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A general election will be held in Israel on January 22, 2013. The Knesset, Israel’s unicameral legislature, has 120 seats.
The Knesset is elected by party-list proportional representation (d’Hondt) with the entire country serving as a single constituency. The threshold for parties to win seats is very low in Israel, currently standing at 2%. This 2% threshold is, in fact, higher than past thresholds – it was previously 1% and then 1.5%. The very low threshold has had several effects on Israeli politics. From a partisan standpoint, the low threshold makes it fairly easy for small parties to win at least one seat and gain some degree of influence in the legislature. This has favoured the growth and survival of small parties, the creation of new parties by dissidents from other parties and the birth of new small parties every election. The low threshold has also made governing difficult, because no party has ever won the 61 seats required to win an absolute majority (the closest that a party came was 56 seats, but this was back in 1969). In the past two elections, the party which won a plurality of seats won only 22% of the popular vote. As a result, the larger parties must necessarily form coalition governments with the smaller parties, many of which cater to sectional religious or ideological interests and have a tendency to abandon their senior coalition partners very quickly. This has resulted in short-lived governments, very heterogeneous coalition governments which often includes parties with differing interests or political bases and has made the life of Israeli Prime Ministers quite difficult.
Electoral and political reform has been a long-standing issue in Israel. One attempt was to directly elect the Prime Minister, alongside legislative elections (in 1996 and 1999). It had been hoped that by personalizing the system and directly electing the Prime Minister (all three times in two-way races), the winning candidate could lead his party to a strong showing. Voters did not behave that way, and in all three cases the Prime Minister-elect needed to form broad coalitions with smaller parties. The system was scrapped after the 2001 prime ministerial election and Israel returned to the old system. Others have proposed to modify the electoral system by raising the threshold, using the German MMP system or switching to FPTP in single-member constituencies. However, small parties, which are necessary for every governing coalition, have resisted any such changes which would likely hurt them or force them to merge with larger parties.
The Israeli ‘party system’ is very unstable, and marked by the proliferation of many small parties all across the spectrum. The parties are a reflection of the electoral system which has created an extreme case of multi-party system, but the many parties are also a reflection of Israel’s religious, ideological and ethnic diversity: parties representing the various strands of Zionism, parties representing the religious diversity within Judaism, parties representing the different Jewish immigrant or ethnic groups and the three parties for the Arab Israeli minority. Ideologically, Israel often speaks of the ‘right’, the ‘centre’ and the ‘left’ – with these ideological labels referring primarily to various positions in the Arab-Israeli conflict (hawks vs. doves) rather than differences over economic policy. The ‘right’ includes both a mainstream right, a religious right and a far-right (the religious right is often considered the far-right). The ‘centre’ is divided and its history has seen many parties come and go, many disappearing after one or two elections before being replaced by a new centrist party which often, invariably, suffers the same fate.
The party standings in the Knesset at the moment of dissolution were as follows:
Likud 27 seats
Kadima 21 seats
Yisrael Beiteinu 15 seats
Shas 11 seats
Labour (HaAvoda) 8 seats
Hatnuah 7 seats
Independence 5 seats
United Torah Judaism 5 seats
Hadash 4 seats
United Arab List-Ta’al 3 seats
Jewish Home 3 seats
New Movement-Meretz 3 seats
Balad 3 seats
National Union 2 seats
Otzma LeYisrael 2 seats
Am Shalem 2 seats
Arab Democratic Party 1 seat
Likud (The Consolidation) is the major right-wing party in Israel, and currently the largest governing party. The Israeli right and Likud were born from Revisionist Zionism, a conservative and nationalist variant of Zionism developed by Ze’ev Jabotinsky. It was distinguished from Ben Gurion’s Labour Zionism both for its conservative anti-socialist character but also its territorial maximalism/irredentism, claiming the entire British Mandate of Palestine, including modern-day Jordan, for an independent Jewish state. Jabotinsky and his successor, Menachem Begin (the leader of the Irgun militia and later the Herut party) refused to sacrifice part of the historical land of Israel to establish an Arab state. However, after the creation of the modern-day state of Israel, the Herut party, under Begin’s leadership, grew more moderate in their advocacy of Jewish sovereignty on both banks of the Jordan river. By the 1970s, irredentist sentiments had largely subsided and the legitimacy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was no longer questioned by the right. However, the Israeli right and Likud have always taken a harder stance (hawkish) on the Arab-Israeli conflict, the issue of a Palestinian state and negotiations with the Arabs and Palestinians.
Herut and its successors (the Gahal alliance with the liberals, then Likud in 1977) were out of power during the first 28 years of Israel’s existence. Begin’s Likud finally came to power in 1977, defeating the centre-left Alignment (Labour) which had been in power since the creation of the Israeli state in 1949. Menachem Begin’s historic victory in the 1977 election marked a major political realignment in Israel and the defeat of the Ashkenazi elite. The founder of Israel and the leaders of then-dominant Labour Zionism were all Ashkenazi, Jews of European (including eastern European) descent. Ashkenazi Jews became the political and economic elite of the new Israeli state, while Sephardic (Jews of Iberian descent) and Mizrahi (Jews from the Muslim Middle East and North Africa) Jews were largely poor, living in working-class neighborhoods of major cities or in peripheral cities. The Ashkenazi elite looked down on the poorer Sephardic and Mizrahi (nowadays, the two terms are interchangeable) communities. The growth of both of these communities in the first decades of Israel’s existence proved politically beneficial to Likud, whose more religious, conservative and hawkish/nationalist outlook appealed to these more religious (often called ‘traditionalist’ Jews in modern Israeli parlance) communities. To this day, the Likud performs best with lower-income and traditionalist Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, in lower-income urban or peripheral areas. It is also strong in the Negev development towns, and polls well in some of the larger West Bank settlements.
Despite the Likud’s historic hawkish positions on the Arab-Israeli conflict, their leaders have often proven more moderate and pragmatic than their parties. Menachem Begin negotiated the peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, Benjamin Netanyahu reluctantly agreed to cede territory to the Palestinian Authority in 1998 with the Wye River Memorandum while Ariel Sharon, in 2006, evacuated all Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip (the unilateral disengagement plan). The unilateral disengagement led to a major split in the Likud, which culminated in Sharon walking out to form the centrist Kadima. At the outset, Kadima’s creation and its victory in 2006 left Likud as a decimated right-wing rump, which polled very badly in 2006. However, after three years as the largest opposition party, Likud, led by Netanyahu, roared back in 2009.
The party’s current leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, is considered a moderate within his own party. He has often faced opposition from the party’s ‘hard-right’ which is strongly opposed to a two-state solution. In contrast, Netanyahu tepidly endorsed the two-state solution (under certain conditions) in 2009, though he has generally given the image, especially abroad, that he is sliding his feet on negotiations. At the same time, under his government, Israeli settlements in the West Bank have continued to expand. Governing has forced him to be more pragmatic and moderate than the Likud hardliners, but Netanyahu gives the impression that he has no great appetite for rapid negotiations. Netanyahu needs to be careful of not alienating his own party, which is generally to his right on the Palestinian issue.
The ‘hard right’ of the party performed very well in the recent Likud primaries, something which will shift the party further to the right, much to the chagrin of the ‘peaceniks’. Moshe Feiglin, who had won 23% in the January 2012 Likud leadership election as Netanyahu’s only opponent, did very well in the primaries and will finally enter the Knesset, placing 22nd on the list. Feiglin, a close ally of the hard-right settlers’ lobby, is a controversial politician who wants to encourage the Palestinians to emigrate, with financial incentives to push them in that direction. Other new Likud hawks are far more assertive against Israel’s traditional allies in Europe and in Washington, warning that Israel should ignore the West’s demands for a negotiated peace with the Palestinians. On the other hand, old timers and moderates – incumbent cabinet ministers Benny Begin (the son of the former Prime Minister) or the centrist Dan Meridor did not find enough support in the primaries to win a place on the party list.
The Likud is running a common list with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home). Lieberman, a Moldovan immigrant, created YB in 1999. By and large, the party’s support lies predominantly with Jewish immigrants who came from Russia and the former Soviet Union. It polls best in towns with large Russian Jewish immigrant populations: Ashdod but also Karmiel or Arad.
The party’s ideology reflects its largely Russian electorate: hawkish but secular. The party is characterized by the foreign media as far-right, hardline or ultra-nationalist. Lieberman has often taken hardline stances on Arab-Israeli relations and negotiations with the Palestinian, but he supports a two-state solution – with a major twist, which is the subject of much controversy. The Lieberman plan suggests a transfer of populated territories between the Jewish state and an Arab-Palestinian state which would see Israeli settlements in the West Bank transferred to the Jewish state and Arab regions within Israel transferred to a Palestinian state. Arab Israelis and many on the left have contended that this plan is racist, others have questioned the legality of such a plan (as it would likely involve the revocation of citizenship for many Arab Israelis). On domestic issues, YB is a secular party. It strongly supports civil marriages alongside religious marriages, and wants to end the ultra-orthodox’s exemption from military service (an issue which came up again in the past year). It is not, however, anti-clerical: it opposes the separation of religion and state.
Avigdor Lieberman is a love-or-hate figure. Many of his opponents have claimed that he is a virulent racist and a far-right nationalist demagogue. His ties with certain local and foreign entrepreneurs are the subject of controversy. The police has been investigating allegations that he received millions from an entrepreneur while serving in the Knesset, which is illegal in Israel. In December 2012, Lieberman was indicted for breach of trust and fraud (but not witness tampering or money laundering). He resigned as foreign minister and deputy Prime Minister the following day. Even if corruption only very rarely kills Israeli politicians, these latest corruption charges against him likely signal that his star power and political influence may be starting to wane, even with his Russian base.
The Israeli right’s traditional stance on negotiations with the Palestinians is ‘peace for peace’, indicating that it sets peace and the end of terrorism as a necessary precondition for any negotiation and the creation of a Palestinian state. In a 2009 speech, Netanyahu seemed to endorse the two-state solution, over the opposition of some Likud hawks. However, at the same time, the Likud strongly opposes evacuating West Bank settlements or a partition of Jerusalem (handing East Jerusalem over to the Arabs). The party has always tried to appeal to the settlers and placate them, while still maintaining an arm’s-length from them. This may prove harder as the Likud hawks and hard right has gained even more prominence within the party. Both Likud and YB support forceful military responses to any terrorist attacks against Israel. In November 2012, the IDF responded to Palestinian rocket and mortar fire from Hamas’ stronghold in Gaza with air strikes against Hamas militants and leaders.
On economic issues, both Likud and YB support right-wing economic policies including privatization or lower taxes, though some within the Likud have tended to favour more interventionist policies. Netanyahu served as finance minister under Sharon between 2003 and 2005 and gained a reputation as one of the most free market liberal finance minister, backing free trade, privatization and criticizing the power of Israel’s largest trade union (Histadrut).
Israel is a religiously diverse society. A significant and rapidly growing Jewish demographic are Haredi Jews, the most conservative form of Orthodox Judaism. Haredi Jews should segregate from non-Jewish culture, focus on Torah study and participate in modern society as little as possible. They are expected to abide to Jewish religious laws very closely, and enforce a strict gender segregation. Historically, the Haredi have been strongly opposed to Zionism, in large part because they felt that a Jewish state would only be established through divine intervention by the Messiah and that human attempts to establish the Jewish state equated to open rebellion. The Haredi also strongly disliked the secular and socialist Zionist elites which founded Israel. If certain Haredim sects still strongly oppose Zionism and even refuse to recognize Israel, most Haredim in Israel have accepted the Jewish state as a fait accompli and made their peace with the state in return for special advantages. They have focused their political efforts on certain religious issues such as religious education, military service exemption and strengthening the Jewish religious identity of the state. Sephardic Haredim is more supportive of Zionism and Israel than Ashkenazi Haredim are. There are two Haredim parties in Israel, forming the religious right. Both support the establishment of a theocratic state governed by Jewish religious laws.
The Shas were founded in 1984 to represent the Sephardic and Mizrahi Haredim communities who felt discriminated against or marginalized by the Ashkenazi Jewish elite. The Shas’ spiritual leader is Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and its chairman is Eli Yishai. In this election, however, the Shas have no actual leader because Aryeh Deri, a former leader and cabinet minister who had been found guilty of bribery in 2000, wanted to return to politics and the Shas leadership needed to prevent him from creating his own party. The Shas are a small party, but they have a solid electoral clientele which has allowed them to be the eternal kingmaker in Israeli politics since the 1980s. The party has participated in every coalition government besides Sharon-Olmert’s coalition between 2003 and 2006.
Traditionally, the party did not place a heavy emphasis on the Palestinian question and maintained a pragmatic, ambiguous and moderate stance on the issue, preferring to focus on religious questions. In recent years, however, they have shifted heavily towards the right and adopted far more nationalist stances on the Palestinian question. In 2010, the Shas joined the World Zionist Organization, signaling their evolution from a religiously-focused pragmatic Haredi party to a Zionist-Haredi party. It now strongly opposes dismantling settlements in the West Bank. On religious issues, the Shas define Israel as a Jewish state which should abide by Jewish religious laws. While it has decried extremist attacks against women, it supports maintaining the gender segregation on public transit in predominantly Haredim areas. On economic issues, the Shas strongly oppose free market capitalism and tend to emphasize social justice, alleviating poverty, a strong social safety net and ‘social solidarity’.
The Shas are the Sephardic and Mizrahi Haredim party, but most of their votes, in reality, come from Modern Orthodox or traditionalist (non-Haredim) Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews.
The smaller United Torah Judaism (UTJ), founded in 1992, is an alliance of two ultra-orthodox Ashkenazi parties: Degel HaTorah and Agudat Israel. The Degel HaTorah (Banner of the Torah) represents the “Lithuanian” non-Hasidic Haredim Ashkenazi Jews, it was founded in 1988 from a split in Agudat Israel. Agudat Israel (Union of Israel) is the Hasidic (Hasidism is a variant of Haredi Judaism) party, which is also heavily Ashkenazi. The two parties often disagree with one another, largely over religious issues; this does not seem to matter as much as it would in other parties because the UTJ structure has little power, with MKs having individual autonomy and most important votes being decided by rabbis. The two parties did split in 2004 but reunited in 2005. While the Shas have shifted to the right on Arab-Israeli/Palestinian issues, UTJ has maintained a position of neutrality (status-quo) on the issue and it has retained its exclusive focus on religious issues. Like the Shas, UTJ defines Israel as a Jewish state, believes that religious law should take supremacy over democratic values, supports gender segregation in public transit, opposes opening businesses on the Sabbath and opposes any changes to the ultra-orthodox exemption from military service.
UTJ and Shas, evidently, are strongest in cities and towns with large Haredim populations. This is the case in Jerusalem, where UTJ topped the poll in 2006 and where they won 19% in 2009 (and the Shas won 15%). UTJ is very strong in Bnei Brak, a heavily Haredim town near Tel Aviv.
There is a new religious party in this election, Am Shalem, a Shas splinter led by ex-Shas MK Haim Amsalem. The party appears slightly less ultra-orthodox, supporting “religious-secular unity”. It says that it supports the ’separation of religion from politics’ and calls on all citizens to share the ‘national burden’ of serving in the IDF. It has maintained ambiguous silence on the Palestinian question, though Amsalem claimed that he was in the ‘middle’ on those issues but stressed that his emphasis was on religious and domestic issues. It has focused most of its attacks on the Shas, notably accusing it of corruption.
The Shas and UTJ are both identified as the ‘religious right’ parties in Israel. Given their very conservative positions on religious issues, they have often been lumped into the larger ‘far-right’ category by observers. However, given that Israel’s left-right spectrum is largely defined by the Palestinian question rather than economic or moral/religious issues, it might not be very accurate to consider these two parties, especially UTJ, as far-right. The Israeli far-right is formed by The Jewish Home and the National Union parties, which are running a common list in these elections, unlike in 2009.
The Jewish Home (HaBayit HaYehudi) was founded in 2008 and it is the successor of the National Religious Party (NRP, Mafdal). The NRP was founded in 1956 and represented the Religious Zionist/National Religious movement, a conservative strand of Judaism (often similar in their faith to some orthodox Jews) which strongly supported Zionism. The movement’s founder, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, attempted to reconcile Zionism (a largely secular and socialist ideology) with religion. Kook argued that Zionism was also a tool of God to promote His divine scheme and to initiate the return of the Jews to the Promised Land. God wanted the Jews to return to Israel and establish a sovereign Jewish state where they could follow Jewish religious teachings. The NRP was born as a fairly moderate party interested in its religious issues, and its pragmatism on other issues allowed it to participate in every government between its foundation and 1992 (and between 1998 and 2005). However, after 1967, the NRP had a very marked shift to the right coinciding with a “messianic revival” spawned by Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War. The NRP and Religious Zionism became very closely linked to the settlement movement in the West Bank, and the party was at times described as the political arm of the settlers’ movement.
The National Union, founded in 1999, is an alliance of four far-right parties: Moledet (supports a voluntary population transfer to establish Jordan as the Palestinian state, Israeli annexation of the territories), Hatikva (secular), Eretz Yisrael Shelanu (linked to the Kahanist movement) and Tkuma. The NU has always been a shaky political coalition, with parties coming and going (Lieberman’s YB was originally part of the NU). They have been held together by their vociferous opposition to any independent Palestinian state within the “Land of Israel” (Israel and the Palestinian territories), and their very strong support and links to the West Bank (and, formerly, Gaza) settlements. In 2008, the NU and NRP united to merge into a single party, Jewish Home. However, the new party was quickly dominated by the NRP, with most of the top spots on the party’s list going to the NRP. Moledet and Hatikva revived the NU, and were later joined by Eretz Yisrael Shelanu and MK Uri Ariel (ex-Tkuma). The NU, which is very closely tied with the settlements, won many settlements in the West Bank (which it calls Judea and Samaria) in 2009.
Naftali Bennett, the son of American Jewish immigrants and a former high-tech tycoon and entrepreneur, won the Jewish Home leadership primaries in November 2012 with 67% of the vote. Bennett served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff between 2006 and 2008, and between 2010 and 2012 he was the director general of the Yesha Council, an organization of municipal councils of West Bank settlements. In 2011, he founded, alongside Ayelet Shaked, the ‘My Israel’ organization, a right-wing organization aimed at fighting “left-wing elites” or “anti-Zionist” sentiment.
The JH is far less ambiguous than Netanyahu on the issue of Arab-Israeli relations or Palestinian negotiations. It naturally strongly opposes any evacuation or dismantlement of West Bank settlements or a partition of Jerusalem. But it is also unequivocally opposed to a Palestinian state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Bennett supports the direct Israeli annexation of Area C of the West Bank (the zone under Israeli control according to Oslo-II, where most settlements are located). Palestinians could retain municipal autonomy under tight Israeli tutelage within their islands of control. This is more or less a “one-state solution”, but unlike one-staters on the left, the far-right’s one-state vision seeks to uphold Jewish hegemony and protect Israel as a Jewish state. According to the party, “Jordan, which accounts for 75% of the Palestinian population, is the Palestinian state”.
On religious issues, the Jewish Home (and the NRP before it) is generally conservative, though unlike the ultra-orthodox parties it does not support a theocratic state, instead supporting a “Jewish and democratic” state. The party’s platform says that it will “fight for the Jewish identity of the state on every level” and opposes any attempts to “damage religious legislation”. However, the party wants to name religious Zionist rabbis to the chief rabbinate, to take control of that institution from the ultra-orthodox. Bennett has appealed to religious communities, but Ayelet Shaked, the 36-year old co-founder of My Israel, is a secular young woman (a big deal in a party such as the JH/NRP) whose comments hinting in favour of civil marriage sparked a row with the ultra-orthodox parties (particularly Shas), which have violently denounced the party for its alleged secularism. The party also wants to simplify the conversion process. On economic issues, the JH is right-wing.
Otzma LeYisrael (Strong Israel) is a new far-right party, even further to the right than the JH. It was founded by two NU MKs, Aryeh Eldad (Hatikva) and Michael Ben-Ari (Eretz Yisrael Shelanu). Ben-Ari still openly defines himself as a Kahanist, the extremist movement which has been classified as a terrorist organization by the United States and other countries. Like the JH, it strongly opposes any Palestinian state or settlement freeze or evacuation. The party has been accused of race-baiting against the Arab Israeli minorities. One of its billboard ads was banned by the Central Elections Committee on the ground thats it was racist, in a TV ad the party’s two leaders spoke in Arabic and warned that “without duties there are no rights”.
In the centre, Kadima (Forward) was founded by Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon after his unilateral disengagement plan had created a major crisis within the Likud. Sharon had been something of a maverick within the Likud, because of his weak ties to the Revisionist Zionist ideology (he was originally a member of the left-wing Mapai) and his more moderate positions within the party. The party was launched by Sharon in November 2005, and was immediately joined by a good number of Sharon supporters within the Likud (Tzipi Livni, Ehud Olmert) but also Shimon Peres, a former Labour Prime Minister. However, Sharon suffered a stroke in December 2005 and another massive stroke in January 2006 which left him debilitated. It was Ehud Olmert who led the party to victory in the 2006 elections and became Prime Minister, the first non-Labour or non-Likud member to hold that office. Olmert was unpopular as Prime Minister, because of constant corruption allegations (he was finally indicted in 2009 and convicted of ‘breach of trust’ in 2012) and the summer 2006 war in southern Lebanon, described as disastrous in Israel. The right also opposed his peace talks with the Palestinians. He stepped down as leader in July 2008. Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, narrowly won the leadership battle against Shaul Mofaz, the defense minister and former IDF chief of staff. Livni’s Kadima actually won one more seat than the Likud in the 2009 elections, but Likud formed government because of its better relations with right-wing parties. Her mediocre performance as opposition leader led to a leadership challenge in March 2012, in which Shaul Mofaz handily defeated her.
Shaul Mofaz had pledged during the leadership campaign that he would not join a government headed by Netanyahu. In May 2012, as the country was set for new elections in September 2012, Kadima and Mofaz agreed to join the government and the elections were cancelled. The issue which precipitated Kadima’s surprise decision to join the coalition was the Tal Law (the law which allows Haredi to indefinitely defer their national service), Kadima (and YB) had attempted to amend the law. In July, however, Mofaz quit the coalition, citing the failure of the parties to reach a compromise on the Tal issue. Mofaz’s decision to join the government after being adamant a few months before that he would not seriously hurt his image and popularity. He has also been painted as something of a lightweight.
Sharon supported the old ‘Road Map for peace’ and Kadima supports a two-state solution, even if it supports maintaining large legal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and supports Israeli control over Jerusalem. The Israeli ‘centre’ has usually been more supportive than the right of an independent Palestinian state and the two-state solution, however, it has always taken a tough stance against Palestinian terrorism and insists that dismantling Palestinian militant/terrorist groups should be the first steps in negotiations towards a two-state solution. The party’s platform says it will ensure the safety of Israelis against terrorist organizations.
On domestic issues, Kadima has been concerned by the growing divide between the ultra-orthodox (Haredi) sector and other Israelis, and it has sought to bridge this gap. It is secular on religious questions, notably opposing the current military service exemption for ultra-orthodox Jews or supporting civil marriage. It has described its vision of Israel as being a “Jewish and democratic state”. On economic issues, the party is centrist: it supports the market economy but also wants to increase social security benefits, fix the public housing problem and raise taxes on the highest earners.
Hatnuah (The Movement) was created in late November 2012 by Tzipi Livni, the former Kadima leader defeated by Shaul Mofaz in the party’s March 2012 leadership election. 7 Kadima MKs, not including Livni who had resigned from the Knesset, joined the party. It was later joined by two Labour leaders: Amram Mitzna (2002-2003) and Amir Peretz (2005-2007), both of whom are known as ‘doves’ on the Palestinian question.
The party has placed a large emphasis on the Palestinian question in this election, Livni has stated that the existence of a “Jewish, democratic state” is threatened by the lack of progress on peace agreements with Palestinians and the Arab world. She has criticized Netanyahu’s record on the issue, attracting attention to his government’s inability to defeat Hamas and its international PR defeat in 2012 when Palestine was recognized by the UN as a non-member observer state. Hatnuah strongly supports a two-state solution and it is open to freezing construction of new West Bank settlements. Livni was one of the few non-Arab Israeli politicians who strongly opposed the government’s citizenship-loyalty law (requiring non-citizens to take an oath of loyalty to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state), passed in 2010. On religious matters, it is strongly secular.
To add to the pathological division of the centre, there is a new centrist party in 2013: Yesh Atid (There is a Future). Yesh Atid was founded in January 2012 by Yair Lapid, a popular journalist and the son of Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, the former leader of the extinct anti-clerical liberal Shinui party. Built on the ruins of the once-mighty Shinui, Yesh Atid has placed its emphasis on secularism (civil marriage, extending the draft to all Israelis, gender equality) and domestic priorities (economic growth, combating red tape, reducing cost of living and housing costs) rather than the Palestinian question. It has also adopted an anti-corruption agenda, including a smaller cabinet (18 members), protecting judicial powers and independence and protecting the rule of law.
The party has not placed much emphasis on the Palestinian question during the campaign. While Yesh Atid supports a two-state solution, it is strongly opposed evacuating settlements in exchange for peace and it has pledged to meet Palestinian militancy with a forceful military response. Recently, Lapid said that he did not think that Arabs wanted peace and that he wanted to “be rid of them” and “put a tall fence between us and them”, in order to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel.
The centrist parties have been stronger with secular and more middle-class Ashkenazi Jews, in central Israel. Kadima won 34% in Tel Aviv in 2009 against only 19% for Likud, performing well in affluent and secular north Tel Aviv.
The traditional party of the left in Israel is the Labour Party (HaAvoda). The current party was founded in 1968, but seen as the latest incarnation of the Labour Zionist movement, its power and influence predates the establishment of the state of Israel. At the outset, the Zionist movement was largely dominated by a secular and socialist Ashkenazi elite which placed great emphasis on Jews moving to Israel to become farmers, workers, and soldiers. They established cooperative agricultural communities, the kibbutzim. The early leaders of Israel, first and foremost David Ben-Gurion, all came from this Labour Zionist tradition. Some more left-wing and radical members of the movement were Marxist, but Ben-Gurion – representative of the ‘right-wing’ of the movement – was a non-Marxist socialist. Labour and its predecessors (most importantly the Mapai) were the dominant political party in the new Israeli state between 1949 and 1977, when Begin’s Likud defeated the Alignment (the coalition in which Labour was the largest bloc).
