Why Wisconsin Votes As It Does

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Wisconsin, the badger state, constitutes a perennial battleground state. Like many of its Midwestern neighbors, the state leans Democratic but remains readily willing to vote Republican. While voting for Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama by double-digit margins, the state also came within one percent – twice – of voting for Republican candidate George W. Bush.

These voting patterns have quite interesting historical roots. Indeed, they stretch back for more than a century.

To examine these roots, let’s first take a look at a map of German immigration patterns in 1890:

Map of German Immigrants is Wisconsin, 1890

This map, derived from the New York Times, graphs the percentage of German-born immigrants in each Wisconsin county from the 1890 census. There is a striking correlation between this map and Wisconsin in the 2004 presidential election:

Map of Wisconsin, 2004 Presidential Election

In that election, Senator John Kerry clung to Wisconsin by a razor-thin 0.4% margin, winning 49.7% of the vote to Mr. Bush’s 49.3%. As this map indicates, counties heavily settled by Germans form the Republican voting base which Mr. Bush relied upon. This pattern persists even more than a century after the height of German immigration.

It is also still quite powerful. Out of the twelve counties with greater than 20% German-born immigrants in 1890, only one (Milwaukee) voted for Mr. Kerry.

There are exceptions, of course – and German settlement patterns do not form the entire picture of Wisconsin’s electoral demography. Milwaukee, for instance, gave 61.7% of its vote to the Massachusetts senator, despite being composed of 38.9% German immigrants in 1890. This is due to its relatively high black population today and corresponding white flight, which depleted the city of its German-American population. Scandinavian settlement patterns in non-German rural Wisconsin, to use another example, account for their Democratic vote today (interestingly, rural Wisconsin constitutes one of the last Democratic bastions in rural America).

Nevertheless, the overall pattern is still quite striking. A more detailed look at Wisconsin in 2004 only strengthens the link:

Detailed Map of Wisconsin, 2004 Presidential Election

As is evident, the correlation between German immigration and Wisconsin’s electoral geography finds a resemblance in both degree and strength. The most Republican-voting regions, located along the southeastern portion of the state, also counted themselves highest in German immigrants in 1890.

Finally, this type of demographic analysis can be used to explain why states vote as they do in far more than just Wisconsin. From Democratic strongholds in former cotton-growing areas of the Deep South to South Dakota’s Native-American and Democratic-voting reservations, history offers a fascinating insight into contemporary politics.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Comparing Barack Obama, John Kerry, and Mike Dukakis

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

In the aftermath of the 2008 presidential election, the New York Times famously posted a map depicting county-by-county changes from the 2004 election. A different version of this map is below:

Map of 2008 presidential election county-by-county changes

What is remarkable about this map is the evenness of the Democratic movement – a 9.72% shift to them from 2004. With the exception of a diagonal patch of Appalachia, President Barack Obama improved throughout the country. It did not matter if a county was located in Utah or California, whether it belonged to a dense city or a thinly populated farm, or whether it was poor or rich – almost every county still voted more Democratic than it did in 2004.

If one moves to a statewide basis, the shift is still fairly uniform:

Map of state shifts from 2004 to 2008

Once again, Mr. Obama does well everywhere except for Appalachia. His improvement, however, is noticeably less in the traditionally Democratic Northeast. The South is strangely divided between the friendly Atlantic coast and the hostile inland states (with the exception of Texas). There is also a fairly apparent split between east and west: in the latter, Obama’s improvements are almost uniformly strong. The movement east is far more variable.

Compared to the county-by-county map, this map lends itself more easily to analysis. For instance, the color of several states can be explained through local factors. Clinton-loving Arkansas appears dark red, while Senator John McCain’s home state Arizona stands out amidst its dark blue neighbors. Obama’s home states Hawaii and Illinois also appear dark blue, but Governor Sarah Palin’s Alaska stays more Republican. Massachusetts, home state of Senator John Kerry, does not shift Democratic by much; Indiana, where Obama’s campaign led a massive turn-out effort, shifts massively.

In playing around with these maps I also took a look at the 1988 presidential election. In that election, Democratic candidate Mike Dukakis lost by 7.73% to Vice President George W. Bush. Because Mr. Obama won by 7.26%, the nation voted 14.99% more Democratic than in 1988. Here is Obama’s performance compared to that of Mr. Dukakis:

Map of state shifts from 1988 to 2008

What this map reveals is far less uniformity. Compared to the previous ones, this is much more a depiction of structural political changes.

Perhaps most obviously, much of South Central America swings against Obama, illustrating the decades-long Republican shift of this region. Dukakis still was able to win a number of white Democratic counties in places like Louisiana and Oklahoma. Today those places have largely abandoned the party.

There are other patterns. A number of Plains states, such as Kansas and the Dakotas, have very little or no movement to Obama. He actually does worse in Iowa. This reflects a relatively strong Dukakis performance in rural America, which was in the midst of an agricultural crisis in 1988.

