Tuesday, November 25, 2008

County Flips, the Rural Vote, and Changes Out West

During the primary season, I came across the great site Daily Yonder which focuses on rural politics, economics, and society. The site is on outgrowth of the Center for Rural Strategies. In the aftermath of the election, Tim Murphy and Bill Bishop put together the above map that shows the counties that switched their vote between 2004 and 2008. The provide analysis here and here. While Obama's strength was certainly in the urban cores of the country, he did improve upon Kerry's performance in rural counties. Looking at the counties that flipped this year, the midwest was clearly Obama's strength. While his Illinois performance is unsurprising, the Wisconsin changes jumped out at me immediately after November 4 (see earlier post here). Also, as we know, Indiana (post here) and Iowa changed hands this year helping Obama solidify the entire region. I'm curious about the Democratic gains that took place in the string of counties running along the Minnesota/Dakotas borders. Finally, I'd note the Democrats' improved performance in the mountain west, a dynamic that has gotten a lot of play this year. A couple of points about the mountain west:

  • Beyond the pickup of Colorado and New Mexico on the presidential level, Democrats gained Senate seats in both states.
  • Democrats gained 5 seats in the House (2 in New Mexico, and 1 each in Idaho, Colorado, and Arizona). Democrats now have a majority in the House delegations of AZ, CO, and NM and split evenly with Republicans the Idaho delegation.
  • Obama actually won Salt Lake County, Utah. While Utah's electoral votes won't change hands anytime soon, this flip was nonetheless pretty interesting.
  • Note the rural county pickups in Montana. In the end, McCain ended up winning the state by only about 12,000 votes.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Godzilla for Senate 2008!!!???

Over 125 million votes were cast in this year's election. We tend to forget, in the midst of this big number, the fact that individual human beings have made choices based on their own beliefs, ideologies, and judgments. As we crunch the numbers and look for patterns, this individuality gets lost. Rarely do individual votes make much of a difference in the outcome. However, from time to time (Florida 2000) we actually get a chance to examine more closely these individual choices. Sometimes, small numbers matter. We have another case this year in the Minnesota Senate race, now in the midst of a recount. Like in the Florida 2000 case, the intent of the voter is open to interpretation when a ballot's markings are ambiguous. Minnesota Public Radio has provided some examples of what election officials are up against. Take a look and make your own determination here. My favorite disputed ballot is the one below:

This ballot comes from Beltrami County. Located in north central Minnesota, Beltrami County has a steady history of Democratic support. This year Obama won 54% to McCain's 44%. Other than going for George W. Bush in 2000, the county has voted Democratic in every election since 1976.

Apparently, however, the choices in this year's Senate matchup were unsatisfying for this particular voter. A quick internet search doesn't find much of a history of "lizard people" running for office in these parts. I haven't done research into how easy it is for third parties to get ballot access in Minnesota either.

Does this voter want Franken? Did he initially choose Franken but then cross him out and write in "Lizard People"? Does he think all of these candidates are "Lizard People"--perhaps an astute observation about the political class? Anyhow, the margin between Franken and Coleman now stands at 136 votes. I would love to watch these ballots be argued about and potentially litigated. God help the election officials. And keep an eye on Lake Superior for any disturbances.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Demographic and State Shifts: Temporary Change or Realignment???

Charles Franklin of Pollster.com has created the above visual showing the performance of Obama versus Kerry across a range of demographic groups. What we see as a broad shift across virtually every group in the direction of greater Democratic support. Thus, like we saw at the state and county level, the movement toward the Democrats was quite impressive. What is no doubt the more fundamental question, however, is the duration or permanence of this shift. In the academic discussion of "realignments," what is necessary for a fundamental re-orientation of the electorate is not just movement of numerous social groups from one party to the other, but the durability of this movement. Also, with every demographic group here moving more Democratic, save three, one must wonder the degree to which the economic downturn and not other factors was ultimately responsible for the magnitude of Obama's win. Should many of these groups move back to their previous levels of partisan support over the next few years then November 4th's results won't seem so dramatic. In other words, with one election we don't have enough evidence to conclude we've had a realignment. These can only be viewed in the rear view mirror. However, much of the analysis of the exit polling that's been done over the past few weeks suggests that Democrats should be very happy about the trend lines. John Judis, who wrote "The Emerging Democratic Majority" with Ruy Teixeira discusses the possibility of this enduring majority here.

