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

 

A Regional Party Limited to the South: The Democrats in the 1920s, Part 2

This is the second part of three posts analyzing the Democratic Party’s struggles during the 1920s, when it lost three consecutive presidential elections by landslide margins. This will focus upon the 1920 and 1924 presidential election, when white ethnic immigrants abandoned the Democratic Party.

The last 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 1920 Presidential Election

The Democratic Party of the early twentieth century was composed of two bases (both of which no longer vote Democratic). These were Southern whites and immigrant, often Catholic, whites from places such as Ireland and Italy. Southern whites voted Democratic due to the memory of the Civil War and could be reliably whipped up with race-baiting appeals. Immigrant ethnic whites, on the other hand, saw the Democratic Party as a vehicle of defense against the dominant, Republican-voting WASP majority in the Northeast and Midwest.

The two groups had precious little in common, save distrust of the dominant Republican Party. One of the constituencies would often only lukewarmly support the national Democratic candidate (this was usually the immigrant  camp, because without Southern whites the Democratic Party was nothing).

In 1920, ethnic whites walked out of the Democratic Party. The city machines at Tammany Hall and others did not just fail to fully back Democratic candidate James M. Cox; they outright refused to support him.

This was entirely the fault of Democratic President Woodrow Wilson. The previous year, Mr. Wilson had delicately stated that:

…there is an organized propaganda against the League of Nations and against the treaty proceeding from exactly the same sources that the organized propaganda proceeded from which threatened this country here and there with disloyalty, and I want to say — I cannot say too often — any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready.

If I can catch any man with a hyphen in this great contest I will know that I have got an enemy of the Republic.

The political stupidity of this quote cannot be overstated. The “man with a hyphen” was not just a politically influential constituency; in states like New York, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin he was the Democratic Party.

This, along with Mr. Wilson making the 1920 election a referendum on his extremely unpopular League of Nations, led to the result in the map above.

Democratic candidate James M. Cox lost everywhere outside the Solid South. He got barely one-fourth of the vote in New York City, less than one-fourth in Chicago, less than one-fifth in Detroit, and so on throughout all the great non-Southern cities. In the “hyphen-heavy” states of Wisconsin, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, Mr. Cox failed to break the 20% mark. Even in the Solid South, Republicans broke 30% of the vote – for the first time since 1908, when disenfranchisement of blacks was complete.

All in all, Democratic candidate James M. Cox lost by 26.2% – the greatest defeat in the popular vote, ever.

The 1924 Presidential Election

In 1924, the Democratic Party nominated a man with the distinction of being more conservative than the Republican.

Little known John W. Davis was not just a social conservative who endorsed segregation – that was true for all Southern Democrats at the time – but also an economic conservative. Mr. Davis believed in small government, states rights, and would go on to oppose President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Mr. Davis was nominated as a compromise candidate after one of the longest and nastiest Democratic conventions in history – a bitter fight with immigrant whites from big cities against Southern and Western rural whites. By the time the convention had ended, it was clear that Democrats didn’t stand a chance of winning the 1924 presidential election. After Mr. Davis’s nomination, ethnic whites walked out once again.

In 1924, Democrats lost big again. They lost by more than Walter Mondale against Ronald Reagan. They lost by more than Herbert Hoover against FDR. All in all, the Democratic candidate lost by the second greatest popular margin in American history, right after 1920.

Mr. Davis won between one-fourth and one-third of the votes. Southern whites stayed loyal; indeed, he did a quite bit better than Mr. Cox in 1920 in the Solid South.

White ethnics did not. In 1920 white immigrants had sat out the election. This time they voted for Governor Senator Robert La Follette, who was the only liberal candidate in the race. Mr. La Follette did better than the Democratic candidate in a dozen states.

Everybody else voted for Republican candidate Calvin Coolidge. Mr. Davis lost almost every single non-Southern city, including all five boroughs of New York (the last time a Democratic presidential candidate would lose New York). In Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco the Democratic candidate got less than 10% of the vote.

