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.

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