The Great Realignment: The 1928 Presidential Election, Part 1

This is the first part of two posts analyzing in detail the 1928 presidential election.

The second post can be found here.

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

The Context

In a previous post, part of a series analyzing the Democratic Party during the 1920s, I spoke of how the 1928 presidential election constituted a realigning election.

The 1928 presidential election marked the beginning of a great shift in American politics. It was when the Democratic Party started changing from a minority and fundamentally conservative organization into the party that would nominate Senator Barack Obama for president.

In 1928, the Democratic Party nominated Governor Al Smith of New York. Mr. Smith was nominated as a Catholic Irish-American New Yorker who directly represented Democratic-voting white ethnics. Mr. Smith’s Catholicism, however, constituted an affront to Democratic-voting white Southerners, who at the time were the most important part of the party’s base.

The 1928 presidential election thus saw a mass movement of white Southerners away from the Democrats, corresponding with a mass movement of white ethnics towards the Democrats. This was the beginning of the great realignment of the South to the Republican Party and the Northeast to the Democratic Party.

Several maps illustrate this point succinctly. Here is the 1924 presidential election:

Link to Map of the 1924 Presidential Election

Here is the 1928 presidential election:

Link to Map of the 1928 Presidential Election

As one can tell, there is quite a bit of change from the one presidential election to the next. Democratic strength in the Solid South weakens considerably, while the Republican Midwest and Northeast become much less red.

However, it is somewhat difficult to go further into detail just by comparing the two maps. One can sense that a lot is changing, and that certain regions of the country are moving in diametrically opposed directions. But it is all rather vague.

I therefore decided, out of curiosity, to create an actual map of the shift from 1924 to 1928. Here it is:

Link to Map of Shift From 1924 to 1928 Presidential Election

This is quite the interesting map. One can see the outlines of the current Democratic electoral map here. In some cases the correlation is quite tight. For instance, Indiana is the only state in the Midwest to vote more Republican in 1928 – and what do you know, today Indiana votes the most Republican out of all the states in that region.

In general the relationship is very strong in the eastern half of the country. The only “wrong” states are today’s Democratic strongholds of Maryland and Delaware. Also, the degree of shift does not perfectly correlate to Republican strength in some of the Southern states. But these are small details; in the East, states that moved Democratic in 1928 vote Democratic today, while states that moved Republican in 1928 vote Republican today.

West of Minnesota, however, the relationship breaks down. In more than a third of the states in the West, the way they shifted in 1928 is opposite of how they vote today. The most obvious outlier is Utah, today a rock-solid Republican stronghold that moved sharply Democratic in 1928.

There are two other very interesting and strange things that are happening in this map. They will be the subject of the next post.

--Inoljt

 

The Great Realignment: The 1928 Presidential Election, Part 1

This is the first part of two posts analyzing in detail the 1928 presidential election.

The second post can be found here.

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

The Context

In a previous post, part of a series analyzing the Democratic Party during the 1920s, I spoke of how the 1928 presidential election constituted a realigning election.

The 1928 presidential election marked the beginning of a great shift in American politics. It was when the Democratic Party started changing from a minority and fundamentally conservative organization into the party that would nominate Senator Barack Obama for president.

In 1928, the Democratic Party nominated Governor Al Smith of New York. Mr. Smith was nominated as a Catholic Irish-American New Yorker who directly represented Democratic-voting white ethnics. Mr. Smith’s Catholicism, however, constituted an affront to Democratic-voting white Southerners, who at the time were the most important part of the party’s base.

The 1928 presidential election thus saw a mass movement of white Southerners away from the Democrats, corresponding with a mass movement of white ethnics towards the Democrats. This was the beginning of the great realignment of the South to the Republican Party and the Northeast to the Democratic Party.

Several maps illustrate this point succinctly. Here is the 1924 presidential election:

Link to Map of the 1924 Presidential Election

Here is the 1928 presidential election:

Link to Map of the 1928 Presidential Election

As one can tell, there is quite a bit of change from the one presidential election to the next. Democratic strength in the Solid South weakens considerably, while the Republican Midwest and Northeast become much less red.

However, it is somewhat difficult to go further into detail just by comparing the two maps. One can sense that a lot is changing, and that certain regions of the country are moving in diametrically opposed directions. But it is all rather vague.

I therefore decided, out of curiosity, to create an actual map of the shift from 1924 to 1928. Here it is:

Link to Map of Shift From 1924 to 1928 Presidential Election

This is quite the interesting map. One can see the outlines of the current Democratic electoral map here. In some cases the correlation is quite tight. For instance, Indiana is the only state in the Midwest to vote more Republican in 1928 – and what do you know, today Indiana votes the most Republican out of all the states in that region.

In general the relationship is very strong in the eastern half of the country. The only “wrong” states are today’s Democratic strongholds of Maryland and Delaware. Also, the degree of shift does not perfectly correlate to Republican strength in some of the Southern states. But these are small details; in the East, states that moved Democratic in 1928 vote Democratic today, while states that moved Republican in 1928 vote Republican today.

West of Minnesota, however, the relationship breaks down. In more than a third of the states in the West, the way they shifted in 1928 is opposite of how they vote today. The most obvious outlier is Utah, today a rock-solid Republican stronghold that moved sharply Democratic in 1928.

