The Rise and Fall of the South Carolina Democratic Party

In my research on South Carolina’s 2010 gubernatorial election, I came upon a fascinating chart. The chart describes the number of Democrats and Republican in South Carolina’s State House of Representatives from the Civil War to the present day. The data offers a fascinating story of the Democratic Party in South Carolina, and the Deep South in general.

Here is the story:

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

Most individuals familiar with politics know the history of the Deep South: it seceded from the Union after President Abraham Lincoln was elected. In the resulting Civil War, it fought the hardest and suffered the most against Union forces.

Victorious Union forces were identified with the hated Republican Party, founded with the explicit goal of destroying the southern way of life by ending slavery.

Under military Union rule, the Republican Party flourished in South Carolina:

 

 

Link to Graph of South Carolina State House of Representatives, Reconstruction

 

The Republican Party was the dominant political force during the Reconstruction era, as the graph above shows. During its reign in power, it enjoyed large majorities in the State House of Representatives. Its political base was the black vote, and it attempted to systemically ensure racial equality for blacks and whites. A number of blacks were elected to state and federal office; it’s probable that many of the Republicans in the State House of Representatives were black.

This enraged whites in South Carolina. When President Rutherford Hayes ended Reconstruction and withdrew federal troops, they quickly gained control of South Carolina politics. The black vote was systemically crushed, and along with it the Republican Party.

This is reflected in the graph above. In 1874 there were 91 Republicans in the State House of Representatives. By 1878 there were only three left.

This led to the next stage of South Carolina politics, the Solid South:

 

 

Link to Graph of South Carolina State House of Representatives, Solid South Era

 

Unfortunately, Wikipedia does not have data after 1880 and before 1902. After 1902, however, Democrats enjoyed literally absolute control of the State House of Representatives. For more than half-a-century, not a single Republican in South Carolina was elected to the State House of Representatives. Democrats regularly won over 95% of the popular vote in presidential elections.

That’s a record on par with that of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union.

There are several reasons why this occurred. Democrats in South Carolina were strongest of all the Deep South states, because blacks were the majority of the population. Only Mississippi at the time also had a black-majority population.

This meant that in free and fair elections, blacks would actually have control of South Carolina politics. If a free and fair election took place in another Southern states, the Democratic Party would still probably have maintained power – since whites were a majority of the population. In fact, this is what happens in the South today, except that the roles of the two parties are switched.

This was not the case with South Carolina, and party elites were profoundly aware and afraid of this. Therefore the grip of the Democratic Party was tightest in South Carolina, of all the Solid South (South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union for the same reason). Other Solid South states had more than zero Republicans in the state legislature. Republican presidential candidates might gain 20-40% of the vote, rather than less than 5%.

In black-majority South Carolina, the Republican Party was a far greater potential threat – and so the Democratic Party was extraordinarily judicious in repressing it.

Racism was a useful tool for South Carolina Democrats, and they were very proud racists. Controversial South Carolina Governor and Senator Benjamin Tillman, for instance, once stated that:

I have three daughters, but, so help me God, I had rather find either one of them killed by a tiger or a bear and gather up her bones and bury them, conscious that she had died in the purity of her maidenhood by a black fiend. The wild beast would only obey the instinct of nature, and we would hunt him down and kill him just as soon as possible.

Another time he commented:

Great God, that this proud government, the richest, most powerful on the globe, should have been brought to so low a pass that a London Jew should have been appointed its receiver to have charge of the treasury.

This was the Democratic Party of South Carolina during the Solid South.

At the end of the graph, notice that there is a little dip, just after the year 1962. This was in 1964, when the first Republican in more than half-a-century was elected to the South Carolina State House of Representatives.

He was not the last:

 

Link to Graph of South Carolina State House of Representatives, Modern Era

 

 

The year 1964 marked the day that Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed through the 1964 Civil Rights Act, against enormous Southern Democratic opposition.

It also marked the beginning of the end of the South Carolina Democratic Party. The Democratic Party underwent a monumental shift, from a party of white elites to a party representing black interests. In the process South Carolina whites steadily began abandoning it.