Most interestingly, one can see the 2008 electoral map in the map; the dark blue states almost all voted Democratic in 2008. Democratic-voting states today tended to shift most to Obama; Republican-voting states today tended to move less. Only two states that voted for Obama haven’t shifted strongly Democratic since 1988: Iowa and Minnesota. Out of all the states John McCain won, on the other hand, only Arizona, Georgia, and South Carolina shifted strongly Democratic – and Democrats came quite close in Georgia. A similar trend has been observed in previous posts.

I am not certain if this pattern suggests electoral polarization: Democrats improve greatly in a number of 1988 Republican-leaning states (such as New Jersey or North Carolina), and Republicans do the opposite in places like West Virginia or Iowa. Instead, it appears to make sense for a candidate to win a state he or she does best in. Thus, this pattern seems to illustrate the electoral coalition Democrats have carved since 1988.

The farther one looks back, it seems, the more a map reveals.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Republican Merrymaking After 2004

Four six years ago the Republican Party ruled American politics. A Republican president had just been re-elected, cementing two decades of Republican dominance (apart from the freak election of one President Bill Clinton). It held solid majorities in the House and Senate. Conservatives controlled the Supreme Court, and most states were governed by Republicans.

Naturally, Republicans were celebrating this state of affairs. A PBS set of interviews provides a very interesting look into Washington’s conventional wisdom following President George W. Bush’s 2004 triumph. Titled “How Secure Is Republican Dominance?” it constitutes an almost alien contrast to today’s narrative of Democratic dominance.

Some of these differences can be quite amusing. Take, for instance, the words of Republican pundit Grover Norquist:

Do you believe that the re-election of this president is a kind of proof-positive of the Republican hegemony/plurality, whatever you want to call it, for the next couple of election cycles?

The president’s re-election in 2004 was a confirming election for 2002 and 2000. But we’ve now had five, six election cycles with Republicans controlling the House and the Senate and now two presidential elections. When you look at what redistricting does, the Republicans will hold the House until 2012. When you look at the 30 red states and the 20 blue states, the Republicans will hold the Senate indefinitely unless there’s some radical change in the nature of the two parties. The party that carries all those lovely square states out west will dominate the Senate.

So the Republicans have the House until at least 2012, but probably another decade. They have the Senate indefinitely, and the question is — they’ll win and lose presidencies just as the Democrats when they were the dominant party would sometimes mess up and lose the presidency in ’52 and ’68.

In addition to predicting never-ending Republican control of Congress (as well as providing eminently quotable material six years later), Mr. Norquist contributes some thoughts on the coming 2008 presidential election. The Republican candidate, of course, is favored:

I think it would be difficult to see a Democrat winning in 2008 because of the demographic trends, because of some of the successes that you can see the Republicans will have in the next four years to weaken the trial lawyers and strengthen the constituencies. The Democratic Party needs to restructure itself as something other than the trial lawyer, labor union, government worker, aggressively secular party. That isn’t a majority strategy.

Not everybody is as optimistic as Mr. Norquist, however. A number of pundits note Mr. Bush’s close margin. Reporter Dan Balz of the Washington Post warns Republicans of the dangers of overreaching. He argues that:

The danger for the Republicans is the same danger that any winning party has — and we’ve seen it repeatedly over the last two decades — which is to over-interpret any election as a mandate for something, and to presume that because they won a certain victory that they now have the right to essentially do what they want to do…And if you do things that go too far in one direction, you do that at your peril. So if the Republicans overreach, as the Gingrich Republicans did in the Congress in 1995 and 1996, there could be a backlash against the Republicans that would first be felt, I would guess, in some of the off-year elections in 2006, and certainly could be felt in the 2008 presidential election.

These foresightful words are echoed by Matthew Dowd, the chief campaign strategist of the Mr. Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign (who later became a hostile critic of the president). He too worries about the future:

So, a tight election that we won closely and that we hold the Senate, we hold the Congress, and we hold the presidency, is a good place to be. But you don’t hold them by huge amounts. And if your policies go awry and you have the wrong candidates, you could easily lose those elections.

Nevertheless, Mr. Dowd takes heart in the current weakness of the opposition Democratic Party. Republicans are the party of ideas; Democrats are the party of “No.” If they don’t stand for anything, Democrats will have a difficult time winning elections:

I think a bigger part of their difficulty is they have no organizing principle right now. And that is, they have no person to organize around. They haven’t had this since Clinton left the presidency. Their entire organizing principle for the last four years has been anti, meaning it’s all been against the president. It hasn’t been for somebody. It hasn’t been: “We love this person. This person is the leader of the Democratic Party. We care about him.” It was all: “We don’t like Bush. Let’s get him out of office.” And they don’t have a set of policies that people, average voters in their minds say, “This is what the Democrats stand for. This is what they stand for in foreign policy. This is what they stand for in the war on terror. This is what they stand for on the changing economy.”

As amusing as these quotes stand four six years later, they also serve as a warning to the current Democratic Party. Today’s situation, in fact, is almost the polar opposite of that a mere four six years ago. Today it is Democrats, not Republicans, who rule American politics. In the House and Senate, the party holds greater majorities than Republicans ever did in their heyday. They control the presidency; the Democratic candidate won the 2008 presidential election by an electoral landslide. In state legislatures and governorships around the country the Democratic Party is dominant. Pundits throughout Washington are predicting a dire future for Republicans – just as they did six years ago for Democrats.

