Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Jesse Jackson in Appalachia

In my exploration of voting in counties heavily dependent on government income, I've found myself digging deeply into the politics of Appalachia.  This region's political behavior seems to confound liberals' expectations that those who are among the poorest and most dependent on policies championed by the Democrats should reward that party with their votes.  As I've shown, that's rarely been the case over the past several decades.  In my last post, I suggested that part of the Democrats' problem is that they haven't always tried to connect with these voters and that some candidates--especially Bill Clinton--offer a blue print for future candidates in the region.

During the 2008 campaign, part of the narrative revolving around Barack Obama was that his race was the primary reason why he wasn't able to win downscale white rural voters.  While there might be some evidence of this, while doing some web surfing on Appalachian politics I came across this interesting article from the great site, Daily Yonder, about Jesse Jackson's 1988 campaign.  The more I read about Jackson's presidential runs, the more I believe they've been overlooked by students of elections.  Too often Jackson is dismissed as either a fringe candidate or one whose campaigns were exclusively about race.  Rather--as this story argues--Jackson was extremely successful in uniting downscale whites and minority voters.  For example, when I dug up the results of the 1988 Kentucky primary, I found some interesting results.  Kentucky was won overwhelmingly by Al Gore, who won all but one county.  However, Jackson ran ahead of eventual nominee Michael Dukakis in 18 counties, highlighted below:

Using Census data, eight of these counties had a population that was 95% or more white.  Only four have an African American population above 10%.  Thus, twenty years before Barack Obama's emergence, in an era much less "post racial," Jesse Jackson was able to perform quite well in an area we might expect to be hostile to his candidacy.  What seems to have helped him was that he didn't write these voters and these areas off.  Like the New Yorker piece I linked to last week argued, showing up, making an effort, and taking these voters and their concerns seriously can go a long way.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Some More Data On The Voting Of Lower Income Whites

As I hinted at in my post a few days back, the question of why lower income--or more governmentally dependent--white voters have shown a tendency to vote Republican has vexed many on the left for years.  Over at The Monkey Cage, John Sides provides some evidence--as produced by Larry Bartels--that white working class voters have not, overall, become more Republican:

Among whites without a college degree, income has become a stronger predictor of the vote over time. But actually it’s those with less income, not more income, who are more likely to support Democratic presidential candidates. And again, there certainly no trend by which whites with below-average incomes and no college degree become more Republican.

What shift to the right there has been seems to be confined to the south.  Thus, my highlighting of the Appalachian/Ozark region seems to have some confirmation.  When I was doing some Google surfing last night trying to track down some writing on this region, I came across this story that I remembered from back in the fall of 2008.  In it, you get a sense of the obstacles--and opportunities--that Democrats have among these voters.  While I noted the success of Bill Clinton in both 1992 and 1996, the New Yorker piece uses Virginia Senator (and previously Governor) Mark Warner as a more modern example of how Democrats can win in the hollers.  Here's a map of the 2001 Virginia Governor's race, won by Warner:

As you can see, Warner did exceptionally well in the southwestern corner of the state, allowing him to pad the large lead that he built up in the much more solidly DC suburbs.  Ultimately, Barack Obama wasn't able to duplicate Warner's success in this region.  Nonetheless, he became the first Democrat to win the Commonwealth since Lyndon Johnson.

In the end, as candidates prioritize where they spend their time and resources and how they put together a strategy, they must confront the reality of where they are likely to be successful.  Coalitions (and the size of their component parts) are cobbled together.  The math begins to take over.  Despite the fact that those voters discussed in the NYT story might seem like they "should" vote Democratic, so much history suggests that they won't, regardless of how much effort is expended.  In states like Virginia that offer large numbers of other more reliable coalition members (minorities for example), winning the state remains a possibility.  In other states--say Kentucky--there exists no realistic path to victory given the composition of the electorate.  Hence, a candidate like Obama turns his attention elsewhere. 

A Quick Addendum To The Previous Post

Here's a quick addition to the previous post, looking at the data in a slightly different way.  Whereas the NYT story looked just at spending on government benefits, Talking Points Memo puts this spending in comparison to the amount of money contributed by each state.  While not at the county level, we do get to see the variance across states from those that get relatively little back relative to their tax contributions versus those that receive much more.  Like I discussed previously, those places that not only have a heavy reliance on government benefits, but also contribute relatively little for them, oftentimes vote consistently for the GOP.