At first the decline was gradual, as the graph shows. In 1980 there were 110 Democrats in the State House of Representatives and 14 Republicans. Throughout the 80s the Democratic majority steadily declined, but in 1992 there were still 84 Democrats to 40 Republicans.

Then came 1994 and the Gingrich Revolution. The seemingly large Democratic majority collapsed like the house-of-cards it was, as South Carolina whites finally started voting for Republican statewide candidates, decades after they started doing so for Republican presidential candidates. Republicans have retained control of the state chamber ever since.

Since then the Democratic Party has declined further in the State House of Representatives. As of 2010 the number of Democratic representatives is at a 134-year low. And the floor may not have been reached. There are still probably some conservative whites who vote Democratic statewide, when their political philosophy has far more in common with the Republican Party.

Nevertheless, the modern era in South Carolina politics is still shorter than the Solid South era. Here is the entire history of the State House of Representatives:

 

Link to Graph of South Carolina State House of Representatives, Total Time Period

 

It’s a fascinating graph, and it tells a lot about South Carolina and Deep South politics.

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

 

 

Predicting George W. Bush’s Presidency

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

More than ten years to this day, George W. Bush was inaugurated as president. Upon this event, The Onion – a famous satirical magazine – published an article titled “Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity is Finally Over.

The article humorously blasted Mr. Bush, predicting an array of disasters that would occur under his tenure. This was in January of 2000, when Mr. Bush had been president for less than a month and long before 9/11. In predicting these disasters, the authors were making educated guesses about a Republican president might do wrong.

Ten years later, it’s eerie just how accurate the authors were. For instance:

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

“You better believe we’re going to mix it up with somebody at some point during my administration,” said Bush, who plans a 250 percent boost in military spending. “Unlike my predecessor, I am fully committed to putting soldiers in battle situations. Otherwise, what is the point of even having a military?”

On the economic side, Bush vowed to bring back economic stagnation by implementing substantial tax cuts, which would lead to a recession, which would necessitate a tax hike, which would lead to a drop in consumer spending, which would lead to layoffs, which would deepen the recession even further.

That sounds exactly like the Iraq War and the 2008 financial crisis. The Onion even predicted exactly what type of war Mr. Bush would create – a “Gulf-War level armed conflict.” And he did!

There are other amazingly specific predictions, all of which turned out to be right. Take growing partisan conflict:

‘We as a people must stand united, banding together to tear this nation in two,’ Bush said.

Or widening inequality:

‘Much work lies ahead of us: The gap between the rich and the poor may be wide, be there’s much more widening left to do.

Or the deficit:

We must squander our nation’s hard-won budget surplus on tax breaks for the wealthiest 15 percent.

There were several things which The Onion missed; it wasn’t able to predict Mr. Bush’s failed response to Hurricane Katrina, or his incredible unpopularity worldwide. All in all, however, the article’s accuracy is pretty impressive having been written just after Mr. Bush’s inauguration.

I look forward to reading what The Onion will write when the next Republican president is inaugurated.

 

“Liberals” in Communist Countries

In American parlance, the word liberal generally carries a left-wing connotation. Liberals favor an philosophy which has some fairly familiar elements: a greater role for  government, lessened inequality, social “liberalism” etc. This contrasts with conservatism, which favors a lesser role for government, places more trust in the workings of the market, and believes in “family values.”

The most extreme element of liberalism is communism; in contrast, the most extreme element of conservatism is monarchy and fascism. Communism is an unabashedly left-wing philosophy, with its focus on uplifting the working class, commitment to enforcing social equality, deep distrust of capitalism, etc. This is something almost everybody agrees with.

It is interesting, however, to note that Communist leaders are almost never called “liberals” – despite a philosophy based upon an extreme form of liberalism. History books never bestow the description “liberal” on the most famous Communists, men such as Fidel Castro, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Vladimir Lenin, etc.

Instead, in relation to communist countries “liberals” are generally those who oppose the system. They are dissidents such as Andrey Sakarov. When Deng Xiaoping changed China’s economic system to follow a more market-oriented policy (i.e. to be more economically conservative), people say that he “liberalized” the system.