The party lost its dominant position in Israeli politics after its defeat in 1977 election, even though it returned to power in 1984 (a grand coalition with Likud), in 1992 under Yitzhak Rabin (until his assassination in 1995) and Shimon Peres and again between 1999 and 2001 with Ehud Barak. Barak won the 1999 prime ministerial election and formed a large coalition, including religious parties, which pushed a dovish agenda and supported peace talks with the Palestinians. However, the failure of the 2000 Camp David summit and the start of the Second Intifada in 2001 led Barak to call special prime ministerial elections in 2001, in which he was badly defeated by Likud’s Ariel Sharon. It remained in government because the divided Knesset forced Sharon to form a grand coalition. However, in the 2003 elections, Labor was routed, winning only 19 seats. It briefly joined Sharon’s coalition in 2005, to bolster support for his disengagement plan.
In 2005, Amir Peretz, a trade union leader identified with the dovish left-wing of the party became the party’s leader. Under Peretz’s leadership, which sought to move the party to the left and reemphasize its traditional socialist policies, the party had a brief upturn, winning 19 seats in the 2006 election. However, when Peretz and his party joined Olmert’s government, the party lost popularity. Peretz became defense minister and his handling of the Lebanon conflict in 2006 was criticized. On his left, his decision to take the defense portfolio rather than the finance portfolio (where he could have pushed for social policies) was criticized. In 2007, he placed third in a leadership election won by Ehud Barak, who had become more hawkish. The party was decimated again in 2009, winning fourth place and a mere 13 seats. Barak pushed Labor to remain in government under Netanyahu and Barak still claimed the defense portfolio. In 2011, internal opposition to Barak’s leadership led to Barak leaving the party with 4 other MKs to form the ‘Independence’ party, a ‘centrist and Zionist’ party. Independence (and Barak) is not running in this election.
Shelly Yachimovich, a former journalist, became leader of the party in 2011. Described as a staunch social democrat, she is on the left of the party and has placed emphasis on domestic policies. There were large ‘social justice’ protests in Israel in 2011 and 2012, a largely middle-class and urban movement which targeted the high cost of living (particularly housing), high prices, low wages and the deterioration of public services. Yachimovich moved the party in the direction of the protest movement, criticizing the government’s economic policies, accusing them of hurting the middle class.
Historically a more hawkish party, Labour has become a much more dovish party in the past decades. Labour Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin actively pushed for a peace deal with the Palestinians, signing the Oslo Accords. While he was Prime Minister, Ehud Barak also unsuccessfully tried to revive the moribund peace process. It supports the two-state solution, a peace deal which it claims will ensure the safety of Israeli citizens. It supports Israeli sovereignty over large settlement blocs in the West Bank, but it would transfer settlements which are not part of large blocs to Palestine. The Israeli left has traditionally backed the ‘land for peace’ vision of negotiations. It supports the targeted killings of Palestinian terrorist leaders.
The Labour Zionist tradition is strongly secular. The Labour Party has retained this character, though it wishes to maintain (albeit limit) the current ultra-orthodox exemption from the draft and defines Israel as a Jewish state.
Over its history, the Labour Party played a large role in the establishment of a modern welfare state in Israel. However, the party nevertheless slowly drifted to the right in its economic policies in the 1980s, a shift which contributed to the party’s decline and current problems. Under Amir Peretz and, seemingly, now with Yachimovich, the party has sought to reclaim lost ground on the left by adopting more left-wing economic policies. It supports “renewing” the social welfare model, strengthening the public service, halting the privatization process and increasing taxes on high earners. It claims that reducing inequalities is its priority.
The founders of the Labour Zionist movement and the Labour Party were overwhelmingly Ashkenazi, and these Jews of European (including eastern European) origin formed the political and economic elite in Israel after 1949. The party never placed much effort in reaching out to lower-income and more religious immigrant groups (Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, later Russian Jews), in fact the Ashkenazi elite often discriminated against these new Jewish immigrant communities, creating a feeling of marginalization and exclusion against which the party has always struggled. Its weak support with these right-leaning demographics are a major problem, which led to its 1977 defeat and its subsequent decline. The party has not really been able to shake off its association with the Ashkenazi middle-classes, and its urban support remains strongest in middle-class (often Ashkenazi) areas, notably northern Tel Aviv. The Labour Party is also dominant in most non-religious kibbutzim, they won 31% in the kibbutzim in 2009, though this was a low figure in part because of left-wing tactical voting for Kadima (they won 31% on the kibbutz). In past years, the party had very strong support with Arab Israelis, but in recent years, it has lost most of its Arab vote to the Arab parties.
Meretz (Energy), founded in 1992, is the most left-wing Jewish party in Israel. It was originally a coalition between three parties, Ratz, Mapam and Shinui. The Mapam, founded in 1948, represented the Marxist current within Labour Zionism and originally had pro-Soviet positions. It was a member of the Alignment coalition between 1965 and 1984. Ratz was founded in 1973 by an Alignment MK who opposed the occupation of the Palestinian territories and called for a peace settlement with the PLO. The party won 12 seats in the 1992 election, and joined Rabin’s Labour-led coalition. The party’s strength has since declined considerably, falling from 10 seats in 1999 to 5 seats in 2003 (following the Second Intifada) and only 3 seats in the 2009 election (hurt by strategic voting on the left for Kadima against Likud). The party’s electoral weakness in the twenty-first century has been attributed to low and declining Jewish interest for the left-wing peace settlement in the face of renewed Palestinian violence and a further polarization of the conflict.
The party, naturally, supports a two-state solution. It has based its peace plan on the Geneva Accord, under which the Palestinian state’s borders would be close to that of the 1967 line and which would have East Jerusalem as its capital. Meretz supports an end to the Israeli occupation and an evacuation of the West Bank settlements and returning the Golan Heights to Syria. It recognizes that terrorism which harms innocents is an obstacle to the peace process, but does not wish for the political agenda to be dictated by terrorists. Meretz is closely associated with the Israeli peace movement and human rights groups. Alongside Labour and the Shas, Meretz is one of the few Jewish Israeli parties which has made a serious attempt to reach out to Arab Israeli voters. In the past, Meretz had Arab MKs and it has Arab candidates on its list.
On religious issues, the party is strongly secular and it is the most socially liberal party in Israel. It is closely associated with LGBT rights (it supports gay marriage) and women’s rights, and wants to enact a basic law on freedom of religion which will guarantee “freedom of religion and freedom from religion”. It also emphasizes a liberal and secular public education system. The party is quite left-wing on economic issues, supporting state intervention in the economy to ensure a social safety net or raising capital gains tax.
Meretz performs well in secular, young and artsy areas (downtown Tel Aviv) but is also quite strong in some secular kibbutzim, where they won 18% overall in 2009.
There are four major “Arab parties” which represents the Arab Israeli minority in Israel. The Arab minority accounts for 20% of the country’s population. They form a majority of the population in the Northern Region of Israel, there is also a substantial Bedouin population in the Negev and an Arab minority in Jaffa (Tel Aviv). Most Arab citizens of Israel will self-identify as Palestinians, though Negev Bedouins are more susceptible to define themselves as Israeli. Most Arab citizens of Israel are Muslim, but there is a substantial Arab Christian and Druze minority (around 9% of the Arab population each). Most Druze will not self-identify as Palestinian, and many Druze politicians are members of ‘Jewish’ parties, including right-wing parties such as Likud or YB. Arab Israelis are a growing minority, their high birth rates poses, according to the Jewish rate, a major demographic threat because they could form a majority of the population as early as 2035. Current statistics do not confirm this “demographic threat”. Most Arab Israelis support Palestinian nationalism, but it is questionable if they would move to Palestine if an independent state is created.
The Arab minority is a hot topic in Israel. Many Arab Israelis feel marginalized, sidelined or discriminated against by the Jewish majority in Israel, a sentiment which has increased considerably since the Al-Aqsa Intifada at the turn of the century. There are large disparities in general living standard and education between Israeli Arabs and the non-Arab Israeli population. In addition, more and more Arab Israelis are withdrawing from participating in Israeli politics, turnout dropped from 75% in 1999 to only 53% in 2009 and it may be even lower this year. In the past, a substantial number of Arab voters backed Jewish parties. In prime ministerial elections in the 1990s and 2001, they overwhelmingly backed the Labour candidates (Peres in 1996, Barak in 1999 and 2001 – despite very low turnout in 2001); Labour has traditionally performed well with Arab voters, though it has lost most of this support. There are currently 17 Arab members in the Knesset, including 6 Druze. 11 of these 17 members represent Arab Israeli parties.
There have been attempts to ban the Arab parties from participating in Israeli elections, most recently in 2009 when the electoral commission disqualified some of them (on the grounds that they did not recognize the State of Israel), but the courts overturned this decision.
The United Arab List (Ra’am), founded in 1996 and led by Ibrahim Sarsur, is running in coalition with Ahmed Tibi’s Ta’al (Arab Renewal Movement), as it has since 2006. The UAL split recently, when Taleb el-Sana of the Arab Democratic Party left the coalition. The dominant force in the UAL is Sarsur’s southern (less radical) branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, a conservative Islamist organization. While the other Arab parties are secular, the UAL is a fairly religious party. The party’s rhetoric includes numerous references to the need to establish an Islamic Caliphate over (seemingly) the whole of Israel. The UAL does not support the separation of religion and politics, in contrast to the other Arab parties, especially Hadash and Balad. In the short term, the party’s immediate goal is to “preserve the Arab existence in the country” (their national and religious identity) and “to protect the holy places”.
The party’s core base lies with Bedouins in the Negev. According to Ha’aretz, the UAL won 80% of Bedouin vote in the 2009 election. It is also strong in poorer Arab cities and town, including the impoverished city of Kafr Qasim.
The UAL has been allied with Ahmed Tibi’s Ta’al party since 2006, and they are forming a common slate again. The party is more secular than the UAL. One of the few major ideological differences that I can spot with Hadash and Balad is that Tibi objects to the redefinition of Israel as a state “for all its citizens” (it is currently defined as a “Jewish and democratic state”, which Tibi argues is a contradiction and that both cannot coexist), he would redefine it as a state “for all its nationalities” to protect the collective rights of the Arab minority and prevent a uniformization of the state along individual lines.
Hadash (The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality or New) is actually a bi-confessional left-wing alliance which has some Jewish voters and has a Jewish MK (Dov Khenin), but because most its voters and members are Arabs, it is labelled – somewhat erroneously – as an ‘Arab party’. The largest faction within the party is Maki, the Israeli Communist Party. The current Communist Party was founded in 1965 as Rakah, led by the pro-Palestinian and pro-Moscow faction of the old Maki. The party has always been non-Zionist, keeping in line with Marxism’s opposition to nationalism. However, the party has shifted towards Palestinian-Arab nationalism, leading some left-wing critics to say that it had lost its left-wing social agenda in favour of Palestinian nationalism.
Hadash is strongest in the largest Arab cities and with Arabs in northern Israel (perhaps because the northern Islamic Movement boycotts elections, unlike the southern wing which forms the UAL). It won 54% in Umm al-Fahm, the largest Arab city; and 52% in Nazareth, another large Arab city in the north with a large Christian majority (Jesus’ birthplace being a communist stronghold is quite amusing). Most Arab Christians seem to vote for Hadash.
Balad (National Democratic Assembly), the smallest Arab party, is hard to pin down. It is similar to Hadash, and generally leans to the left; but it is an Arab nationalist party which at one point was close to the Ba’athist ideology and Syria. It also openly expressed support for Hezbollah. Some years ago, Balad tried its hand at a short-lived reincarnation as a liberal party, it has since returned to a pan-Arabist and anti-Zionist orientation.
One Balad MK, Haneen Zoabi (the first Arab woman MK) is quite controversial; a Likud MK attempted to disqualify her from running for reelection this year. She participated in the 2010 Gaza flotilla and has been a very loud critic of the Israeli state, branding most Jewish Israeli politicians as ‘fascists’.
All Arab parties support Palestinian independence and the two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders, the complete evacuation of all Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Palestinian control over East Jerusalem and returning the Golan Heights to Syria. Hadash is usually moderate in its advocacy of the Palestinian cause, while Balad often tends to be considerably more radical in its support for Palestinian nationalism. The UAL couches its support for the Palestinian cause in religious language.
All the parties seek full equality for Israel’s Arab minority, and disagree with the definition of Israel as a Jewish state. The Arab parties been particularly critical of the Israeli state and successive governments; they have often criticized the human rights abuses in Israeli military actions against Gaza. The Arab parties have often branded Israel a ‘racist’ state and vocally criticized policies and laws which they viewed as blatantly discriminatory against Arabs. Balad and Hadash wish to redefine Israel as a state “for all its citizens”, irrespective of ethnic or national identity, with Balad supporting cultural autonomy for Arab Israelis while Hadash wants to eliminate all forms of ethnic discrimination. In addition, all Arab parties strongly oppose extending the military draft to Arab Israelis. As it currently stands, the Israeli government does not actively seek to draft Arab Israelis (besides the Druze and some Bedouins) into the IDF, more or less exempting them. The debate over the Tal Law, however, led to some on the right raising the question of extending the draft to Arabs as well.
Campaign, Polls and Cabinets
Final polls ranges from January 17-18 [current seats at dissolution].
Likud Yisrael Beiteinu 32-37 seats 
Labour (HaAvoda) 15-17 seats 
Jewish Home-National Union 12-15 seats 
Shas 10-12 seats 
Yesh Atid 8-13 seats 
Hatnuah 5-8 seats 
Meretz 5-7 seats 
United Torah Judaism 5-6 seats 
Hadash 4-5 seats 
United Arab List-Ta’al 3-4 seats 
Balad 3-4 seats 
Kadima 2-3 seats 
Otzma LeYisrael 0 or 2 seats 
Am Shalem 0 or 1 seat 
More likely than not, Benjamin Netanyahu will be able to form government and win another term as Prime Minister of Israeli. Right-wing, far-right and religious parties will run away with the election on Tuesday January 22.
However, Netanyahu’s Likud-YB coalition is unlikely to receive a very strong mandate or win an overwhelming victory. In fact, while it will certainly win some 32 to 35 seats, this result will be quite underwhelming considering the combined strength of the Netanyahu-Lieberman bloc at dissolution (they held 42 seats). By allying with Lieberman, Netanyahu had hoped to secure his right flank, after the success of Likud hardliners in his party’s internal primary. By allying with Netanyahu, Lieberman aimed to eventually succeed Netanyahu as the leader of the Israeli right and Prime Minister. It seems like neither Netanyahu or Lieberman will be successful in their objectives. Lieberman was indicted for breach of trust and fraud, which led to his resignation as deputy PM and foreign minister the next day. Additionally, it appears as if Lieberman might have cooled on the idea of working with Likud and an actual merger of the two parties seems to be off the table for now.
Lieberman’s political star rose during the 2009 election, and he gained significant political clout within Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition after the 2009 election. Now, deep in a major corruption scandal, his immediate political outlook is quite bleak. The hardline right in Israel no longer has Lieberman as its leader and icon. This means that he was unable to shore up Netanyahu’s right flank.
Netanyahu had hoped to win a strong mandate by fudging the hawk-dove/left-right divide, he was happier to talk about the economy. He argues that his economic policies have meant that Israel is in far better state than other OECD economies in the current global economic crisis. Labour’s leader, Shelly Yachimovich, was also quite happy with such a strategy. As Labour leader, she has placed a big emphasis on economic and social issues, trying to attach her party to the goals of the 2011 social justice protests and attacking Netanyahu primarily over his economic policies. She cautioned doves within her party to be too vocal in their positions or to speak ill of West Bank settlers, which she sought to appeal to. Her focus on economics and social matters rather than the old hawk-dove battle alienated prominent doves within her party, most notably two of her predecessors: Amir Peretz and Amram Mitzna, who opted to join Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah because Yachimovich had not talked enough about peace (while Livni, positioning herself to the left of Labour on the peace issue, made peace one of the cornerstones of her campaign).
The idea, ostensibly supported by both Netanyahu and Yachimovich, was that Labour and Yachimovich would join a moderated and more centrist second Netanyahu cabinet after the elections, with Yachimovich as his finance minister or perhaps foreign minister or defense minister.
This strategy backfired on Netanyahu, who failed to dominate the Likud primaries and got overwhelmed by a right-wing tidal wive. As noted above, several prominent hardliners – most notably Netanyahu’s right-wing rival Moshe Feiglin – won high spots on the Likud-YB list and spoke openly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in rallies. But this right-wing tidal wave was not only confined to his party. It saw the rapid emergence of a new hardline right-wing icon, Naftali Bennett and the Jewish Home.
Bennett’s position on the Palestinian question is unequivocal. He opposes any Palestinian state and he will fight to make sure that there is never a Palestinian state. He wants to unilaterally annex 60% of the West Bank and place the remaining Palestinian towns under Israeli military security. He openly says that there will never a peace deal with the Arabs. On the other hand, Netanyahu’s position is far more ambiguous. In 2009, at Bar-Ilan University, he ostensibly endorsed the two-state solution though he has done nothing to follow through. The Bar-Ilan speech was viewed as a betrayal by many hardliners on the right, including many within his own party. Bennett’s clear and unequivocal positions on the Palestinian question is very popular with hardliners on the right, be they secular and cosmopolitan or religious Zionist (like his party in the past) settlers in the West Bank.
Naftali Bennett’s profile and biography is very appealing to many right-wing voters, who have grown even more wary of any negotiated settlement with the Palestinian and whose opposition to a Palestinian state has been reinforced in recent years (in part because the chaotic post-Arab Spring situation in Egypt or the civil war in Syria). His cosmopolitan lifestyle and culture and his past as a start-up software entrepreneur and successful businessman appeals to more secular right-wing Jews living outside the settlements. At the same time, Bennett is also quite religious, lives on a settlement in the West Bank and wears a small knitted kippa (like most religious Zionists). He can also appeal quite successfully to the religious Zionist sector, who make up a large portion of the West Bank settlers.
His strategy is very ambitious. In the past, the Israeli hard right was left divided because of its internal squabbles and the longstanding enmity between very religious and more secular Jews. Bennett’s strategy is to build a broad right-wing nationalist (hardline) alliance, which goes beyond the old religious/non-religious divide on the far-right. Bennett’s appeal to the Haredim might be limited, but the rising force in Israeli politics and society are the religious Zionists, who dominate settler politics and are ambitiously trying to strengthen their role and voice in Israeli politics. To appeal to the religious sentiments on the Israeli hard right, there are several religious figures (tied to religious Zionism) on his lists. Religious Zionists still make up a large majority of the party’s electorate. On the other hand, Bennett is a new kind of leader for the hard right, with an unusual youthful cosmopolitanism and business profile which could appeal to more secular but still very right-wing Jews, in the coastal plain or outside the settlements. His close ally, who is fifth on the list, Ayelet Shaked, reflects this desire to appeal to a secular demographic.
Bennett’s rise scares Netanyahu, the Likud and even the Shas. Netanyahu stepped up his attacks on Bennett, but they do not seem to have worked. The Likud-YB bloc lost many of its more nationalist and right-wing voters to Bennett. The Shas recently lashed out at Bennett over religious matters, they might feel that the power and influence of the Haredi bloc might be weakened following the election. The religious Zionists’ goal since the the late 1980s has been to ‘penetrate’ the political and business world, Bennett’s religious platform seeks to strengthen the place of the religious Zionist movement within the Jewish religious hierarchy in Israel.
Bennett’s party could win between 12 and 15, likely closer to 14-15. It would be a very strong result for the party, obviously. This reflects the strength of the right in Israeli politics. While Israel, between 1949 and 1967, was dominated by a secular and socialist Zionist elite which cared little about religious matters (but, for political reasons, conceded religious matters to religious authorities); today, the religious sectors of Jewish Israeli society are gaining prominence, power and influence. The religious Zionists have been at the forefront of this power shift, which began with Israel’s victory in the Six Day War in 1967 and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Netanyahu will win the next election, but with a disappointing result. He will have to deal with a much stronger hardline right, which will exert significant pressure on him to lead a more right-wing agenda. The Likud-YB’s caucus after the election will have been pushed further to the right, with the entrance of new (or the reelection of older) ‘hardliners’ and right-wingers,including Moshe Feiglin. Just like the Tea Party movement forced the GOP leadership in the United States to shift to the right, the hardliners within Likud-YB (and Bennett’s troops in the JH-NU) will insist that Netanyahy acknowledges their power and presence within the Israeli right.
Cabinet formation is a long, difficult and tortuous process in Israel. Small parties try to extract concessions from the largest party and impose their conditions on them. The next cabinet will most likely have a distinctively right-wing flavour to it. The old idea that Netanyahu would seek to bolster his moderate credentials by forming a coalition with Labour and Shelly Yachimovich has fallen through. The radicalization of the campaign on the hawk/dove battle forced her to come out tough saying she’d either be Prime Minister or in opposition. Given that Labour will not finish first, she will be in opposition.
A Likud-YB-Haredi coalition (more or less the outgoing coalition) on its own will probably come about 10 seats short of the 61 seats needed for a (bare) majority. Yeir Lapid, the leader of the secular centre-right Yesh Atid, has said that he would be open to participating in a Netanyahu cabinet to ‘moderate’ it and limit the influence of the religious parties. He is not as militantly secular/anti-clerical as Shinui was, so there appears to be little issue for him to be in coalition with the Shas and UTJ. A Likud-YB-Haredi-Lapid coalition would probably come out with a tiny majority. Hatnuah has not closed the door on participating in government either, but it could be hard for Netanyahu backed by a very right-wing caucus to find enough common ground with the increasingly dovish Livni (who was very critical of Netanyahu during the campaign, if such things matter) to form a government.
Could Bennett’s JH-NU enter government? The Jewish Home is currently a small junior partner in the Netanyahu coalition, but the JH-NU will be much different after January 22. Naftali Bennett (and Ayelet Shaked) both worked under Netanyahu when the Likud was in the opposition to Olmert, but they both suddenly resigned – most likely after a spat with Netanyahu’s powerful but unpopular wife Sara (described by some as similar to Mary Todd Lincoln and Nancy Reagan). Bennett nevertheless hopes to gain a spot in the leadership, it seems. This long article (a must read) on him and the Israeli right ended with a comment from Bennett: ” ‘The best analogy is that Bibi is the bus driver with two hands on the wheel,” Bennett said. “I want to put a third hand on the wheel.’ ” Such a coalition would certainly be very right-wing, and exert considerable pressure on Netanyahu to move further to the right on the Palestinian issue, even at risk of clashing with the US.
Israel is a major geopolitical hotspot, and it will always remain one. As such, the 2013 elections in Israel are quite important and may hold high stakes. A further shift to the right in Israel could have repercussions both inside and outside Israel’s borders.
Israeli politics is a very hot topic, which many feel quite passionately about. There is much sensationalism, knee-jerk responses, and misrepresentations on both sides of this inflammatory topic; it is an issue where it is quite hard to strike a neutral tone which tries to depict the various opinions of the various actors, Jewish or Muslim, fairly and accurately. I hope that this article provided a neutral, fair and accurate description of Israel’s various parties and complex politics, as well as the stakes of the 2013 election.
Presidential elections were held in South Korea (Republic of Korea) on December 19, 2012. The President is directly elected to a non-renewable five-year term through a FPTP system. In the South Korean system, the President – as head of state and chief executive – holds the key powers. As a result, the presidential election is often the closely watched election in South Korea.
South Korea’s contemporary politics are heavily influenced by two factors rooted in the country’s recent political history: military rule and regionalism. Between 1962 and 1992, South Korea was ruled by the military, and alternated between authoritarian periods and semi-democratic openings. Between 1962 and 1979, under the presidency of Park Chung-hee, South Korea experienced a period of rapid economic growth which transformed the poor country into an advanced industrialized economy. In this period, South Korea’s economic structure began being marked by the chaebol
structures – large industrial conglomerates which ran the country’s economy through a close alliance with the state. The rapid economic development of the country thanks to Korean state capitalism remains Park’s main achievement, but he remains a very controversial figure in Korea because of his authoritarianism. Economic development, indeed, went hand-in-hand with draconian repression of the opposition (students, intellectuals and unionized labour) and an authoritarian political system rigged in favour of Park’s party and the military. At the same time, Park’s regime laid the foundations of regionalism in South Korean politics, which is one of the most surprising aspects of politics in a fairly homogeneous country. Park, a native of Gyeongsang province (Daegu and Busan), led policies which heavily favoured his native province over Jeolla, the native province of his top political rival Kim Dae-jung and historically sidelined by political elites. A wave of opposition and the risk of losing Washington’s crucial political support led Park’s secret services, the KCIA, to turn against him and assassinate him.
Out of the chaos which followed Park’s death, another military officer from Gyeongsang, Chun Doo-hwan, seized power. Chun quickly asserted his power by setting up his own dictatorial regime, arresting opponents and bloodily putting down a revolt in Gwangju (Jeolla). With the backing of US President Ronald Reagan, the country’s economy continued to grow at a rapid pace during the 1980s, but opposition movements gained strength, to which Chun responded by an eclectic policy of political reforms mixed in with good ole repression. In 1987, Chun and his handpicked successor – another military officer from Gyeongsang, Roh Tae-woo, were forced to agree to the direct election of the President in 1987. That year, Roh, the candidate of Chun’s incumbent right-wing Democratic Justice Party, was elected president over an opposition divided between Busan native Kim Young San and Jeolla native Kim Dae-jung. Roh’s administration slowly democratized the system, but with the unfortunate backdrop of corruption, regional discrimination, economic decline and associated labour unrest. Prior to the 1992 election, Kim Young Sam had merged his party with Roh’s party, and had in the process managed to take control of the party to run against Kim Dae-jung in the 1992 election, which was disturbed the emergence of a populist centrist force led by Hyundai patriarch Chung Ju-yung. Kim Young Sam defeated the other Kim in the 1992 election, with the results revealing – once again – a deep regional divide between Jeolla and Gyeongsang.
