year when Charlie Cook rates even northern Nevada’s Second District – which encompasses Carson City and Reno – as “Likely Republican,” not “Safe Republican," and he’s shifted GOP Rep. Jon Porter’s previously comfortable Vegas ‘burbs seat into the “Tossup” column.  Shelley Berkely will likely waltz back to Washington, even though GOP turnout efforts will be in overdrive this November.   

Vegas’ Clark County continues to suffer growing pangs from its sudden population boom – turnout exploded by a whopping 165K between 2000 and 2004 – and the Democratic trend that recent House races suggest does not bode well for GOP competitiveness.

So, Palin’s visit to Carson City points to the Republicans’ only recourse for holding on.  They’ve mined about every vote they can from the sparsely settled interior counties, once home to conservative, Southern-descended “Pinto Democrats” – George Wallace stole nearly a quarter of the few votes they cast in ’68 - in the mold of the rabid Commie-bashing Sen. Pat McCarran, who made Joe McCarthy look soft on the Reds.   

Reno’s Washoe County is growing, too, though not at Clark County’s breakneck speed, and the GOP remains competitive, though Dems have been gaining in recent presidential elections.  And nearby Lyon and Douglas counties are much smaller, but growing quickly and trending Republican, like many once rural Western exurbs. 

Carson City seemed the perfect backdrop for a candidate that GOP operatives are striving to brand as America’s Favorite Small Town Mayor.  Carson City ranks dead last in population among the Census Bureau’s Metropolitan Statistical Areas, letting Palin’s flacks make the case more credibly that this small city is really a small town.   And though dwarfed by Reno, it’s growing too, and the GOP remains strong here. 

Reports of Palin’s visit indicate that the Palin pick may help mint more votes from female Democrats - at least among the downscale, socially conservative Jäger Mom set (much, much more on that shortly…), who struggle with family troubles not unlike Palin’s.

Of course, successfully courting those very voters may drive even more affluent educated voters in suburban Vegas to the Democratic column for good, who likely regard the denizens of Reno as little smarter than Washoe – named for their county – the genius chimpanzee

Is There a Rabbi In the House???

Each semester as part of my course on the U.S. Congress I give a lecture called "profile of the membership" in which I break the individuals in Congress down into a variety of categories, looking at how the composition of Congress has changed over time. In addition to party shifts, you see regional changes, racial and gender changes, etc. What we've never seen in Congress before is a blind rabbi. While there is some chance of that happening come November, we'll probably need a Democratic wave to make it happen.

In New Jersey's fifth district, incumbent Republican Scott Garrett is being challenged by Dennis Shulman. Blind since youth, Shulman is trying to capture a district that has been pretty solidly Republican (see New York Times coverage here). Garrett, first elected in 2002 with 59% of the vote, received 58% in '04 and 55% in '06, leading some Democratic operatives to view the district as a potential pick-up. In 2004, Bush got 57% in the district.

As the district map shows, the 5th hugs the New York and Pennsylvania borders and has parts that are quite rural, by New Jersey standards. Most of the population, however, is concentrated in the Bergen County portion of the district. Many of these voters are affluent, commute to New York, and have tended to vote Republican. Here's how CQ's Politics in America describes the 5th:

The 5th's property values and income levels are among the highest in the state, and no municipality here has more than 30,000 residents. The 5th also has the smallest minority population of any New Jersey district...Saddle River, in wealthy Bergen County, is home to multimillion-dollar homes, but Bergen County's tony suburbs contrast with a more rural feel in the 5th's portion of Passaic County to the west, which includes attractions dating back to the colonial era...The scenic back country of Sussex and Warren counties traditionally has been a mix of farmland and small towns, but both counties have started to change as young professionals from New York City move into the area. Warren County's population has increased by more than 20% since 1990, and the county continues to experience significant housing development.

Shulman is basing his campaign on Garrett's very conservative voting record--which he believes to be out of step with the state and the district. For the past four years, Garrett has received a perfect rating from the American Conservative Union. Most analysts looking at the race feel that Garrett will pull through. Stuart Rothenberg is very critical of many in the media equating Shulman's novelty with his credibility as a candidate, especially in this type of district. While Garrett's numbers have gone down a few points over the past two cycles, this is still a solidly Republican district. In the last redistricting cycle, it was consciously drawn to give Republicans an edge.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Here’s What’s the Matter with “What’s the Matter with Cairo, Ill.?”!

ElectionDissection strolled down Mass. Ave., NW to the Cato Institute today for a book forum discussing “Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do” whose authors maintain a data-rich blog.