In these cases liberalism is not used in the sense of changing the system. After all, Fidel Castro, Mao Zedong, and Vladimir Lenin all “liberalized” their countries in the sense that they brought massive change to the countries they governed. Yet when historians talk about these individuals that way, they say the men were “revolutionaries” rather than liberals.

Instead, the word liberalism here reflects an older, more fundamental philosophy: classical liberalism. The people who opposed communism constituted liberals not by following left-wing ideals (what is more left-wing than communism?) or by advocating change (so did Lenin, after all). Rather they espoused a belief in the Enlightenment philosophy of human rights and liberty, which the French Revolution turned into an enduring ideology. That is the form which “liberalism” – a word with many different, even contradictory meanings – usually takes when one refers to communism.

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

 

 

Analyzing the South Carolina Gubernatorial Election, Part 3

This is part of three posts analyzing the 2010 South Carolina gubernatorial election, in which Republican Nikki Haley won a closer-than-expected victory over Democrat Vincent Sheheen. The main focus of these posts will be to explore whether a racial effect accounted for Ms. Haley’s unexpected poor performance.

(Note: 

(Note: 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 also part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections.)

 

Link to Map of South Carolina, 2010 Gubernatorial Election

 

The previous post mapped out the relationship between Democratic shifts in 2010 and white registration numbers. Here is the relevant map reposted:

 

Link to Map of South Carolina, 2010 Gubernatorial Election Comparison to Registered Voters

 

The post ended by noting that “So far this analysis has been relatively light on the statistical side of things.” It included a number of maps, but did not use any raw numbers.

This post aims to draw conclusions based on those numbers.

Let’s begin by translating the picture above into a graph:

Link to Graph of Relationship Between White Registration and Democratic Shift in the 2010 South Carolina Gubernatorial Election

 

This graph maps the relationship between how white a county in South Carolina is, and how much it shifted against non-white Republican candidate Nikki Haley in 2010.

If normally-Republican whites moved against Ms. Haley due to her race, one would expect the dots to be graphed in a roughly 45-degree diagonal line; the whiter a county, the more Democratic it would shift in 2010.

Clearly this is not the case in the graph above. There are a lot of very white counties that shifted strongly against Ms. Haley – but there are also a lot of very white counties that supported her more than they did Senator John McCain.

Indeed, the whitest counties seem to spread out into two groups; one group moves strongly against Ms. Haley, another actually shifts for her. One might speculate that the former group is composed of lower-income, rural whites and the latter is composed of higher-income, metropolitan whites.

To test this theory, the previous post adjusted for income by eliminating all the counties with a median household income greater than the state median (i.e. it got rid of the rich whites). Here is what the result looked like:

 

Link to Map of South Carolina, 2010 Gubernatorial Election Comparison to Registered Voters, Adjusted For Income

 

There seems to be a correlation here, as the previous post noted.

Here is how the relationship looks on a graph:

 

Link to Graph of Relationship Between White Registration and Democratic Shift in the 2010 South Carolina Gubernatorial Election

 

The group of white counties which shifted towards Ms. Haley has disappeared. Instead, one sees a much stronger trend: the whiter the county, the more strongly it moved against non-white Republican Governor Nikki Haley.

This only happens once high-income white counties are tossed out of the analysis. High-income Republican whites were very comfortable voting for non-white Republicans; low income Republican whites were less willing.

Interestingly, this pattern is not unique to South Carolina. In Louisiana, Republican Governor Bobby Jindal – a non-white individual of Indian descent – did extremely poorly amongst rural, low-income (Republican) whites while winning landslide support amongst high-income, suburban (Republican) whites. This caused Mr. Jindal to lose in his first attempt to run for governor.

Finally, one can test whether the effect above is statistically significant, or just the result of randomness.

Here is a regression analysis run on the 2010 South Carolina gubernatorial race:

Link to Regression Analysis of the 2010 South Carolina Gubernatorial Race

 

Regression analysis is something I am still not fully comfortable with, so bear this in mind as the analysis continues.

The regression attempted to use two variables – race and income – to predict whether voters would vote more Democratic in 2010. Specifically, it used the percent of white registered voters in a county and said county’s median household income.