Kim Young Sam’s presidency, disturbed at the end by the Asian financial crisis of 1997, marked the end of military rule in the country. Kim Young Sam proved to be the Trojan Horse who took control of the military-led Korean right to destroy it from within, which he did through the arrest and conviction of both of his predecessors in an ambitious and ultimately successful anti-corruption campaign. However, the economic crisis in Korea in 1997 hurt his party – now styled the Grand National Party (GNP) – in the 1997 elections which were narrowly won by Kim Dae-jung.
Kim Dae-jung, who became the first “liberal” president of the country – the opposition to the Korean right/military has largely been styled as liberal (which means slightly different things in Korea) – had a succesful presidency marked by economic growth, economic reforms aimed at breaking the chaebol‘s power and a new policy of détente with North Korea (the Sunshine Policy). In 2002, he was succeeded by Roh Moo-hyun, whose presidency might be one of the most controversial in South Korea’s post-military history. The GNP led a futile charge for his impeachment in 2004 while backfired on them, while his economic policies in a period of less impressive economic numbers and growth attracted criticism. He also faced allegations of corruption (which led to his party’s collapse and later his own suicide in 2009) and incompetence.
Roh was succeeded by another controversial figure, Lee Myung-bak, the GNP candidate who won the 2007 election by a landslide over a discredited and unpopular liberal government. Already in hot water before his election for involvement in a scam by an investment house, Lee has been a polarizing figure. His opponents decry his authoritarian style, his economic policies which they claim are too favourable to big business and the chaebols, as well as a controversial free trade agreement with the United States. Lee has also led a more stridently pro-American foreign policy, and has shifted gears in relations with the North by adopting a more confrontational posture than the controversial Sunshine Policy of past liberal government. Lee had also struggled with a divided right – in 2007, he faced a dissident candidacy by former two-time GNP presidential candidate Lee Hoi-chang who founded his own party, the Liberty Forward Party (LFP) – but also a divided party. Lee’s loyalists have battled with members closer to Park Geun-hye, the daughter of former dictator Park Chung-hee, herself defeated by Lee in the 2007 GNP primaries.
In legislative elections held in April, the GNP – renamed and rebranded as the Saenuri Party and led by Park Geun-hye - managed a surprising victory over the liberal opposition, now known as the Democratic United Party (DUP). The Saenuri Party, which under Park’s leadership distanced itself from the unpopular President, won 152 seats to the DUP’s 127 seats.
As noted then, the legislative election foreshadowed the presidential election. Park Geun-hye, who had lost the 2007 GNP primary by a hair to Lee, had been working to gain control of Lee’s party ever since then and positioning herself for the presidency since 2008. In 2011, she gained control of the GNP and promptly rebranded it (quite successfully) as the Saenuri Party. She then proceeded to move the party towards the centre and distancing herself from the Blue House (the President’s residence) – notably on economic issues where the Korean right has naturally leaned towards a pro-business and pro-chaebol stance. Her presidential ambitions and political shift away from Lee and towards the centre have incensed some within her party, but after her party’s surprising victory in the April legislative elections, most of her internal opposition was silenced and humbled. She handily won the Saenuri primaries, with about 84% support.
Park’s somewhat unique personal history as the daughter of a dictator who served as First Lady under her father’s administration (between 1974 and 1979) following her mother’s assassination has been somewhat of an issue throughout her political career, but her family ties have not been untenable baggage. The liberal left, which opposed her father’s administration, has branded her as the daughter of a dictator. However, her father’s legacy is a divisive subject in Korea. The liberal left (and younger voters) widely loathes him and considers him a dictator who committed major human rights abuses, but the right (and older voters) is slightly more positive on his legacy, reminiscing the strong economic growth under his administration. Park recently apologized for atrocities and human rights violations under her father’s administration, but at no point in her career has she clearly disowned him and his legacy. During the primary campaign, she declined to state whether she considered the May 16, 1961 coup a coup or a necessary revolution to save the country. All in all, being the “daughter of a dictator” did not seriously hinder Park’s presidential ambitions – most Koreans do not consider her to be the ”daughter of a dictator” or do not hold her father’s controversial presidency against her.
The presidential race was set on fire, late last year, by the potential independent candidacy of Ahn Cheol-soo, a 50-year old software engineer whose self-made businessman image and his outsider, nonpartisan political stance appealed to many voters – especially liberals and younger voters. Ahn had acted as a kingmaker in the October 2011 Seoul mayoral by-election, which was won by Park Won-soon, an independent backed by Ahn. Park defeated the GNP candidate in a major blow to the Blue House (Lee had been mayor of Seoul prior to becoming President).
The DUP candidate was Moon Jae-in, a lawyer and a chief of staff under the late President Roh’s administration. Roh left office with high disapproval ratings, dogged by accusations of corruption which ultimately led to his own suicide. Even within the DUP, Roh’s legacy remains a divisive issue. Moon struggled to emerge from Roh’s damaging shadow.
Park was the frontrunner in the campaign since 2008. The division of the opposition vote between the independent Ahn and the DUP’s Moon led to significant pressure for one of them to drop out in favour of the other. In late November, Ahn, who had announced his candidacy in September, announced that he was dropping out and endorsed Moon.
As in April, domestic issues rather than foreign policy were key issues in this election. As mentioned above, Lee’s policies have been decried by opponents as being too pro-business. He has been unable to live up to his “747″ economic promise (7% growth, per capita income of $40,000, 7th economy in the world). Instead, hit a bit by the economic crisis, the country has had slower growth (3.5%) and rising inflation (3%) and unemployment (4%). Voters are concerned by welfare programs and social services, which have forced both parties to tack a bit to the left.
Both candidates campaigned chiefly on the idea of “economic democratization”, that is breaking up the power and influence of the chaebols, South Korea’s industrial conglomerates which emerged during Park Chung-hee’s administration. Some sectors of the Korean right, which has traditionally been on good terms with the chaebols were alarmed by Park’s rhetoric during the legislative and presidential campaign, but her strategy proved successful in April and her campaign signaled that they would not turn back. Both candidates also spoke of expanding and strengthening the welfare state, to help those left behind by the past eras of development-at-all-costs.
Turnout was very high, at 75.8%. It was only a bit over 62% in the 2007 presidential election.
Park Geun-hye (Saenuri) 51.55%
Moon Jae-in (DUP) 48.02%
Kang Ji-won (Ind) 0.17%
Kim Soon-ja (Ind) 0.15%
Kim So-yeon (Ind) 0.05%
Park Jong-sun (Ind) 0.04%
The early favourite and the frontrunner, Park, won, becoming South Korea’s first woman President. Park’s victory is not all that much of a surprise, considering her frontrunner status since 2008 and most importantly throughout the actual campaign. Since taking the leadership of the South Korean right, she successfully managed to reincarnate her party, distance it from an unpopular outgoing administration and successfully steal the left’s advantage on hot-button issues such as economic inequality.
The high turnout level should have benefited Moon, and it could explain why he managed to come as close as he did. Moon and the DUP’s strongest base are young voters, who – as in any country – often drag their feet to the polls and need to be motivated by a successful campaign to actually turn out. However, the DUP and the liberals face a demographic problem. South Korea has a rapidly aging population, and older voters favoured Park. Older voters are more likely to have positive or nostalgic feelings about her father’s administration, they are a high-turnout demographic and they now make up an increasingly large segment of the electorate – for the first time, more voters were above 50 than under 40.
The result is another blow to the DUP, which had already been rattled by its defeat in April. Moon did well, but he was unable to take all of Ahn’s potential support and recover adequately from Ahn’s challenge. Furthermore, elections fought on economic inequality have traditionally favoured the liberal left. Now, the DUP finds out that its traditional edge on that issue is gone.
The election results revealed the deep influence of regionalism and regional polarization in modern South Korean politics. Regionalism and regional polarization has been an enduring element of South Korean politics since the 1970s. On the one hand, Moon won 92% in Gwangju, 86.3% in North Jeolla and 89.3% in South Jeolla. On the other hand, Park won 80% in Daegu, 80.8% in North Gyeongsang and 63% in South Gyeongsang. Moon also won Seoul, with a narrow majority (51.4%) while Park won the populous Gyeonggi province (surrounding Seoul) with 50.4%. She prevailed with 62% in Gangwon in northeastern Korea, won about 56% in North and South Chungcheong province, and took over 59% in Busan and Ulsan (two major cities in Gyeongsang region). The race was close in the urban areas of Incheon, Daejeon and Sejong (but Park won a narrow plurality in all of them).
The regional divide between Jeolla and Gyeongsang (particularly North Gyeongsang) thus endures. It is not a particularly emphatic favourite son vote even though Park herself was born in Daegu and her father was from North Gyeongsang; because Moon is from South Gyeongsang and represented Busan in the legislature. As explained above, the regional divide owes to a long-standing historical enmity between Jeolla and Gyeongsang which goes back to the Three Kingdoms Period (57-668 AD) when the kingdoms of Baekje (Jeolla) and Silla (Gyeongsang) fought for control of the southern Korean peninsula. The regional polarization was deepened following World War II, when South Korea’s dominant political elites (notably Park’s father) hailed from Gyeongsang and implemented economic and social policies which favoured Gyeongsang over Jeolla, which remained an underdeveloped poor backwater region with strong opposition sentiments (Kim Dae-jung was from Jeolla). The Gwangju Democratization Movement in the late 1980s, violently crushed by Chun Doo-hwan, crystallized this regional polarization.
The map to the right, shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia, highlights this deep regional polarization. Moon was also victorious in Seoul (with the exception of some affluent districts and suburbs of the city, most notably the now internationally-famous Gangnam district in Seoul). As a urban area with a strong industrial base (unions and the working-class usually lean towards the DUP or other left-wing parties) and a young population, Seoul has traditionally been a base of opposition to the authoritarian regimes and remains generally liberal-leaning.
Park will take office in February 2013. On terms of domestic policy, her campaign’s rhetoric and style differed fairly significantly from Lee’s policies, but it remains to be seen whether she will tack back to the right or if she will truly confront the chaebols and the cosy arrangements between conglomerate affiliates. In terms of foreign policy, she will pursue Lee’s pro-American policies and free trade agreements (notably with the US) while having few warm feelings for either China or Japan. She could adopt less confrontational policies in relations with North Korea, which have been frozen since Lee stated that he refused to be blackmailed by Pyongyang. She will certainly not return to the cozy détente “Sunshine Policy” pursued by the two past liberal Presidents (Kim Dae-jung and Roh) which Moon apparently wanted to return to, but she has vaguely promised to find a balance between Lee’s hard-line and the liberals’ dovish gestures.
A whole bunch of elections – most significantly a presidential election – were held in the United States on November 6, 2012. Given the international interest in this election and considering how almost every political observer around the world knows at least a little about American politics and political history, I figured that I should approach the post-election coverage of these American elections in a slightly different way. We know the candidates, we know the background to this election and we know how the campaign went along. Rather than covering the results in my usual fashion, this post has a mish-mash of my observations about the results, the exit polls, the surprises, the trends and the geography of this all. This post is extremely long, but it has been divided into headers so you can pick and choose what interests you.
It must be noted that the results used in this post are not final; there are still tons of absentees and early votes yet to be counted. The final, hard results should only be known in December. I don’t really like talking about results when we are only dealing with unofficial and incomplete results, but it will have to do for now. Please keep in mind that the numbers used here are not the final results and that they will be different from the final results when they come out.
Some media sources have apparently been a bit lazy at updating their results with the full results from each state’s updated results, but the US Election Atlas appears to be the best at keeping up with results from each state. Fox News (sorry liberals!) has the best layout for presenting the results of the exit polls.
Barack Obama/Joe Biden (D) 50.79% winning 332 EVs
Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan (R) 47.49% winning 206 EVs
Gary Johnson/James Gray (L) 0.99%
Jill Stein/Cheri Honkala (G) 0.36%
All others winning less than 0.1%
Obama (D) +3.31%
Yes, I do not use the “blue Dem-red GOP” colour scheme (I use the opposite).
The status-quo and polarization prevails
The conclusion was, regardless of one’s feelings about the results themselves, fairly anti-climatic. After a grueling campaign which lasted for over a year in total, after tons of money spent, after bombarding every swing state vote with ads depicting the other candidate as the anti-Christ; the end was very anti-climatic, all over by 11:15 on election night (less than half an hour longer than in 2008). The results presented fairly few surprises, indicating that the polling averages were on the whole fairly correct in calling each state.
Ultimately, the status-quo prevailed: President Obama was reelected fairly comfortably (in the electoral college), the Democrats retained the Senate but the Republicans retained control of the House of Representatives. A lot of voters were thirsty for “change” of some kind, but in the end, what they got was, more or less, a return to square one, where they stood prior to November 6.
Obama’s victory was not inevitable. With sluggish economic growth, unemployment hovering at 8% for months (even if the economy is slowly improving) and rising concern over the United States’ huge public debt, Obama was not in an overly strong position. While it was certainly not a case of not scoring on an open goal, Obama’s reelection was not inevitable and the Republicans – with a better candidate – could have won this election. Romney’s failure speaks to his own problems as a candidate but also the problems the Republicans as a party face with the wider electorate.
Romney was not a good candidate, but despite the wild fantasies of some Democratic partisans, being a fairly bad candidate did not sink his candidacy. His image as an “elitist rich guy” who did not understand the problems of the “middle-class”, an image which he himself contributed to with comments such as “the 47%” did not help his case, but it did not sink him either. His past as a “flip-flopper” and the view that Romney did not really have any personal, deeply ingrained personal ideological convictions but rather opportunistically adopted the policy positions which would provide him with the most political benefits hurt his image as well. To a certain extent, the Democrats were able to define Romney before Romney defined himself; but they were unable to scuttle his candidacy (a la McGovern ’72 or Mondale ’84).
Romney had been able to significantly improve his image following the first debate, during which Obama sleepwalked and allowed Romney to walk all over him. If the polls were correct, Romney’s strong performance in the first debate narrowed the race down to a tie in the national popular vote (down from a major Obama advantage, post-DNC). In retrospect, looking at the results, it appears as if the first debate ultimately made little difference. Obama swept every swing state except North Carolina, including even Florida.
The first debate may have only rekindled Republican enthusiasm and motivation, which had been severely depressed by Romney’s terrible campaign in September (notably ’47%’) and Bill Clinton at the DNC. While Romney, as it currently stands, actually won less raw votes that John McCain in 2008, he will probably end up with more votes than McCain when all the votes have been counted.
Romney’s debate victory narrowed the race, but it is possible that it would have narrowed anyway, only later in October, as conservatives got more motivated to vote as the election got closer. Therefore, Romney possibly surged too early and narrowed the race too early. He was unable to sustain his momentum, even if the race remained close.
If one agrees that Romney was a weak candidate and that relatively few of his own voters were overly, 100% enthusiastic about him; the fact that he still pulled 48% of the popular vote indicates two things: that American politics are extremely polarized and that the sluggish economy hurt Obama.
The weak economy of course precluded Obama from winning a landslide re-election, even against the worst imaginable candidates (of the Sarah Palin genre), but American politics has become so polarized since 2000 that it is extremely hard to imagine either Republicans or Democrats winning a presidential election with over 58-60% of the popular vote. Politics and the parties have changed since the days of Reagan’s 1984 landslide over Walter Mondale or Nixon’s 1973 shellacking of George McGovern, making a repeat of these elections near-impossible in the modern day.
Both parties have become less ideologically diverse: moderate or centrist Republicans (“Rockefeller Republicans” and the like) are very much a dying breed, chased out by conservatives hell-bent on ideological purity; while conservative/moderate “Blue Dog” Democrats and Southern white Democrats in general are also facing rapid extinction, while many liberals are increasingly hostile to these “Blue Dogs” who don’t necessarily abide to the Democratic agenda. Obama’s presidency has increased polarization, with the radicalization of the conservative movement (the Tea Party) while the Democrats continue their transition to some kind of “true progressivism”, notably with Obama endorsing gay marriage.
Romney was a flawed and poor candidate, but in the field of Republican contenders in 2012 he was likely one of their strongest, which can say a lot about how they stand as a party. Newt Gingrich turned into a weird crackpot during the primaries and would have lost by an even bigger margin; Rick Santorum might have played better with white working-class voters but his social conservatism and obsession with homosexuals would likely mean that he would still have lost (at least) by a similar margin as Mitt Romney. Ron Paul is harder to quantify, with some insisting that he would win a phenomenal landslide and others insisting he is totally unelectable. Jon Huntsman is similarly hard to quantify: more centrist, pragmatic and moderate he could have performed well in the general election, but at the same time he would probably have struggled with conservatives.
The fairly close finish in the popular vote (Obama has won by a margin a bit bigger than Bush’s 2004 2.7% PV margin over Kerry) and the electoral map confirms that American politics remain deeply polarized and divided along deep fault lines.
A nation divided by race
One of the biggest fault lines in American politics remains race/ethnicity. Whites made up 72% of the electorate according to the exit poll, down from 74% in 2008. Mitt Romney won whites by 20 points (59-39), whereas John McCain had won whites by 12 points in 2008. Obama’s victory in 2008, as in 2012, was dependent upon a strong coalition of ethnic minorities. Blacks still made up 13% of the electorate on November 6, the same percentage as four years ago, and Obama won them by 87 points (93-6), down slightly from a 91% advantage over McCain in 2008.
The most crucial part of Obama’s winning “rainbow” coalition were Hispanics/Latinos, who made up 10% of the electorate (up from 9% in 2008). In the 2008 election, Obama had won a decisive advantage over John McCain with Hispanics, carrying them by 36 points whereas John Kerry had won them by only 13 points over George W. Bush in 2004. This year, Obama actually increased his margins with Hispanic voters, carrying them by a huge 44 points (71 to 27) over Mitt Romney. The electoral weight of Hispanics proved decisive in the swing states of Nevada (19% of voters, Obama +47), Colorado (14% of voters, Obama +52), Florida (17% of voters, Obama +21) but also in other states such as California (where exit polls report that Romney won whites by 10). In Florida, the Republicans even lost their historic advantage with Cuban voters: the exit poll in Florida reveals that Cubans, who made up 6% of the electorate, voted for Obama by 2 points (49-47). This is the first time that Florida Cubans have backed a Democrat; Bill Clinton in 1996 lost them but likely came close to even.
Latino Decisions, a Hispanic-based pollster with a very good track record with Hispanic voters (they accurately predicted that Obama would increase his margin with Hispanics), had similar results in their exit poll. They found that Obama won them by 52 points (75-23), though they say that Cubans voted for Romney (in Florida, he supposedly won them by 29 – 64-35?; and by 10 nationally, 54-44). In contrast, they say that Mexicans voted 78-20 for Obama and Puerto Ricans backed him 88-14.
Asian-Americans made up 3% of the electorate, up from 2% in 2008. Here again, Obama actually increased his margin of victory; from 27 points to 47 points in 2012. We should be careful in interpreting this data, given that this year’s exit poll is a bit dodgy: only 31 states (rather than all 50) had a complete exit polls, and they called only enough people in the 19 other states to get a statistically significant sample. Therefore, the Asian sub-sample might be a bit heavy on California; but it is clear that there was a significant swing to Obama with Asian-Americans. Obama had won them by 29 in California in 2008, he won them by 58 (79-21) this year. Precinct-level results in predominantly Asian towns in the Bay Area and LA will confirm whether this is true or not, but I would be surprised if the exit polls were wildly off.
What might explain the swings to Obama with Hispanics and Asians? The Republican Party’s right-wing positions on immigration issues, most notably Arizona’s SB 1070 and Mitt Romney saying that illegals should “self-deport” before applying for citizenship did not help matters with Republicans. Even if some Hispanics like Puerto Ricans are natural-born US citizens, they might perceive the GOP’s policies and controversial laws such as SB 1070 as an attack on themselves. On the other hand, Obama has not followed through on his 2008 promise to pass comprehensive immigration reform, but his administration recently launched a program to allow young undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary work permits.
Asian-Americans, highly educated, white-collar, affluent and in some cases fairly small-c conservative, could be expected to be Republicans. In fact, they used to be Republicans: Asians backed George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole in 1992 and 1996; but since then the GOP’s share of the vote with Asian-Americans has declined election after election. However, the GOP’s shift to the right – particularly towards Christian conservatism/traditionalism, has been very poorly received by Asian-Americans, who tend to be secular (or whose religious values are different than those of traditional Abrahamic religions) and highly value education. In addition, the “anti-science” rhetoric of some Republicans is another big turn off for Asian voters. Finally, immigration likely played a role. While Hispanics are more directly affected by immigration policy, a lot of Asian-Americans are also recent immigrants and they are, as a result, allergic to some of the GOP’s quasi-nativist rhetoric on immigration.
Asian-Americans, similar to Asian societies, are less distrustful of prevailing institutions – notably government – than “white Americans” tend to be. As a result, Asians are very pro-incumbent and supportive of the existing order.
The Republicans have a clear demographic problem. Mitt Romney could have won the election with his 20 point margin over Obama, but it would have required a decrease in minority turnout since 2008. A lot of Republicans and those behind the “unskewed polls” hogwash were banking on whites increasing their share of the electorate, but minority turnout remained at 2008 heights. They should have read the trend lines: the share of white voters in the whole electorate has declined almost consistently since 1980, from nearly 90% of the electorate to barely over 70% of the electorate. Nothing in politics lasts forever, and Obama’s “rainbow coalition” could very well disintegrated somewhat by 2016, but one thing which seems fairly certain is that minorities will make up an increasingly large proportion of the electorate in upcoming elections. Therefore, the Republican Party’s overwhelmingly white electorate is, in the long term, unsustainable unless they win over even more whites (but at 60% of the vote, they will soon hit a ceiling).
It is urgent that the Republicans reach out to Hispanic and Asian voters, the two fastest-growing minorities in the US. Appealing to Hispanics does not mean merely packaging their current rhetoric and ideology differently, with a Hispanic candidate or running-mate. It means, in good part, taking a deep look at where they stand ideologically and re-evaluate their party’s political positioning – especially on issues such as immigration. It is not impossible, after all, George W. Bush lost them by only 13 points in 2004 in part because he emphasized more moderate positions on immigration reform. However, it probably requires moderation on issues such as immigration. While a lot of potential 2016 GOP candidates, most significantly former FL Governor Jeb Bush have moderate positions on immigration reform, it is easier said than done. The GOP primary electorate is conservative and (very) right-wing, it forced Mitt Romney to the right. Even if he returned to more centrist positions in the first debate, he was unable to shake off some of his baggage inherited from a grueling primary in which he needed to prove that he was not a “Massachusetts liberal”. In 2016, it is conceivable that even more “moderate” candidates like Jeb Bush or Chris Christie would be pushed to the right by the primary electorate if they were actively determined to win the nomination.
Appealing to Asian voters is not overly difficult – a lot of them are fairly fiscally conservative and would probably vote for a more moderate GOP which places emphasis on fiscal conservatism rather than arguing semantics of rape. However, in this case, again, it requires the GOP to re-evaluate where it stands and move in a more moderate direction.
That being said, the post-election talk about GOP collapse is likely overhyped. There was similar talk of the GOP being “doomed” after Obama’s victory in 2008, while observers had said the same thing for Democrats after the 2004. The GOP is not facing electoral oblivion or anything close to collapse, and no electoral coalition in the United States should be taken as permanent. However, the GOP does face long-term demographic and structural problems in winning elections.
Race remains the most salient divide in American politics. The exit polls confirm that race neutralizes some of the effect of age, gender and religion on vote choice. All white age groups, from 18-29 to 65+, voted for Romney with margins ranging from 7 points to 23 points. Both white men and women voted for Romney, even though there was still a major gender gap: white men backed Romney by 27, white women ‘only’ backed him by 14 points. Finally, even though Obama won Catholics (by 2), he lost non-Hispanic Catholics by a full 19 points (59-40).
Black and Hispanic men and women both backed Obama by huge margins, but it is interesting to point out that while Obama lost 8 points with black men and gained only 1 point with Hispanic men compared to 2008, he remained at those levels with black women and gained a full 8 points with Hispanic women. He lost the most ground with young (18-29) and middle-aged (45-64) blacks. With Hispanics, he gained the most with young adults (30-44) and middle-aged adults (45-64).
A gender gap
There was a stark gender gap in this election (10 points up from 7 in 2008; the difference between the men’s D-R margin and the women’s D-R margin is 18 points, up from 12 in 2008), as in the 2008 election, which is nothing new in American elections but which has become fairly rare in other Western democracies. Women backed Obama by 11 points, men backed Romney by 7 points; and even when race is taken into account, as noted above, the gender gap is not eliminated. In 2008, Obama had won women by 13 and males by a single point. As mentioned above, both white men and women voted for Romney, but white men backed him by 27 points and women backed him only by 14 points.
Obama lost 4 points with males, falling from 49% support in 2008 to 45% support this year. However, he only lost 1 point with women, falling from 56% to 55%. He lost a full 6 points with white men but shed a more modest 4 points with white women. Obama’s stable support with women voters nationwide is due in large part to a substantial increase in support (+8) with Hispanic women. There is now a stark 11-point gender gap with Hispanics, up from a small 4-point gender gap between Hispanic men and women in 2008. Latino Decisions did not find a sizable gender gap in their exit poll, however.
Democrats talked a lot about the GOP’s “war on women”, a term referring to the policies of various Republican governors (notably in Virginia and Pennsylvania) seeking to restrict access to abortion (mandatory ultrasounds, gestational limits on abortion). Obama’s campaign targeted women voters and placed a large emphasis on “women’s issues”, including notably pay equity and access to contraception. In contrast, Romney struggled with women and his answer on a pay equity question in the second presidential debate (“binders full of women”) became the butt of many jokes. The Democrats criticized Romney for wanting to defund Planned Parenthood and seeking to restrict women’s access to contraception. His position on pay equity and the Lilly Ledbetter Act was also very vague. The GOP’s precarious standing with women was further weakened with the rape comments from Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock and Tom Smith.
Marital status, as in 2008, had an impact on vote choice. The 60% of voters who were married backed Romney by 14 (56-42) and the 40% of voters who were not married backed Obama by 27 (62-35). Both married men and women backed Romney, but the gender gap was persistent: married men backed him by 22, married women only backed him by 7. Both unmarried men and women backed Obama, with another large gender gap: unmarried men backed the President by 16 but he had a huge 36 point margin over Romney with unmarried women.