The above image of the state by state change compared to 2004 was created by Andrew Gelman at Princeton.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Population Stability and Polarized Voting in the Deep South

The above map, via Strange Maps, overlays the 2008 election returns(Obama counties blue, McCain counties red) with 19th century data on cotton production. The resulting image is striking. We know from exit polling that the white vote in the Deep South was strongly skewed to McCain (Whites in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina gave McCain 88%, 88%, 84%, 76%, 73%, and 64% respectively) and that the black vote was even more overwhelmingly pro-Obama. Beyond that, though, what we also see quite clearly is the degree to which the African American population in the south is largely concentrated in the same areas it was over a century ago. This is something that I noticed during the primary season as well (see posts here and here).

Thus, while the Great Migration (see post here) of the early and mid 20th century saw millions of southern blacks leave the Deep South for northern cities like Chicago, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere, many millions also stayed. Also, many narratives of the Great Migration note that it was not unusual for individuals or families to return to south, either because the opportunities up north were not as bountiful as they believed or because the strong ties of family, community, and familiarity beckoned them home.

On a similar note, I highlighted recent Census data on mobility a while back (see post here). One thing that you note about several of the states in this region--especially Alabama and Mississippi--is that they have seen relatively little inward and outward movement of their populations.

Over at Pollster.com, Charles Franklin does an excellent analysis of the state by state change in Obama's support among whites vis a vis Kerry's 2004 performance. He notes not only the decline in white support for the Democratic nominee in the Deep South states, but also points out the improvement Obama made in Virginia and North Carolina. Ed Kilgore over at the Democratic Strategist also comments on this dynamic.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Obama Bounce Down Ballott

Yesterday's Politico has a nice article on the role of the heavy pro-Obama black turnout on a number of congressional races. Among the 20 Democratic House pickups were several propelled by the black vote. Many of these gains were in districts that have been quite Republican over the past several cycles.

What we've seen in many states' redistricting processes has been an effort to take a black population (oftentimes relatively small) and subsume it within a surrounding area that is more Republican leaning, essentially diluting the power of their votes. Under normal circumstances--i.e. black turnout significantly lower than white turnout; low levels of black mobilization; no coordinated voter registration efforts--the black vote, although heavily Democratic, isn't able to sway electoral outcomes. This year, however, was not a "normal" election year. With the Republican brand in tatters, underlying economic uncertainty, and higher black turnout, mobilization, and registration, the black vote was able to tip a number of districts. To wit:

Virginia 5. Republican incumbent Virgil Goode was defeated, by less than 1000 votes, by Democratic challenger Tom Perriello in a district that includes heavily African American "southside" Virginia. The district is 24% African American. In his past four re-elections, Goode had received 59%, 64%, 63%, and 67%.

Virginia 2. Not far from Goode, Thelma Drake got bounced by 4 points by Democratic challenger Glenn Nye. Encompassing much of the Hampton Roads area, the district is 21% African American.

Connecticut 4. Here, the last House Republican from New England, Chris Shays, was finally taken down after a series of close calls. Unlike the Virginia districts cited above, the black population in this district is only 11% (Hispanic population is 13%) and largely concentrated in the city of Bridgeport. Whereas in previous years black turnout was relatively low, this year's upturn was enough to elect challenger Jim Himes.

Ohio 1. This Cincinnati centered district saw the defeat of Rep. Steve Chabot to challenger Steve Driehaus in a constituency that is 27% black.

Maryland 1. In this House race, just recently called in the past few days, Democrat Frank Kratovil defeated Andy Harris, who defeated incumbent Rep. Wayne Gilchrest in an ugly primary earlier this year. In a district that is 11% black and was once a hotbed of support for George Wallace in his '68 and '72 presidential runs, Kratovil won by roughly 2000 votes.

Alabama 2. The retirement of incumbent Republican Terry Everett created an open seat few would normally think competitive. A Republican has held this seat since 1965. However, the 30% of the district that is African American contributed to Democrat Bobby Bright's upset win. Despite the drubbing that Obama took statewide and the exit polling that showed only 20% of white Alabamans voting for the president elect, the black vote, ironically, seems responsible for Bright's ultimate triumph.