The model states that every 10% increase in white registered voters results in a 3.65% greater Democratic shift against Ms. Haley (this is the Coefficient column at the bottom left).

More importantly, whiteness and income were statistically significant when placed together; there was a 0.1% chance that the effect of whiteness was random, and a 0.4% chance that the effect of income was random (this is the P>|t| column at the bottom center).

So the evidence is fairly strong that racially-based voting by low-income whites hurt non-white Republican Ms. Haley in 2010.

There is, however, a caveat. The above regression only explains 20% of the variance between the different degrees of Democratic shifts between different counties (this is the Adj R-Squared line at the top right). This means that 80% of the variance is not explained by race and income.

Racism probably hurt Ms. Haley in 2010, but it was far from the only factor.

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

 

Analyzing the South Carolina Gubernatorial Election, Part 2

This is the second part of three posts analyzing the 2010 South Carolina gubernatorial election, in which Republican Nikki Haley won a closer-than-expected victory over Democrat Vincent Sheheen. The main focus of these posts will be to explore whether a racial effect accounted for Ms. Haley’s unexpected poor performance.

The previous post can be found here, and the next post can be found here.

(Note: 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 also part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections.)

 

Link to Map of South Carolina, 2010 Gubernatorial Election'

 

How to Find a Racial Effect

The purpose of this series of posts is to determine whether or not Ms. Haley’s relatively weak performance was due to a racial effect.

In order to due this, it’s necessary to define what to look for. In this case, it would be normally Republican voters abandoning Ms. Haley due to her race.

Now, South Carolina is a state in which less than 5% of the population is neither white nor black; minorities other than blacks play a negligible role in the state’s politics. It is also a very racially polarized state, like most places in the Deep South. Blacks vote Democratic; whites vote Republican.

There is one final factor to take into account. When Republican Bobby Jindal ran for governor in 2003 and faced racially-based opposition by (white) Republicans, such opposition was not evenly distributed. The Republicans who abandoned Mr. Jindal tended to be predominantly from rural, relatively lower income areas. This is something that is not especially surprising, although it conforms to some unfortunate stereotypes.

For these reasons, an examination of Republicans who abandoned Ms. Haley for racial reasons would look specifically at areas with lower-income whites. These areas would be expected to shift more Democratic than the norm.

Democratic Shifts

To begin this post, let’s examine the places where Republicans improved upon their 2008 performance, and the places where Democrats improved upon 2008.

Naturally, given that Ms. Haley did worse than Mr. Sheheen, one would expect Democrats to have relatively more improvement.

This turns out to be the case:


Link to Map of South Carolina Shifts, 2008 Presidential Election to 2010 Gubernatorial Election

 

Here one sees a very interesting regional pattern, a pattern that I did not expect when making this map.

The northern parts of South Carolina moved strongly Democratic in 2010. The sole exception is York County, which for whatever reason shifted Republican (there is, strangely enough, very little that differentiates this county with others in the region; nor did either Ms. Haley or Mr. Sheheen represent the county as politicians before 2010).

On the other hand, the coastal regions actually supported Ms. Haley more than they did Senator John McCain.

This is a very interesting regional divide; it is something that is entirely hidden by normal partisan patterns.

Whites

Now, let’s take a look at white registration figures:


Link to Map of South Carolina Registered Voters

 

This map shows what percent of South Carolina’s registered voters are white. The information is mandated by the Voting Rights Act, given South Carolina’s history of preventing minorities from voting, and can be found at this website. It is also quite useful for the purposes of this analysis. (For fun: compare this map to President Barack Obama’s performance).

In order to make comparisons easier, the same color scale was used in this map as in the previous map. The whiter a county’s voter population, the bluer the county on the map.

If white Republican voters rejected Ms. Haley due to her race, then the whitest counties here would also have the strongest Democratic shift (i.e. the colors in each map would roughly match).

Let’s compare the maps:


Link to Map of South Carolina, 2010 Gubernatorial Election Comparison to Registered Voters

 


There is a bit of a match, but not much. A lot of very white counties shift strongly against Ms. Haley, but a lot of them also shift strongly for her (especially along the coast).

