Analyzing Swing States: Colorado, Part 3

This is the third part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Colorado. It will focus on the swing areas in Colorado – the parts that will vote for both Democrats and Republicans. The fourth 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.)

Swing Colorado

The swing areas of Colorado lie on the edges of the Democratic base in Colorado, which forms a rough “C” shape (more on this in the next post). They can be mapped as below:

Link to Image of Swing Colorado, 1992-2008
This map incorporates five presidential elections, from 1992 to 2008. Republicans won the state three times; Democrats twice. Of the swing counties pictured here, President Bill Clinton did better in the rural swing areas, mostly in southern Colorado. President Barack Obama, on the other hand, had his strength in several highly populated, suburban swing counties.

Swing Colorado is, like the Republican base, divided into two quite different domains. The first domain is composed by the rural, “Clinton” counties. This region has much in common with the Republican parts of rural Colorado; it is generally poorer and extremely thinly populated.

The difference lies with two things: Hispanics and ski resorts. Areas of rural Colorado with high numbers of Hispanics and ski resorts vote solidly Democratic; areas with low numbers vote solidly Republican. Swing counties generally have enough Hispanics or ski resorts to be competitive for Democrats, but not enough to automatically vote Democratic.

Interestingly, the rural swing counties with ski resorts have become more Democratic over the years, while the rural swing counties with Hispanics have become less so. Mr. Obama generally did worse in rural Hispanic Colorado than Mr. Clinton. Whether because the Hispanic population is locally in decline in this thinly populated area, or because Hispanics are voting more Republican, is uncertain.

The second part of swing Colorado consists of a set of three suburban counties  surrounding the Denver metropolis. These counties used to vote solidly Republican, which was why Colorado was Republican for so long. Here is how they voted in the 2000 presidential election:

Link to Image of Swing Colorado, 2000 Presidential Election

The counties – Arapahoe County, Jefferson County, and Larimar County – are pictured by the three large red circles around Denver and Boulder. As is apparent, their importance is of a magnitude above that of the rural swing counties. Indeed, in 2008 the three counties composed 30.8% of the votes cast in Colorado. Jefferson County had more votes cast than any other county in the entire state.

Winning these suburbs, therefore, is naturally important. Until recently they generally leaned Republican. As swing areas, Republicans usually didn’t win them by landslides; they generally had a ceiling of around 65% of the vote. But they won them, and therefore they won Colorado.

It is the shift in places like these that is responsible for recent Democratic gains in Colorado. Here is how swing Colorado voted in 2008:

Link to Image of Swing Colorado, 2008 Presidential Election 

Mr. Obama won Arapahoe County, Jefferson County, and Larimer County by 12.91%, 8.91%, and 9.73% respectively. Combined, he came out with a 77,067 vote margin out of swing Colorado. This was enough to erase the Senator John McCain’s margins in his two strongest counties – El Paso (Colorado Springs) and Douglas Counties. Mr. Obama also did this out of historically Republican territory.

Demographically, the three counties above share certain similarities. For suburbs, they are actually not that rich; median household income is only slightly above the national average (Jefferson County is richest). The counties are also fairly homogeneous; approximately four out of five residents in Jefferson and Larimer County are white and non-Hispanic. Arapahoe County, on the other hand, is more diverse; non-Hispanic whites compose about 65% of the population (a mirror of the country, in fact). Unsurprisingly, Mr. Obama did best in Arapahoe County.

To be fair, Mr. Obama’s performance in Colorado’s formerly Republican-leaning suburbs probably constitutes something of a ceiling for Democrats. Mr. Obama did extremely well in exurbs like these throughout the nation, in both the primaries and the general election. The housing crisis did not hurt things, either. A different Democrat might rely less on these suburbs.

Nevertheless, the very fact that a Democrat can now win places like Larimer County is something of an achievement for the party. Indeed, almost all of swing Colorado constitutes formerly Republican-leaning territory that Democrats have made competitive over the past two decades. Democrats have also carved out a new and many-sided base in Colorado during this time period. The next post will examine the complex elements that make up Colorado’s Democratic base.