Mothers backed Obama by 13 points (56-43), a larger margin than women without children (he won them by 9). Fathers backed Romney by 8, men without children backed him by 3.
In addition to his “rainbow coalition” of minorities and white liberals, Obama’s strong support with women – especially non-white women – was another major factor which contributed to his victory. The gender gap also helped Democrats in key Senate races.
Age and vote choice
As in 2008, Obama’s support decreased with age. He won 60% of the 18-24 vote, but lost the 65+ vote by 12 points (56-44). Obama hence retained his unusually high levels of support with younger voters (who, while traditionally Democratic, did not historically back Democrats with such margins) even though he did shed 6 points off his 2008 records with those 18-24 and 25-29. We need to remember that age categories change from election to election, a lot of those who were 18-24 in 2008 are now in the 25-29 category and so on and so forth. There was much less youth enthusiasm about Obama this year, although it remained high and he was succesful in mobilizing a large amount of younger voters.
Obama’s support with those 30-39 and 40-49 remained essentially stable: up 1 with the former, down 1 with the former. I am not sure what this may indicate, if anything, but is Obama’s very strong showing with those aged 30-39 a rare example of a cohort effect? It is noteworthy to point out that those aged 50-64 and 65 and over did not budge all that much either: Obama lost 3 with the former and and 1 with the latter. Paul Ryan and his “Ryan plan” did not scare seniors away, though they barely swung to Romney.
Therefore, Obama lost the most support with younger voters, including a sizable number of which are first-time voters. It is sometimes said that those who come of voting age during a recession tend to be more conservative, and this year’s result could indicate that. Was the weak economy, higher youth unemployment and fears about finding a job post-graduation of particular concern to younger voters, hence turning them away from Obama?
Keep in mind, as noted above, that Obama gained support with Hispanic young adults (30-44) and middle-aged adults (45-64).
The importance of income, class and education
Family income and the level of education had a significant impact on vote choice, as in previous elections. This year, Obama’s support ranged from 63% with the poorest 20% (a total family income under $30,000) to 42% with the “top 4%” (total family income over $250,000). However, as is traditionally the case, Obama’s support by income level formed a bit of a parabolic curve. He performed best with the poorest Americans, those earning under $30,000, beating Romney by 28 points (63-35) and his support decreased in each successive income level under $200,000: 57% and a 15 point win with those earning $30,000 to $49,999; 46% and a 6 point deficit with those earning $50,000 to $99,999 and 44% and a 10 point deficit with those earning $100,000 to $199,999. However, Obama’s support picked up with those earning $200,000 to $249,000 – he lost them, but only by 5 points (52-47). His support falls significantly with the top 4%, he lost them by 13 points and won only 42% of their vote.
Compared to the 2008 exit polls, Obama resisted better with lower-income groups while he lost more heavily with higher-income groups. His support with the lowest 20% did fall by a fairly significant amount, from 66.5% to 63% (-3.5); but he gained 2 points with the next level ($30,000-$49,999). Going up the income ladder, Obama’s losses become larger and larger: -3.5 with those earning $50k to $100k, -4 with those earning $100k to $200k and -7.5 with those earning over $200k. Looking at the results through larger categories, common to both the 2008 and 2012 exit polls (the decimals in the comparisons above are due to averaging two income categories in the 2008 exit polls) confirm that Obama shed the most support with the higher-income groups: he remained at 2008 levels with those earning under $50,000 but lost 4 points with those earning over that amount.
Obama’s stronger resistance with lower-income levels in general and his heavier loses with wealthier Americans, particularly those in the top 2 echelons, likely reflects Obama and Romney’s comparative appeal as candidates. Romney’s “elitist rich guy” image, combined with the “47%” probably hurt his image with lower-income Americans, but an observation of the results by counties reveals that he did not suffer much from that image problem in lower-income white areas. Obama’s more populist campaign and fears of higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans certainly hurt his standing with the upper middle-class and the top 4%, weakening his strong appeal, in 2008, to liberal/moderate upper middle-class suburbanites. That being said, it is unfortunate that the exit polls did not break down income groups by race, as they had done (to a limited extent) in 2008. It is clear that more affluent blacks and Hispanics are slightly less Democratic than their poorer counterparts, but it would be interesting to have some data on the white vote by income levels. To a large extent, Obama’s strong support with lower-income levels (and his strong resistance with them) reflects his strong support (and strong resistance) with blacks and Hispanics, who are poorer than the average white American.
Education level is correlated with income, and Obama’s support forms an even clearer parabolic curve (as in 2008 and previous elections). He beat Romney by 19 points (64-35) with those without a HS diploma, he won HS graduates by 3 (51-48), won those with some college by 1 (49-48) but lost college graduates by 4 (51-47) to Romney. He won those with a postgraduate degree by 13 points (55-42). Again, this parabolic curve reflects the modern Democratic coalition: lower-income minorities who tend to have more limited education combined with middle-class suburbanites and urban white liberals who are highly educated. It would be interesting to control for race in this question, as it would reveal a different story with white voters only (in the 2008 exit polls, Obama did far worse with non-college grad whites than white college grad whites).
Compared to the 2008 election, the education levels also reflect Obama’s resistance with lower-income groups (who tend to have less certifications) and his heavier loses with higher-income groups (who tend to be more educated). He gained 1 point with those 3% who have no HS diploma, but lost 3% with those with a postgrad degree.
A nation divided by religiosity (and religion)
Religion – more specifically the lack thereof and one’s religious practice (religiosity) – retained their strong influence on voting patterns in this election. At the headline level, Protestants backed Romney by 25 points (62-37) and Catholics backed Obama by 2 (50-48). Obama retained his strong hold on those with no religion (70-26), those with another religion (73-24) and Jews (69-30). He won “other Christians” by 1 (50-49). Mitt Romney, the first Mormon presidential candidate for a major party, won 78% of the Mormon vote (2% of the electorate), trouncing Obama by 57 points with his correligionists. However, these headline results hide many things.
When controlling for race, Obama lost both white Protestants/other Christians and white Catholics by large margins (39 points and 19 points respectively), while he won white Jews, ‘others’ and ‘none’ by big margins. Obama lost a significant amount of support with white Catholics, down 7 points from 47% in 2008 to 40% this year. His administration’s policy compelling religiously-affiliated employers to cover contraception and birth control costs led to a rift with the Catholic Church earlier this year and led Republicans to speak of a “war on religion”. Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage might have alienated some white Catholics, but it certainly had no effect on predominantly Catholic Hispanics.
Obama also lost significantly with Jewish voters, losing a full 9 points – from 78% to 69%. In this case, Obama’s fairly conflictual relationship with the Israeli government and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might have played a role. Some Jews might have seen Romney as more pro-Israeli than Obama (Israel is a major issue for Jewish-American voters).
Romney’s huge advantage with white Protestants hides something else: white evangelical Christians. Romney won white evangelical or born-again Christians by 57 points (78-21). Obama lost 3 points with these voters, and Romney regained George W. Bush’s 2004 level of support with these voters (despite the historical tension between Mormons and evangelicals). Their share of the electorate remained the same, at roughly 26% of all voters - indicating that Romney’s Mormon faith did not depress turnout with evangelicals. With non-evangelical Protestants, Romney beat Obama by about 10 points – the same amount by which McCain had beaten Obama with those voters in 2008.
It is interesting to point out that while Romney’s support with Mormons is huge, it is actually slightly smaller than Bush’s 2004 support with Mormons. In 2004, Bush won them by 61 points (80-19).
Religiosity/religious attendance remained major variables, especially with Protestants. Romney won Protestants who attend church weekly by 41 (70-29) but won those Protestants who do not attend weekly by 11. Obama won Catholics who do not attend church weekly, by 14, but lost those who do by 15. Therefore, there is a big gap between those voters who attend church on a weekly basis and those voters who either never attend church (Obama’s strongest demographics) or attend church less often.
A lot was said about ‘party ID’ (voter self-identification with a political party or as an independent) this year, especially in regards to polls. A lot of Republicans never bought into most polls showing Obama leading Romney because they doubted that Democrats had a significant edge over Republicans in party ID, leading a few of them to “unskew” the polls by removing the Democratic edge on party ID. Republicans insisted that their base was far more enthusiastic in 2012 than in 2008, while Democrats would be less motivated this year. Prominent Republican strategists, right-leaning pollsters (Rasmussen) and conservative pundits (notably the huge airhead Dick Morris) used models with a tied party ID to predict a Romney victory.
Their delusions were proven wrong. According to the exit poll, the electorate was “D+6″ (meaning that there were 6% more Democrats than Republicans in the electorate), which is in line with what other pollsters (PPP among others) had usually predicted and similar to the partisan ID of the 2008 electorate (D+7). Democrats made up 38% of the electorate, down 1% from 2008, and Obama won them 92-7 (up from 89-10 in 2008); Republicans made up 32% of voters, and Romney won them 93-6 (up from 90-9 in 2008). Independents made up 29% of the electorate, and Romney won them by 5 points (50-45), whereas Obama had won them by 8 in 2008. The “independents” have shifted to the right since 2008, in good part because a fair number of Republicans and a lot of Tea Party activists identify as independents rather than Republicans.
The share of both self-identified liberals and conservatives in the electorate increased at the expense of self-identified moderates. Liberals grew from 22% to 25%, conservatives grew from 34% to 35% while moderates went from 44% to 41% of voters. Moderates backed Obama 56-41.
Issues and Candidates
Unsurprisingly, 59% of voters identified the economy as the most important issue facing the US, out of a choice of four issues (foreign policy, federal deficit and health care were the other issues). Romney actually narrowly won those who identified the economy as their top concern, by 4 (51-47). The 18% who said health care was the most important issue heavily supported Obama, by 51 points (75-24) and the 15% who were most concerned by the deficit backed Romney by 34.
In terms of economic problems, an equal number of respondents cited unemployment and rising prices as the biggest economic problems (38% and 37% respectively, 14% said taxes and 8% said the housing market). Obama won those most concerned by unemployment (by 10) and both Obama and Romney tied with those concerned about rising prices. Unsurprisingly, the small minority who cited taxes as the biggest economic problem backed Romney by 34 points.
The exit poll also asked for voters’ views on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage, Obamacare, taxes, the economy and government intervention. On abortion, 59% of voters agreed that it should be legal either in all cases or most cases with 36% who felt it should be illegal in all or most cases. Not surprisingly, each candidate’s electorate diverged significantly on abortion: 67% of those who said it should be legal backed Obama, 77% of those who said it should be illegal backed Romney.
Obamacare polarized both candidate’s supporters while the overall electorate was split on the issue, a narrow plurality (49%) wanting to repeal parts of it or all of it (44% wanted to either expand it or keep it as is). Only 11% of Americans who want to keep Obamacare (or expand it) backed Romney and only 15% of those who want to repeal parts/all of it backed Obama.
On the issue of tax rates, 47% of voters want tax increases only on those earning over $250,000 but a sizable 35% do not want any increases in taxes, for anyone. 70% of those who agreed with the first statement voted Obama, while 75% of those who agreed with the latter statement voted for Romney. Interestingly, among the small 13% who want tax increases for all, the two candidates were more closely matched (52-44 for Obama).
Americans remain pessimistic about the current economy but a bit more optimistic about the future. While only 23% thought the economy was excellent or good, 39% said the economy was getting better. Then again, 30% said the economy was getting worse. Those whose view of the current economy is the bleakest and who are the most pessimistic about the future backed Romney: 85% of those who said the economy’s condition was “poor” (31% of voters) backed him as did 90% of the 30% who thought it was getting worse. This is, unsurprisingly, the reverse of 2008, when Obama was the challenger to the incumbent party. Obama was able to beat Romney by 13 (55-42) with the 45% of Americans who said the economy’s condition wasn’t so good.
Likewise, those who said that their family’s financial situation improved since 2008 (25%) backed Obama heavily (84-15) and those who said their family’s financial situation got worse since 2008 (33%) backed Romney (80-18). The 52% of Americans who said that things in the US were off on the wrong track backed Romney 84-13, Obama won with the 46% who though things were in the right direction (93-6).
Luckily for Obama, 53% of voters blamed George W. Bush more for the country’s current economic problems and only 38% blamed him more.
On government intervention, most voters (51%) said that government is doing too many things that are better left to businesses and individuals while 43% said it should do more. Obama did manage 24% of the vote with the 51% who said government is doing too much, Romney won only 17% with those who said it should do more.
On gay marriage, 49% of respondents felt that their state should ‘recognize’ gay marriager and 46% said it should not. Obama won the former group by 48, Romney won the latter by 49. The exit poll, for the first time, asked respondents if they were gay, lesbian or bisexual. 5% said that they were, these voters backed Obama by 54 points (76-22) while the two tied with the 95% who identified as heterosexual.
On “candidate qualities” which mattered most, no one category dominated though “has a vision for the future” and “share my values” were the top two qualities. In both cases, Romney won voters who said that either of these qualities mattered most to them, in both cases by roughly 10 points. However, 21% of voters said that a candidate who “cares about people like me” was the most important quality in a candidate, and Obama crushed Romney with those voters – 81 to 18. Romney beat him 61-38 with the 18% who said being a “strong leader” was the most important quality for them.
For the two in ten voters whose candidate choice was made, in part, on empathy, Obama trounced Romney. However, asked of all voters, 43% said that Romney was most in touch with people like them (against 53% for Obama).
Romney won a one-point edge over Obama on handling the economy (and a two-point edge on the deficit), but Obama had a 8-point advantage on handling Medicare. Unsurprisingly, Obama’s strongest suit was foreign policy and handling an international crisis. 57% of voters trusted him to handle an international crisis, against 50% who said the same of Mitt Romney.
With the electorate on November 6, Obama’s approval rating spread was +9 (54 approve, 45 disapprove). That being, those who disapprove of Obama strongly disapprove: 33% strongly disapproved against only 13% who somewhat disapproved of his job as President. Obama had a +7 favourability rating, while Romney’s favourable rating with the electorate was underwater, slightly (-3). Obama had an edge, but America remains closely polarized. A final example: voters split 49-49 on their opinions of Obama’s administration.
Obama’s Swing State sweep
Even as the race tightened up seriously after Romney’s victory in the first debate, Obama remained an edge in what really matters in American elections – the electoral college map. His campaign had been able to build up a “firewall” in the electoral college, giving the President an advantage over Romney in the case of a tied popular vote (or even a narrow Romney victory in the popular vote). Obama’s firewall included, in the Midwest, the key swing state of Ohio (the tipping state of 2004) where Obama maintained a narrow but consistent lead in nearly every single opinion poll throughout the 2012 campaign. In the west, Obama’s firewall included Colorado and Nevada while New Mexico – a swing state as late as 2004 – was safely in Obama’s column. Romney’s campaign hoped that the Paul Ryan pick would swing Wisconsin in their direction, and while it did tighten a bit after the Ryan pick and after the first debate, it remained out of reach for Republicans. Similarly, as in 2008, Republicans got tempted by fool’s gold in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota – feeling that those three traditionally Democratic but not overwhelmingly so states were within reach.
There’s not much point in reiterating what was said during the campaign, but Obama’s firewall was solid. Obama could have won with all the Kerry 2004 states, plus Ohio and Nevada. In contrast, while Romney could do without Bush 2004 states such as Iowa, New Mexico and Nevada; Ohio and Florida were basically must-win states for him.
Going into November 6, Obama had the lead in every state he won back in 2008 except Indiana (a repeat of Obama’s spectacular 2008 victory in traditionally solidly Republican Indiana was never a real possibility), North Carolina (the second tightest of the Obama 2008 states) and Florida. On election night, Obama successfully swept every single swing state – including Florida – except North Carolina.
What is more, Obama outperformed his polling average in almost every single swing state. RealClearPolitics (RCP) had him up 1.7 in Colorado (won by 5.5), down 1.5 in Florida (won by 0.9), up 2.4 in Iowa (won by 5.8), up 4 in Michigan (won by 9.5), up 2.8 in Nevada (won by 6.6), up 2 in New Hampshire (won by 5.6), down 3 in North Carolina (lost by 2.1), up 3.8 in Pennsylvania (won by 5), up 0.3 in Virginia (won by 3.7) and up 4.2 in Wisconsin (won by 6.7).
The only state where Obama did not outperform his polling was in Ohio – yes, Ohio. RCP had him up by 2.9 in Ohio, but he only won the state by 2. As more votes get counted in Ohio – largely votes from Democratic counties – that may change, but Obama’s result in Ohio is still slightly underwhelming. What happened in Ohio? Was the result in Ohio one of the very, very rare incidences of the “Bradley effect”? For example, PPP’s last poll out of Ohio, showing Obama up 5, had him losing the white vote by 4 when the exit polls indicate that he lost the white vote in Ohio by 17.
Ultimately, Ohio did not end up as the crucial state – the so-called “tipping point state” (the state which puts a candidate over 270). Instead, Pennsylvania was the tipping point state which placed Obama over 270; while Ohio was less Democratic than the nation (as of now) and would have gone to Romney in a tied race (assuming a UNS).
On the other hand, Obama did outperform his polling in every other swing state. The best explanation is that undecided voters and late-deciders broke in his favour by a relatively solid margin, an explanation confirmed by the exit polls. They found that 3% of voters decided on election day, and Obama won them by 7 points over Romney. He also won the other 6% who said that they had decided “in the last few days”, this time by 5 points over Romney.
The conventional wisdom is that undecided voters end up breaking heavily against the incumbent, in favour of the challenger; the so-called “incumbent rule”. If an incumbent is polling below 50%, the rule argues, it is a bad omen for him/her, because undecided voters tend(ed) to break heavily against the incumbent. The veracity of this so-called ‘rule’ has not held true in recent elections, specifically the last direct incumbent-challenger battle – the 2004 election between Bush and Kerry. Bush held a 2 point lead over Kerry going into election day but was consistently below 50%, leading some to speculate that Kerry could win the election if undecideds decided heavily in his favour. Unfortunately for him and the “incumbent rule”, they did not. Kerry did not get any “undecided boost” on election day, and lost the PV by roughly 2 points. Earlier this year, polling God Nate Silver found no evidence that most undecided voters broke against the incumbent.
Ultimately, the “incumbent rule” was proven wrong in this election, as it had been in a few previous elections. In fact, Obama seemingly outperformed his final polling numbers, especially in the swing states (especially Ohio). This can either mean that undecided voters broke for him, which seems likely, and that some pollsters were simply wrong, another good possibility. In states with a large Hispanic population such as Nevada, Democrats tend to underpoll because pollsters have a notoriously hard time with their Hispanic samples – some Hispanics do not speak English or don’t speak it well.
Geography of the Vote: Obama’s Rainbow Coalition
In my discussion of the exit polls, I referred to Obama’s “rainbow coalition” of minorities, women, the youth and white liberals and how this broad and heterogeneous coalition ensured his victory. A geographical view of the results, for now at a county level, illustrates the nature of this coalition and confirm its importance not only for Obama but also the Democratic Party. At the same time, the electoral map also confirms that some of the last vestiges of the old Democratic coalition, the New Deal coalition, have completely disappeared.
The shape of this new Democratic coalition was first seen in the 2000 election and confirmed in subsequent elections. In 2008, Obama was able to expand this coalition and turn it into a winning coalition by motivating unprecedented minority and youth turnout all while reaching out to new constituencies with his unique appeal. In 2012, some parts of the Obama ’08 coalition have fallen off, but the core remains: racial/ethnic minorities, complemented by what we can call “white liberals”.Minorities were crucial to Obama’s victory in almost every single swing state and beyond, considering that the general view seems to be that Obama lost the white vote to Mitt Romney in basically every state outside New England, the Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington) and parts of the Upper Midwest (Iowa/Minnesota). Even in California, the exit polls say that Romney won whites by 10 (54-44) after Obama had won them by 6 in 2008. While Romney winning whites in California (only 55% of the electorate) can make sense, a 10-point gap and an 8 point improvement over McCain’s performance is still a bit doubtful.
The county map allows us to see the key elements in Obama’s coalition. First and perhaps foremost, Democratic support is predominantly urban rather than suburban or rural. This is certainly not a recent development, but Obama has been able to strengthen the Democrats’ stranglehold on major urban areas but also expand into other urban areas which had historically been Republican. In major cities, ethnic minorities have played a major role in entrenching or strengthening . Almost all major cities in the United States are either majority-minority or have a large non-white population. Growing minority populations, specifically Hispanics, have shifted historically Republican urban areas such as Harris and Dallas Counties (Houston and Dallas, TX) into the Democratic column.
Furthermore, white voters in urban areas – young professionals, artists, students/academia, unmarried young men and women, LGBT – tend to be cosmopolitan, socially liberal and hence strongly Democratic. Obama, especially in 2008 but again in 2012, had a particularly strong appeal to these type of voters, who are, alongside minorities, a key element in the new Democratic coalition.
Obama carried basically every major urban county in the United States. While they are reliably Democratic, their large population and the large number of votes they provide for Democrats means that the Democrats cannot afford to do without strong turnout and maximized support in these urban stronghlolds. Obama’s campaign was able to mobilize the base in its urban bases very effectively, as it had been able to do in 2008.
Obama won 77.6% in Suffolk County, MA (Boston); between 79% and 91% in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx (NYC; 85% in Philadelphia County, PA (Philadelphia); 87% in Baltimore City; 91% in Washington DC; 54.5% in Wake County, NC (Raleigh); 60.8% in Mecklenburg County, SC (Charlotte); 64.2% in Fulton County, GA (Atlanta); 61.6% in Miami-Dade County, FL (Miami); 52.8% in Hillsborough County, FL (Tampa); 58.7% in Orange County, FL (Orlando); 62.6% in Shelby County, TN (Memphis); 68.8% in Cuyahoga County, OH (Cleveland); 51.8% in Hamilton County, OH (Cincinnati); 73.1% in Wayne County, MI (Detroit); 74% in Cook County, IL (Chicago); 66.8% in Milwaukee County, WI; 62.5% in Hennepin County, MN (Minneapolis); 82.7% in St. Louis City, MO; 49.4% in Harris County, TX (Houston), 57.1% in Dallas County, TX (Dallas); 73.5% in Denver County, CO; 56.4% in Clark County, NV (Las Vegas); 68.6% in Los Angeles County, CA; 83.4% in San Francisco County, CA and 68.8% in King County, WA (Seattle).
Many of these cities – NYC, Philly, DC, Atlanta, Miami, Memphis, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Vegas or LA – have very large minority populations which are heavily Democratic; their voting Democratic is not surprising so Obama’s success is more his ability to mobilize turnout and maximize Democratic support. In other urban areas which are more politically diverse and which had helped Obama carry the White House in 2008, the Democrats usually resisted very well this year. They were able to mobilize their base – generally Hispanics, blacks or younger “white liberals” – as they had done in 2008.
Outside of urban areas, the Democrats find very strong support in more rural (or suburban) areas with a large minority population. The old Black Belt in the South, but also the heavily Hispanic Rio Grande Valley (Texas), native American counties in the Dakotas or Montana and the old Spanish country in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado are quite perceptible. The Black Belt in Alabama or Mississippi are not of strategic importance in the Democratic strategy, because they cannot ‘swing’ the state, but again, minorities – particularly Hispanics – proved crucial in swing states. We will come back, for example, to the key role played by Hispanics in Obama’s surprise victory in Florida.
In 2008, Obama, with an appealing brand of consensual, cosmopolitan moderate liberalism, had been able to make major inroads into affluent, politically moderate suburban counties across the country which had historically been Republican strongholds. He was the first Democrat since LBJ in 1964 to carry affluent suburban counties such as Loudoun (VA), Prince William (VA), Arapahoe (CO), Jefferson (CO), Somerset (NJ) and Chester (PA); only the second since LBJ to carry Lake County (IL) and the first Democrat since Franklin Pierce (in 1852) to carry DuPage County (IL). At the same time, he also performed very well in other affluent counties which had already been in the Democratic column such as Fairfield (CT), Westchester (NY), Montgomery (PA), Fairfax (VA), Marin (CA) or San Mateo (CA).
While growing minority populations in these counties can serve to explain part of these shifts, the major story in all of these major suburban counties is the shift of well-educated, middle-class professionals in suburban areas from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party as a result of the GOP’s shift to the right and towards socially conservative “culture wars” politics.
Romney with his businessman image not overly concerned by the culture wars, in addition to Obama’s more populist rhetoric in 2012, was presumed to be a good match for these counties. Ultimately, however, Obama was able to hold all of the aforementioned counties except Chester County, PA which he lost by a very close margin. There was no major swing, as we will see, in these counties where many had assume Romney’s businessman reputation would play well with swing voters.
At the same time, the Republicans fortified their hold on the “heartland” – white rural areas and small towns across most of the United States. There are, to be sure, still a good number of Democratic-leaning “white” rural areas – New England and the Driftless Area in Iowa/Wisconsin/Minnesota – but, by and large, the Republicans are dominant in (white) rural and small-town America. Any old Democratic tradition have almost completely died out, especially in the South but also in other parts of the country.
The urban-rural widened this year. The difference between the Obama vote in the largest areas (cities over 50k) and the smallest areas (small cities/rural) grew from 18 points to 23 points. Obama’s support remained stable in the largest cities, losing only one point in the cities over 50k. In cities over 500k, he won 69-29 and won 58-40 in cities with a population between 50k and 500k. The suburbs voted for Obama in 2008 (50-48), he lost two points there this year as they switched back to the GOP (Romney won them 50-48). Mitt Romney’s strongest gains came in small city and rural areas, which McCain had won by 8 (53-45) but which he won by 20 this year (59-39). He killed 61-37 in rural areas and won by 14 (56-42) in cities with 10k to 50k inhabitants.
Southern white Democrats are very much a dying breed outside of major urban areas. States such as Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky, West Virginia but also Alabama or Oklahoma had large pockets of (white) Democratic support at the presidential level until the 1990s and early 2000s, and while their shift to the right predates the Obama presidency – it began in 2000 and sped up in 2004 – his presidency has seen a near-annihilation of these remnants of support.