One can reasonably conclude that a lot of white voters – i.e. Republicans – remained loyal to Ms. Haley despite her Indian heritage.

This is not entirely unexpected. Mr. Jindal also retained a large amount of white support, mainly amongst suburban and wealthy whites.

Adjusting For Income

Where Mr. Jindal did especially poorly – and why he lost the 2003 gubernatorial election – was amongst rural, lower income whites in Louisiana.

Let’s therefore shift this analysis by adjusting for income; in other words, by focusing upon lower-income counties in South Carolina.

South Carolina’s median household income was $42,580 as of 2009, according to Census Data (which can be accessed here).

One can therefore adjust for income by restricting the analysis only to those counties in which median household income was below the state median.

This is what happens:


Link to Map of South Carolina, 2010 Gubernatorial Election Comparison to Registered Voters, Adjusted For Income

 

This looks like a far stronger relationship. In the poorer parts of South Carolina, it appears that the whiter the county, the more against Ms. Haley it shifted.

It seems that we have found something here.

So far this analysis has been relatively light on the statistical side of things; it kind of looks like there is a pattern in the map above, but perhaps there isn’t one. How likely is it that this could have occurred by chance?

The next post will answer this question.

--Inoljt

 

Analyzing the South Carolina Gubernatorial Election, Part 1

This is the first part of three posts analyzing the 2010 South Carolina gubernatorial election, in which Republican Nikki Haley won a closer-than-expected victory over Democrat Vincent Sheheen. The main focus of these posts will be to explore whether a racial effect accounted for Ms. Haley’s unexpected poor performance.

The next 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. This is also part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections.)

Link to Map of South Carolina, 2010 Gubernatorial Election

It was the October, 2010 in South Carolina. Nikki Haley, Republican candidate for South Carolina governor, was cruising. She was a conservative candidate – endorsed by none other than Sarah Palin herself – running in a conservative state, in the best Republican year in a generation.

Opinion polls showed the Republican politician leading by double-digits. Even the most pessimistic gave Ms. Haley a high single digit lead.

On election day, however, Ms. Haley won by only 4.5%:

Link to Map of Margins South Carolina, 2010 Gubernatorial Election

What could have accounted for Ms. Haley’s poor performance?

Several factors come to mind. Ms. Haley was not an uncontroversial candidate; her positions were conservative even for South Carolina. The Democratic candidate, Vincent Sheheen, might have been an unnaturally talented campaigner. And there is always the factor of randomness to take into account. There were hundreds of races in November; the polls would inevitably be inaccurate on one or two, and this race just happened to be one of them.

Or perhaps there is another explanation – a particularly ugly one, but one that lurks at the back of everybody’s head. Ms. Haley was an woman of Indian heritage running to govern South Carolina, a state with not exactly the most innocent racial history. Throughout the campaign, Ms. Haley was subject to attacks that implicitly played up the racial angle: she had had affairs with white men (unfortunately for the accusers, this attack doesn’t work as well against women), she wasn’t Christian or was only pretending to be one, and so on.

It is not unimaginable that a sort of Bradley effect took place in South Carolina, that a number of normally steadfast Republicans balked at voting for the first non-white and female governor in history.

This is a serious accusation, and therefore needs serious evidence. The next post will therefore begin an extensive examination of whether Ms. Haley’s race undermined her performance.

--Inoljt

 

 

An Interesting Fact About Obama’s Inauguration

President Barack Obama’s inauguration was a momentous occasion, which many Americans from around the country traveled to see.

Today, as the Obama presidency has become more mundane, much of the inauguration is forgotten. Most Americans, if they remember anything at all of the inauguration, might dimly recall the blunder Chief Justice John Roberts and Mr. Obama made during the swearing-in.

There was, however, a thread of fear that the inauguration would be the attempt for an assassination attempt against Mr. Obama, as the first African-American president. This was something which many people quietly feared, even knowing that the hard evidence was slim.

Naturally, the president and his security were aware of this possibility, and they took steps to prevent it. As it turns out, the president-elect was wearing a specially designed, bullet-resistant suit that day. Very few people knew about this, and very few people know about it to this day (there are quite natural reasons why).

