Previewing Senate Elections: New York

This is the second part of a series of posts analyzing competitive Senate elections in blue states. The third part 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.)

New York

Out of the three heavily Democratic states being analyzed, Republicans probably have the least chance of winning New York. A serious Republican challenger to Senator Kristen Gillibrand has yet to emerge. Moreover, Ms. Gillibrand has proven an adept politician willing to campaign hard.

Nevertheless, in a bad national environment with low name recognition, victory for Democrats is not assured. Under the right circumstances (perhaps a Gillibrand scandal), Republicans may be able to pull off a shocker.

Map of New York, 2008 Presidential Election

Like Illinois, New York can be divided into three sections: upstate, the suburbs downstate, and New York City. A New York Republican must win upstate and the suburbs by substantial margins – and perform extremely well in New York City.

Upstate New York

Like Illinois, the first step on the Republican road to victory lies with here. A Republican candidate must win strong margins upstate; a strong performance here is embedded with a double-digit loss.

Unfortunately for Republicans, upstate New York and downstate Illinois are not the same. Unlike Illinois, upstate New York is home to four major cities: Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, and Syracuse. In a normal election – i.e. a double-digit Democratic victory – these cities will vote Democratic, some by substantial margins.

There are several more wrinkles for a Republican candidate. Like much of the rural northeast, upstate New York has been trending Democratic. Despite the conservative national mood, Democrats last year won two special elections upstate. Moreover, Senator Kristen Gillibrand has roots there; she represented an upstate congressional district before becoming Senator.

Nevertheless, the majority of this region still votes loyally Republican; a competitive candidate can rely upon it to help counter New York City. In a close election a Republican ought to win almost every county in upstate New York.

The Suburbs Downstate

This region can be defined as the suburbs surrounding New York City: Long Island and the communities around Yonkers. A Republican’s task here is similar to that upstate: win, and win big.

Historically this was not too difficult; New York City’s suburbs regularly voted Republican, although never by enough to overcome Democratic margins in the city itself. Like many other suburbs, this changed with President Bill Clinton: since his time they have generally voted Democratic.

Today things are changing once more. Since the events of 9/11, downstate’s suburbs (especially Long Island) have been trending Republican. This was one of the few regions Senator John McCain did well in (as opposed to President Barack Obama doing poorly in); his national security credentials appealed to a number of downstate suburban voters.

A strong Republican must capitalize on this trend, changing New York’s suburbs back into Republican territory. This strength, added to margins from upstate, makes for a 5% Republican loss. Republican candidates have achieved this combination many times in the state’s electoral history. Take 1968, when President Richard Nixon lost New York by 5.46%:

Map of New York, 1968 Presidential Election

The problem is the last 5%, to  which a Republican must look to New York City for.

New York City

To make up the last 5%, a Republican candidate must do well in New York City, that great metropolis of the United States. The Big Apple composes an astounding 43% of the state’s population, the largest proportion in the country. It also votes extremely Democratic; in 2008 four out of five voters turned the lever for President Barack Obama.

The Republican facing Ms. Gillibrand will have to substantially improve upon this number. This is not as hard as it first sounds. New York City, after all, has had a non-Democratic mayor for more than a decade. Low minority turn-out looks likely to bedevil Democrats during this off-year election. Moreover, Republicans retain a base in Staten Island and southern Brooklyn. Even in 2008 these places voted Republican:

Map of New York City, 2008 By Precinct

Finally, some regional complexities come into play. Although almost all of New York City voted for Mr. Obama, some parts are more less loyally Democratic than others (as was the case in Massachusetts). White liberals and impoverished minorities in Manhattan and the Bronx almost never vote Republican; suburbanites in Brooklyn and Queens, on the other hand, are more perceptible to Republican appeals. Winning Republicans generally tie or win the Queens borough and hold Democrats below 60% in the Kings borough.


If New York is close next November, it will probably look something like this:

Map of Hypothetical Election in New York

This map can indicate anything from a 5% Democratic victory to a 5% Republican victory, depending on turn-out. Perhaps the best barometer will be the Queens borough in New York City. Look to it next November – it might literally determine the fate of the Democratic Senate majority.



Analyzing Obama’s Weak Spots – Part 2: The Northeast

This is the second part of three posts analyzing the congressional districts President Barack Obama underperformed in. It will focus on his relative weakness in the northeast. The third part 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 Northeast

In my previous post I created a map of congressional districts in which Mr. Obama performed worse than Senator John Kerry:

Map of Districts in Which Kerry Did Better Than Obama

In this map the most obvious pattern is a roughly diagonal corridor of Republican-shifting congressional districts, stretching from Oklahoma and Louisiana through the Appalachians. This area has long been seen as a place in which the electorate is moving away from the Democratic Party.

The post then looked at the Northeast, another region in which Mr. Kerry did better than Mr. Obama. Unlike Applachia and the Mississippi Delta, the conventional wisdom characterizes the Northeast as a stable Democratic stronghold. Yet, as the map below indicates, six northeastern congressional districts shifted Republican in 2008:

Map of Northeast Districts

Much of the movement in Massachusetts, of course, occurs due to the loss of Mr. Kerry’s home-state advantage. Yet the districts in Massachusetts (MA-4, MA-6, MA-7, MA-9, and MA-10) also share a number of commonalities. All are quite suburban, quite wealthy, and quite white. Unlike the Appalachian districts above, these places vote substantially Democratic. Neither Mr. McCain nor former President George W. Bush came within single-digits in any of these districts (I suspect 1988 was the last time a Republican presidential candidate did so). Yet this is also Scott Brown territory; the Republican candidate won four of these districts.