In other regions of the country, white working-class (WWC) voters – a core component of the old New Deal coalition, have swung to the right. Urban, heavily industrialized and traditionally unionized working-class areas – a lot of them with a large non-white population – remain solidly Democratic; but smaller white working-class areas which had traditionally been Democratic-leaning have shifted to the right.
The Democratic Party moved further to the left, towards a brand of progressive social liberalism embodied by the likes of Gore, Kerry and especially Obama. Traditionally conservative white Democrats in the South and throughout the country have felt, since 2000, that the Democratic Party has abandoned them and has become too liberal. At the same time, starting with George W. Bush, Republicans have been successful at reaching out to lower-income/working-class white voters, primarily in the South and the Midwest, by playing up “culture war” rhetoric and using “wedge” issues such as abortion, gay marriage and gun control to motivate and mobilize religious and conservative lower-income whites.
As a result, these voters have drifted further and further away from the Democratic Party – especially at the presidential level – while the Democratic Party has itself slowly drifted away from these voters towards their new “rainbow coalition”.
Democratic support in predominantly white rural areas in the South, Appalachia and the Plains has really dried up. In 2008, Arkansas and Tennessee – two states where white voters had remained Obama was never a good candidate for these voters. Already in the Democratic primary battle in 2008 he had done terribly with WWC voters and Southern whites; in the general election, there was a major countercyclical swing towards the GOP in wide swathes of heavily white rural counties in Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kentucky and parts of West Virginia (see the maps under ‘voting shifts’). Kerry had already done quite poorly in those areas in 2004 and their rightward trend predates Obama, but white support for Democratic presidential candidates had been holding up better in those Upper South states with fewer blacks (and hence lesser racial polarization and tensions) than in Deep South states such as Alabama, Mississippi or Georgia. The 2008 and 2012 results show that these states are “catching up” with other states where the realignment, at the presidential level, had come with Reagan in 1980/1984.
Rural whites, lower-income whites (especially in the South) and most of the non-urban WWC have abandoned Democrats in drove, and this election – like 2004 and 2008 – only fortified the GOP hold on these voters. The novelty since 2010 (a bit earlier in some states), confirmed again this year, is that the realignment is extending to the congressional and state level. Blue Dog and white Democrats in the South are a dying breed, at all levels. The GOP gained Alabama and North Carolina’s state legislatures for the first time since Reconstruction in 2010, followed by Mississippi and Louisiana. Even in Arkansas, where the state Republican Party was in shambles until recently, Democrats are being swept out of office at the state level: the GOP gained the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction this year. In West Virginia, it is only a matter of time before the Republicans gain the state legislature, in Democratic hands since the Great Depression.
The question remains whether this GOP coalition is sustainable in the long-term without significant Republican inroads with non-white (primarily Hispanic and Asian) voters. If the Republicans can continue to peel off more and more white working-class voters, historically Democratic white “ethnics” (Irish, Polish, Italian etc) from the Democratic Party, then Rust Belt states could become more Republican. The GOP coalition as it presently stands will have a hard time winning presidential elections (where turnout is higher) unless future Democratic candidates cannot mobilize their electorate as efficiently as Obama. Any winning GOP coalition will need to make gains where they are most needed: middle-class, moderate suburban voters; Hispanic and Asian voters and younger voters.
The Shifts since 2008
The raw results of any election must be put into perspective – historical perspective – to be better understood. It is always quite instructive to look at how the different states and counties swung compared to the last election.
This map (a bit outdated), based on individual state county maps from the aforementioned US Election Atlas (under each state, rollover the ‘swing’ and ‘trend’ buttons) shows the “swing” from the last election. In this case, the “swing” refers to the change in the D-R margin compared to the 2008 election. For example, the United States as a whole had a +7.26% margin for Obama in 2008 and this year it had a +2.96% margin – the US swung by 4.3% towards the Republicans. The “trend” map is the change in the D-R margin relative to the change in the national margin (states which swung by less than 4.3% in the Republican direction “trended” Democratic). The New York Times, with even more outdated results, shows the shift since 2008 using some annoying arrows. I’m not sure what methodology the NYT used, but the results seem basically identical to the swing maps.
Utah, West Virginia, Indiana, Montana and North Dakota had the five biggest swings against Obama in the country, all five states registering a swing of over 10% (nearly 20% in Utah’s case). Mississippi, New Jersey, Louisiana, Maryland and Alaska are the only four states which swung to Obama this year.
Utah is unsurprising. Romney won 72.8% of the vote in the state, the biggest percentage of the vote for a Republican in Utah since Ronald Reagan in 1980. As the first major party Mormon nominee, Romney received a very big “favourite son” vote from his correligionists. Obama must have done fairly decently with the Mormon vote in the 2008 election, winning 34% of the vote in Utah – which was the best showing for a Democrat since 1968. Obama had even won Salt Lake County, home to Salt Lake City, by a narrow margin. The Mormon vote swung heavily in Romney’s direction this year.
This swing is, of course, most perceptible in Utah but it also shows up in eastern Nevada and some counties in Wyoming. However, the swing in heavily Mormon and solidly Republican eastern Idaho was fairly small, with the exception of three counties directly bordering Utah. Eastern Idaho, known for being extremely conservative (perhaps moreso than Utah), had already been voting Republican by huge margins (over 70% of the vote), so the GOP was perhaps already hovering close to the ceiling (unlike in Utah).
West Virginia, the heart of Appalachian coal country, used to be a Democratic stronghold at all levels because of its large unionized working-class (coal miners) population. After the New Deal and the rise of unions such as the UMW, West Virginia voted for Democratic presidential candidates between 1932 and 2000 with the exception of 1956, 1972 and 1984. Democratic candidates usually polled over 60%, sometimes over 70%, of the vote in the “coal counties” of southern West Virginia. After Clinton had won the state by nearly 15 points in his two elections, George W. Bush won the state by a 6 point margin over Al Gore in the 2000 election. John Kerry lost the state by 12.9, Obama lost it by 13.1 points in 2008. This year, he lost by a massive 26.9 point margin, and failed to carry a single county in the state (the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has failed to carry even a single county in WV).
Environmental policies combined with the national Democrats’ shift towards socially liberal policies (including abortion, gay marriage but also gun control). West Virginia’s struggling economy is still fairly dependent on coal (including mountaintop removal mining), which has been targeted by environmental policies as being particularly “dirty” and environmentally damaging. Gore’s strong stance on environmental issues in the 2000 election, along with the salient issue of gun control in that election, explains the definitive shift away from the national Democrats in 2000. Since then, national Democrats have pursued policies which have alienated traditionally conservative and religious West Virginians from the national Democratic Party. Once again, Obama was never a good fit for the white working-class in Appalachia. At the base, race likely plays a role, but Obama is perceived in these milieus as a liberal “big city” politician (from Chicago and its “machine politics”, no less) similarly to how Kerry had been perceived and painted in the ‘heartland’ as an “elitist east coast liberal”. Furthermore, Obama’s 2008 rhetoric of “change” and “bipartisanship” was far more appealing to affluent middle-class (and white-collar) professionals, minorities or “white liberals” – not WWC voters who have been struggling economically for years.
Since 2008, the coal industry has been having a really hard time. The White House’s environmental policies (cap-and-trade, EPA regulations) and the natural gas boom (due to hydraulic fracking) have badly hurt the coal industry, which is facing terminal decline. Given that WV’s economy is still largely dependent on “dirty” coal (it is also by far the state’s main source of energy), these troubles have been hurting voters directly and they have resented that the administration is abandoning coal in favour of renewable energies or coal. The swing in coal country is the last stand of economically deprived voters who feel sidelined in the modern economy and swept up and away by new energies and the post-industrial economy.
Romney’s best congressional district – the 3rd – in which he won 65% (62.4% statewide) is ironically the most Democratic district in the state, encompassing most of the “coal counties” of southern WV. The swing against Obama had already been huge in those counties in 2008, but he had managed to narrowly carry two coal counties – Boone and McDowell. This year again, the swing was heaviest in the southern “coal counties”. Romney won 70.1% in Mingo County (Democratic between 1928 and 2008 except for 1972), 68.8% in Logan County (Democratic between 1928 and 2008), 64.2% in Bonne County (Democratic since 1920 save for 1972) and 64.1% in McDowell (Democratic since 1936 save for 1972). These are massive swings: from 54% Obama in Boone County back in 2008 to only 32.9% this year. In 2008, Obama had managed over 53% in the latter two counties and McCain had won roughly 55% in the first two counties.
He also lost Webster County, which had voted Democratic since 1868 (with the exception of 1972). In 2008, he won 51% there, this year he won only 34% in a county with a history of coal mining and salt sulfur wells. Nicholas County, a coal mining county, had given him over 46% in 2008 but only 30.4% this year!
At the congressional and state level, the state Democrats – many of whom, including popular Senator Joe Manchin, have moved away from the toxic national party to the point of disavowing Obama (Manchin did not attend the DNC) and his policies – proved more resilient. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin defeated his Republican rival by about 5 points, while Joe Manchin took nearly 60% of the vote against John Raese (who is a terrible candidate). That being said, the writing is on the wall even for the very right-wing state Democrats. The Republicans gained 11 seats in the state’s House of Delegates and are within reach of taking control by the next election. Nick Rahall, the Democratic congressman for the 3rd CD (the last WV Democratic congressman) since 1977, won reelection but with one of his narrowest margins in his career.
Nonetheless, the extent of ticket-splitting in WV this year is quite remarkable. In some counties in southern WV, most voters probably voted for Romney (R) and Manchin (D)! In addition, the results of the presidential race and the state-level races (governor, senate) in WV show two different bases for the Democrats: the national Democratic Party base, which reflects the new nature of the party’s coalition, and the traditional working-class base of the WV Democratic Party. Obama performed best in places where WV Democrats had historically not performed extremely well. He won 46.9% in Jefferson County (he had won it in 2008), a rapidly growing DC exurb which has been trending towards the Democrats (Dukakis lost it in 1988 while winning the state…). He won 43.9% in Monongalia County, the heart of a smaller mining basin abutting on Pennsylvania, but also home to a major college town (WVU in Morgantown). He had also won it in 2008. Finally, Obama took 43.2% in Kanawha County, where Charleston is located. Obama’s performance does not correlate very much with Tomblin or Manchin’s performance, which is more reflective of the traditional support of the state Democrats – strongest in the southern “coal counties” where Romney obliterated Obama.
Coal country’s swing against the President is also very noticeable in Kentucky and western Virginia, the extensions of the Appalachian mining basin. The swings were huge in Kentucky’s Eastern Coal Fields, historically a working-class Democratic stronghold very similar to West Virginia (with the exceptions of some counties on the southwestern ends of the coal fields, which fall in the Unionist Republican strongholds dating back to the Civil War). Obama had already performed horribly in the Democratic counties of the Eastern Coal Fields, for example becoming the first Democrat since the 1880s to lose Knott and Floyd Counties. This year, he lost three other coal field counties he had narrowly taken in 2008 (Rowan, Bath, Menifee counties) and there were more huge swings against Obama in other coal field counties. He managed to win Elliott County, which has voted Democratic since time immemorial, by a hair. But he was, basically, eaten alive in the rest of the state.Like in WV, this shift predates Obama – Kerry had lost Harlan County, an old unionized Democratic stronghold which had been voting Democratic since FDR – but it got very pronounced under Obama. Race (and racism) likely plays a role, sadly, in this case – it’s not like McCain or Romney are particularly perfect candidates for impoverished, isolated and very religious/conservative mining counties in either WV or KY. This year, however, race was not the main factor: the coal industry’s collapse since 2008 was likely a much more salient factor.In the realm of specific examples, here are a few coal counties from KY: Obama won 48.1% in Floyd in 2008, he won 31.8% this year; in Knott he fell from 44.9% to 24.9%; from 43.8% in Breathitt County he won only 31.2% this year; from an already horrible 26.1% in Harlan County in 2008, he collapsed even further to 17.2% (Clinton won 58% there in 1996!); in Pike County he won 42.1% in 2008 and 23.9% this year; finally in Magoffin County, Obama went from 45.3% to 29.2%. These are some massive shifts.
In western Virginia, finally, Obama collapsed in the small extension of the historically Democratic coal basin. Again, this is a continuation of a 2008 countercyclical swing against Obama. The swings were biggest in Buchanan and Dickenson counties, two counties bordering KY or WV. Obama fell from 46.5% to 32% in Buchanan, and from 48.5% to 35.9% in Dickenson. There were also big swings in surrounding counties in the Virginian Appalachian Plateau.
In southwestern Pennsylvania, following a large countercyclical swing towards the GOP in a region which had been a working-class (mining/steelworks/manufacturing) Democratic stronghold for decades, there were more, albeit smaller, swings towards the GOP this year. The Democratic base in Pennsylvania has shifted dramatically; the Democrats have scored impressive gains in Philly’s middle-class moderate suburbs (which are growing increasingly diverse) while the GOP has destroyed the old Democratic blue-collar/WWC base in southwestern Pennsylvania (though the other blue-collar Democratic base, in Scranton and Allentown/Bethlehem has held tight; largely because mining and industry has been dead for years in Scranton).
Back in Kentucky, the “coal swing” wasn’t limited to the Eastern Coal Fields. Looking at the county swing map, while there were massive swings in the Eastern Coal Fields, the swings were more limited in central Kentucky (Bluegrass region, Pennyroyal Plateau) – including the old Unionist Republican country dating back to the Civil War. However, in the Western Coal Fields – another major coal mining region – the swings were pretty big; for example, from 46.5% to 32.5% in Union County, from 43.1% to 32.3% in Webster County and 48.3% to 37.5% in Muhlenberg County.
Indiana was the surprise of the 2008 election. The state had been a Republican bastion, voting Republican since 1940 with the exception of 1964, and giving George W. Bush a crushing 20.7% margin over John Kerry. Then, to the surprise of most people, Obama won the state by 1 point over McCain. Obama’s remarkable victory in Indiana was the product of some ephemeral demographic shifts but especially to strategic choices made by both campaigns. Obama set up camp in Indiana during the Democratic primaries, which extended into Indiana’s late contest; and after the primaries, Obama’s campaign decided to remain on the ground and seriously compete in the state (which no Democrat had done in years). On the other hand, McCain’s campaign likely took the state for granted and largely ignored the state (despite close polling) until the end of this campaign, allowing Obama to blast the airwaves in the state.
The victory in Indiana was a one-shot deal, because the state remains, fundamentally, a Republican state. Obama’s campaign basically conceded Indiana early in the campaign and did not spend much money in the state. Romney won the state by 10.6 points, with 54.3% against Obama’s 43.7%. This is a respectable performance by Obama, much stronger than Kerry’s disastrous showing and the best showing in the state since 1976 (excluding 2008). Compared to the 2004 rout, Obama performed much better than Kerry in Marion County (Indianapolis) which he won with 60.2% against only 50.6% for Kerry in 2004. He also made some further gains in the state’s oldest Democratic stronghold, Lake County (Gary). Both counties have large black populations. However, Obama also outperformed Kerry in other counties in northern Indiana, including St. Joseph County (South Bend, a blue-collar town with a large university).
The Gary (Chicagoland) area and some Ohio Valley counties in the south did not swing much – perhaps an effect of media markets – but there were heavy swings towards the GOP in the rest of rural, small/medium-towns and suburban Indiana.
In 2008, Obama had performed particularly (unusually) well for a Democrat in areas of the Midwest that are manufacturing-oriented but have a Republican tradition and have more medium-sized manufacturers that lack the mass union tradition of the big auto and steelmakers. Indiana is a blue-collar Rust Belt manufacturing-driven state; but it has few large, unionized working-class urban centres (like Cleveland or Detroit) and more small manufacturing centres (Fort Wayne, Terre Haute, Evansville, Columbus etc) which are traditionally Republican-leaning (even if some of these towns have significant black populations or colleges).
In 2008, because of the economic crisis and the high unemployment rates in these areas, Obama carried a particular appeal to blue-collar (often white) voters in these conservative regions. In 2008, there were significant swings towards Obama in Indiana but also northwestern Ohio, parts of Michigan, southern Illinois and the Fox River Valley/Northern Highlands in Wisconsin – other regions with a history of smaller manufactures lacking a strong union history.
These trends were transitory, especially because Obama is now the incumbent and the economy is still struggling in these regions. The Fox River Valley, northwestern Indiana, downstate Illinois and Michigan all swung heavily towards the GOP in 2010. This year, there were sizable swings towards the GOP in northern Wisconsin, downstate Illinois and northwestern Ohio.
Montana and North Dakota had particularly large swings against Obama (over 10% by the Atlas defintion); Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas also all had swings above the national average. Obama had done quite well in the Dakotas and Montana back in 2008, losing Montana by only 2.4 points and both Dakotas by a bit more than 8 (Kerry had lost them by much wider margins). This year, he lost Montana by 13.7 and both Dakotas by 18-19 points.
The northern Great Plains and the Rocky Mountain west are both fairly elastic and anti-incumbent regions noted for their strong independent streak and a habit of ticket-splitting. Montana in particular is often considered a “libertarian” state, and Montana Democrats like outgoing Governor Brian Schweitzer or Senator Jon Tester are often fairly independent and somewhat libertarian in their politics. Montana and both Dakotas, for example, had swung to John Kerry in 2004.
Obama, with his consensual image and the centre-leftist rhetoric of “change”, was a good fit for these states in 2008. The war in Iraq – these states had a reputation as being anti-war by then – likely hurt McCain somewhat as well. There were major swings towards the Democrats in most of Montana (where Obama had an active campaign) and the eastern parts of North and South Dakota – the most populous regions of these states (with cities such as Sioux Falls, Grand Forks and Fargo), and also places where Obama had a fairly active campaign in 2008 (the effect of Obama’s strong presence and spending in eastern ND is visible by the similarly heavy swings in his favour in northwestern Minnesota).
This year, the anti-incumbency of these right-leaning but independent regions explains – in part – why Obama did poorly. The county map shows that the biggest swings were in the farmlands of Montana’s eastern plains and the sparsely populated Badlands and Black Hills of the Dakotas; the most Republican regions of these states. In Montana, western mountainous counties – including solidly Republican fast-growing Flathead County (Kalispell), also had heavy swings.
Given the libertarian and independent reputation of Montana and parts of the Dakotas, perhaps some of the administration’s policies which have been perceived by libertarians/the right as “big government” (Obamacare, cap-and-trade, environmental regulations etc) explain the big swings in these regions. The economy of the Dakotas are doing particularly well, with very low unemployment, because of the natural gas boom in these states (concentrated, as far as I know, in the aforementioned western parts of ND/SD). Perhaps the big swing back this year is a response to some of the administration’s environmental regulations/policies?
President Obama’s home state of Illinois had a particularly heavy swing as well. Obama had won his home state by 25 points in 2008, the largest margin for a Democratic presidential candidate in the state. This state, he won it by a still very comfortable but far narrower 16.7 points. The county swing map is particularly interesting. The largest swings were recorded in southern (downstate) Illinois, a conservative and Southern-influenced region which had historically been a Democratic stronghold before shifting towards the GOP in the past decades.
Illinois politics usually features a stark dichotomy between conservative downstate and liberal Cook County (Chicago), the Democratic stronghold by excellence in Illinois. Cook County’s huge population and hefty Democratic margins every election can usually allow Democrats to win narrowly statewide even if they lose handily downstate and even in Chicagoland suburbs (see Pat Quinn in 2010). In 2008, the biggest swings towards Obama had actually been in northern Illinois – particularly the affluent Chicago suburbs which used to be GOP strongholds (even in 1964…) but have been trending hard towards the Democrats. But he had also performed well in many downstate counties, particularly those with small manufacturing centres or counties bordering Indiana (spillover from ad spending in southern IN media markets?).
Sitting Presidents usually lose their “favourite son” appeal in their home state – in 2004, 1996 and 1984 for example, the incumbent’s home state either swung to their opponent or at least “trended” to the opponent (swing below average). By having been in Washington for four (or more) years they usually lose their strong ties with their home state and are less perceived as being a “favourite son” candidate. This is part of the explanation as to why Illinois swung particularly heavily against the President; it is also a “correction” of the 2008 result which was clearly unusually huge, even for a Democrat in a “blue state” like Illinois.
Southern Illinois is a fairly working-class and coal mining region. The heaviest shifts – where Republicans gained roughly 10-15% since 2008 – came in southern Illinois’ mining basin which borders southern Indiana and KY’s Western Coal Fields. That being said, there were also some fairly large swings throughout the quasi-entirety of the state (with two major exceptions), from north to south. Romney improved on McCain’s performance by over 5 points in most of the state’s counties. This shift is similar to what happened in Indiana, northwestern Ohio or Wisconsin’s Fox River Valley: those smaller, non-unionized manufacturing centres where Obama did unusually well in 2008 because of the crisis shifted back to their natural Republican roots.
Chicago did not swing much, Romney only gained 2 points off of McCain’s 2008 performance in Cook County; though its suburbs did show some more significant swings. This fits in with a general pattern which we will come back to.
On the other hand, there were only small swings – usually less than 3% more GOP than in ’08 – in northwestern Illinois (the Rock Island/Davenport area). This result shows the importance of ads and campaign strategy on the results. Almost all of the counties in NW Illinois where Obama held up better than in the rest of the state are part of the Davenport media market, centered around Davenport, Iowa. As a swing state, Iowa – Davenport’s media market included – was barraged with thousands of ads from both sides. There were barely any Dem or GOP ads in IL’s other media markets. In this particular case, it appears as if because those particular voters had more audiovisual exposure to the President and Romney because of ad spending.
This WaPo feature includes a handy map of ad spending by media market, on which you can see the very heavy ad spending in Davenport, IA (and in all other swing state media markets). A media market means those regions where cable providers are required to carry all local stations, but a media market does not prevent a cable provider from carrying stations from other areas/media markets.
The Illinois case is the most visible example of media market “spillover” on the election map. It is harder to find other examples. There are a few WV counties which border Ohio across the Ohio River, but in this case they are part of the Charleston, WV media market (which had lots of ads too). The Denver media market, which extends into some sparsely populated plains counties in Nebraska and Wyoming, seems to have limited the swing towards the GOP in far-western Nebraska. In Pennsylvania, finally, there were large swings towards Romney in the centre of the state; and while I would privilege the demographic explanation (shift of the WWC away from the Democrats, which had begun in 2008; GOP rebound in smaller manufacturing centres) the WaPo map indicates that Romney outspent Obama in the Johnstown-Altoona media market (he also beat him in Pittsburgh’s media market, like McCain in 2008).
That being said, there is an amusing counterexample to all these hypotheticals: Minnesota. Mitt Romney’s campaign was led into believing that the state might be in play, and they spent a lot in the Minneapolis and Duluth-Superior media markets (and somewhat less on the cross-border Fargo-Valley City media market). The swing map in Minnesota shows that the heaviest swings towards the Republicans came from those northwestern counties in the Fargo-Valley City market (the region which had swung the hardest towards Obama in 2008). This swing seems to be a “correction” of the 2008 result, Obama had done quite well in northwestern Minnesota. On the other hand, swings in the heavily-targeted Minneapolis and Duluth-Superior media markets hardly budged. To be fair, however, the Obama swing in those parts of Minnesota in 2008 had been fairly underwhelming – again because McCain’s campaign had gone for a futile attempt at targeting Minnesota and blew Obama out of the water with ad spending in the state.
Missouri, especially rural and now solidly Republican exurban/small-town/rural Missouri, had heavy swings towards the Republicans (their vote share increased by over 5% in most counties). Unlike in 2008, the former bellwether state was not contested by either side, Obama conceding the presidential race in MO to Romney while Democrats focused all their efforts on the McCaskill/Akin senatorial race. Missouri, a border state, has had conflicting northern and southern influences – solidly Unionist Republican tendencies in the Ozarks or the Missouri Rhineland clashing with Dixiecrats in MO’s Little Dixie or the Missouri Bootheel and working-class Democrats in the St. Louis and the Lead Belt. Like in other border states and the Upper South, white voters have become ever more firmly Republican. This year, Obama saw his support drop fairly dramatically in the Lead Belt, a mining area south of St. Louis (Iron County, Washington County, Ste. Genevieve County) which was historically a Democratic stronghold- but again of the conservative and traditionalistic WWC variety.
The collapse of the last remnants of substantial Democratic support outside of St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City has transformed Missouri – at least at the presidential level – from a perfect bellwether into a lean-GOP state.
Arizona was quite disappointing for Democrats, who had hoped that they would make gains in the state because of the growing Hispanic minority and John McCain’s “favourite son” effect in the state in 2008 (it had barely swung). Romney won the state with 53.48% against 44.45% for Obama, a 9.03% margin which is slightly larger than McCain’s 8.48% margin in the state in 2008 (Bush had won by 10.5 in 2004). Obama won the Hispanic vote, whose share of the electorate increased from 16% to 18%, by a large margin: 74 to 25 (+49), whereas he had only won them by 15 (56-41) against McCain in 2008. However, while he had lost whites by 19 in 2008, he lost them by a huge 34 point margin this year (66-32). These exit poll numbers might be off some, but they make sense. White voters in Arizona approved Governor Jan Brewer’s controversial illegal immigration crackdown (SB 1070) even though it has seriously damaged GOP support with Hispanics.
Obama made gains in Apache and Navajo counties, two counties with a large Native American population. Along the Mexican border, he also gained in Santa Cruz, Pima (Tucson) and Yuma counties; all of which have large Hispanic populations. Santa Cruz County is 83% Hispanic according to the census, and voted 68.2% for Obama – up from 65% support for the President in 2008. Greenlee, Graham and Gila counties also swung to Obama.
In decisive and very populous Maricopa County (Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale), however, Obama fell back a bit – from 43.9% to 43.6%. It is clear that Democrats who want to win statewide need to make major inroads in Maricopa County, which is 59% white and 30% Hispanic. Heavily white Yavapai County (Prescott) swung even more, from 61.1% McCain in 2008 to 64% for Romney this year.
Arizona’s electorate was 18% Hispanic, but the census showed that Hispanics made up 30% of the electorate. The Hispanic share of the VAP (18+) is likely lower, but as in other states, notably Texas (another long-shot Dem target) or California, many Hispanics do not vote because they are not registered (often because they are not citizens) or, in the past more than today, due to apathy. Until they make up a larger share of the electorate in both AZ and TX, both states which many Democrats dream of “turning blue” in the next few elections, the Democrats’ attempts to make gains in those states will remain frustrated by their low and declining support with the white majority.
