The Great Realignment: The 1928 Presidential Election, Part 2

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

(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 Great Realignment

The previous post noted that:

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.

This change can be illustrated with a map detailing the state-by-state shift from the 1924 presidential election to the 1928 presidential election:

Link to Map of Shift From 1924 to 1928 Presidential Election

There are a number of things that stand out with this map. The first, as has been previously noted, is the degree to which the shift replicates the current electoral map.

This is not all, however. Two other things are very, very out-of-whack here. To get a hint at what these are, it is useful to compare the 1924 to 1928 state-by-state voting shift to that of different elections.

One example is the change from 2004 to 2008.

In 2008 President Barack Obama improved by 9.7% from the performance of the previous Democratic candidate, Senator John Kerry. In 1928 Governor Al Smith improved by 7.8% from the performance of Democratic candidate John Davis. The shift from 1924 to 1928 is therefore roughly comparable to the shift from 2004 to 2008.

Here is a map of that shift:

Link to Map of Shift From 2004 to 2008 Presidential Election

Although both Democratic candidates improved by roughly the same percentage from the previous election, where and how they improved look completely different.

In 2008, Mr. Obama generally improved everywhere. In only five states does he do worse than Mr. Kerry. This is the famous Appalachian corridor with which Mr. Obama was so weak.

Moreover, the degree of movement is generally modest. Only two states – Hawaii and Indiana – have more than a 20-point shift from how they voted in 2004. No state shifts more than 40 points (although Hawaii certainly comes close, going from a 8.7% Democratic margin to a 45.3% Democratic margin).

These two patterns: uniform and moderate movement (i.e. when a candidate does better in the popular vote, said candidate does better in almost every state, and states generally do not have wild swings from how they voted from the previous election) are not just confined to 2008. Here is the shift from 2000 to 2004, when President George W. Bush improved by 2.9% from his performance four years earlier:

Link to Map of Shift From 2000 to 2004 Presidential Election

One again we see that the national shift right brought most of the states with them, and that only three states shifted more than 10% from 2000.

Let’s take another look at 1928 to finish:

Link to Map of Shift From 1924 to 1928 Presidential Election

Here neither pattern is present. In 1928, the country moved 7.8% more Democratic from 1924. Despite this, Democratic candidate Al Smith did worse in 23 out of 48 states. Three states – Florida, Georgia, and Texas – voted more than 40% more Republican than they did in the previous election. In Texas, Republicans went from 19.8% of the vote in 1924 to 51.8% of the vote in 1928. Fifteen states voted more than 10% more Republican than they did in 1924.

In comparison, in 2008 only one state – Arkansas – voted more than 10% more Republican than it did in 2004 (and it did so by the barest of margins: 10.1%). This was despite Mr. Obama’s improvement from 2004 being roughly equivalent to Mr. Smith’s improvement from 1924.

A lot of interest has gone into Mr. Obama’s weakness in Appalachia. But Mr. Smith’s Southern problem in 1928 (i.e. the fact that he was a Catholic) makes Mr. Obama’s Appalachian problem look puny.

If Mr. Smith improved by 7.8% from the performance of his Democratic predecessor with so much weakness in the South, the shift in the states that voted more Democratic must have been huge. And indeed, the New Yorker gained more than 20-point shifts in nine states. In Massachusetts, Democrats went from 24.9% of the vote in 1924 to 50.2% in 1928.

All in all, the 1928 presidential election was the scene of some enormous movement on a state-by-state basis. In 2008 only two states shifted more than 20 points from 2004, as Mr. Obama did 9.7% better than Mr. Kerry. In 1928, on the other hand, sixteen states shifted more than 20 points from 1928, as Mr. Smith did 7.8% better than the previous Democratic candidate.

This is what a realigning election looks like – extreme movement on from one state to the next, enormous differences by region, and a powerful correlation between which states shift Democratic and which states are voting Democratic almost a century later.

--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

 

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