The GOP and the South

Throughout the year polling from Research 2000 has consistently shown that Republican support on the generic congressional ballot question is largely limited to the South -- a finding that if borne out on election day would seriously inhibit the GOP's ability to make serious gains in next year's midterm elections (let alone retake Congress). Last week, however, McClatchy released its own numbers to the contrary, prompting me to wonder aloud if we might be able to see more data to get a sense of whether or not the GOP will be able to play outside of the South in 2010. The Economist (.pdf) has released its own numbers in the time since, too, and although the fact that their survey polled respondents via the internet (which leaves my inherently skeptical), it's nevertheless worth adding their data to the mix.

If the 2010 elections for U.S. Congress were being held today, who would you vote for in the district where you live? (leaners included)


As you can see, the polling from The Economist does show the GOP to be stronger in the South than it is elsewhere -- though not in a statistically significant way (remember that the margin of error for subgroups is much larger than the margin of error for the survey as a whole). That said, these numbers look more like those from McClatchy showing that the Republicans, while not overly popular across the country, nevertheless are earning similar support in all regions aside from the Northeast, where they have been wiped out in recent years. To put it another way, we have a bit more evidence that the Republicans' electoral support in 2010 may not in fact be limited to the South.

I'd still like to see more data on this, and hope that pollsters continue to release regional breakdowns of their generic congressional ballot questions, which although not always statistically reliable in their own right would when combined provide a clearer picture of where the battlegrounds will come in 2010. But for now I'm beginning to think it not wise for the Democrats to become overly comfortable under the belief that GOP support is by and large limited to the South.

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Is the GOP's Strength Limited to the South?

Research 2000, polling for Daily Kos, answers in the affirmative, finding that while the Democrats lead overall on the generic congressional ballot -- which the aggregate of all polling agrees with -- the Republicans lead by a wide margin (49 percent to 20 percent) in the South.

Ipsos released its own polling yesterday, sponsored by McClatchy newspapers, which also showed the Democrats holding a lead on the national ballot (48 percent to 41 percent overall). Wondering whether the trend picked up in Research 2000 polling held firm across other surveys, I reached out to Ipsos to see if I could get a regional breakdown of their 2010 results. They obliged (and thanks to Ipsos for doing so):

First things first, it's important to note that the margin of error for the unweighted subsamples is higher than it is for the poll overall. Due to the size of these groups, the margin of error ranges from plus or minus 5 percentage points to plus or minus 7 percentage points.

That said, it's interesting to note that Ipsos does not find the same regional discrepancies on the 2010 ballot question as does Research 2000. In fact, where Research 2000 found a wide lead for the Republicans in the South, Ipsos actually sees a Democratic lead. (Go figure.)

Is one right and the other wrong? I don't think this is exactly the right question, at least not now, one year out from election day. What I do think, though, is that the differences between these results compel further analysis over the coming months, analysis that can only be undertaken if pollsters (a) are surveying sufficient numbers of people so that margins of error are not too large, and (b) are releasing regional breakdowns of their generic congressional ballot questions so that even if margins of error for smaller subgroups are larger, in the aggregate across polls they can nevertheless inform us about the regional coalitions that will help decide the make up of the next Congress.

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Analyzing Swing States: Florida, Part 2

This is part two of a series on the political structure of the swing state Florida. Part three can be found here.


Florida can be considered as three regions distinct in culture, economics, and voting patterns. Northern Florida is deep red; the I-4 corridor is light red; and the Miami metropolis is moderately blue.

Until recently, Florida was far different from what it looks like today. It was the quintessential Southern state, and it was fairly empty in term of people. Florida's voting record reflected its southern roots. Until Eisenhower won it twice, Florida was part of the Solid South. In 1964, LBJ ran well behind his national average, due to his support for civil rights. The next election, George Wallace took 29% of the vote. Then in 1976, Jimmy Carter resurrected the Solid South for the last time, winning Florida by 5%. That was also the last time a Democrat ran above the national average in Florida.

Northern Florida and the Panhandle

Florida still is a Southern state to some extent. This is especially true in northern Florida and the panhandle, which borders Alabama and Georgia. Northern Florida is very conservative; it is not uncommon to see a Republican taking 70% or more of the vote in a number of counties there, as the picture below the flip indicates.