Informed comments were offered by George Mason Univ. prof and exit poll veteran Dr. Michael McDonald – whose invaluable data ElectionDissection links to on our Election Returns & Other Data sidebar – titled “What’s the Matter with Cairo, Ill.?” McDonald contrasted how Chicago’s affluent and historically Republican Collar County suburbs have been trending Democratic in recent elections – reflected in the political journey of their Favorite Daughter, onetime Goldwater Girl Hillary Rodham Clinton – with the Republican swing in Cairo’s impoverished Alexander County, home to a historic Southern Democrat-style tradition.

Being a son of Little Egypt, nickname for Southern Illinois, the flood-prone region whose tip meets at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers at the aptly named Cairo, I have to quibble with Prof. McDonald’s choice of this town to contrast with Chicago ‘burbs. But, I’ll stress, given the strength of McDonald’s presentation, I’m only quibbling.

Cairo, sits – or withers, rather – at the tip of the Land of Lincoln, but couldn’t be further away from Abe’s Sangamon County, in both distance and culture.

Culturally, Cairo (pronounced “kay-row”) holds more in common with Memphis, the Deep South river town, or even Yazoo City in the Mississippi Delta, where McDonald mentioned he attended high school, than greater Southern Illinois, which has more of the feel of an Upper South “Border” region.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, The Cairo Gazette was openly secessionist. Cairo itself is largely Afro-Am in population, and impoverished. The town was the scene of repeated violence, a flashpoint in the struggle for civil rights, from which it has never recovered. Alexander County’s white population were so agitated, they gave segregationist Alabamian George Wallace 21% of their votes in 1968, the loudest electoral thundering of white backlash in the Land of Lincoln.

Cairo’s “peculiar” Old South character renders it an anomaly even for Southern-inflected Southern Illinois, home of sweet tea-sipping white Baptists. I just couldn’t resist quibbling with McDonald - and only out of regional and familial pride - whose comments will certainly inform my reading of the book.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bob Barr Blusters: Pres Nomination Campaigns don't "affect change"??!!

ElectionDissection ventured over to the National Press Club for a couple of press conferences today.   The first featured Ron Paul with his by-now-signature unfocused, “aw shucks” style with which he urged his acolytes – and the American electorate at large – to reject McCain and Obama and consider any of four third party candidates.  Green nominee and former Dem. Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney, independent perennial Ralph Nader and far-right Constitution Party standard bearer “Pastor Chuck” Baldwin were all on hand to bask in Dr. Paul’s glow.  Libertarian Party nominee, former GOP Georgia U.S. Rep. Bob Barr pointedly declined the invite.

Half an hour later, Barr responded with a press conference of his own.  Barr and his top aide, former Ross Perot campaign honcho Russ Verney, explained Barr’s absence that morning, with Barr insisting that his bid offers “bold, focused, specific leadership,” not Ron Paul’s “amorphous kind that says ‘any of the above’ or ‘none of the above.’”  Barr asserted that the goal of his campaign is to amass as many votes as possible, hoping to affect policy change in his direction; a worthy and very reasonable goal for a third party candidate determined to run an actual political campaign, seeking actual votes, not just to hit the college lecture circuit and bloviate ad nausea. 

Barr’s and Verney’s “we’re the grownups here” mein bordered on farce.  Barr got so wrapped up in the “we’re not goofing around here” meme that, invoking Verney’s old boss Perot repeatedly, he asserted the patently preposterous claim that primary campaign vote totals, and failed nomination campaigns, are irrelevant; rather, building significant general election vote totals is the only way for alternative presidential candidates to affect policy change.  This is indubitably true for segregationist George Wallace’s 1968 American Independent bid that first identified “Reagan Democrats” among Northern Urban Ethnics and rural Southern Democrats and liberal Republican John Anderson’s 1980 indie bid that gave us sneak peaks at segments of the coalition that vaulted Obama to the Democratic nomination this year.  But for the highest vote getting third party bid in modern electoral history – Ross Perot’s snaring of nearly one in five votes in 1992 – the jury is still out as for its long term impact.

Barr’s claim was made to counter claims that Paul’s 1.2 million primary season votes did more than Barr’s effort will to further a libertarian agenda.  There is a question to be considered that Paul’s 2008 primary totals – as scattered as his message – may tell us less about a long-term libertarian vote trend than does Ed Clark’s 1980 Libertarian Party high water mark. 

Nevertheless, the litany countering Barr’s ludicrous contention is a long and venerable one.  

