Friday, November 07, 2008

Grokking the Election Results

I am somewhat of a political junkie and I stayed up way too late Tuesday and into Wednesday morning. What really kept me up was not the speeches, which were great but the New York Times online. The NYTimes has a great interative map feature where you can look not only state by state, but also county by county as to which candidate Obama or McCain won. You can also see whether or not the county became more or less Democratic or Republican and zoom out to get a sense of what happened nationwide.

The map is at

For instance, here is the Kansas results for 2008. Not very interesting since Kansas is typically a red state. The two main blue counties were Douglas home to the University of Kansas (and yours truly) and Wyanodotte County where Kansas City Kansas is. The third county that Obama carried-Crawford is very rural but home to Pittsburgh State University.

But you can get a sense of what happened this election compared to 2004 when you look at the change in voting pattern between 2004-2008.

The blue regions on this map are counties that have gone more Democratic in 2008 compared to 2004. So even in many heavily Repubican regions of the state Democrats improved their margins compared to 2004. This suggests either that Obama's strategy of running a nationwide campaign was over all what he needed to win or that the country's economic condition really turned people off to the Republicans. By the way the Republican margin statewide was 56% 41% for the Republicans this year compared to 62-46 in 2004.

Let's step back and look at the whole nation in terms of county results.

Here blue represents those counties that went Democratic, red those counties that went Republican. Clearly Obama and the Democrats did really well in the traditional urban areas. In fact Obama and the Democrats swept New England so completely that there are no Republicans in the House any where in the whole New England region. That is quite a change from the days when New England was a center for the moderate wing of the Republican party.

Looking at the change map, we see a very interesting pattern:

The deeper the blue the more Democratic the county became since 2004. Notice that country as a whole became more Democratic except for parts of the South East- loosely within what we might call Appalachia. These are probably the least racially diverse areas in the country. At least when I was in Georgia, some some of these counties had no or few non-white families.

But you can say the same for lots of other areas in the country as well...for instance Idaho and Utah, and yet those areas also tended to go more Democratic.

I know some commentators have argued that there are long term demographic trends coming into play; perhaps the populations in these areas are older- the young people that Obama tended to attract may have left these areas. But younger people have also left Western Kansas as well so I don't think that can be the whole explanation for what I call the Appalachian effect.

Now some commentators (often the same ones talking about demograpics) are talking about the coming dominance of the Democratic party. I say not so fast. First of all we have been through this before. For example, the 1964 election was the first election that I engaged in even though I was 13. Since my parents were Republican I supported Goldwater. And after he got trounced by Johnson, the press was full of articles writing the Republican Party off.

Also look at this county by county map from 2000:

It is really only different from the 2008 map in small details. The conclusion I draw is that our country is still deeply divided politically. That should give both parties pause.

Also if you look at the change map between 2008 the 1992 election when Bill Clinton won, the county map suggests that most counties have become more Republican than they were in in 1992! Granted this may be to an aging and less racially diverse population in these counties. The Democrats are really going to have to deliver in order to win over the country as a whole. Do they really want to leave 9/10ths of the land area in this country red?

The Republicans are going to have to figure out how to recast their message and maybe go through some realignment to gain back lost ground in the middle of the political spectrum. Does it make sense for them to play to their base and ignore the middle? Do they really want the country to be so divided geographically? Granted, rural states do have proportionally more clout than urban states and that allowed the election of President Bush, but unless they come to the middle they will be struck with an ever shrinking base as demographic trends toward racial and ethnic diversity become even more pronounced.

The Republicans will have do some soul searching and figure out how to get their message to the middle. Barry Goldwater said something to the effect that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and I think some conservatives today interpret liberty in a very odd sense way out of whack with what Goldwater really meant. Extremism after all does not win elections in this country whether from the left or the right.
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