As an editorial aside, I'd also point people's attention to the one place that has the lowest return on its tax contributions--Washington, DC.  As a DC resident and taxpayer, it is data like this that drives us Washingtonians nuts.  "Taxation Without Representation" indeed.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why Don't People Who Benefit From Government Vote For The Democrats???

Since it was published last week, this story by the New York Times has been garnering a lot of coverage.  In great detail and nuance, it tackles a theme and a dilemma that has dominated our politics for at least the last generation.  As the story illustrates, and as their fantastic mapping shows, Americans have become increasingly dependent on government programs, especially entitlements--Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, veterans benefits, and other forms of income support.  At the same time, the willingness to pay for these programs has declined precipitously.  Hence, the current fiscal straits in which we find ourselves.  Ironically, among those most benefiting from these programs has been an attraction to anti-government rhetoric from the right.

In reading this story and exploring the corresponding map, I began to wonder just how those areas most dependent on government income voted over time.  While the story focused in on one county in Minnesota, I wanted to broaden the scope and see if any interesting patterns emerged.  What I decided to do was zoom in on those counties who had the highest degree of what we might call "dependence"--those who received more than 40% of their income from these sources--these are the counties colored dark red on the NYT map. 

In total, there are 82 counties nationwide that fall into this category (I excluded the Alaska census area because voting data wasn't available for it).  I produced a spreadsheet, seen below, that lists these counties--by state--along with their percentage of government "dependence" as well as two other variables that I thought might be revealing: their racial makeup shown as % white; and their poverty rate (both from Census data).  Oftentimes in our politics there has been an assumption that poverty and government dependence is concentrated in minority communities.  This data clearly refutes that.

Next, I wanted to see how each of these counties voted in recent elections.  Rather than code each election, I picked a few that I thought might be of particular interest.  I coded the two most recent presidential elections to see the most recent political behavior of these areas and to explore whether there was any noticeable short term change.  I then decided to look at 1992.  1992 is of note in that it, like 2008, was an election contested during an economic downturn and might produce similar "pro-government" sentiment in those areas of greatest need.  Similarly, I picked 1980.  Also conducted during economic difficulties, 1980 is notable for the rise of Ronald Reagan and the ascendancy of anti-government rhetoric.  Thus, as American politics began to transition away from the New Deal assumptions of the previous generation, we might wonder if areas strongly dependent on government resisted Reagan.  Finally, I picked the 1964 Johnson landslide.  The thinking here is that this election would probably represent the apex of pro-government voting.

In looking at the spreadsheet, very few clear cut trends emerge and there is certainly no correlation between government dependence and support for the Democratic party.  Things are much more complicated (and hence interesting).  Nonetheless, there are a number of things to take note of and explore.  In 2008, of these 82 counties, only 30 voted for Barack Obama.  This is the type of result that makes many Democrats' heads spin.  How is it, they ask, that those voters most benefitting from programs championed by Democrats vote "against their interests"???  This phenomenon garnered a lot of attention a few years back with the publication of Thomas Frank's "What's The Matter With Kansas?"  If we map this voting--coloring Obama counties Blue and McCain counties Red--we get the following:

The most interesting aspect of this map, I think, is the clustering of McCain counties in the Kentucky, Tennesse, Missouri region.  These counties are, as the data suggests, overwhelmingly white and poor.  They also tend to be mountainous, low population, counties in the Appalachian and Ozark ranges.  Looking at the voting over time, these are also counties that have remained, for the most part, consistently Republican.  Clearly, it seems as if there is more than just economics at play here.  Indeed, these areas have long had a political culture that has confounded Democrats' ability to compete, going back generations.  The one modern Democrat who performed well in this region, perhaps not surprisingly, was Bill Clinton.  Not only did Clinton win 60 of the 82 counties nationwide, he did particurly well in this cluster of KY/TN/MO counties--so much so that he won all three states in both 1992 and 1996.  No Democrat has won any of the three since.