Let’s start with Wallace: the 670,000 votes and 3.75 million votes he garnered, respectively, in his upstart 1964 and 1972 Democratic nomination bids were dwarfed by the 9.9 million votes he attracted in his 1968 indie bid, but reinforced to Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips that millions of those voters – especially in states like Wisconsin in ’64 or in Maryland and Michigan in ’72 – who might never have voted for him in a general, or before his assassination attempt, were up for grabs.  Peeling these proto-Reagan Democrats away built the Conservative Coalition that governed under Reagan during his first term. 

Eugene McCarthy’s quixotic bid for the 1968 Democratic bid may have been as unfocused as Paul’s this year, but his 2.9 million votes forced the incumbent president, LBJ, to withdraw from consideration for re-nomination and marked the first electoral inklings of popular discontent over the Vietnam War that culminated in Nixon – the staunch anti-communist – pulling US forces out of Indochina a few years later. 

The Rev. Jesse Jackson’s nearly 10 million votes between his 1984 and 1988 bids put his slice of urban America’s agenda on the table, arguably prompting passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 in a still conservative-oriented Congress and signed by a Republican president.    

Walter Mondale famously ridiculed Gary Hart’s “new ideas” bid for the 1984 Democratic nomination with the then-popular fast food chain ad refrain, “Where’s the beef?”  But the third of the Democratic primary vote and 1200 delegates that Hart’s platform attracted - a melding of cosmopolitan social liberalism with an appreciation of foreign trade and a recognition that market forces can’t be dismissed - took most observers by surprise and challenged the union orthodoxy that Mondale accepted.  Hart’s “New Democrat” agenda presaged the moderate Democratic Leadership Council from which Bill Clinton launched his successful bid for the 1992 Democratic nomination and upon whose agenda he generally governed during his tenure.  Nearly a quarter century later, Hillary Clinton reverted to Mondale’s playbook, but came up short against Barack Obama who racked up huge majorities among the very voters Hart first identified. 

Two more examples stand out because of the candidates’ associations with associates of Barr’s campaign in 2008:

Barr advisor and conservative direct mail guru Richard Viguerie keynoted the Libertarian convention this year.  Viguerie supported Ronald Reagan’s nearly victorious challenge to President Gerald Ford’s re-nomination in 1976, and tried to lure Reagan to a splinter conservative third party when Ford finally secured the GOP nod.  Of course, Reagan built upon the momentum of that strong ’76 bid to win the White House four years later, launching his “Reagan Revolution.”

A Call to Economic Arms” was the theme of Paul Tsongas’ 1992 campaign that attracted unexpected support among Democratic primary voters.  Ross Perot – Verney was his spokesman – built upon Tsongas’ momentum in the fall, memorably campaigning with a series of charts to illustrate the federal fiscal dangers both these “deficit hawks” feared.  Bill Clinton’s first term stabs at getting the federal budget under control can be attributed to both Tsongas’ nomination and Perot’s general election campaigns.  

Regionalism in American Electoral History: Revisiting Kevin Phillips and Hypothesizing About November

In thinking about the competition between the campaigns for the “swing states” necessary to put either over the top in November, I got to wondering about how these states fit into the broader sweep of American political history. The underlying belief that guides what we do on this site is that the past matters. Elections do not occur in isolation from our history. Rather, what we observe today has been shaped by the series of demographic, economic, social, and cultural shifts that have preceded us. Thus, we need to be appreciative of the “evolutionary” nature of our politics. While there is certainly much that is unique about this election (thus making predicting the outcome very dangerous)—most notably the presence of the first African American on the top of either party’s ticket—we can perhaps look backwards for some sense of whether our expectations or assumptions are realistic.

One classic exposition of the “evolutionary” nature of American politics is Kevin Phillips’ “The Emerging Republican Majority.” In it, Phillips described the degree to which the shifts observed in the mid to late 1960’s were shaped by a series of demographic, economic, and cultural changes in various parts of the country. The result of these shifts was a series of Republican presidential victories, beginning with Nixon and continuing, perhaps, to this day. Another aspect of Phillips’ analysis is the regional nature of these changes. For Phillips, different parts of the country evolved in different ways, thus producing differing types of politics. Within these regions we tend to see very similar types of voting, with changes and shifts taking place at roughly the same time and lasting roughly the same period of time. The region that most clearly stands out—and for which Phillips received quite a bit of acclaim for identifying—is the south. Now a solid part of the Republican coalition, the dramatic shift in the south’s voting took place in the mid ‘60’s. While Barry Goldwater was trounced in the 1964 election, his support in the south laid the foundation (despite the third party effort of Wallace in ’68 and the regional appeal of Carter in ’76) for the new coalition that would begin with Nixon, mature under Reagan, and perhaps reach its high point under George W. Bush.