Notice, too, the highlighted New York district (NY-9). Like those in Massachusetts, this district is inhabited mainly by middle-class, Democratic-voting whites. The effect of 9/11, which convinced many New Yorkers to vote Republican, was particularly strong in places like these (in fact, it was probably greater here than anywhere else in the nation). Orthodox Jews, an increasingly Republican demographic heavily represented in this district, have shifted strongly Republican since then.

Indeed, Long Island as a whole was relatively lukewarm towards Obama. Apart from the fighting ninth, Republicans did respectably in NY-3 and NY-5, holding Obama’s improvement to less than 1% in both districts. Like NY-9, these places are wealthy and suburban.

One wonders whether this change is merely a temporary blip or the start of something more worrisome for Democrats. The case of Florida is probably not reassuring:

Map of Florida Districts

This is Florida’s Gold Coast – a Democratic stronghold – and three districts here (FL-19, FL-20, FL-22) voted more Republican than in 2004. Mr. McCain’s age probably helped him along here; the large population of retirees may have empathized with one of their own.

Ironically, a large number of these retirees probably came from NY-9 or eastern Massachusetts. Like both areas, these districts vote Democratic but have been slowly moving Republican. FL-22 is the exception, having been not very Democratic to begin with. In FL-19 and FL-20, on the other hand, Democratic candidate Al Gore did substantially better than both Obama and Kerry. This was a function of the substantial Jewish population in these districts; Jews strongly supported Joe Lieberman, his Jewish nominee for Vice President.

Fortunately for Democrats, almost none of the Florida or northeast districts represent a 2010 pick-up opportunity for Republicans. Except for FL-22, all have voted Democratic by double-digits for at least three consecutive presidential elections. A few weeks ago a special election in FL-19 resulted in a 27% Democratic margin victory. It is the long-term that is worth concern for Democrats.

In the short term, Democrats must worry about Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta. There Democrats are in deep, deep trouble for 2010. There are a surprising amount of Democratic representatives in these Appalachian seats where Mr. McCain did better than Mr. Bush. Their predicament will be the subject of the next post.



Political Spectrum Moves Right

Host of The Young Turks Cenk Uygur guest hosting on MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan Show explains how the political spectrum has shifted far to the right in the last 30 years.



Maps of Virginia Elections

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

To follow up the series on Virginia, I’ve posted a few recent presidential elections in the state (courtesy of the New York Times). Each map comes with some brief analysis.

Link to map of 2008 presidential election in Virginia

Capitalizing on a decade of Democratic movement, Senator Barack Obama becomes the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia since 1964. The Senator performs best in eastern Virginia, especially the fast-growing northern Virginia metropolis. Western Virginia is not as enamored; parts of it even vote more Republican.


Link to map of 2004 presidential election in Virginia

Nobody pays attention to Virginia in 2004, and for good reason: incumbent George W. Bush cruises along to a comfortable victory. Amid all the hoopla in Ohio, Republicans fail to notice a disquieting trend. Fairfax County, the populous heart of Northern Virginia, goes blue in the first time for decades.


Link to map of 2000 presidential election in Virginia

Governor George W. Bush sails to an 8% victory. He artfully weaves together a classic Republican coalition: wealthy suburbs combined with Republican-trending rural Virginia.


Link to map of 1996 presidential election in Virginia

Expecting to win the state, incumbent Bill Clinton is surprised to see Virginia slip from his grasp. He does better than in 1992 – performing well amongst Democratic constituencies in the Appalachian west, the black southeast, and the rich inner-core suburbs of Northern Virginia. But it’s not enough: a strong Republican vote in Richmond’s suburbs denies Mr. Clinton his victory.


Link to map of 1992 presidential election in Virginia

Another presidential election, another Republican victory in Virginia powered by suburbs and small towns. Yet Governor Bill Clinton does relatively well. Compared to the 20.5% beating George H.W. Bush gave to Democratic nominee Mike Dukakis in 1988, a 4.4% loss ain’t nothing.




Analyzing Swing States: Virginia, Conclusions

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

This is the last part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Virginia, which aims to offer some concluding thoughts. The previous parts can be found starting here.


As a state, Virginia’s population has always been located in three metropolitan areas: the Northern Virginia suburbs south of Washington D.C., Richmond and its suburbs, and the communities surrounding Hampton Roads. Together these three places compose more than half of Virginia’s electorate:

Link to map of Virginia's county votes

In all three metropolitan areas, Democrats have been improving their margins. Virginia’s suburbs, expansive and traditionally Republican, have shifted leftwards with startling quickness. This movement has been most apparent in the largest of its suburbs, rich and diverse Northern Virginia. The addition of NoVa to Virginia’s heavily Democratic, heavily black cities has given the Democratic Party a coalition that has won a number of recent elections.

Not everything has gone badly for the Republican Party. They have captured a formerly loyal Democratic constituency – the Appalachian west, which voted Democratic based on economic appeals. Moreover, they still dominate the rural whites who in bygone days voted Democratic:

Link to Virginia voting shifts 

Thus, Virginia today is a state in change, like most states. Parts of it are shifting left and parts of it are shifting right; in aggregate, the effect has been to change it from a solidly Republican to swing state. Undoubtedly, other states will and are moving in the opposite direction.

Colorado, the next state in this series, is probably not one of those Republican-shifting states.





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