How do we explain this change?  While these counties and regions have changed little over the past  decades, they were receptive to Clinton but not Obama (and Kerry).  Going back further, these counties also supported Carter and Johnson.  Is the shift a result of a broader movement against the Democrats, as hinted at in the original NYT story?  Is it the result of the fact that the most recent Democratic nominees were northerners who were perceived as foreign to this region's culture and people?  Clinton hailed from this area and both Carter and LBJ were southerners so there might be some credence to this hypothesis.

A few other observations. 1980 stands out as the year in which these counties' vote was most divided, with Reagan winning 42 and Carter 40 counties respectively.  Thus, the notion that this was perhaps a "tipping point" election may have some confirmation.

Looking at the race variable, while I've so far discussed the overwhelmingly white KY/TN/MO counties, there are a number of overwhelmingly African American counties represented in the data.  Specifically, Perry and Wilcox County Alabama, Marion County South Carolina, and Holmes, Jefferson, Humphreys, and Quitman Counties in Mississippi.  Here, as expected, there was overwhelming support for all of the recent Democratic candidates (back during the lead up to the 2008 election I did a series of posts on the interesting political geography of these regions--see here and here).  Also remember, when looking at the 1964 vote in these counties, that the Voting Rights Act had yet to be passed.  Next, there are a few counties with large Hispanic populations--see those in Texas as well as Mora and Guadalupe in New Mexico.  Finally, make note of some counties with a large Native American population--Apache in Arizona; Sioux in North Dakota; Buffalo and Shannon in South Dakota.  Like with the heavily African American counties, those with large Hispanic or Native American populations have voted as we would expect.

Perhaps the most confounding set of counties--and those that I will need to research more deeply--are those found in Michigan.  What is interesting about these counties is that they are overwhelmingly white, have high degrees of governement "dependence," but are not terribly poor.  Their poverty rates all hover near the statewide average of 15%.  So what explains this?  Going back to the original NYT map, you can separate out the different components of government support.  These counties show a heavy reliance on both Social Security and Medicare, suggesting a large elderly population.  At the same time, though, these counties also have large reliance on unemployment insurance.  In a lot of ways, these counties seem quite similar to Chisago County Minnesota which was the focus of the NYT story.

These are just a few observations based on a cursory examination of this data.  There's a lot more that I hope to delve into, especially focusing on individual counties or regions, in the coming weeks.  What does come through, though, is that voters and regions have voting histories and behaviors that don't fit into a simple narrative or explanation.  This is especially the case when it comes to the correlation between reliance on government and party support.  As the Times story makes clear, voters possess a series of often contradictory feelings and beliefs.  For those on the left who aspire for an electorate that will vote strictly along economic lines, this data is bound to frustrate. 

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Visualizing Polarization in Congress

I've written a bit about polarization in Congress.  Every semester, as I teach my students about the nature of partisanship, I try to give them a visual sense of how the membership has changed over time.  Most often, I rely upon the work of Keith Poole, who has pioneered the study of congressional partisanship by creating a methodology that allows for the comparison of the membership over time.  DW-NOMINATE scores give individual members a place along a liberal / conservative continuum based upon their voting behavior.  By comparing individual members with their partisan colleagues, one is able to gauge each party's internal cohesion.  By comparing individuals with members of the opposite party, one can see how much polarization exists between Republicans and Democrats.

When one takes this data across all Congresses, one gets the amazing short video above.  As one plays through the 112 Congresses that we've had, one sees how polarized the current era has become.  Both the Democrats and Republicans have become more internally cohesive and more distant from each other.  Fewer and fewer members find themselves crossing party lines, making the passage of legislation that is broadly accepted across the ideological spectrum more difficult.

Check out Poole's site for more visualization of this dynamic.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Seeking Single Women

I am working my way through Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin's "The Path To 270" and wanted to do a quick post on a fascinating bit of data.  Teixeira, co-author of "The Emerging Democratic Majority," is the primary influence on how I tend to approach election analysis given his emphasis on demographic change and political geography.