Fortunately, the president turned out not to have needed the suit and the protection; there was no threat that day. All in all, the inauguration was a boring event, and therefore a successful one. Nevertheless, it is interesting to know that Mr. Obama was wearing a suit designed to hinder bullets, even though it did not look like he was doing so. It is good to know that clever measures such as this are being utilized to protect the country’s leader.

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

 

 

Growing Republican Strength Along the Rio Grande River?

(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 state of Texas is one of the Republican Party’s most valuable strongholds. It adds a good 38 electoral votes to the Republican candidate’s electoral vote; Democrats have not been competitive in the state for at least a decade.

One of the only Democratic regions in Texas lies along the Rio Grande River:


Link to Map of Texas, 2008 Presidential Election

This region is the part of Texas that borders Mexico. It is readily apparent in the map above as the only group of blue counties that President Barack Obama won outside of a major city.

The area is one of the most Hispanic areas in the United States; there are places, especially next to the border of Mexico, where the Hispanic percentage approaches 100%. Some of these people have lived along the Rio Grande for hundreds of years, with roots dating back to when Texas was a part of Mexico.

There are several other distinguishing characteristics. The parts of Texas along the Mexican border are among the poorest regions in the United States. Politically speaking, voter turn-out is very low – perhaps lower than any other part of the country.

When the rest of Texas moved steadily Republican, South Texas swung leftwards for much of the twentieth century. In 1996 the Democratic presidential nominee won almost every single county south of San Antonio, some with over 80% of the vote.

Since then, however, Republicans have recovered their verve. President George W. Bush did incredibly well amongst Hispanics in Texas; in 2004 he even won 86% Hispanic Cameron County in the Rio Grande Valley. In 2008 the Democratic presidential candidate once again posted solid numbers along the Rio Grande. Nevertheless, they ran well behind their 1996 performance throughout the region:

Link to Map of Texas, Voting Shifts From 1996 to 2008

(Note: Edited NYT Image)

Compared to 1988 – a year in which the Democratic presidential candidate suffered a resounding national defeat – the 2008 nominee, despite winning a solid national victory, also failed to improve markedly in the Rio Grande area:

Link to Map of Texas, Voting Shifts From 1988 to 2008

(Note: Edited Center For American Progress Image)

(Note: This image can be accessed here.)

Note that in 2008 Democrats lost Texas by 11.8%; in 1988 they lost Texas by 12.6%.

In the 2010 midterm elections Republicans also made several gains in South Texas, winning two heavily Hispanic congressional districts. The first was the 23rd congressional district, which is 65.5% Hispanic; the second the 27th congressional district, which is 71.6% (!) Hispanic.

Link to Map of Texas Congressional Districts Along Rio Grande River

These patterns are not unique to Texas. In rural south Colorado, for instance, traditionally Hispanic counties have also trended Republican since the 1990s.

Whether the areas of Texas bordering the Rio Grande River will continue moving Democratic or Republican is up-to-question. In Texas, the effects of Mr. Bush’s appeal to Hispanics still are heard; Hispanics in the state are some of the more conservative in the country. The Texas Republican Party has also been relatively moderate on immigration issues. For instance, Republican Governor Rick Perry – a firecracker on other issues – opposes SB 1070.

Needless to say, Republican success at cutting Democratic margins in the counties bordering the Rio Grande would constitute a major achievement for the party.


If a Democrat is ever to win Texas – and none has done so for more than a decade – he or she will need enormous margins there. If Republicans go from 30+% to 40+% of the vote in El Paso or Hidalgo County, it is very difficult to imagine Democrats ever winning Texas.

For more than a decade Democrats have latched onto the Great Hispanic Hope: that growing numbers of Democratic-voting Latinos in Texas will one day turn the state blue. Republican success at winning Hispanics would crush that dream.

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

 

The Great Twitter/Facebook Revolution Fallacy

For some strange reason, the American media has always been obsessed with Twitter and Facebook. The movie “The Social Network,” which is about the founding of Facebook, received far more media commentary than any other movie in 2010, despite being only the 28th highest U.S.-grossing film that year.