Recently, Judis and Teixeira have argued that this Republican majority is ready to be replaced by a durable and lasting Democratic ascendancy. Modeling their analysis along the lines of Phillips’ they suggest that recent demographic, economic, and educational shifts have set in motion the emergence of a new regional coalition. The debate about how and when this will finally transpire has been hotly debated this year among those on the left as they strategize about how to produce an Obama victory. While some have argued that the south is not as Republican as it once was and could, given high levels of black turnout, potentially provide Obama some electoral votes, others such as Thomas Schaller have suggested that the west is where Democrats have their best opportunities.

With all of this in mind, I thought I’d revisit these arguments with a particular focus on the regional dimension of voting. If we look at presidential elections over the past century, we find some pretty interesting dynamics that might help us understand what will or will not transpire just a few weeks from now.

To get a visual sense of what I’m talking about, I produced the very simple chart above. In it, I’ve broken the country down into the regions first described by Phillips. Next I coded how each of these regions’ states voted in each election from 1896 to the present. States in blue voted Democrat; red voted Republican; green voted for a third party candidate. What we see, I think, are a few things. First would seem to be a tremendous amount of stability in the voting patterns of states and regions. Once states and regions vote to support a particular party, they tend to do so over a long period of time. The obvious examples here are the solidly Democratic south up until the 1960’s, the solidly Republican mountain and plains states for much of the past half century, and the recently Democratic north east. A second thing I’d note is that some voting shifts are very short lived. These may be brought about events, the regional appeal of one candidate, or poor candidate performance. The shift that many states made to the Democrats and Carter in 1976 can surely be tied to a Watergate backlash and his southern regional appeal. Likewise, the Johnson landslide in 1964 brought many traditionally Republican states into the Democratic column at a time when they might normally not be—also no doubt aided by the perceived extremism of Goldwater. Thus, stability seems to be the norm as fluctuations are soon corrected. A third thing I’d point out is that when broader and regional shifts take place, you see most of the states in that region moving at the same time. Here, notice the northeast’s movement to the Democrats and perhaps most dramatically, the formation of FDR’s majorities beginning in 1932.

For the Obama campaign especially, there is a tremendous interest in winning previously Republican states. That’s the only way they can get to 270 electoral votes. Thus, I looked at how many states tended to change hands in each election year. In 2004 we saw the fewest states change hands, 3, that we saw over the entire course of this examination (3 also switched in 1908) with New Hampshire becoming Democratic while Iowa and New Mexico became Republican. On average, 14 states changed hands over the course of these 28 elections. Not surprisingly, the biggest landslides saw the most states switch, with almost all going in the same direction. In 1932, 34 states became Democratic putting in place the New Deal majority. The 1964 and 1968 elections also saw great flux: in 1964 30 states switched (25 became Democratic, 5 Republican); 1968 served to correct much of the LBJ landslide as 36 states switched (31 became Republican; 5 voted for Wallace). This election also served to cement Phillips’ “Republican majority” as the 5 Wallace states became Republican in the ’72 Nixon re-election. Finally what we see is that when states do change in a given election year, one party tends to reap almost all of the gains, often across several regions. In 13 of the 28 elections, one party made all of the gains. Only in 1924, 1952, and 2004 when you only had 4, 2, and 3 states change hands respectively was there anything approaching parity in the parties’ ability to both make gains. Change tends to be unidirectional.

Another thing to ask, again given Obama’s goals, is what happens in those elections in which the presidency changes from one party to the other. Do those elections come about because the new party in power converted a lot of states or did they win much more narrowly, because only a few states switched? In those 10 elections in which one party took the presidency over from the other, 23 states on average changed hands!!! In the discussion of this year’s electoral map, no one that I’ve heard has made any attempt to argue that this many states are “in play.” The current set of Republican states being targeted by Obama includes Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Iowa, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and perhaps Indiana and Georgia. That’s 11 states. Thus, if Obama were to have a perfect storm of factors come together and give him all of the states he could possibly dream of, he’d still perform well below the average of what we’ve seen in party changing elections. Also worth noting is that these 11 states come from 6 of the 8 regions. What Phillips found was that regions don’t all change at the same time or in the same direction, so we might look at this list of states as wildly optimistic, given the historical evidence. Also, we see that when one state in a region changes, others also do. Shouldn’t we, then, be expanding the list? More important than the number of states, obviously, is the electoral vote count. Here, assuming Obama were to win all of the states John Kerry won, adding these 10 states would give him 390 electoral votes—a huge landslide. Should this year produce an Obama victory, one would have to think it will probably not look like the other elections in which party control switched, either in magnitude or geographic scope.