In "The Path To 270" Teixeira and Halpin delve into the major components of the coalition that elected President Obama with an eye to how these groups have increased or decreased in number and how they will approach the 2012 election.  Beyond their focus on minority voters and college educated whites (topics which I'll try to cover in future posts), I was struck by the data they present on single women.  To quote...

Unmarried women were also strong Obama supporters in 2008, favoring him by a 70-29 margin.  Unmarried women now make up almost half, 47 percent, of adult women, up from 38 percent in 1970.  Their current share of the voter pool--a quarter of eligible voters--is nearly the size of white evangelical protestants, the GOP's largest base group.  And since the growth rate of unmarried women is so fast (double that of married women) the proportion of unmarried women in the voting pool will continue to increase.

Teixeira and Halpin's analysis draws upon an earlier study of unmarried voters, "A New America," produced by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in 2007.  Further putting the numbers in context, they note "there are over 53 unmarried women of voting age, a number that dwarfs the percentage of seniors, people of color and even union members."  In comparing marital status with other variables, they find that "marital status is a powerful predictor of the vote within other voting blocks; unmarried women tend to vote like other unmarried women, regardless of other powerful demographic variables such as age, income, and education."

To connect these demographic trends with policy, Greenberg and his co-authors make a strong case that unmarried women, in particular, have been strong proponents of health care reform, reduced American military involvement overseas, and economic parity in the workplace.  Given what Obama has achieved in these areas, it will be interesting to see how his campaign messaging targets unmarried women.  While health care reform, specifically, has been a subject that Obama has been hesitant to discuss with broad audiences, I would bet that there will be a great deal of "microtargeting" directed at unmarried women.

If we were to extend our analysis to include unmarried men as well (who also favored Obama in 2008 but to a lesser degree than women), the numbers are even more staggering.  As this recent piece notes (and the visual at top shows) not only are single people becoming more numerous, but they tend to be concentrated in certain geographic areas.  Again, from Greenberg...

From 1960 to 2006, the percentage of the voting age population that was unmarried grew from 27 to 45 percent.  Between the 2002 and 2006 elections, the growth rate of unmarried Americans was double that of married Americans.  If this trend continues, the unmarried will be a majority of the population within 15 years.

So, moving forward it will be worth paying attention to this dimension of the voting public.  While there seems to be little discussion of how marital status affects policy beliefs and voting preferences--at least in more mainstream venues--the data on single Americans is pretty compelling, especially as their numbers increase so dramatically.  In this regard, it would seem as if the recent economic downturn would have been felt particularly hard by single Americans.  A married couple is better able to absorb a loss or decline in income than a single individual.  Thus, how these folks perceive the past four years--and assign responsibility for the downturn--will be crucial to both parties in November.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

A Short Take on Florida, Including Ominous Turnout Numbers

Mitt Romney's victory yesterday in Florida is obviously a shot in the arm to his campaign, especially after the shock of South Carolina.  Above, I've posted a map of the primary results, courtesy of Dave Leip's U.S. Election Atlas.  The counties highlighted in Green were won by Romney; Blue were Gingrich victories.  To make some sense of the map, I'd refer back to a post I wrote in the weeks leading up to the 2008 election.

Florida's political geography is extremely fascinating.  The northern part of the state, including the panhandle, more closely resembles the neighboring states of Georgia and Alabama than it does the rest of the state.  More rural and with a large military presence, these counties have a stronger "Deep South" flavor--more Evangelicals and social conservatives.  Though less populous than other regions in the state, it favored Gingrich.  Exit polling from yesterday's vote confirms Gingrich's (and Santorum's) appeal to these voters and serves to confirm that Romney has still not sold this important GOP bloc on his candidacy.

On the turnout front, some more troubling news for the GOP.  As I wrote recently, turnout in New Hampshire, while up compared to 2008, did not increase at the rate we might expect for a party energized and positioned to recapture the White House.  I did some quick calculations on the most recent contests.  South Carolina saw an impressive 36% increase in Republican primary turnout over 2008 (603,856 votes vs. 445,677).  In Florida, however--a much more important state in November--turnout was actually down 14% compared to four years ago (1,669,585 votes vs. 1,949,498).

Here's some Florida turnout analysis (including an interesting graph of county data) from Michael McDonald, one of the foremost scholars of voter participation.