Analyzing Swing States: Pennsylvania, Part 3

This is the third part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Pennsylvania. Part four can be found here.

Philadelphia's Suburbs

There used to be a time when Republicans could count on Philadelphia's suburbs to counter Democratic margins from the city. Philadelphia, 1988:

Not anymore. Philadelphia, 2008:

NYT: Philadelphia, 2008 presidential election (Note: Because the Times stopped updating before all absentee/provisional ballots were counted, this map does not fully reflect the actual results. I have corrected the discrepancy.)

Indeed, in 2008 President Barack Obama's suburban margins were so great that Democrats did not even need Philadelphia to win Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia's suburbs stretch across four counties: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery. Bucks contains more working-class, Catholic communities. Chester, on the other hand, is more exurban and conservative (in this century, Democratic presidential candidates have only incontrovertibly won the county twice - in 1964 and 2008).

More below.

There's more...

Analyzing Swing States: Pennsylvania, Part 2

This is the second part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Pennsylvania. The next part can be found here.

Like Florida, and unlike Ohio, Pennsylvania's political geography can be divided into three. The industrial southwest is reddening, the populous southeast is bluing, and Pennsyltucky remains, as James Carville memorably described it, "Alabama without the blacks." (Actually, Pennsyltucky is a fair bit less conservative.)

The following section will concentrate on Philadelphia, the region upon which Democrats draw the most votes.

Philadelphia the City

Although cities always vote Democratic, different cities contain different political characteristics. Not all big cities are liberal (see Houston, Phoenix), nor are all liberal cities are big (see San Francisco, Boulder).

Fortunately for Democrats, Philadelphia is both America's sixth largest city and one in which four out of five inhabitants regularly choose the Democrat. It is, moreover, a city which has become bluer for eight straight elections.

More below.

There's more...

The Not So Solid South: How Republicans Have Wrecked Nixon's Southern Strategy

In 1968, Richard Nixon committed the Republican Party to the Southern Strategy.  This has worked brilliantly on the electoral college level.  In both 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush received every electoral vote from the 13 southern states (Kentucky, West Virginia, and the 11 states of the Confederacy), 162 in 2004.  The Nixonian ploy,was to use coded or veiled racism to induce the south's traditionally conservative white voters to abandon their traditional allegiance to the Dwemocratic Party and join a center-right coalition of national Republicans.  This conversion took longer on the legislative level.  The region's House delegation didn't swing Republican until 1994 (moving the House nationally into the Republican column).  In 2004, five southern Senate seats swung Republican giving the GOP firm control of that body for a brief time.

Nixon's southern strategy was far different (and more subtle) than George W. Bush's and Karl Rove's version.  Republicans remained competitive in the northeast and Great Lakes states and ran strongly in California.  The South was not running the show.  Party power brokers generally came from the Midwest (like Gerald Ford, Bob Michel, Everett Dirksen and Bob Dole).  The "religion" was Billy Graham and not Jerry Falwell.  Even Southern Republicans like Howard Baker fit more neatly into a national mold.

Nixon's aim to add southern white voters, traditional conservatives, to the center rightgroup of traditional Republicans succeeded.  That success has done more than give a temporary edge in the electoral college to national Republicans.  It has transformed the face and nature of Republicanism at the gain of only a partial payout.

There's more...

Suburbs? What? The SOUTH?? WHAT??!!

UPDATE: Stacey Tallitsch and Steve Sinton will be on Barry Gordon From Left Field TODAY, webcast from, 4 - 7 pm Eastern (with Tony Trupiano, of MI, and a DCCC rep, too)! What a show!!! (tell a friend :)

There have been some especially interesting analyses recently that go against the conventional wisdom that suburbia and the South belong to Republicans.

From Democracy Corps, "Cracks in the Two Americas" (pdf), March 3, 2006:

The most important shifts [from Republican to Democratic] are taking place among the world of Republican loyalists, which will have big strategic consequences... The combined data set shows major shifts in the Deep South and rural areas (even before the most recent controversies), blue-collar white men, and the best educated married men with high incomes. [Emphasis added.]


There's more...


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