Five states swung to Obama, which means that Obama’s margin of victory or defeat in those states was bigger/smaller than in 2008. Alaska had the biggest swing towards Obama, going to Romney by 14 points after having gone to McCain by 21.5 points in 2008. Obama increased his share of the vote from 37.9% to 40.8%, in the process becoming the first Democrat since Hubert Humphrey in 1968 to win over 40% of the vote in Alaska. Romney won 54.8%, down significantly from McCain’s 59.4%.
The state, in which oil, energy and land use issues have almost always been at the forefront of local elections, is solidly Republican. In 2008, early polls had shown Obama polling strongly in Alaska, pulling within single digits of McCain. However, after McCain picked the state’s popular governor, Sarah Palin, as his running mate, the state was never competitive. In 2008, Palin – in office since January 2007 – was still phenomenally popular in Alaska with the success of her administration’s natural gas pipeline (AGIA). If she turned out to be a major hindrance to the McCain campaign in the rest of the country, her selection did shore up Alaska’s hefty 3 EVs for John McCain. The state barely swung towards Obama, McCain performing only a bit worse than Bush in 2004.
The heavy swing this year is probably, in large part, a correction of the Palin “favourite daughter” effect in the state. But it is still fairly bizarre for Alaska, similar in many ways to Montana (with the addition of a huge and politically influential oil industry), to swing towards Obama while Montana swung heavily in the other direction.
Alaska reports results by state house district rather than by borough, which explains why media sources never give Alaskan results at a more micro level than the state. The map to the right shows the results by house district, you can find the data on OurCampaigns (which also has a map of the 2008 results, here). State house districts changed a lot with the redistricting, making comparisons harder, but the biggest pro-Obama swings were in the “bush” – the North Slope, western and southwestern Alaska, Bristol Bay and the Aleutians; with some shifts in the Panhandle region as well. These regions are predominantly Native, extremely sparsely populated and barely connected with one another. The North Slope is also the centre of Alaskan oil and gas production.
Alaska Natives are not as solidly Democratic as other Native Americans; owing largely to a different form of self-government and oil revenues. While they usually lean Democratic more often than not, a strong Republican can win them over. In the 2010 senate race, Native support was crucial to GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski’s write-in victory over Joe Miller (R). In the 2008 presidential election, Obama performed well in some predominantly Native districts (Nome, Bethel) but the McCain/Palin ticket held up well.
This year, Obama basically swept the “bush”, including the North Slope. HD40, which covers the North Slope, gave 66.5% to Obama against only 29.3% for Romney. In 2008, the same district (which did not change much in terms of boundaries) had voted 53.7-42.7 for McCain. He won over 60% in almost every other “bush” house district. On the other hand, the MatSu valley – Alaska’s conservative Republican heartland – did not move all that much (though redistricting makes it hard to quantify). Romney still won over 65% of the vote in most of the MatSu, even taking over 70% of the vote in Wasilla, Palmer (Anchorage exurbs and Palinland) and rabidly conservative North Pole (Fairbanks exurb). McCain had done extremely well in the MatSu in 2008, likely the Palin effect; even better than Bush in 2004. It appears as if the Alaska swing is predominantly due to the Natives in the bush and some more moderate voters in the Panhandle, which, outside of Juneau, is a more moderate GOP-leaning region. The MatSu valley and its profoundly conservative “rugged individualism” stayed the same.
Romney did worse than McCain and Obama improved on his 2008 results in Mississippi and Louisiana. Mississippi is the most racially polarized state, with likely the lowest white vote for Obama of any state. On the other hand, Louisiana – while a Deep South state like MS or AL – was historically less racially polarized. The Democrats polled particularly well with the French Catholic Cajuns in Acadiana, and some strong local Democrats still do well in Acadiana. Clinton won the state in 1992 and 1996 (while losing MS and AL), but like AR or TN it has progressively abandoned Democrats, first at the presidential level and now at the state level (Democrats recently lost the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction). Gore lost the state by 7.7%, Kerry lost by 14.5% and Obama lost it by 18.6% in 2008. There were substantial countercyclical swings towards McCain, primarily in Cajun country/Acadiana.
The swing towards Romney was below the national average throughout the South, Alabama barely swung and AR, GA, SC and NC all “trended” towards the Democrats (swing below the national average). This indicates that, in large part, the realignment of 80-90% of Southern whites with the GOP at the presidential level throughout both the Deep South and Upper South is almost complete, after large swings against Obama in 2008.
On the national swing map, the Southern swing towards Obama stems from black-majority counties (or those with a large black minority) – the Mississippi Valley (AR, LA, MS) and the Black Belt (MS, AL, GA, SC, NC). There had already been substantial swings towards Obama in those counties in 2008, indicating primarily his ability to motivate and mobilized black voters like no candidate before him had done. How could they swing towards him again, after nearly maximizing turnout and support in 2008?
We can exclude the hypothesis that Southern whites swung to Obama. The exit polls do say that Obama’s performance with Alabama whites was 5% better than in 2008 (from 10% to 15%) while he lost 1 point with MS whites (taking 10%); there were no exit polls in AR, LA, GA or SC. More likely, white turnout declined somewhat and black turnout increased or at least stabilized. In Mississippi, the white share of the electorate fell by 3 (from 62% to 59%) and the black share of the electore increased by 3 (from 33% to 36%).
Some Southern white evangelicals were uneasy with Romney – either because of his faith (a lot of evangelicals do not consider Mormons to be Christian), his old image as a Massachusetts moderate who was insufficiently conservative or because of his wealth. There was no chance that they would back Obama, but the real threat was that they would not turn out. States like MS, AL or LA would have been ground zero for lower Southern white turnout; and while there was no catastrophic decline in turnout, there appears to have been some decline in white turnout combined with stable (or slightly higher) black turnout.
In Louisiana, the swings towards Obama were concentrated along the shores of the Mississippi – from New Orleans and upwards – the region of the state with the largest black population. There was a huge swing in St. Bernard Parish, where Obama gained 10% from his 2008 result (from 25.8% to 36.2%). The population in this coastal county declined because of Katrina, but there seems to have been an increase in the share of the black population in the county – probably blacks moving from Orleans Parish. On the other hand, Acadiana continued to swing towards the GOP (though not by a lot).
In Arkansas, Mississippi or Alabama, the Obama swings came from counties with large black populations. In Alabama, for example, Obama picked up two McCain counties (Conecuh and Barbour) which are very closely divided between whites and blacks. On the other hand, counties with white supermajorities generally swung towards the GOP. This was notably the case in Georgia, which saw some fairly substantial swings against Obama in heavily white northern counties (exurban Atlanta) but some swings to Obama in the racially divided Piedmont and coastal plains.
Atlanta suburbia remains promising for the Democrats. The black population in Georgia is growing, especially in Atlanta suburbs. Inner suburban Clayton and DeKalb counties, heavily black, are now more Democratic than Fulton County (Atlanta) where the black population is stagnating/declining. Obama held Douglas, Rockdale and Newton counties which he picked up in 2008, thanks to a rapidly growing black population. This year, Fulton and DeKalb counties swung towards Romney; but there were pro-Obama swings in Douglas, Rockdale, Henry and Gwinnett counties – which all have booming black (or even Hispanic) populations. These trends mean that Georgia is a long shot target for Democrats, despite historic lows in white support for Democrats in the state.
Other minority counties also swung towards Obama. This was the case in a lot of heavily Hispanic counties in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, some Hispanic areas in Colorado and New Mexico but also Native American rez counties in South Dakota and Arizona. We will come back to Florida swings in more detail later (assuming you are not dead from this verbal diarrhea by then!).
New Jersey swung towards Obama, his margin of victory grew from 15.5 to 16.9. The main cause is probably Hurricane Sandy, whose primary effect was to severely depress turnout in NJ and NY but whose secondary effect was beneficiary to Obama. The President and Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ)’s response to the hurricane was lauded, and in a way the hurricane froze Romney’s momentum by allowing Obama to act presidential and post-partisan while Romney languished doing awkward events in Ohio and Florida. In NJ, the exit polls reported that 53% of respondents said that Obama’s hurricane response was an important factor in their vote (42% nationally).
That being said, while Sandy’s ground zero – Atlantic County (Atlantic City) – did swing towards Obama, it was not by a very big margin. The big swings came in solidly Democratic North Jersey – the heavily urbanized and ethnically diverse NYC suburbia in Hudson, Essex, Passaic, Union and Bergen counties. Obama’s share of the vote increased by over 2% in Middlesex, Union, Hudson and Passaic counties. These counties have large and oftentimes growing Asian, black and Hispanic populations.
In New York City, all boroughs except for Manhattan swung towards Obama. Obama even picked up Staten Island, gaining over 2% since 2008. In Queens, Brooklyn and Bronx the Obama vote increased by over 2%. These boroughs are also, of course, very ethnically diverse with large black, Hispanic and Asian populations. Obama won Staten Island (Richmond County), which had gone to Bush in 2004 and McCain in 2008. There was a huge drop in turnout in Staten Island, but those who voted where likely influenced by the “Sandy effect.”
Urban centres throughout the country either swung to Obama or had only small swings towards Romney. Growing minority populations in these urban centres, mobilized and motivated by the Obama machine, have further entrenched Democrats in these counties. Suffolk County (Boston), Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami-Dade County (Miami), Jefferson County (Birmingham, AL), Orleans Parish (New Orleans, LA), Dallas County (Dallas) and Ramsey County (St. Paul, MN) all swung towards Obama. Los Angeles County (Los Angeles) barely swung; Harris County (Houston, TX), Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), Hamilton County (Cincinnati), Cook County (Chicago), Wayne County (Detroit), Richmond (Virginia), Denver, King County (Seattle) – to name only a few – all swung below the national average.
Maryland swung to Obama by a tiny bit – his margin increased from 25.4 to 25.6. The state has been getting even more Democratic in recent years: federal government employees and growing minority (Hispanic, Asian, black) populations in Democratic strongholds including Prince George’s, Charles, Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore counties.
The pro-Obama swing in upstate New York is rather bizarre. With central Ohio, it is the only large area to swing towards Obama which does not have a substantial minority population. Is the region particularly pro-incumbent?
This map shows the swing since the 2000 election, 12 years ago. The evaporation of white Democratic support in the South and Appalachia is immediately visible: notice the Democratic collapse in Little Dixie (Oklahoma – an old Socialist Party stronghold!), Arkansas, eastern Texas (historically the most Dixiecratic and Southern region of Texas), Acadiana (Louisiana), the Upland region in Alabama, Tennessee, the Florida Panhandle, northern Georgia and – of course – the Appalachian mining basin. Support also dropped in Missouri and downstate Illinois, two regions with a political culture similar to that of the South. In southwestern Pennsylvania – old coal and steel country – we see the decline of Democratic support in a working-class region, with conservative values on moral issues (this was the region Obama was referring to in 2008 with the infamous “clinging to guns and religion” comment, and the region’s long-time now-deceased congressman John Murtha suggested a lot of his constituents were racist).
In the South, the heavy swings towards Democrats in racially divided or predominantly black areas is also quite visible in MS, AL, Atlanta’s suburbs, SC, NC and parts of southern Virginia. Counties with a large Hispanic population – Rio Grande Valley, Orlando, New Mexico, parts of Colorado, California and so forth also swung towards the Democrats.
Places were Ralph Nader had done very well in 2000, depressing Al Gore’s vote share, show up in deep red: northern coastal California, college towns, ski resorts (San Miguel County in Colorado or Blaine County in Idaho), the Berkshires in western MA or Vermont.
The GOP’s decline in affluent, middle-class suburbs – a victim of its own shift to the right and the demographic shift of moderate, formerly Republican-leaning, educated professionals away from the GOP; but also of the increasing minority population in some of these counties. Notice the heavy swings towards the Democrats in NoVA, the DC burbs in Maryland, the Philly burbs (besides Bucks), Chicago’s suburbs or Denver’s suburbs. The exception is suburban NYC (both in NY and NJ) and Boston, where Gore overperformed in 2000 because of the gun control issue. The shift is not universal; more conservative suburban and exurban counties (most often white flight counties) in the South but also outside Milwaukee (notoriously right-wing Waukesha County) and Minneapolis swung to the GOP in 12 years.
In 12 years, the rural-urban divide in American politics has deepened and racial polarization of politics has increased; with the evaporation of white support for Democrats in the South and the solidification of big city Democratic bastions.
The Contrasted Results of Suburbia
During the campaign, there was much talk about how Mitt Romney’s image as a “businessman” with a platform focused on lower taxes, smaller government and job creation would appeal to white middle-class suburbanites, a demographic group which Obama had integrated into the Democratic coalition in the 2008 election. In contrast, observers felt that Obama’s populist campaign this year (Republicans claiming he was sparking class warfare); a shift from his “hope ‘n change” style of 2008; would turn off some of these affluent suburban voters. The elite backlash against his attacks on Bain Capital and his trouble with Wall Street donors gave credence to the idea that there would be a significant swing towards Romney with the very rich and even middle-class suburbs as a whole.
We looked at the exit polls, but what do the raw results tell us? They paint a contrasted image, but one which is still surprisingly favourable to Obama.
Obama had performed extremely well where the famed “1%ers” tend to live in 2008. In New Canaan, CT he lost by 6 points; in Darien, CT, he lost by 9 points and in Greenwich, CT he won by nearly 8. In 2004, Kerry had lost by 26 in Darien and 22 in New Canaan. This year, Obama lost heavily in these three towns which are among the wealthiest in the US. He lost by 32 in Darien, 29 in New Canaan and by 13 in Greenwich.
In Weston, MA – a town where over 40% make over 200k – Obama won 51-48 after he had won 60-38 in 2008. Next door, in slightly less affluent but still extremely well-off Wellesley he won 57-42 (down from 64-34 in 2008). Scott Brown won by 10 points in Weston against Elizabeth Warren, actually doing better than he had against Coakley in the 2010 special. However, in the 2002 gubernatorial election, Mitt Romney had won 63% in Weston and 58.5% in Wellesley.
In New Trier township in Cook County, IL – which includes extremely affluent Winnetka – Obama won 54.3% to 44.5%, in 2008 he had won 63.3% to 35.8% (so a substantial drop). New Trier township’s heavy Democratic lean (like that of Highland Park in Lake County) is due to a very large Reform Jewish population.
In Atherton, CA – a very wealthy town in solidly Democratic San Mateo County (Bay Area); Romney seems to have won by patching together precinct results, in 2008, Obama beat McCain by a small margin in Atherton. In the absence of precinct results in NY or other states, we cannot evaluate the other 1%er enclaves very well. The Orange County Register had a very interesting map of the results in the OC; the Vietnamese vote in Westminster and Garden Grove swung big-time to Obama (from roughly 55-60% McCain to 55-60% Obama this year) while Romney scored the biggest gains in very wealthy places such as Laguna Niguel, San Juan Capistrano or Mission Viejo.
Ski resort counties – most of which are extremely affluent and highly educated but also very solidly Democratic (part of it stems from the tourism industry workers but also environmental consciousness and ‘latte liberalism’ of the local ski bunnies) – remained solidly Democratic but did show a fairly significant swing towards Romney. In San Miguel County, CO (Telluride) Romney won 27.1%, up from 21.4% for McCain. In Pitkin County, CO (Aspen) Romney from 30.1% against 24.9% for McCain in 2008. In Teton County, WY (Jackson Hole) he won 42.4% whereas McCain had polled only 37%. In Blaine County, ID (Ketchum/Sun Valley) he took 38.6% while McCain had taken only 32.5%. The swing in Summit County, UT (Park City) was large – Obama had won 56% there in 2008 but won only 46% this year; the swing largely exaggerated by the Mormon effect (even though Summit County is one of the least LDS counties in Utah).
The results from the wealthiest places in America - particularly Darien and New Canaan in Connecticut (home to many Wall Street financiers and the like) – indicate a fairly big swing towards the GOP, certainly related to Obama’s different style and some of his policies (Dodd-Franks). But in these highly educated places (and in the ski resorts) McCain became a very bad candidate by November 2008 because of Sarah Palin, whose raw populism and general image as an uneducated hick, was a major turnoff to voters who like the GOP’s position on taxes but can get turned off by excessive conservative populism a la Palin. The biggest swings, it seems, came in traditionally Republican towns where Palin had turned off a lot of more moderately-inclined but still loyally Republican voters. They returned to the fold this year.
However, Obama’s performance in other affluent counties – not the homes of the 1%ers but still educated, white-collar, middle-class and wealthy – was strong. In 2008, he won historic victories in historically Republican suburban counties such as Loudoun (VA), Prince William (VA), Arapahoe (CO), Jefferson (CO), Somerset (NJ), Chester (PA), Lake (IL) and DuPage County (IL). This year, he held all of these counties except for Chester. In Virginia and Colorado, his resistance in these counties proved crucial. As aforementioned, some of the Democratic inroads in these counties are due to growing minority populations – this is the case in some Chicagoland suburban counties including Kane County (large Hispanic populations in Elgin and Aurora) – but Obama’s 2008 inroads and 2012 resistance would have been impossible without strong numbers in predominantly white, highly educated middle-class suburbs.
For example, in Lake County (Illinois), Obama’s standing is boosted by heavy support in blue-collar multiethnic Waukegan, he also performed quite well in white middle-class/upper middle-class suburbia (even taking out Waukegan township, he still carried the county by a fair margin). The Lake County results page has a precinct map here, showing strong support not only in Waukegan but also in Highland Park, a very affluent liberal suburb north of Chicago with a large Jewish population. In Lake County, the biggest swings towards Romney occured in the wealthiest townships (as measured by the percentage of households earning over 200k) – a big 8.4% gain for the GOP in Shields township - which includes some very affluent and traditionally Republican precincts around Lake Forest. West Deerfield (+7.9%), Ela (+7.5%), Moraine (+6.9%), Vernon (+6.8%), Fremont (+6.6%), Cuba (+6.5%), Libertyville (+6.3%) and Wauconda (+5.9%) townships all had GOP gains above the county average (+5.5%); all of these townships (besides the more exurban Wauconda) all include some very affluent households. On the other hand, Romney only improved on McCain’s showing in solidly Democratic Waukegan by 0.5% and in Zion township by 1.3%, both towns are blue-collar and lower-income towns – Waukegan itself is also heavily Hispanic. Lake County is but one example, but it showcases larger swings to the GOP in the most affluent areas – likely the product of some Republicans returning to the fold after the Palin-induced bleeding in 2008 (and in Illinois, the normalization after Obama’s favourite son overperformance in 2008). It would be interesting to compare these results to 2004 results, but it would not be surprising if despite these GOP swings, Romney’s performance remained lower than President Bush’s 2004 performance.
Oakland County – Mitt Romney’s native county and Detroit’s affluent suburban county (though not by any means a purely affluent county) – swung to Romney, who won 45.4% after McCain had won a horrible 41.9% in a county which had, until the 1990s, been a Republican stronghold. Romney won 66.5% in his native Bloomfield Hills, one of the wealthiest towns in America; this is up from a weak 58% for McCain in 2008. Even if Romney did make gains in affluent suburban communities such as Troy and Birmingham; Obama still won affluent and historically Republican areas such as Farmington Hills (59%), Huntington Woods (70%) and West Bloomfield (56%). The President won over 80% of the vote in majority-black Pontiac, Southfield and Oak Park. But even in Oakland County, Romney is not even at Bush’s 2004 levels (49.3%).
Romney performed better (47.6%) in Macomb County, Detroit’s traditionally white working-class suburban county which had been a Democratic stronghold before becoming the typical example of a “Reagan Democrats” county in the 1980s.
Here is a township map for southeastern Pennsylvania (suburban Philly). Obama resisted particularly well in MontCo, which includes some very affluent Democratic-leaning areas (Lower Merion township). The swing map, does, however, show substantial swings towards the GOP in affluent suburban townships in Chester County, some of which had voted for Obama in 2008. In Chester, Obama resisted better in the Main Line suburbs, slightly less affluent than their surroundings but still generally well-off. There were also substantial swings towards the GOP in more exurban areas (which we can define by fewer households earning over 200k but nevertheless high earnings, and less people with postgrad degrees); Lake County’s suburban townships did swing, though by less than the wealthiest townships. Lower-income – often old working-class towns which now have large minority populations – had very low swings or even swung to Obama (as is the case in predominantly black areas in DelCo on the border with Philly).
The WaPo had a really nice map of the results in the DC area, including NoVA and Maryland. One could have expected Romney to get hard swings in NoVA, but he did not. In Prince William County, Romney actually did slightly worse than McCain (41.3% vs 41.6%). In Loudoun County, he improved by a bit – but not by much: from 45.4% to 47%. Like McCain, he failed to break 40% in Fairfax County. In 2004, Bush had received 52.8% in Prince William, 55.7% in Loudoun and 45.9% in Fairfax counties; those numbers had already been on the low side of GOP results. In Maryland, super-majority black suburban Prince George’s County actually swung to Obama (from 88.9% to 89.6%) and Carroll County, which has a rapidly growing black population saw an even larger pro-Obama swing (from 62.2% to 64.8%). Romney barely improved in Montgomery County, winning only 27.3%. He lost a bit compared to McCain in Howard County.
The WaPo did some precinct analysis, apparently, and found that Obama’s support dropped off the most in precincts with income over $180k while remaining stable in the poorest precincts. Nevertheless, Obama performed well, often very well, in white middle-class suburbs. His performance, especially in Maryland, in these suburban areas is of course “exaggerated” because a large number of voters work for the federal government. Romney generally won NoVA’s most affluent precincts – those with a large percentage of households earning over 200k; but Democratic support in these suburban counties stem not from the 200k+ precincts but rather from more middle-class precincts, with young families or young professionals, often with lots of condos or smaller houses. Romney could have played well there, given Bush’s performance in 2004, but he did not. He regained those Republicans who had temporarily fled because of Palin in 2008, but did not make substantial inroads.
In affluent counties which are more firmly entrenched in the Democratic column such as Westchester (NY), Montgomery (PA), Fairfax (VA), Marin (CA) or San Mateo (CA); Obama resisted very well. In the Bay Area’s very affluent but also liberal white suburbs, Romney made some gains but he failed to match even Bush’s very paltry 2004 results. Furthermore, in fairly affluent but ethnically diverse (largely Asian) Santa Clara County, he did worse than McCain. He gained only 1% over McCain in San Mateo County, a bit less than 2% in Contra Costa County and about 3% in Marin County. Romney was never really expected to play well in these counties, whose shift away from the GOP is older.
The LA Times has a very cool map of the precinct results in LA County. I didn’t do tons of analysis, but my impression is that the wealthiest areas – both the solidly Republican gated communities of the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the more Democratic liberal areas around Malibu, Brentwood, Beverly Hills and so forth – swung to Romney (not necessarily by all that much) while Obama solidified his margins in the Hispanic precincts and scored some fairly nice gains in Asian areas.
Westchester County (NY) had a larger swing to Romney, who won 38.2% – up from McCain’s 35.8%; but again, he falls short of 40% and Bush’s 2004 performance. I have not been able to put my hands on township results in Westchester County, so I cannot say how much the wealthiest areas swung to Romney – but it could have been fairly significant, assuming that the poor minority areas (Yonkers, Mt. Vernon) did not budge much.
The general picture in America’s affluent areas is contrasted. Romney did well, better than McCain; but he scored most of his gains in very wealthy towns and precincts, likely regaining traditional Republican voters who had temporarily abandoned the party in 2008 because of Palin or the economic crisis. His gains were “insufficient” almost everywhere, falling short even of Bush’s 2004 results in most places (in Boston’s affluent suburbs he was far from his very strong results in the 2002 gubernatorial election). A good number of affluent, highly educated middle-class suburbanites have been drifting away from the GOP, a process which began under Reagan but which accelerated dramatically after Bush Jr’s presidency. They rejected the GOP’s cultural and religious conservatism, even if they might be attracted to its traditional low-taxes and small-government message. Middle-class educated liberal professionals in cosmopolitan milieus (Bay Area but also in towns such as Evanston, Newton, Cleveland Heights throughout the country etc) are now a core component of the Democratic base.
Swing State Geographies
Some of the main results in the swing states were covered above, but this section offers some additional reflections on some of the results in major swing states – notably Ohio, Florida, Colorado and Virginia.
Ohio had been seen as the swing state/tipping point of the election, and it was a key part of Obama’s firewall. His support held up well in Ohio, something which observers attributed to a whole slew of factors: the state’s shale gas boom, the lower unemployment rate, the popularity of Obama’s auto bailout or even the WWC’s lukewarm support for Romney. He won Ohio, but by a very underwhelming margin – it currently stands at 1.98%, he won by 3.3% nationally. This means that, in a tied race, Romney would have won Ohio; and that Ohio was not crucial to Obama’s reelection. It was also the only swing state were Obama underperformed his polling average.
What happened? As noted above, it might be the rare incidence of the Bradley Effect. Obama lost whites in Ohio by 17, after losing them by 6 to McCain in 2008. He even performed worse than Kerry with Ohio whites – unlike in Wisconsin or Iowa. Most polls had shown Obama performing better with whites than he actually did.
Obama performed very poorly in the Ohio Valley, a conservative but historically strongly Democratic working-class (mining, steel, manufacturing) region similar to SW Pennsylvania or West Virginia. He was the first Democratic presidential contender since McGovern in 1972 to lose Monroe, Belmont and Jefferson counties along the Ohio River. Romney’s campaign in this part of Ohio focused on Obama’s “war on coal” and it seems as if it might have paid off for him. In Monroe County, for example, Obama won 45%, down from over 53% in 2008. Obama performed well in large industrial cities – Toledo, Youngstown and so forth – which are solidly Democratic (though he did lose Stark County, a swing county which includes the working-class city of Canton). But there is little clear evidence, on the basis of the results, that the auto bailout “sealed the deal” for Obama in Ohio.