As the article notes, most importantly, the interesting dynamic to be watched will be how these new members act upon their swearing in come January. Owing their victory, largely, to a sizable minority in their district can create complications for a new member. Because these districts have been consistently Republican, these newly minted members will have targets on their backs from the get-go. Nonetheless, their relationship with this sliver of their constituency may prove to be the key to their fate in Congress. If they cast votes or push policy in line with the black electorate (as these voters will surely demand) they may find themselves out of step from the rest of their district. However, should they shun their black constituents, they may find themselves just short of the number of votes they need to secure re-election. Figuring out how to navigate this tricky dynamic will be the first order of business for these new members.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obama's the Big Ten and McCain's the SEC But the Key to the Presidency Might Be the ACC

Rather than spend all of my time on the more traditional number crunching and map making, I thought I’d take a different approach to looking at last week’s election. One thing we know about American politics—and something I’ve written a lot about—is that it’s very regional. Different parts of the country tend to have different types of politics—driven by different demographics, economies, cultures, etc. Another part of American life that is heavily regional is sports. Where we live, where we go to school, and where we were raised tend to affect not only which sports we tend to be interested in (if any) but also the teams to which we’re loyal.

Both candidates this year, we’re told, are rabid sports fans. Much has been written about Obama’s love of basketball and his election day ritual of starting his day with a pick-up game. McCain, from what I’ve read, is a rabid boxing fan. So, can we merge politics and sport—in other words, how might we use the lens of sports to view the returns? As the college football season is approaching its most crucial weeks and college basketball is just gearing up (Go Marquette!!), I thought I’d see there were any parallels to the regionalism of college sports and the election returns.

College athletics is organized around a series of regionally based conferences, the six largest of which are part of the BCS (Bowl Championship Series). These six conferences are the Big East, Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Southeastern Conference (SEC), Big Twelve, Big Ten, and Pac Ten. The membership of each conference is as follows:

Big East: Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Providence, Rutgers, Seton Hall, South Florida, St. John’s, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia

ACC: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina St., Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

SEC: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi St., South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt

Big 12: Baylor, Colorado, Iowa St., Kansas, Kansas St., Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech

Big Ten: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan St., Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio St., Penn St., Purdue, Wisconsin

Pac 10: Arizona, Arizona St., California, Oregon, Oregon St., Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington, Washington St.

These conferences cover the entire geographical breadth of the U.S. Thus, they represent the diversity of the American voting public. What I thought would be fun to do is look at how each conference voted last Tuesday. I took each school and looked at how its state and county (in which the school resides) voted. You see some pretty interesting things. The Big Ten, for example, is the most pro-Obama conference. All 8 states in which its schools reside voted for Obama, as did all 11 counties (there are 11 schools in the Big Ten since the addition of Penn St.). The Big Ten schools occupy the industrial Midwest from Pennsylvania to Iowa, the region of the country that Obama dominated, including his pickups of Indiana and Ohio.

The most pro-McCain conference?? Not surprisingly it’s the SEC. Encompassing the deep south, McCain’s base of support, McCain won 8 of the 9 SEC states (losing only Florida). At the county level, however, Obama actually did much better. He won 7 of the 12 counties in which these schools reside (Alachua—Florida; Athens-Clarke—Georgia; Fayette—Kentucky; Oktibbeha—Mississippi St.; Richland—South Carolina; and Davidson—Vanderbilt). Thus, we may see some evidence of the youth vote (which gave Obama 2/3 of their vote) coming through for the Democrat as well as all those liberal faculty members.

The most interesting conference—and the one that got me thinking about this question in the first place—is the ACC. Since the flip of North Carolina and Virginia from the Republican to the Democratic column, many are wondering if the “solid South” is beginning to disintegrate. Given that the ACC encompasses the border area of the east coast—part northern, part southern—its voting might reflect the bipolar nature of the region and whether it is now being pulled in one direction more than the other. Indeed, 5 of the 7 ACC states went to Obama (Clemson in South Carolina and Georgia Tech in Georgia went McCain). At the county level, Obama won 11 of the 12 ACC counties (losing only Pickens County South Carolina, home to Clemson). In most of these counties, the Obama margin was quite large. Only in Montgomery County Virginia (Virginia Tech) did he get less than 55%.

To round out the remaining conferences, the Big 12 was McCain’s next strongest at the state level. This conference encompasses the central plains, another area of Republican strength. Of the seven total states McCain won 5 (losing Colorado and Iowa). Like with the SEC, however, things at the county level were more evenly matched as each candidate won 6 counties.