What I haven’t looked at in this analysis, and what is obviously of great importance, is the margin of victory that we saw in these states, especially in times of change. Some previous posts have looked at this and I’ll certainly spend some more time on this fundamental question as we go along in the next few weeks. If we’re trying to identify opportunities for future change, the degree to which things are changing will need to be gauged. This would, it seem, bring us back to the beginning of this discussion—we need to be aware of the “evolutionary” changes taking place.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Where They're Campaigning: McCain-Palin Hits Cedarburg

In their first stop following the Republican convention, the McCain-Palin ticket visited some very friendly turf in the swing state of Wisconsin. Clearly, the early strategy seems to be a series of rallies on favorable ground with enthusiastic crowds rather than jumping into the cauldron of swing and independent voters. Note that Colorado Springs is also on the itinerary.

Today, McCain and Palin visited the Wisconsin city of Cedarburg. Located about 20 miles due north of Milwaukee and with a population of about 11,000, Cedarburg is located right in the middle of Wisconsin's most Republican region comprising the three neighboring counties of Ozaukee (in which Cedarburg sits), Washington, and Waukesha.

To give you a sense of how Republican this area is, in both the 2000 and 2004 presidential races, these were the three most Republican counties in the state. The Republican share of the vote for each county in 2000 and 2004 respectively was:

Washington: 70% / 70%
Waukesha: 68% / 68%
Ozaukee: 68% / 66%

These three counties are also quite large in terms of how much of Wisconsin's vote they comprise. In 2004, Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee counties were the 3rd, 10th, and 15th largest counties in votes cast. Combined they provided about 12% of all the votes cast in the state.

Cedarburg itself is even more Republican. In 2004, President Bush received 73% while in 2000 he took home 71%. While many have suggested that there has been a "blue-ing" of many suburban areas transpiring in recent years (i.e. Northern Virginia, Montgomery County Pennsylvania, etc.) this trend has apparently not come to this part of the badger state.

Having written a lot about Wisconsin, including areas which may be trending Democratic (see here), I'd have to conclude that if the McCain campaign's goal was to rally the base, this wasn't a bad place to start. The visit will be covered throughout the Milwaukee media market, the state's largest, and will signal that--at least for now--the Republican ticket believes Wisconsin can be won.

For more indication of how competitive this area is, from the perspective of the campaigns' spending on television advertising, see this press release by the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project. During the period covered in their recent study, the Milwaukee market was the 8th largest in the country in terms of number of ads aired.
*Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Things Tight in the Twin Cities

With the Republicans on stage this week in Minneapolis/St. Paul, I thought we'd take a trip to the Twin Cities and visit a congressional district that is home to one of the most competitive House races this year. It will also, it seems, be extremely close at the top of the ticket as well.

Long a Republican stronghold, the 3rd congressional district seems to be another example of a suburban region in political transition. Encompassing the western suburbs of Minneapolis, the 3rd has been represented by Congressman Jim Ramstad since 1990. The last Democrat to hold the seat left office in 1960. Ramstad is a consummate moderate, espousing a pro-choice position on abortion (with some exceptions), a relatively pro-environmental record, and support for stem cell research. In all of his campaigns, he's never received less than 64% of the vote. Last year Ramstad announced his retirement setting off a fevered race to capture the seat.

On the presidential level, the district has been extremely competitive of late. President Bush carried the district narrowly in both 2000 and 2004 with 50% and 51% respectively, despite losing statewide.

In this year's House race, the Republicans have nominated state representative Erik Paulsen while the DFL has put forward Iraq war vet Ashwin Madia. The recruitment of Madia is reminiscent of the DCCC's efforts in the last election cycle to support relatively moderate Democrats with military or national security experience (see Tammy Duckworth, Patrick Murphy, Joe Sestak). Both candidates have proven to be formidable fundraisers, with each having over $1 million raised.

Survey USA recently released poll results for the district, showing Obama and Paulsen with slight leads (see results here). The closeness of these races and the fact that the district seems willing (at least in this poll) to show support for candidates of each party illustrates just how much this region is up for grabs. As the next weeks play out, be sure to focus on this swing region in a swing state.