Instead, Obama’s victory in Ohio was due to historic black turnout. According to exit polls, blacks made up 15% of the electorate against rouhgly 11% in the last two elections. Obama was able to motivate and mobilize black voters like never before. In Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), Obama won 68.9% – which is actually up a bit from the 68.7% he had won there in 2008. He also managed to hold Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati and some of its solidly Republican suburbs. Romney gained less than one percentage point from McCain’s 2008 performance in a county which had voted GOP since 1964.
The swing map in Ohio is fairly interesting. On the Republican side, the strongest swings came from the aforementioned counties in the Ohio Valley with smaller swings in the solidly Republican rural wheat belt German counties – including a shift back towards the GOP in northwestern Ohio, where Obama had done especially well in 2008. There was a swing towards Obama in the Columbus (Franklin County) area which extended into Columbus’ Republican suburbia but also into poor rural counties in the south of the state. Columbus, the state capital, is an attractive predominantly white-collar metropolis. Is the shift due to state government employees – state capitals seem to generally have had very negligible swings since 2008? Is it due to increased black turnout, in a 21% black county with a growing minority population?
This would still not explain the surprising swing in solidly white, rural, poor and often culturally Southern counties to the south of Columbus – places like Pike, Scioto or Ross counties. Unemployment is high in these counties (some of the highest rates in the state) and most towns are old declining blue-collar towns (such as Portsmouth in Scioto County). What could explain the swing towards Obama, when he did poorly in demographically and economically similar counties elsewhere in the Midwest? It could be an effect of media markets – Obama outspent Romney in the Columbus media market by a solid margin. However, the swing map doesn’t really match up that well with the Columbus media market, though it could be an explanation. Some of Columbus’ growing suburban counties, solidly Republican, also swung to Obama; but census data doesn’t show a boom in the minority population in those counties.
Florida was one of the surprises on a fairly predictable election night. Obama had remained competitive in the state, but after the first debate most polls had shown Romney pulling ahead to the point that Obama’s campaign apparently mused pulling out of Florida. Two pollsters – Mason-Dixon and Suffolk U – were so confident about Romney’s chances in Florida that they got cocky and proclaimed that they would stop polling FL because it was a “done deal” – MD had shown Romney up 5 and 6 points in the state!
Instead, Obama won Florida by 0.88% (making it the closest state). This is fairly surprising, though in line with Obama overperforming in all swing states (except FL). The result is bad news for Republicans, who despite having a lock on state government, have lost Florida in the last two presidential elections. Florida remains more Republican than the national average, but the factors which explain Obama’s surprising 2012 victory in Florida should be cause for concern for many FL Republicans.
As in many other states, Obama’s victory in Florida rests on his strong support with minorities. The exit poll in Florida showed him losing whites by 24 (he lost them by 14 in 2008) but sweeping the floor with blacks (13% of voters) and Hispanics (up 21 points over Romney, he had won them by 15 in 2008 and President Bush probably won them in 2004). The white electorate in Florida is declining: 70% in 2004, 71% in 2008 and 67% this year. Hispanics now make up 17% of the electorate, and most of them are from solidly Democratic Hispanic groups (Puerto Ricans, Mexicans) rather than from Republican-leaning Cubans.
The Democratic electorate in Florida has changed a lot since Bill Clinton carried the state in 1996. The Florida Panhandle and northern Florida, the most Southern regions of the state and the old Dixiecrat strongholds, have become solidly Republican, in line with the rest of the South. Places like small Liberty County (which voted for Carter in 1980, for example) in the Panhandle may retain a Democratic edge in voter registration, but Romney won over 70% of the vote.
Democrats have made gains along the Gold Coast since the 1990s, making Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties – with their mix of northeastern Jewish retirees, blacks, non-Cuban Hispanics, LGBTs and younger families – the core of the Democratic base in Florida. Their most striking gains have since come from the politically decisive I-4 corridor in central Florida (the I-4 connects Tampa/St. Pete’s to Daytona Beach), particularly in the Orlando area which has a booming Puerto Rican Hispanic population. Osceola County (Kissimmee) now has a plurality Hispanic (Puerto Rican) population and Orange County (Orlando) is only 46% white.
In 2000, Al Gore had done extremely well with Jewish voters along the Gold Coast but he had lost the state and the White House by a controversial and excruciating small margin barely over 500 votes. In 2008, Obama won Florida by 2.8 points, thanks to out-organizing McCain and mobilizing black and non-Cuban Hispanics like never before. This allowed him to win Hillsborough County (Tampa), Florida’s bellwether county which has picked the state’s winner since 1964.
Obama won Hillsborough County again this year, with a very solid 52.9% (barely down from 53.1% in 2008), and with that – basically – he carried the state. Indeed, his strong resistance in the Tampa/St. Pete’s (Pinellas County, 52.2% Obama) was one of the decisive factors. Precinct results will confirm this; but he was certainly able to mobilize youths, blacks and Hispanics (even Cubans, who tend to be more moderate in Hillsborough County) to carry him to victory in the Tampa area.
In Florida’s swingy I-4 corridor, particularly in the Orlando area, he scored a decisive victory. He won 61.9% in Osceola County, certainly a record for a Democrat in a county which had voted Republican between 1952 until 2008 (with the exception of 1996 and 2000); while in Orange County (Orlando) he basically remained at 2008 level (-0.3%). Like Osceola County, Orange had voted Republican between 1948 and 2000.
The swing map in Florida is interesting. In the Panhandle, swings towards the GOP were fairly modest and a few counties – including aforementioned Liberty County – swung to Obama; as did Gadsen County, the state’s only black majority county. This is a continuation of the patterns noted in the South, where Obama improved in black-majority counties or racially divided counties. It is again perhaps a reflection of some southern whites being unenthusiastic about Romney.
There were, however, bigger swings towards the GOP on the Fun Coast (Flagler and Volusia counties – Daytona Beach, Palm Coast, Deltona). Obama lost Volusia County (Daytona Beach), which had been Democratic since 1992, winning 48.9% (down from 52.2%). Obama had already underperformed in these counties in 2008.
The Florida Suncoast – the western coast south of Tampa including Naples, Fort Myers, Cape Coral – also had larger swings towards the GOP. Democrats had thought the Paul Ryan pick and fears over privatizing Medicare would help them with Florida’s seniors (the west coast is a GOP-leaning retirement haven), actively courted by both parties, but Ryan had no effect (either good or bad) whatsoever on the election. Instead, maybe Republican attacks on Obama’s Medicare policies (accusing Obama of ‘raiding’ $176 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare) helped them. Other coastal counties also had some fairly heavy swings to the GOP.
Obama performed well in the I-4 corridor. The growing Puerto Rican population in the Orlando area has helped Democrats and threatens the GOP’s standing in this crucial swing region. In Osceola County, Obama won over 61% and did over 2 points better than in 2008. In Orange County (Orlando) but also in Polk County (Lakeland – the GOP leaning suburban regions of the I-4 corridor), he held his own very well.
There was a big swing in Miami-Dade County, allowing Obama to break 60% (gaining nearly 4 points). The exit polls showed Obama winning the Cuban vote in Florida by 2 points; but Latino Decisions says the Cuban vote in FL still backed Romney by 29. This article claims that Obama did not win Cubans in Miami-Dade, and indeed the precinct results in the county (see here) do show that Romney still won the vast majority of precincts in Cuban areas such as Hialeah, Westchester and Little Havana. That being said, regardless of who won the Cuban vote, Obama still won one of the best results for a Democrat with Cubans. He had won around 35% of the Cuban vote in 2008, he certainly got over 40% this year.
Broward County also swung to Obama. Broward County has large black and non-Cuban Hispanic populations, and a large LGBT community in Fort Lauderdale. On the other hand, Palm Beach County swung fairly substantially to Romney, he did 3 points better than McCain in 2008. The Jewish vote, important on the Gold Coast, accounted for 5% of the electorate in Florida and went 66-30 for Obama. In general, it seems as if Obama suffered some substantial loses with the Jewish vote in the country as a whole. In part, this is a correction of 2008: Sarah Palin had scared a lot of moderate Jewish voters who would otherwise not be extremely enthusiastic about Obama.
Colorado went to Obama by 5.5, making it narrowly more Democratic than the nation for the second election in a row. Colorado has changed a lot since its days as a Mountain West GOP stronghold, voting Republican between 1964 and 2008 (except for 1992). The state’s political landscape has been changed dramatically in the last ten years because of Hispanic growth and an influx of younger educated migrants from the West Coast who have come to work in the big high-tech industry in Colorado. After his big 9 point win in CO back in 2008, Obama’s support dropped off a bit in the state (even though the 2010 midterms were quite kind on the CO Dems) and the last polls generally showed a tight race. His 5 point win is another case of the President beating his polling average.
The white share of the electorate in Colorado has declined by a full 8 points from 2004, when they accounted for 86% of voters, to today, when they made up only 78% of the 2012 electorate. Hispanics made up 14% of voters, and they backed Obama by 52 points this years (75-23) – which would be up substantially from 2008 (exit polls say Obama won them only 61-38). In 2008, Obama won whites in the state by 2 but reportedly lost them by 10 to Romney this year.
As previously mentioned, two middle-class inner suburban counties outside Denver had proven crucial to Obama in 2008: Arapahoe and Jefferson counties. He was the first Democrat to carry those old GOP strongholds since LBJ in 1964. The Democratic gains in these counties are pushed by growing minority populations – Arapahoe County is only 63%, with large Hispanic and black minorities in Aurora. Hispanics are also a growing population in Jefferson County, and they have contributed to pushing middle-income suburbs such as Lakewood or Arvada towards the Democrats.
Obama won both JeffCo and Arapahoe this year. The bad news for Republicans is that Arapahoe (44.5% for Romney, 42.8% for McCain) but also Denver proper and its northern (less affluent) suburbs in Adams County also swung below the national average. The slightly more encouraging news is that while Obama held JeffCo, Romney did score a significant improvement over McCain’s results (46.5% rather than 44.6%). The high-growth GOP exurbs in Douglas County also swung sizable: Obama dropped from nearly 41% to only 36%. The northern exurbs in Weld County also swung more than the country.
We noted above that ski resorts, another source of Democratic strength (and inroads) in Colorado, had a substantial swing towards Romney; most likely because they tend to be extremely affluent despite their staunch liberalism. Nonetheless, Romney’s results in ski counties – San Miguel, Gunnison, Pitkin, Eagle or Summit – are still nothing spectacular.
Some southern Colorado counties with a large Hispanic population swung towards Obama this year. To repeat the obvious, the GOP should be concerned by results in states like Colorado.
Nevada is in a similar basket. There too, very strong Hispanic and black support for Obama and Democrats are turning the state into a purple state which leans Democratic. Obama’s margin in NV dropped off to 6.6% this year, down from a phenomenal 12.5% margin in 2008; but these are still huge margins for a Democrat in historical perspective. Like in Colorado, the huge shift is due to the rapid decline of the white electorate – they made up 77% of voters in 2004 but only 64% this year! Clark County – home to Las Vegas and most Nevadans – is only 48% white.
Virginia had voted for Republicans between 1952 and 2008, with the exception of 1964, when Obama carried the state by a huge 6.3 points. This year, he repeated his magic and won VA by 3.88 – once again, Virginia is now more Democratic than the nation.
Backing this shift from Republican stronghold to swing state, even lean-D swing state, is the rapid growth and development of northern Virginia (NoVA) since the 1970s and its political shifts since the late 1990s. In the past, the region – white, very affluent and influenced by the presence of defense contractors of tech firms in the area, had been a GOP stronghold. Democrats found support in Arlington and Alexandria, the “edge cities” with a large base of public sector employees (and some minorities); but extremely wealthy Fairfax and Loudoun counties (the top 2 counties by income in the US) were Republican strongholds. NoVA’s face changed with immigration – predominantly Hispanic and Asian, young professionals (often singles) moving in and replacing older white suburbanites who moved further out and new subdivisions springing up or new apartment towers in Arlington or Alexandria. Fairfax County is 55% white, Loudoun County is 62% white and Prince William County is only 49% white.
NoVA swung against President Bush in 2004. John Kerry carried Fairfax County, which had voted GOP since 1964. In 2008, Barack Obama’s strong campaign organized and mobilized minorities or young professionals. He cashed in on NoVA’s swing towards the Democrats and on his campaign’s organization and he carried NoVA by a wide margin. He broke 60% in Fairfax County and was the first Democrat since LBJ to win Prince William and Loudoun County. As covered above, he held both of these conquests this year – Prince William County even swung to him. All NoVA counties besides Arlington swung below the national average and Romney couldn’t match President Bush’s already paltry 2004 results in any of these counties. With presidential election turnout, NoVA is increasingly out of reach for Republicans.
In 2008, Obama had also made inroads in metro Richmond – it too had been solidly Republican in the past, with suburban Henrico County voting GOP since 1952. With blacks moving out of Richmond, its metro area – primarily Henrico County to the north but also Chesterfield County to the south have seen a growth in the black population; they now make up 29% in Henrico (whites 57%). Obama won a huge 55.7% in Henrico County in 2008, and won 55.2% this year. This is another case of a suburban county where Romney failed to make any impact. Obama won 45.4% in Chesterfield County, about the same as in 2008 too.
As noted in the discussion about coal country, Appalachian Virginia’s coal country – Buchanan and Dickenson counties – had a huge swing towards the GOP. Other white rural or exurban regions in the Piedmont and Shenandoah region, but the rest of the state did not swing much. Through strong minority turnout, a few heavily black counties in Southside VA or the Tidewater/Hampton Roads swung to Obama who maintained his strong standing in the Hampton Roads region.
Minorities were, once again, key to Obama’s victory in Virginia – as they had been in 2008. He lost whites by 23 points, roughly the same amount he had lost them by in 2008; but he won 93% of blacks (20% of voters) and two-thirds of Hispanics and Asians.
Obama lost North Carolina, but it remains promising for Democrats. Obama remained strong in Mecklenburg County (Charlotte), winning over 60% of the vote in a county which has seen a rapid increase in its minority population. The growing Research Triangle around Raleigh (Wake County, 54.9% Obama), Durham and Chapel Hill remained strongly Democratic, with Orange County (Chapel Hill) swinging to Obama while the swings towards the GOP in the other counties were below national average.
The white vote in North Carolina became even more solidly Republican – Romney won whites 68-31 (+37) after McCain had won them by 29; though this is smaller than Bush’s 46 point win with NC whites in 2004. Furthermore, the white share of the electorate dropped by another 2 percentage points this year, from 72% to 70%, while Hispanics accounted for 4% of voters, up 1 since 2008.
A particularly bad blow for Romney was New Hampshire, which Obama carried by nearly 6 points – certainly down from his big 9.6 point win in 2008 but nonetheless a solid victory. New Hampshire, with its independent and slightly libertarian attitude, is a very swingy state. In 2006 and 2008, it swung heavily towards the Democrats; but in 2010, it swung very heavily towards the Republicans, who won the senate contest with over 60% and took huge majorities in the state house. Mitt Romney, who owns a vacation home in Wolfeboro, was a good candidate for New Hampshire: businessman image and a campaign about low taxes and smaller government (NH is known for being quite keen on both matters). But the same could be said about McCain in 2008, yet he lost the state by a surprisingly large margin.
Romney was able to make his strongest gains in traditionally Republican areas of the state, primarily the low-tax crowd of Boston suburbanites and exurbanites or in the affluent resort towns of the Lake Country. However, he was unable to overcome the heavy Democratic lean of the more rural western half of the state – “Vermont bleed over” – home to a mix of small liberal college towns and old mill towns. After a huge swing towards the GOP in 2010, New Hampshire swung back to the Democrats, who regained the NH House and came close to regaining the State Senate.
Obama had won Iowa by 9.5 points in 2008, this year he won it by a less impressive but still very comfortable 5.8. John McCain had never been a very strong candidate for Iowa, in part because of his opposition to ethanol subsidies (which is the kiss of death for many candidates in the state) but also because of the state’s dovish streak.
With New Hampshire, Iowa is one of the only swing states where Obama won the white vote – they are, after all, 93% of the electorate in Iowa. The state’s Democratic lean has often surprised observers, who would expect a predominantly rural and lily white state with no dominant metro centre to be solidly Republican (and, fair enough, Iowa used to be solidly GOP). Iowa swung heavily Democratic in 1988 with the farm crisis, and it has remained a disputed swing state since that point. The state’s close Democratic lean in recent presidential elections (Bush was the only Republican since Reagan to win the state, in 2004, by a hair) should be understood from different standpoints. On the one hand, while Iowa lacks a large metropolis akin to Chicago or Minnesota’s Twin Cities, it does have a good number of mid-sized towns: Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, Dubuque, Davenport, Sioux City or Burlington. Obama won mid-sized cities in Iowa – 27% of the electorate – by 37 points (68-31). These cities, a mix of liberal college towns (Iowa City, Ames, Cedar Falls) or old working-class centres (Davenport, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids) – many of them with a Catholic heritage (notably Dubuque, a heavily German Catholic Democratic stronghold).
That being said, Iowa does have a substantial Democratic vote in ‘rural’ areas (43% of the electorate were in rural areas, according to the exit polls – against 14% nationally) and Obama lost them by only 9 points, in 2008 he had actually won them by 1. Most “rural” Democratic support stems from the Driftless Area in eastern Iowa, a natural region which extends into southwestern Wisconsin (which is similarly lily white but solidly Democratic). The Driftless, a hilly and poorer region, attracted poorer immigrants from Scandinavia or Germany who created smaller farms. Scandinavians, like in Minnesota or western Wisconsin, brought with them a “moralistic” political culture (as defined by Daniel Elazar, see map here) which tends to be less individualist and more supportive of “good” government, seen as a positive force in society. On the other hand, western Iowa – a region similar to the neighboring Great Plains – with its larger farms, less mid-sized towns and less Catholics – is solidly Republican. In the state’s northwestern corner (Sioux, Lyon and O’Brien counties), the Republicans get huge majorities because of the large Dutch Reformed population. Romney won 83% of the vote in Sioux County, where over 50% of religious adherents belong to the Dutch Reformed Church.
In general, rural areas swung more heavily towards the GOP than urban areas this year. Obama generally resisted well in most urban counties, he even picked up Woodbury County (Sioux City), which he had lost by a hair in 2008. The counties including Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Davenport and Ames all swung below the national average. Romney did pretty well in Dallas County – Des Moines’ affluent and rapidly growing suburbs – where he won 55% of the vote.
Wisconsin has generally been a closely fought state in recent presidential contests – Gore and Kerry each won it by less than one point in 2000 and 2004 – so Obama’s 14 point shellacking of McCain in 2008 was quite something. Obama won the state by nearly 7 points this year, still a very hefty margin though down quite a bit since 2008. Wisconsin has been at the centre of America’s polarized politics in the past two years, with the state’s Republican Governor, Scott Walker, making both enemies and allies with his battle against public sector unions. Walker handily survived a recall election earlier this year, and Republicans felt confident that they could take Wisconsin. Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan was likely informed, at least in part, by his potential positive impact on his fortunes in Wisconsin. Though Ryan’s selection did narrow the polls and gave Republicans a brief glimmer of hope, Obama ended up winning decisively in the state.
Romney’s inability to come closer in Wisconsin tells us something about the declining impact of VP picks in modern elections (see also: John Edwards in 2004). In the past, they could bring their state along with them. Today, VP picks from ‘swing states’ have much less impact on their state and this is being recognized by modern campaigns: Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden were not picked because of their state of origin.
His much narrower margin this year is a natural correction of his huge margin in 2008. As aforementioned, Obama’s very strong performance in WI in 2008 was due in good part to his unusually strong performance in the Fox River Valley and the Northern Highlands, traditionally blue-collar German Republican areas; because of Obama’s strong (ephemeral) appeal in smaller manufacturing centres in the Upper Midwest but also because of the Fox River Valley’s longstanding dovish streak. The region shifted back to the GOP in the 2010 midterms, helping both Ron Johnson and Scott Walker. As noted above, the heaviest swings to the GOP this year came from the Fox River Valley. The Driftless Area did swing above the national average, but Obama nevertheless remained strong.
Obama held his ground very well in the state’s main urban centres: the very liberal college town and state capital of Madison (Dane County), the blue-collar and multiracial Milwaukee and the old left-leaning working-class towns along Lake Superior (Douglas and Bayfield counties) up north. Obama won 71.1% in Dane County, not a lot less than what he had won in 2008 (72.8%) and quite a bit above Kerry’s 2004 result (66%). Similarly, in Milwaukee, Obama won 66.8% – down minimally from 2008 (67.3%) and still up substantially from 2004 (61.7%). Romney did, however, match or come close to matching Bush’s 2004 results in Milwaukee’s very conservative suburbs: 67% in Waukesha County, 69.9% in Washington County and 64.8% in Ozaukee County.
We already discussed Pennsylvania above. It was the “tipping point” state in this election, the state which brought Obama over 270EVs. Obama won the state, which has voted for Democrats since 1992, by 5 points. This is down from a decisive 10 point victory in 2008. Pennsylvania is one of the few swing states – with perhaps Michigan and maybe Wisconsin – which looks promising to the GOP in the long term, in part because they have been able to take increasingly large shares of the white vote. McCain won whites by 3 points in 2008, but Romney carried them by 15 points this year – which is more than what Bush carried them by in 2004 (+9). That being said, the white share of the electorate has declined in PA: from 82% in 2004 to 78% this year; and Democrats poll huge majorities with blacks (+87) and Hispanics (+62).
Like McCain/Palin in 2008, Romney’s campaign felt that Pennsylvania was within reach. Similar to how McCain’s team had gone all-out in the Pittsburgh media market in the last stretch of the 2008 campaign, Romney’s team went for the win in the state in the final stretch and forced Democrats to spend resources in the state. However, just as in 2008, Pennsylvania was once again fool’s gold for the GOP. Obama’s margin was cut in half, but he still won by more than either Kerry or Gore.
The state’s political bases have shifted around in recent years, especially in 2008. That year, Obama’s victory was quite different from previous Democratic victories. He benefited from big swings in Philly suburbia, which has shifted from reliably Republican to increasingly Democratic-leaning. On the other hand, Obama did extremely poorly in the working-class steel and coal country of southwestern Pennsylvania. SW PA, similar to West Virginia or the Ohio Valley in OH, had been the state’s Democratic stronghold par excellence. For example, in 1984, Walter Mondale was trounced outside Philly but carried all of SW PA, even breaking 60% in Beaver and Fayette counties. The region’s big swing towards the GOP reflects the collapse of Democratic support with the culturally conservative white working-class (outside of major urban areas). Obama was the first Democrat since McGovern in 1972 to lose Beaver, Washington and Fayette counties.
SW PA’s drift away from the national Democrats continued this year. There was a big swing in Cambria County, a traditionally Democratic county home to Johnstown, a major steel town. Obama had won 49.2% in 2008, he won only 40.1% this year. Elk County, a rural Catholic working-class county, also swung hard: Obama’s support fell from 50.8% to 41.3%. In the core of SW PA, Obama collapsed from 48.6% to 40.5% in Greene County. In Westmoreland County, a Mondale ’84 county which has shifted towards the GOP since 2000 because of Pittsburgh’s growth, Obama won only 37.6%, the worst result for a Democrat since 1928.
The heaviest swings to the GOP this year came from solidly Republican centre-west Pennsylvania, a mix of farm country but in this case a good number of blue-collar towns (they also fall in bituminous coal country). There was a big swing in Centre County, where Obama won 55% in 2008 but won only 49.1% (carrying the county by a tiny margin), which could reflect lower student turnout and enthusiasm for Obama (Centre County includes Penn State). Like Whitman County, WA (Wazzu in Pullman), Centre County has a very liberal college town dependent on student turnout surrounded by very conservative rural areas, which can outvote the college town. Obama won Whitman County in 2008, but it swung back this year, and fairly heavily. On the other hand, however, Alachua County, FL (Gainesville) – a county similarly polarized between a very liberal college town and very conservative rural areas – swung below the national average.
Romney did decently well in Philly’s suburbs where Obama had done extremely well in 2008, in Bucks County he even did better than Bush had done in 2004 (but he failed to match Bush in either Chester or MontCo). Obama had also done very well in traditionally Lancaster County, a more exurban and conservative county with a large Amish population (the Amish generally swung heavily Democratic in 2008, maybe because of the Iraq War); this year he fell back from 43.4% to 39.7% – still much better than Kerry’s 33.6%.
The idea that the WWC is homogeneously Republican and that it once was homogeneously Democratic in some distant past is false, like almost every myth about voting patterns made up by the media. If coal country in SW PA, WV, KY, VA or downstate IL had the biggest swings to Romney in the entire country; the results in northeastern PA’s Anthracite Coal Country tells a different story. Lackawanna County (Scranton) swung to Obama this year; he won 63.1% on Nov 6, a bit better than the 62.2% he won in 2008. Luzerne County (Wilkes-Barre) also swung below the national average. This does not really conform to the narrative that the WWC has swung heavily to the GOP everywhere. Scranton and Wilkes-Barre are different from WV’s coal country; there are ethnic differences (West Virginia, like parts of SW PA outside Pittsburgh, is Scots-Irish and Protestant country; the NE PA coal basin is of Irish, Polish, Italian or Welsh stock and is largely Catholic) but also major economic differences. West Virginia’s economy is still dependent on the extraction of bituminous coal, a type of coal which can be used for electricity generation. NE PA’s Coal Country extracted anthracite coal, which was used for home heating. The invention of modern furnaces basically destroyed coal mining as early as the 1960s, and industry left decades ago, leaving an economic and environmental mess. The region’s economy is no longer dependent on coal mining, unlike WV. The result is something similar to Butte-Anaconda, MT – a big copper mining town which has gone to waste, which remains heavily Democratic.
Continue reading below the fold for some analysis of Senate and House races and other results from November 6.
The first round of municipal elections were held in Brazil on October 7, 2012 with a runoff to be held on October 28, 2012. Mayors, deputy mayors and local councillors in all 5,568 municipalities in Brazil. Runoffs are held in direct mayoral elections where no candidate has won 50%+1 of the votes, but runoffs are only held in municipalities with over 200,000 voters. Municipal city councils (câmaras municipais) are elected through an open list system similar to that use for elections to the federal Chamber of Deputies.