The Big East is the largest conference geographically (I’m using its expanded basketball membership rather than its 8 team football membership). Stretching from Rhode Island to Wisconsin (Go Marquette!!) and also having South Florida, it’s the least geographically distinct. Nonetheless, it was strongly in the Obama camp. He won 11 of the 13 Big East states (losing Kentucky and West Virginia). At the county level, though, he made a clean sweep of the 16 counties. Monongalia County West Virginia (Morgantown) gave Obama a slim win with 51% as did Hamilton County Ohio (Cincinnati) with 52% and Hillsborough County Florida (USF) with 53%.

Finally, the PAC 10 was strongly Obama and might have given him a clean sweep had it not been for Senator McCain’s presence on the balance. With the exception of Arizona, Obama won 3 of the conference’s 4 states. At the county level, he won 9 of 10, losing only Maricopa County Arizona (Arizona St.) where McCain got 55%.

So, what can we learn from this?? All in all this may not teach us much new but rather allow us to use a different lens through which to view our politics. The dominance of Obama at the county level—he won 89% of the counties surveyed (57 of 64) illustrates, it seems, not only the role of the youth vote but also something about areas that revolve around university life. Even in the Deep South, Obama did well in those areas that have universities in their midst. Beyond students, one is likely to find a populace in these cities and counties with a higher degree of education and income than in the surrounding parts. As the Democrats’ share of the vote among the high education/high income demographic continues to grow, we might begin to see more change at the state level. The concept of the “ideopolis” is key to “The Emerging Democratic Majority” thesis. What we saw last week in North Carolina and Virginia (home to 6 schools in this survey) might be a harbinger for things to come.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tippecanoe and Obama Too

Perhaps the biggest surprise of last Tuesday was Indiana's move to the Democratic column. Not since LBJ's landslide 1964 victory had the Hoosier State gone blue. In looking at the returns we see that Obama was able to drastically improve upon the performance of past Democratic candidates. His vote share grew in every county versus Kerry's 2004 performance, as the map at left shows (for some coverage from the Indianapolis Star, see here). He was able to win 12 more counties than Kerry (15 total), and his performance in Marion County (Indianapolis) allowed him to generate a huge number of votes to help tilt the state. In 2004, Kerry beat Bush in Marion County by 2% (6,000 votes). This year, Obama beat McCain there by 28% (107,000 votes)!

As during the Democratic primary, Lake County was also crucial to Obama's success. Essentially a part of the Chicago metropolitan area, Lake County's Democratic share increased 6% over 2004 and gave Obama a 71,000 vote margin.

You might also look at the Indiana college population for part of this year's margin. Monroe County (Bloomington) is the home of Indiana University. In 2004, Kerry won the county by 8%. This year, Obama's margin was 32% (20,000 vote margin). Tippecanoe County (West Lafayette) in north east Indiana is home to Purdue. Whereas Bush won Tippecanoe by 20% in '04, Obama switched the county, winning it by 12% (8,000 vote margin). Finally, the University of Notre Dame resides in St. Joseph's County (South Bend). Here we saw another switch--whereas Bush won the county by 2% in '04, Obama enjoyed a 17% win (20,000 vote margin) this year.

For all the details on Indiana politics, see Howeypolitics.com.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The End of the Southern Strategy?

Appropos of my last post, today's New York Times has a long piece on the decline of the south's importance in presidential elections. Given that Obama's margins were worse than Kerry's in the region, despite the widespread economic hardships, and yet he won with such a large margin leads many to ask about the region's relevance. With North Carolina and Virginia breaking with its neighbors in the Old Confederacy, it may no longer be correct to think of the south as a monolithic force in our politics.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Appalachian Problem Returns

The above map has been getting a lot of attention over the past day. It shows the counties where McCain actually overperformed Bush '04. We see a very clearly defined geographical region--Appalachia, especially the southern stretch--as the source of McCain's strength. During the Democratic primary, there was much discussion of Obama's "Appalachia Problem." For a refresher, the map below illustrates how deep Clinton's support was there (the more blue, the more pro-Clinton).

In a further examination of this, Ben Smith at Politico brings forward the final map below that charts American's self-identified ancestry. The same pattern jumps out as this part of the country is dominated by people who identify their ancestry as "American." In short, this is a region in which large numbers have family ties that stretch back multiple generations--very low levels of movement in and out. Thus, unlike parts of the neighboring states of Virginia and North Carolina, which have seen a much more dynamic population flow (especially Northern Virginia and Research Triangle of N.C.), this interior is perhaps more isolated from the trends and changes that have affected some of their neighbors. Virginia and North Carolina (and seemingly Colorado out west following a similar track) may have thus crossed the threshhold necessary to vote for a Democrat for the White House.