This applies to foreign affairs as well. In the context of the events occurring in the Middle East, the Western media loves to argue that Twitter and Facebook constitute catalysts for revolution in the modern era. Indeed, some articles called the 2009 Iranian protests the “Twitter Revolution.” One excited journalist at the time wrote:

Iranians are blogging, posting to Facebook and, most visibly, coordinating their protests on Twitter, the messaging service. Their activity has increased, not decreased, since the presidential election on Friday and ensuing attempts by the government to restrict or censor their online communications.

On Twitter, reports and links to photos from a peaceful mass march through Tehran on Monday, along with accounts of street fighting and casualties around the country, have become the most popular topic on the service worldwide, according to Twitter’s published statistics.

The trouble with all this is that in June 2009, the entire country of Iran only had 19,235 Twitter users, according to statistics assembled by Sysomos. This is about half the number of people who attend a professional football game. To be fair, the figure is probably not exact; the true number could be higher (due to Iranians not reporting being from Iran) or lower (due to foreigners setting their residence to Iran to protect native Iranian Twitter users).

But it certainly is not enough to make a “Twitter Revolution.” Foreign Policy analyst Golnaz Esfandiari probably provides a more accurate analysis of Twitter’s role in Iran:

Twitter was definitely not a major communications tool for activists on the ground in Iran.

Nonetheless, the “Twitter Revolution” was an irresistible meme during the post-election protests, a story that wrote itself. Various analysts were eager to chime in about the purported role of Twitter in the Green Movement. Some were politics experts, like the Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan and Marc Ambinder. Others were experts on new media, like Sascha Segan of PC Magazine. Western journalists who couldn’t reach — or didn’t bother reaching? — people on the ground in Iran simply scrolled through the English-language tweets posted with tag #iranelection. Through it all, no one seemed to wonder why people trying to coordinate protests in Iran would be writing in any language other than Farsi.

The recent revolutions in the Arab world also, in all likelihood, have very little to do with either Twitter or Facebook, whatever the Western media might say. Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen have a combined total of 14,642 Twitter users. That is a tiny, tiny number. There are more people in a major public university than Twitter users in these three countries combined.

Facebook is relatively more widely used throughout the world; its penetration in Egypt was 4.58% as of July 2010.  This is better than Twitter, but the usage pales in comparison to – say – the percent of the population that watches Al Jazeera. Fortunately, given the nationwide Internet shutdown in Egypt, journalists are not talking about a “Facebook Revolution” in Egypt.

But the articles about Facebook or Twitter supposedly inciting revolution continue. One recent Times article argued that in Sudan “protests, organized by groups of university students and graduates, came together as Facebook, Twitter and other Web sites were used to rally several thousand demonstrators.”

Maybe. But only 10% of people in Sudan even have access to the Internet, let alone use Facebook or Twitter. One wonders how many people in Sudan (or Egypt or Iran, for that matter) even know that these websites exist.

Indeed, the primary users of Twitter and Facebook seem to be well-educated, Internet-savvy Westerners – the type of people who, not coincidentally, write articles for the New York Times and Washington Post. The Western media’s focus on so-called “Twitter Revolutions” may tell less about the revolution and more about the preoccupations of the American journalists who cover about the revolution.

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

 

Analyzing the 2010 Midterm Elections – the Illinois Senate Election

This is a part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections. This post will focus on the Illinois Senate election, in which Republican candidate Mark Kirk pulled out a close Republican victory in a strongly Democratic state.

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

Illinois’s Senatorial Election

Link to Map of Illinois, 2010 Senate Election

Senator Mark Kirk’s victory follows the contours of a previous post, titled Previewing Senate Elections: Illinois. This post argued:

So what does Mr. Kirk have to do? Say that he gets 35% of the vote in Cook County – propelled by inner-ring suburban strength and minority apathy – and wins a landslide everywhere else in the state (for instance, a 3:2 margin). This gives him 50.3% of the vote in the 2008 Illinois electorate. If white Republicans downstate turn out, and minorities in Chicago do not, Mr. Kirk may get bumped up to a 2-3% victory.

As it turns out, this is almost exactly what actually happened in the election.