There are two other very interesting and strange things that are happening in this map. They will be the subject of the next post.

--Inoljt

 

Krauthammer: 2008 A Historical Anomaly

Writing in the Investor's Business Daily, conservative political pundit Charles Krauthammer finds that "the most important effect of Tuesday's elections is historical." According to Krauthammer, the results from these but two state elections in New Jersey and Virginia demolish "the great realignment myth of 2008."

In the aftermath of last year's Obama sweep, we heard endlessly about its fundamental, revolutionary, transformational nature. How it was ushering in an FDR-like realignment for the 21st century in which new demographics -- most prominently, rising minorities and the young -- would bury the GOP far into the future.

One book proclaimed "The Death of Conservativism," while the more modest merely predicted the terminal decline of the Republican Party into a regional party of the Deep South or a rump party of marginalized angry white men.

This was all ridiculous from the beginning. 2008 was a historical anomaly. A uniquely charismatic candidate was running at a time of deep war weariness, with an intensely unpopular Republican president, against a politically incompetent opponent, amid the greatest financial collapse since the Great Depression.

And still he won by only seven points.

Exactly a year later comes the empirical validation of that skepticism. Virginia -- presumed harbinger of the new realignment, having gone Democratic in '08 for the first time in 44 years -- went red again. With a vengeance.

Barack Obama had carried it by six points. The Republican gubernatorial candidate won by 17 -- a 23-point swing. New Jersey went from plus 15 Democratic in 2008 to minus-4 in 2009. A 19-point swing.

What happened? The vaunted Obama realignment vanished. In 2009 in Virginia, the black vote was down by 20%; the under-30 vote by 50%. And as for independents, the ultimate prize of any realignment, they bolted. In both Virginia and New Jersey they'd gone narrowly for Obama in '08. This year they went Republican by a staggering 33 points in Virginia and by an equally shocking 30 points in New Jersey.

The Obama coattails of 2008 are gone. The expansion of the electorate, the excitement of the young, came in uniquely propitious Democratic circumstances and amid unparalleled enthusiasm for electing the first African-American president.

November '08 was one-shot, one-time, never to be replicated. Nor was November '09 a realignment. It was a return to the norm -- and definitive confirmation that 2008 was one of the great flukes in American political history.

I wouldn't judge national trends by just two governors races in an off-year election. To begin with, Governor Corzine, deeply unpopular in the Summer, nearly eked out a win. And let's not forget that the GOP has lost four straight special Congressional elections, two of them in districts that lean Republican and one of them that had been in GOP hands since Reconstruction. There are now but two Republican members of the House east of the Hudson. Nor would I take solace if I were a Republican from this election because while the conservative base was energized while the Democratic one stayed home. In heavily Democratic Hudson County, only 39% of registered Democrats bothered to vote.

There's more...

The young generation may be lost to Republicans

Looking at this graph of party identification by age in the U.S., I was not surprised to find 40-year-olds like me in the best cohort for Republicans. My peers vaguely remember the oil shocks and high inflation of the 1970s, and then came of age during Ronald Reagan's "morning in America." In those days, many young people proudly identified with the Republican Party. As they grew older, lots of them continued to vote that way.

Americans who were growing up during the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are much more likely to call themselves Democrats or independents than Republicans. They also voted Democratic by large margins in the 2006 and 2008 general elections. If Republicans can't figure out a way to compete with this group of voters, Democrats will have a built-in advantage for decades.

Fixing this problem won't be easy for the GOP and may even be impossible, for reasons I discuss after the jump.

There's more...

The Recession Affecting Internal Migration Patterns

The Census Bureau released data tonight that shows fewer Americans are migrating to Sun Belt hot spots in Nevada, Arizona and Florida and instead are staying put constrained by economic realities. From Yahoo Finance:

Census data released Thursday highlight a U.S. population somewhat locked in place by the severe housing downturn and economic recession, even before the impact of rippling job layoffs after last September's financial meltdown.

The population figures as of July 2008 show growth slowdowns in once-booming metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tampa, due mostly to a rapid clip of mortgage foreclosures as well as frozen lines of credit that made it harder for out-of-staters to move in.

As a result, rust-belt metro areas such as Buffalo, N.Y., Pittsburgh and Cleveland stanched some population losses, and Boston, Los Angeles and New York saw gains. Well-to-do exurbs around Washington D.C. saw growth slowdowns as people weary of costly commutes moved closer to federal jobs in the nation's capital.

"It's the bursting of a 'migration bubble,'" said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution think tank who analyzed the numbers. "Places that popped up in migration growth in the superheated housing markets earlier in the decade are now just as quickly losing their steam."

"It's the constraint of not being able to buy or sell a home that is keeping people from moving long distances," he said.

With a national census due next year that will re-apportion the House, redraw congressional districts, and reset the Electoral College, there is likely an impact on the nation's political landscape. Oddly enough though perhaps not surprising given the severity of the foreclosure crisis, California has had the biggest net loss from people moving to other states in the past year. The population declines in its interior regions such as the Inland Empire might put it at risk of losing a House seat. Los Angeles has had major gains, but partly at the expense of Riverside, a sprawling exurb to the east. San Francisco and the Bay Area also has remained population stable. So while California's Electoral College prowess may be peaking, internally the demographics favor the Democrats.

There's more...

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