All in all, Mr. Davis failed to break 30% in more than half the states:

Link to Map of Mr. Davis's Vote

In the aftermath of this election – a second disastrous election in a row for Democrats – it was clear that a change in strategy was needed. For two elections in a row, Democrats had won Southern whites and nobody else.

In 1928, therefore, the Democratic Party nominated the candidate of the white ethnics to run for president. This time it was the turn of the Southern whites to walk out.

--Inoljt

 

A Regional Party Limited to the South: The Democrats in the 1920s, Part 1

This is the first part of three posts analyzing the Democratic Party’s struggles during the 1920s, when it lost three consecutive presidential elections by landslide margins.

The second part can be found here.

A Regional Party Limited to the South

The biggest presidential landslides are two elections you’ve probably never heard of: the 1920 presidential election, and the 1924 presidential election.

In the 1920 presidential election, Democratic candidate James M. Cox lost by 26.2% to Republican candidate Warren G. Harding. Four years later, Democratic candidate John Davis would get barely more than one-fourth the vote in another landslide defeat. These two elections constitute the biggest victories in the popular vote in the history of American presidential elections.

In the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s victory, Democratic strategists liked to boast that the Republican Party was becoming a regional party restricted to the South. This meme has become less popular in light of Republican gains during the 2010 mid-terms, in which Republicans are expected to do quite well outside the South.

Yet during the 1920s, the Democratic Party really was a regional, Southern-based party that had great difficulty competing outside the South. It was a party that was completely unrecognizable today: a proudly racist, white supremacist organization in which its two main constituencies refused to back the same candidate not for one, not for two, but for three consecutive elections.

The story begins with World War I and President Woodrow Wilson.

--Inoljt

 

 

Analyzing Swing States: Colorado, Conclusions

This is the last part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Colorado.

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

Conclusions

Colorado is much like the previous state analyzed in this series: Virginia. Both states were seen until recently as Republican strongholds and rightfully so; President George W. Bush handily won both states in 2004 and 2000.

Yet in 2004, both states showed signs of shifting Democratic. Virginia barely moved Democratic even as the South swung heavily against Senator John Kerry. As for Colorado – it actually shifted 3.7% more Democratic, against the national tide. Indeed, in 2004 Mr. Kerry performed better in Colorado than he did in Florida.

This shift cumulated in the 2008 presidential election, which showed both Colorado and Virginia as influential swing states. Colorado has thus turned from a red state into a purple state. In doing so, the Democratic Party has carved out the following coalition:

Link to Image of Colorado Voting Shifts From 1992 to 2008

Edited NYT Image

Democratic gains since 1992 follow the “C” pattern that was also present in the actual 2008 county results. This is a pattern that is present in other parts of the country, as previous posts have observed. Democrats have generally improved along the Front Range, and especially in the Denver metropolis. They have also gained in two Republican strongholds: Colorado Springs and neighboring Douglas County.

On the other hand, Republicans have gained in several historically Democratic-voting Hispanic counties near Pueblo. They have also improved in the thinly populated rural stretches of east and west Colorado.

All in all, these changes have benefited Democrats more. This is because their gains have been in the more populated areas of Colorado:

Link to Image of Colorado, 2008 Presidential Election Voters

The heart of Colorado is therefore in the Denver metropolis, as the map indicates. Since 1992 Democrats have improved in all but one of the orange and red counties. In 2000 Mr. Bush won seven of the eleven highlighted counties. In 2008 Mr. Obama won seven of them. This is responsible for Colorado’s 17.3% leftward shift from 2000 to 2008.

This leftward shift has not turned Colorado into a blue state, but rather into a vitally important swing state. Say, for instance, that Mr. Obama had tied Senator John McCain in the popular vote. North Carolina and Indiana would have immediately flipped Republican. This would be followed by the traditional swing states Florida and then Ohio. Virginia would flip Republican next; Mr. Obama would lose by less than a percent. At this point Mr. McCain would have 262 electoral votes.

And there he would remain. In a tied election, Colorado would go by 1.7% to Mr. Obama, handing the senator 278 electoral votes and the presidency.

In the 2008 presidential election, therefore, Colorado was the most important state to win. It may remain thus in 2012.

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

 

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