The previous analysis divided Illinois into three sections: Chicago, the suburbs of Chicago, and downstate Illinois. Let’s take a look at what Mr. Kirk did in each part of Illinois.

Chicago

Illinois is generally a Democratic stronghold. Cook County, home to the city of Chicago, composes more than 40% of the state’s population, and Democrats always win by a landslide in the county. Republicans have to stretch themselves to the limit everywhere else in the state – winning even the areas that normally vote Democratic – to get close.

But Republicans also must dampen Democratic margins in Cook County. This happens if Republicans can do well in the parts of Cook County outside Chicago, which are whiter and more conservative. In the city of Chicago itself, most voters are so Democratic that they will prefer not voting to casting the ballot for a Republican. There, low turn-out is more important for Republicans than actually winning over voters.

In 2010, Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias won 64.3% of the vote in Cook County.

At first glance, this sounds quite good. Winning 64.3% of the vote is nothing to sniff at. No president has ever won that much of the popular vote in history.

But Senator John Kerry won 70.2% of the vote in Cook County. And President Barack Obama took 76.2% of the vote. In modern Illinois politics, a Democratic candidate who takes only 64.3% of the vote in Cook County is in deep trouble.

Chicago’s Suburbs

“Previewing Senate Elections, Illinois” stated that:

The true test of Mark Kirk’s candidacy will come in the Chicago suburbs…

He will not just have to win the suburbs, but turn the clock back two decades – back to the glory years in which Republicans won around 70% of the vote in DuPage County. (Mr. Kirk will probably not have to do that well, given rising Republican strength downstate.)

Is this doable? Given that Republicans seem to be winning suburbs everywhere this year, it is certainly possible. Mr. Kirk, moreover, has spent a decade representing a Chicago suburb congressional district; this is why Republicans have nominated him.

As it turned out, Mr. Kirk passed the test with flying colors. His moderate image and suburban origin led to double-digit victories in every one of the collar counties surrounding Cook County.

In the past, Republicans have won Illinois through massive support in the Chicago’s suburbs to offset the Democratic advantage in Chicago itself. Mr. Kirk was able to somewhat replicate this model in 2010:

Link to Table Comparing Dupage and Cook County Margins

This strength did not extend to all Republicans. Republican candidate Bill Brady, for instance, still won the Chicago suburbs. But his margins were just the slightest bit off – a high single-digit rather than double-digit victory here; a 15-point rather than 20-point margin there – and ultimately this led to Mr. Brady’s defeat.

Downstate Illinois

Imagine that the year is 1990, and Republican Mark Kirk pulls the exact same numbers in the Chicago metropolis.

Most analysts in that year would say that Mr. Kirk is on his way to a sure loss – after all, Democrats are quite competitive in downstate Illinois, and Mr. Kirk just hasn’t squeezed enough juice from the collar counties.

Today, however, downstate Illinois has trended firmly Republican. Without this trend Mr. Kirk would not have won.

Here is an illustration of Illinois in the 1992 presidential election:

Link to Map of Illinois, 1992 Presidential Election

President Bill Clinton is doing quite well, winning almost every single county downstate – many by double-digits. Compare this to President Barack Obama’s performance:

Link to Map of Illinois, 2008 Presidential Election

Mr. Obama is actually doing much better in Illinois than Mr. Clinton, and yet he loses a number of the downstate counties Mr. Clinton won.

This illustrates the shift in downstate Illinois to the Republican side, and in 2010 Mr. Kirk took full advantage of that trend to win re-election.

Conclusions

The post “Previewing Senate Elections: Illinois” concluded by mapping, somewhat light-heartedly, a hypothetical Republican victory:

Link to Map of Hypothetical Republican Victory in Illinois

Mr. Kirk’s victory ended up looking extremely similar:

Link to Map of Actual Republican Victory in Illinois

All in all, it is always exciting to see a Republican victory in a Democratic stronghold, or a Democratic victory in a Republican stronghold. Mr. Kirk’s victory is the first time a Republican has won Illinois in quite a while. It constitutes one of the Republican Party’s greatest triumphs in the 2010 midterm elections.

--Inoljt

 

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