Take demographics, for instance. In 2004 demographic changes were supposedly dooming the Democratic Party: Bush had won 97 out of 100 of America’s fastest growing counties (the same places where Obama would make some of his greatest gains), and Republican-trending Hispanics were growing more and more sizable. Nowadays the narrative is the complete opposite: Democratic strength among young voters and growing minorities such as Hispanics (again!) will supposedly turn the Republican Party into a permanent minority.

Yet the tides of public opinion can turn around just as quickly as they did after 2004. If one replaced “Republican”  with “Democrat,” many of the statements quoted here would fit right in today’s conventional wisdom of Democratic strength.  In 2016 that conventional wisdom might look just as stupid as Mr. Norquist’s words do today.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/



Waking the Giant: Making the Latino Vote Count in 2008

Cross-posted at Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters

Weekly Voting Rights News Update

By Erin Ferns and Nathan Henderson-James

Massive voter registration drives, recent passionate immigration debates, and the contested presidential primaries are finally bringing one of the nation's fastest growing populations into the democratic process, despite decades of low voter participation rates and recent voting rights attacks based on anti-immigrant rhetoric. Recognizing their rapidly increasing voting power - which is catching up with their "raw demographic power,"
particularly in the closely contested states of Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada - both presidential candidates are actively pursuing Latino voters. However, advocates caution a powerful lesson must be learned from voter suppression schemes executed in recent elections in order to ensure this former "sleeping giant" of electoral participation will have access to the polls in November, and most importantly, have their votes counted.

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John Kerry: 50,000 at Portland Rally

Reading about the impressive crowd size at the Portland Obama Rally caused me to reminisce about another awesome Presidential rally - John Kerry's Portland water front park rally in 2004.

Here are some of the awesome pictures:

The crowd size was estimated at 50,000.  Link

Some 50,000 people came out to hear John Kerry and special guests speak in Portland on a sweltering hot summer day. Your phototographer arrived before 10AM, and Kerry finished speaking a tad after 2PM. (I'm wearing a towel over my head - find the shot of me in here).

Along with Kerry, the rally included quick speeches by Oregon's Democratic representatives and leaders: Governor Ted Kulongoski, Senator Ron Wyden, and Representatives Darlene Hooley, David Wu, and Earl Blumenauer. Celebrity guests included actor Leonardo DiCaprio, and rock musicians Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora (who played two accoustic songs).

Finally, the Kerry busses arrived, and Kerry's step-son Chris Heinz spoke briefly first. Then Tereasa Heinz Kerry spoke for quite a few minutes. Jim Rassmann (whose live Kerry saved in Vietnam) also spoke briefly. Retired General Tony McPeak - a Republican critic of Bush's policies - was on stage but did not speak.

Kerry spoke last. He got a lively reception from a large crowd that had been waiting several hours in the heat.

Watching that rally, I was very confident that John Kerry would become our next President.  He and John Edwards were getting amazingly huge and enthusiastic crowds all over blue America.

I cried the day I watched John Kerry concede in Boston on TV.  It was incomprehensible to me why he would lose  --  he was getting huge and fantastic crowds all over the place compared to GWB.

I'm less naïve now.  Like Kristen Breitweiser, I have learned to understand that it is all about swing state electoral votes.  Big crowds in Oregon and Pennsylvania are fantastic but they won't guarantee us victory in November.  Both Obama and Clinton would beat McCain in Oregon according to the most recent head-to-head Oregon poll (Link),  but that would not guarantee us victory in the 15 critical swing states that include Ohio, Florida, Michigan, West Virginia.

Kristen's article Reality Bites: Swing-State Math is very helpful to me in understanding why John Kerry didn't win.  It's a must read.  


In '04, I traveled as a surrogate for the John Kerry campaign. I was sent to places like Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Florida. Quite the roadtrip.

In the beginning, I wondered why I kept getting sent to these random "swing states." Iowa (a state in 2004 with, yes folks, only one Starbucks!!) Why did Iowa matter? I was a political novice. So dumb. So naïve.

To me, it seemed so terribly undemocratic that a handful of states could determine who became our president. Likewise, It never truly clicked in my head when my New Yorker friends would wryly state that their vote didn't count. Of course their vote counted. Every vote counts. This is America, right?

And then on Election Day '04, I learned the hard way why those swing states mattered so much. John Kerry lost Ohio and Florida and therefore lost the election to George Bush. Four more grueling years of Republican rule. My impression on that sad day? 1460 days to go.


So with all this talk of delegates and superdelegates counting and not counting, why has nobody (at least to my knowledge) looked at how either Clinton or Obama performs against McCain in the crucial 15 swing states? Frankly speaking, isn't that really all that matters?

Like Kristen, I want a nominee that can win the GE -- the one that has a better odds at winning the swing states.  In my opinion, that candidate is Hillary Clinton.

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