Big Blue Badger

As I hinted yesterday, the results from Wisconsin were staggering for Obama, compared to past Democratic performance. He flipped 32 counties from '04 and won statewide by 13 points. The map at left gives you a sense of where the greatest upticks took place. As I've been saying for a long time, the key for Wisconsin Dems is not just Milwaukee and Madison, its the Mississippi River counties. You can see the big Obama performance there.

Also of interest to me was the voting in the city of Milwaukee. Obviously Obama was going to win big there--and he did with with 78%--but I was curious about the south side. The south side of Milwaukee has always been Democratic territory but it is the home of Milwaukee's white ethnic (mostly Polish and German) blue collar community--Joe the Plumber land, in short. In 1964, George Wallace actually kicked off his campaign at Serb Hall, one of the south side's venerable gathering spots and home to a wicked Friday night fish fry. Given what we saw during the primaries in Chicago (see post here) I wondered whether McCain might actually win parts of the south side. Well, now that we've got some data, it appears that Obama actually carried it. See the map below which shows this year's citywide vote in comparison to 2004. McCain may have actually won some individual precincts here but until that data becomes available, we can't be sure. I'll also be interested in some of the inner suburbs that come off the south side--Greenfield, West Allis--to how Obama performed.

Lots more Wisconsin analysis to come.

Maps courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Day After

Today, mostly quick hits:

Florida. As I wrote about a few weeks back, the I-4 Corridor was indeed the key. Obama vastly outperformed Kerry, winning Pinellas (54%), Hillsborough (50.1%), and Orange (59%) Counties--the three biggest in the region.

Wisconsin. Huge Obama win--13 points. As expected big margins in Milwaukee and Dane Counties, but most impressive was the broad scope. McCain only won 13 of the state's 72 counties. In contrast, despite losing the state narrowly in '05, Bush won 45 counties. Outagamie and Brown Counties (see earlier post for more prescience) go Obama--54% each. Dems. also captured the State Assembly in Wisconsin.

The Republicans have 0 members of the House of Representatives from New England. See this to see how the region, once so solidly Republican, has been completely transformed. As I get the final House results, I'll update more fully, but increasingly the Republican House caucus is southern and rural.

Paging Dr. Schaller! Paging Dr. Schaller! Exit polls in Alabama show that 8 in 10 whites voted for McCain. In Mississippi, 88% of whites went for McCain.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Night Live Blogging!!!

John and I are here in the ElectionDissection.com election results bunker. As the results come in, we'll try and focus on things that jump out at us as interesting or important, rather than just repeat everything that's on TV or the major news sites.

Little data so far. MSNBC is reporting Obama outperforming Kerry significantly in a number of Indiana counties, especially in the northern part of the state. CBMurray

8:22 pm. Some numbers out of Florida. Obama running up big numbers in Orange County (Orlando). Narrowly won by Kerry, Obama winning big here. Part of the crucial I-4 Corridor, the key to winning the Sunshine State. CBMurray

8:29 pm. Also from Florida, Hillsborough County (Tampa). Again, Obama running ahead of Kerry. Bush won the county in 04 with about 54%. CBMurray
8:32 pm. A crucial Virginia county, Prince William. Obama ahead so far. CBMurray

10:49 pm. Was out for a while doing some local radio. A lot of data coming in, really overwhelming, but this thing is essentially over. Only question now is the margin.

10:56 pm.  Moderate suburban seats that pundits wrote off for the Dems are remaining competitive, even as those seats' core counties trend heavy for Obama, Dem at pres level.  Rep. Mark Kirk is holding on in Chicago's Collar Counties, as Obama clobbers McCain there. 

And - popular Fairfax Co. Exec. Gerry Connolly is stumbling across the finish line in No. Virginia.  Most pundits had written off the former GOP garrison, with its thinly-resumeed nominee who sought to hold onto moderate GOP Rep. Tom Davis' seat.  But Keith Fimian is outperforming Obama in Fairfax County.  

Obama is only pulling down 58% in a Fairfax, where many observers thought he might reach 65%.  Perhaps residual military-affinity among NoVa voters kept them loyal to the GOP one last time? JVLaB

11:30 pm.  Wautaga Watershed proves prescient! Riding larger statewide tredns, Obama takes in Wautaga Co., No. Carolina, helping pad Obama's narrow margin in the state represented by Jesse Helms as recently as 2002.