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More on the Regional Party that is the GOP

I have written a few times, both before the election and since, about the relegation of the Republican Party to regional status -- either just in the South, or in the South plus the Farm Belt. Ron Brownstein tackles the subject, as well, in the latest issue of National Journal in a very interesting read:

That gamble [by Congressional Republicans to oppose the bailout of the auto industry] shows how the party's loss of regional and ideological equilibrium can reinforce itself. Because Republicans from swing and Democratic-leaning states now constitute such a distinct minority in the party caucus, they lack the numbers to prevent it from adopting positions unpopular with their voters. The caucus majority can impose a direction that solidifies the party where it is already strong but further endangers the minority.

This isn't the first time a party has fallen into this debilitating cycle. The classic example came after 1854 when Congress approved the Kansas-Nebraska Act, effectively repealing the Missouri Compromise that had limited slavery's spread in the territories. Until then, congressional Democrats were divided closely between Northern and Southern members. But the backlash against the Kansas-Nebraska Act destabilized that balance by provoking severe losses for Northern Democrats; as Southerners gained the advantage in the Democratic caucus, they repeatedly identified the party with pro-slavery policies that further undercut Northern Democrats already struggling against the emerging Republican Party. As the late David M. Potter recounted in his magisterial history of the 1850s, The Impending Crisis, the House's Northern Democrats didn't entirely recover until the New Deal.

Brownstein writes that this trend was also seen from the late-1960s through the early-1990s within the Democratic Party as the increasingly large contingent of Northerners, and thus the the increasingly liberal nature of Congressional Democrats, made it more difficult for the Democrats to attract the votes of Southern conservative voters, who had previously supported the Democratic Party. Thus the problem with a regional minority coming to dominate a party's caucus is that the party can become less responsive to the desires and needs of the rest of the country, and as a result less enticing to voters across the country. With regards to the Republicans' current conundrum, the extreme focus on Southern conservatism makes is significantly more difficult to win over moderate voters around the country -- a trend already visible in Barack Obama's 60 percent to 39 percent victory among moderate voters, a trend that will very possibly continue into the future as the GOP turns even more Southward in its focus.

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A Regional Party

Looking at both the electoral college map and the exit polling, one of the most interesting developments from yesterday was the confirmation of the Republican Party as a regional party. Yes, the South has served as the base of the GOP's coalition for at least 40 years, so it comes as little surprise that John McCain by and large carried the region. However, what does stand out was how relatively poorly McCain fared elsewhere.

The South accounted for 111 of the 174 electoral votes earned by the McCain-Palin campaign (assuming North Carolina stays blue, Missouri stays red and Nebraska 2 votes like the rest of the state). This means that nearly two of every three electoral votes for the Republicans came from the South.

Even more problematic for the GOP, however, is the fact that McCain carried only the South. I wrote about this predicament well before the election, noting that it would be extremely difficult for McCain to rack up 270 electoral votes winning only in the South but not in the other regions of the country. Indeed, while George W. Bush carried the Midwest in addition to the South in 2004, only narrowly losing the West by a single point, McCain won only the South, with Barack Obama taking 54 percent of vote in the Midwest, 57 percent of the vote in the West, and 59 percent of the Northeast.

Compounding this problem for the GOP is the fact that the party's membership in Congress will be relatively more Southern than it was before, with losses racking up around the country. With Chris Shays going down, for instance, there are no longer any Republican Congressmen representing New England. The new even more Southern tinge to the party could serve to only reinforce the regional focus of the party as members outside of the region wield less and less power and the party apparatus in the remainder of the country atrophies.

Even outside of these relative shifts within Congress, there will an inclination -- and we're already seeing it -- for the Republican Party to move to the right. While I think this would be a remarkably poor decision for the GOP, even more strongly reinforcing the regionalization of the party, the concern troll in me says, fine, go ahead and further make yourselves unelectable in the more than two-thirds of the country that is not the South. But if the Republican Party wants to see its electoral fortunes improve in the coming years, they might want to think of a way to replicate the successes of Howard Dean and the DNC in making the Democratic Party a truly national party -- even if that means welcoming those that don't agree with the party base on each and every issue.


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