Municipal elections in Brazil are the country’s “midterm elections”, they are the only elections held in between presidential elections and they are held halfway in the President’s four-year term. While on the surface the sheer amount of parties, contradictory coalitions from city to city and the vast array of personalities make the water fairly murky, and it is true that these elections are very personalized and that local political machines play a large role. However, these “midterm” local elections are nonetheless marked by complex political calculations which are tied to national and state politics. Their results have major repercussions on national and state politics, for example playing a role in boosting (or weakening) the standings of potential presidential candidates and informing the ever changing game of Brazilian coalition politics at the federal level.
It has been two years since Dilma Rousseff was elected President in 2010, riding the popularity of her predecessor and mentor, Lula. A year and nine months down the road, Dilma maintains very strong approval ratings (with less than 10% judging her performance to be downright bad, and nearly 60% judging it to be excellent or good). Economic growth remains fairly strong, but slowed down to 2.7% in 2011 and is projected to grow by only 1.5% this year. Slower economic growth has forced the government to be surprisingly defiant to the demands of federal government employees, including teachers and federal police, who had been on strike since earlier this year demanding higher salary increases (they were granted an inflation-only offer of 15.8% over three years). This is surprising coming from a party, the PT, whose roots lay in the unions, but Dilma has continued to move the PT away from its historical socialist roots towards third-way politics.
She has favoured private sector growth and promised to reduce the high cost of doing business in Brazil, for example by extending payroll-tax cuts to more industries or cutting the very high electricity tariffs in the country. While Dilma and the PT remain instinctively hostile to privatization, she has made it clear that she supports more private investment in infrastructure. The government has already auctioned off contracts to run three airports, and it plans to auction road and railway concessions to the private sector to invite investors to build, upgrade and operate toll roads and railways.
The entire Brazilian political class has been rocked by some major corruption cases in recent months, most significantly the big Cachoeira scandal (Carlinhos Cachoeira is a businessman behind a big gambling racket, currently investigated for money laundering and running an illegal gambling network), which has implicated a number of senators, federal deputies and two governors. The impact of the Cachoeira scandal has been felt across party lines, but it has mainly hurt the opposition: a prominent opposition senator, Demóstenes Torres (DEM-GO), is one of the major politicians cited in the case, as is the embattled PSDB governor of Goiás, Marconi Perillo.
However, corruption cases have not left the government unscathed. Dilma’s cabinet has had lots of turnover in recent months, as she was forced to fire one cabinet minister after another as they got knee-deep into various cases of corruption, graft, influence-peddling, bribery or misuse of public funds. Some of those cabinet ministers, such as her former Chief of Staff Antonio Palocci (PT-SP), had been close allies of her predecessor and mentor, Lula. Others had been members of her venal allies, who have discovered the political (and financial) value of getting their own ministries. With various corruption cases, she lost her transportation minister Alfredo Nascimento (PR-AM), the agriculture minister Wagner Rossi (PMDB-SP), tourism minister Pedro Novais (PMDB-MA), sports minister Orlando Silva (PCdoB-BA), labour minister Carlos Lupi (PDT-RJ) and cities minister Mário Negromonte (PP-BA). Dilma’s tough stance against corrupt ministers in her entourage has allowed her to score points with public opinion, and it has allowed her to slowly but surely lay her personal mark on the government and differentiate it from Lula.
However, the PT is likely worried about what effects the current Supreme Court case surrounding the old mensalão scandal from 2005 (when the PT bribed congressional partners for their votes) could have on them. It apparently tried to push back the case until after the local elections; it came out that Lula had tried to blackmail a judge – Gilmar Mendes – by threatening to reveal Mendes’ links to the Cachoeira scheme. Just a few days ago, the court found Lula’s former Chief of Staff José Dirceu and former PT president José Genoino guilty on counts of bribery in the mensalão, though their sentences will not come down until later. This landmark case, among others, will at least contribute to breaking the culture of impunity which has permeated the Brazilian political elite for so long. It is unlikely to hurt or help any particular party; no major Brazilian party has a clean record, and voters recognize this.
Brazilian party and coalition politics is very complex business. Party loyalty is very weak, what matters are personalities and their individual ambitions. Nonetheless, even if most parties are venal self-interested actors with no ideologies, a few parties are major players in their own right. The Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB), the ultimate big tent party which seeks only to maximize its power, is a key ally of the Dilma government but some local and state bigwigs are showing their discontent with the federal government and their coalition with the PT. Another smaller venal ally of the government, the Republic Party (PR) broke away from the government shortly after Nascimento was dumped and joined the ranks of the opposition.
The Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), led by the very popular and ambitious governor of Pernambuco Eduardo Campos, is quite tired of being the second fiddle to the PT and is slowly drifting away from the PT and turning into more of a traditional big tent, ideologically diverse or undefined party. Eduardo Campos is a potential candidate for President in 2014 or 2018.
The opposition is also being moved around. The traditional party of the centre-right, the PSDB, risks losing even more feathers as it continues to be unable to renew itself and move past its old leadership disputes. However, its main ally, the Democrats (the former PFL, the remnants of the conservative pork-barreling party of the old military dictatorship), are collapsing even more rapidly. The big news in Brazilian politics in 2011 was the maverick DEM mayor of São Paulo, Gilberto Kassab, splitting off to form his own party, the Social Democratic Party (PSD), which positions itself slightly to the left of the DEMs, closer to the centre and to the Dilma government (while not being a ‘government party’). The PSD has attracted a good number of defectors from the DEMs (but also other parties) and it has grown to 47 federal deputies, much more than the DEMs (left with 28). These defections have left the Democrats virtually on life support.
The table below gives the number of mayors elected by party in the first round, compared to the 2008 municipal elections (first round); as well as the number of councillors.
PMDB 1,018 mayors (-175) and 7,963 councillors (-512)
PSDB 692 mayors (-95) and 5,255 councillors (-641)
PT 627 mayors (+77) and 5,181 councillors (+1,013)
PSD 495 mayors (+495) and 4,662 councillors (+4,662)
PP 466 mayors (-83) and 4,932 councillors (-197)
PSB 434 mayors (+126) and 3,555 councillors (+599)
PDT 309 mayors (-42) and 3,660 councillors (+135)
PTB 295 mayors (-115) and 3,571 councillors (-363)
DEM 276 mayors (-219) and 3,272 councillors (-1,529)
PR 273 mayors (-111) and 3,190 councillors (-344)
PPS 120 mayors (-9) and 1,861 councillors (-298)
PV 96 mayors (+21) and 1,584 councillors (+347)
PSC 83 mayors (+26) and 1,468 councillors (+322)
PRB 77 mayors (+23) and 1,204 councillors (+423)
PCdoB 53 mayors (+12) and 976 councillors (+364)
PMN 42 mayors (+1) and 605 councillors (+15)
PTdoB 26 mayors (+18) and 534 councillors (+205)
PRP 24 mayors (+6) and 581 councillors (+177)
PSL 23 mayors (+8) and 761 councillors (+241)
PTC 18 mayors (+5) and 484 councillors (+153)
PHS 17 mayors (+4) and 544 councillors (+193)
PRTB 16 mayors (+5) and 418 councillors (+157)
PPL 12 mayors (+12) and 176 councillors (+176)
PTN 12 mayors (-4) and 429 councillors (+29)
PSDC 9 mayors (+1) and 446 councillors (+95)
PSOL/PCB/PSTU 1 mayor (+1) and 56 councillors (+16) incl. 49 PSOL, 5 PCB, 2 PSTU
Others 240 mayors (-2)
The results did not indicate any major changes, besides a strengthening of the PT and the success of both the PSD and the PSB. The PT’s gains seem heaviest in small and medium-sized towns, with the clear influence of some strong state governments (notably Bahia) helping the PT to create a strong base at the municipal level. The results of the other parties reveal the importance of state governments as well; the PSD was rather strong in Santa Catarina because of governor Raimundo Colombo (former DEM, now PSD), the PSDB performed well in its historical base of São Paulo but also Minas Gerais, Paraná or Pará where they control the governorship and the PSB clearly dominates in Pernambuco and is in a strong position in the Northeast as a whole (notably Piauí, where it now controls the state government).
The Democrats were obliterated, the creation of the PSD sorely hurt them in Santa Catarina, Bahia but also Minas Gerais and São Paulo. At it currently stands, the DEMs are basically on life support and their continued existence as an independent political party is called into question. Would they be better off merging with the PSDB to create larger centre-right opposition party?
The PMDB, by and large, remained predominant in a lot of towns throughout the country and by coalitions and alliances it will probably partake in the governance of over half – if not more – of Brazilian municipalities. The loss of state government in Paraná and its disaffiliation with the PT machine in Bahia resulted in significant loses for the party in those states, but it made major gains in São Paulo.
São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and economic capital, is the big prize in all municipal elections – especially this year. Being mayor of São Paulo has often been a trampoline to seek higher office, such as the state’s governorship or the presidency. Politically, as a predominantly white and middle-class business city, São Paulo has leaned to the right – centre-right opposition candidate José Serra won 54% in São Paulo in the 2010 runoff against Dilma.
The incumbent mayor of São Paulo since 2006 is Gilberto Kassab (PSD, ex-DEM). Kassab is retiring this year, but there are rumours that he is eyeing a run for governor in 2014 – even though governor Alckmin (PSDB) is quite popular.
The first mayor directly elected after the restoration of direct elections and multiparty democracy was none other than former President Jânio Quadros (who served as president a few months in 1961 before suddenly resigning, probably on a drunken fit), a literally insane populist clown figure. In that 1985 election, Quadros defeated Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a prominent academic who would later become President, after a campaign during which Quadros described FHC as a “pot-smoking atheist” and alleged that Cardoso would force the inclusion of marijuana into school lunches.
Following Quadros’ uneventful term, he was succeeded by Luiza Erudina of the PT – the PT had been founded in the city’s industrial hinterland (the ABC cities). She was succeeded in 1992 by former military-era appointed mayor and later governor Paulo Maluf, a corrupt conservative populist and one of Brazil’s most controversial political figures (he is currently on Interpol’s wanted list, for money-laundering and other accusations in the US). His right-hand man Celso Pitta replaced him in 1996. Seeking to return to office in 2000, Maluf was defeated by the PT’s Marta Suplicy in the runoff with over 58% for Suplicy. However, she was defeated in her reelection bid by PSDB candidate José Serra (the 2002 PSDB presidential candidate and former health minister), who won 55% in the runoff. Serra stepped down in 2006 in order to run for governor that same year, he was succeeded by his deputy mayor, Gilberto Kassab, who won a full term in his own right in 2008 with over 60% of the vote. This year, Kassab leaves office with mediocre approval ratings.
The PSDB candidate this year was José Serra – former mayor, governor and unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2002 and 2010. Serra had originally said that he would not run, but a few months later he backtracked on his statement and won a PSDB primary against two rivals, including an ally of the state governor, Geraldo Alckmin. Serra would like to run for president for a third time in 2014, but few in his party are keen on that terrible idea, first and foremost governor Alckmin and Senator Aécio Neves, the current PSDB favourite for 2014. Serra, however, can still count on the strong backing of his friend and ally Kassab, and his party (the PSD).
The PT has a long history in the state and city of São Paulo but has had limited success at both the state and municipal level in recent years. The field of potential PT candidates included former mayor and current senator Marta Suplicy, her ex-husband senator Eduardo Suplicy, science minister Aloizio Mercadante and education minister Fernando Haddad.
Since 2011, former President Lula has become the de facto leader of the party and its top power broker. While there have been no public disagreements between Lula and his protégé, Dilma, some have wondered if Lula could run for president again in 2014. In São Paulo, fully utilizing his power at the unofficial party boss, Lula moved to sideline Marta Suplicy and others in favour of education minister Fernando Haddad, who he felt could have a stronger appeal to middle-class voters (unlike Suplicy, whose base lies with poorer voters in the city’s outskirts). Haddad was very much promoted as Lula’s candidate, and Dilma publicly campaigned for him only very late in the campaign.
Haddad’s candidacy ran into problems when Interpol Most Wanted (and former mayor) Paulo Maluf and his party (the PP) endorsed Haddad. This embarrassing alliance with the arch-corrupt party boss led Haddad’s original ‘running mate’, former mayor Luiza Erudina (now affiliated with the PSB) to step down.
However, the frontrunner during a good part of the campaign – and especially for the final stretch – was Celso Russomano, a former federal deputy and popular consumers advocate. Russomano is now a member of the small Brazilian Republican Party (PRB), a non-ideological party closely linked to the evangelical United Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG).
Russomano ran a populist campaign, especially popular with poorer, traditionally petista voters but also middle-class voters tired of the PSDB/PT back and forths in the city. He took the lead from Serra in late August and led by a solid margin until the end of September, when an onslaught from Serra and Haddad brought him back down. The last polls showed a three way tie. Serra’s candidacy was dogged by how he had ended his first stint as mayor: after being elected by saying that he would serve out the full four years, he quit 15 months in to run for governor. There is that underlying ‘fear’ that he might run for something else if he won.
Other candidates included Gabriel Chalita (PMDB), an ally of governor Alckmin and a close Serra ally, Soninha (PPS), who ran a social liberal campaign.
José Serra (PSDB) 30.75%
Fernando Haddad (PT) 28.98%
Celso Russomano (PRB) 21.6%
Gabriel Chalita (PMDB) 13.6%
Soninha (PPS) 2.65%
A map of the results is available here. The results of the first round were very surprising, with Serra and Haddad both doing well (especially Haddad) and qualifying for the runoff while Russomano placed a paltry distant third with only 22%. There was a really last minute shift away from Russomano, due to a variety of factors including revelation of personal scandals and questions about his links to the UCKG. The last polls had shown that he had been shedding support from traditionally petista lower-income voters but also middle-class voters, the bleeding continued into election day. The map shows that Russomano got the bulk of his support in the lower-income/working-class peripheral neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city, where the PT is strongest, though he did do fairly well in some more middle-class areas in the north of the city where the PT is weaker.
Fernando Haddad’s remarkable result is a success for his top backer, Lula. He started out running at 3% in the polls (like Dilma in 2009/early 2010) but has ended up qualifying for the runoff. In the runoff, furthermore, he is the favourite. Two polls have already shown him up by 10 over Serra, and he has the backing of Gabriel Chalita (even if the SP PMDB is right-wing, Chalita dislikes Serra) and will probably win most of Russomano’s voters. Serra has high negative ratings, and he is a poor candidate. He is more and more a tired politician who doesn’t seem to understand when to stop. He will try to use the mensalão scandal and some anti-homophobia school kit against Haddad, but for the moment it looks as if the PT could win an historic victory in the city.
Rio de Janeiro
Rio, Brazil’s other big city and host of the 2016 Olympics, did not have a very contested race this year. In 2008, the PMDB’s Eduardo Paes had won a very narrow victory against the Green Party’s Fernando Gabeira, replacing term-limited DEM incumbent Cesar Maia (who served as mayor between 1993 and 1997 and 2001 and 2009). Paes has been a very popular mayor, in part due to the 2016 Olympics and 2014 FIFA World Cup, which has boosted investment and economic development in the city. He ran for reelection, benefiting from the backing of the PT. His two main opponents were state deputy Marcelo Freixo (PSOL), a prominent opponent of the drug cartels and federal deputy Rodrigo Maia (DEM), the son of Cesar Maia (who failed to win a senate seat in 2010 and was running for city council this year).
Eduardo Paes (PMDB) 64.6%
Marcelo Freixo (PSOL) 28.15%
Rodrigo Maia (DEM) 2.94%
Otavio Leite (PSDB) 2.47%
A map of the results is available here. Paes won reelection by the first round in a landslide, and while Freixo did relatively decently, Rodrigo Maia (and what he represented as the scion of a prominent local political dynasty) was utterly humiliated. The map is fairly interesting, especially in relation to Marcelo Freixo’s support. Freixo is a state deputy for the small far-left PSOL, formed by PT dissidents during Lula’s first term, and he has built his political career on a courageous crusade against the powerful drug cartels which remain powerful in many favelas in the city. Ironically, however, Freixo received his strongest support in the city’s upper middle-class coastal and central neighborhoods (Botafogo but also the emblematic Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Gávea), usually right-leaning areas. His crusade against the drug cartels has made him the favourite of a good part of the city’s upper middle-classes, but did poorly in the lower-income northern neighborhoods.
In Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais), the incumbent PSB mayor Márcio Lacerda, elected in 2008 with left-wing support, was reelected this year with right-wing support (the PSDB, DEMs and PSD notably). He won 52.69% against 40.8% for former cabinet minister Patrus Ananias (PT). Lacerda has always been a close ally of PSDB senator Aécio Neves, the former governor (until 2010) and likely presidential candidate in 2014. Hence, Lacerda’s victory is a major boost for Aécio’s presidential ambitions but is also good news for another potential 2014 candidate, governor Eduardo Campos (PSB-PE).
In Salvador (Bahia), the fight to replace term-limited unpopular incumbent João Henrique (PP) is going to be very close between federal deputy ACM Neto (DEM) and Nelson Pelegrino (PT). ACM Neto, who is the grandson of the late Antonio Carlos Magalhães, a prominent conservative baron in Bahia, won 40.17% against 39.73% for Pelegrino. Former mayor Mário Kertész (PMDB) won 9.43% and Márcio Marinho (PRB) took 6.51%, and both candidates have endorsed Pelegrino (although some sections of the PMDB are backing ACM Neto). These results are fairly mediocre, in my eyes, for the PT, but its support has likely been hurt by the state government’s (led by PT governor Jaques Wagner) fight against two public sector strikes. The runoff will be closely fought, but Pelegrino probably has a tiny edge.
In Recife (Pernambuco), incumbent mayor João da Costa (PT) was retiring (pressured into doing so), leaving the field wide open for the very popular state governor, Eduardo Campos (PSB) to anoint his candidate. He did so, in the form of little-known Geraldo Júlio (PSB, allied, amusingly, with the PMDB). Geraldo Júlio started out with 5% in July, but the support from the governor and the state government propelled him into the lead, ahead of Senator Humberto Costa (PT) and former governor Mendonça Filho (DEM). Júlio won 51.15%, against 27.65% for Daniel Coelho (PSDB) ans 17.43% for Humberto Costa (PT). In yet another blow to the influence of the formerly dominant Democrats/PFL, Mendonça Filho took only 2.25% of the vote. Júlio’s landslide is a major victory for Campos, an ambitious politician with his eyes on the presidency in 2014 or 2018.
Curitiba (Paraná) was quite interesting, and surprising. Mayor Beto Richa (PSDB) stepped down in 2010 to run for governor (he won), leaving Luciano Ducci (PSB – the local PSB is right-wing) in the mayor’s chair. Ducci, backed by the centre-right, was running for reelection, and seemed in a decent position to at least qualify for the second round. However, with 26.77%, he placed only a close third in the first round and is out of the runoff. The runoff will oppose Ratinho Jr. (PSC), the son of a popular talk show host and TV personality, who took 34.09% on a populist independent platform, and Gustavo Fruet (PDT), backed by the PT (Fruet had run for senate for the PSDB in 2010 but lost narrowly) who took 27.22%. Ratinho Jr is probably the favourite in the runoff. Mayor Ducci’s defeat is a major blow for the state governor, Beto Richa, who is nonetheless fairly popular, and Eduardo Campos.
In Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul), incumbent mayor José Fortunati (PDT, centre-right) won reelection with 65.22% against 17.76% for federal deputy Manuela d’Ávila (PCdoB) and 9.64% for Adão Villaverde (PT). Fortunati showed some signs of vulnerability earlier on, but through a shrewd campaign he strengthened his appeal to a large number of voters. Manuela, a prominent federal deputy and former student leader, was the de facto candidate of the left, given that Villaverde got only limited support from the national PT.
In Manaus (Amazonas), where mayor Amazonino Mendes (PDT) is retiring, the leader coming out of the first round is former senator Arthur Virgílio Neto (PSDB), who was defeated for reelection to the Senate in 2010. Surprisingly, he came out far ahead of the pack in the first round with 40.55% against 19.95% for Senator Vanessa Grazziotin (PCdoB), backed by the PT and the PMDB. Henrique Oliveira (PR) placed third with 16.46%, while former mayor Serafim Corrêa (PSB) won 11.64%. Sabino Castelo Branco (PTB), a federal deputy and popular TV personality, won 7.3%. Grazziotin having been expected to have been stronger in the first round, the value of runoff polls which showed her narrowly ahead of Arthur Neto seem a bit off. However, it seems as if Dilma will campaign for her and that the PT is putting some attention into this race.
In Fortaleza (Ceará), incumbent mayor Luizianne Lins (PT) is term-limited. After the first round, Elmano de Freitas (PT), backed by the outgoing mayor, has 25.44% against 23.32% for the president of the state legislature, Roberto Cláudio (PSB), a close ally of governor Cid Gomes (PSB) and his brother Ciro Gomes (PSB). Heitor Ferrer (PDT), a state deputy, won 20.97% and former federal deputy Moroni Torgan (DEM) took a paltry 13.75%. The PSOL candidate somehow won 11.84%.
In Belém (Pará), incumbent mayor Duciomar Costa (PTB) is term-limited. This is another city where the runoff remains up in the air, after a close first round. Popular state deputy and former mayor Edmilson Rodrigues (PSOL) won 32.58% but federal deputy Zenaldo Countinho (PSDB) was close on his heels with 30.67% after receiving a late endorsement from governor Simão Jatene (PSDB). Jefferson Lima (PP), a radio personality, took 12.89% and federal deputy José Priante (PMDB) won 8.79%. The PT, whose candidate won 3.06%, is backing Edmilson. The PSOL, pushed by the candidacy of former senator Marinor Brito, also managed 4 seats on city council.
In Cuiabá (Mato Grosso), the very unpopular incumbent Chico Galindo (PTB) is retiring. Mauro Mendes (PSB), backed by “soy king” senator Blairo Maggi (PR) and senator Pedro Tasques (PDT), took 43.96% against 42.27% for Lúdio (PT), backed by the incumbent PMDB governor. The PSOL won 5.42% and the PSDB candidate won 4.59%. This race looks like a tossup, but a PSB victory here would be another strong result for the party.
Goiânia (Goiás) mayor Paulo Garcia (PT), in office since 2010, won a first term outright with 57.68% in the first round. Jovair Arantes (PTB), backed by the PSDB, took 14.25%. Ex-senator Demóstenes Torres (DEM-GO), before getting knee deep into the Cachoeira scandal, had indicated his intention to run for mayor here.
In Natal (Rio Grande do Norte), incumbent mayor Micarla de Sousa (PV) is extremely unpopular and is not running for reelection. The favourite is former mayor Carlos Eduardo Alves (PDT), who served right before Micarla (and Micarla was his deputy mayor), who took 40.42% in the first round. Carlos Eduardo is the nephew of former mayor, governor, senator and current cabinet minister Garibaldi Alves Filho (PMDB) and the nephew of former governor Aluísio Alves; his running mate is Wilma de Faria (PSB), a former governor and mayor. The clan was disunited, because PMDB’s house leader Henrique Eduardo Alves backed Hermano Moraes (PMDB), who placed second with 23.01%. Fernando Mineiro, a longtime PT activist, took 22.63% and federal deputy Rogério Marinho (PSDB) won 10.16%.
Teresina (Piauí) mayor Elmano Férrer (PTB), backed the PMDB, placed second in the first round with 33.14% against 38.77% for former mayor and state deputy Firmino Filho (PSDB). Former governor and incumbent senator Wellington Dias (PT) placed third with 14.18%, Beto Rego (PSB) won 10.69%.
The mayor of São Luis (Maranhão), João Castelo (PSDB), is in a tough race for a second term. With 30.60%, he trails Edivaldo Holanda Jr. (PTC) who won 36.44%. State deputy Eliziane Gama (PPS) won 13.81% while vice-governor Washington Oliveira (PT), the candidate of the Sarney clan, won only 11.02%.
In Campinas (São Paulo), Jonas Donizette (PSB, ex-PSDB), backed by the PSDB and the DEMs, is the big favourite in the state’s third largest city. He took 47.6% in the first round. The municipality has been rocked by scandals since 2011, which forced the PDT mayor and then his PT deputy to resign and left the president of the chamber, Pedro Serafim (PDT) in charge. The incumbent mayor, Pedro Serafim, was a distant third with 18.47% while economics prof Marcio Pochmann (PT) won 28.56%. In Ribeirão Preto (São Paulo), meanwhile, incumbent centrist mayor Dárcy Vera (PSD), supported by the PMDB and former cabinet minister Wagner Rossi (PMDB), is the favourite after winning 46.34% in the first round. The PSDB’s Darcy Nogueira took 30.38% while the PT, hurt by the stench of corruption surrounding former mayor Antonio Palocci won only 15.o6%. The PSD also has a strong chance in Florianópolis (Santa Catarina) where its candidate, state deputy César Souza Jr., backed by governor Raimundo Colombo (PSD) but also the PSDB and PSB, won 31.68% against 27.37% for Gean Loureiro (PMDB), the candidate backed by senator and former governor Luiz Henrique da Silveira (PMDB). The PCdoB-PT candidate won 25.03%, the PSOL took 14.42%. Senator Luiz Henrique da Silveira would also like to reconquer the state’s largest city, Joinville, the PMDB candidate placed second with 35.52% against 41.42% for the PSD.
The PT and PSDB are also facing off directly in runoffs in Guarulhos (SP) where the PT is the big favourite and Rio Branco (Acre) where 2010 gubernatorial candidate Tião Bocalom (PSDB) is not far behind Marcus Alexandre (PT) with 43.9% against 48.3% for the petista backed by the Viana siblings (the PT governor and senator from the state).
The results of the second round will be closely followed in a lot of these cities and a few others (for more results, O Globo has them in a text format and Veja has a map) because of the regional and national implications they will carry for the main parties, their ambitious leaders and for the state of Brazil’s notoriously complex and unstable coalitions.
After the first round, two likely 2014 presidential candidates are strengthened. In Minas Gerais, Senator Aécio Neves got his candidate reelected in Belo Horizonte and the PSDB held up fairly well in his state, which would be a key swing state if Aécio is the tucano candidate. Governor Eduardo Campos (PSB-PE) was successful, especially with the phenomenal landslide for his candidate in Recife, and with his party’s strong showing in the whole of the Northeast. For now, the PSB governor of Pernambuco has reiterated that his party remains a supporter of Dilma’s government (where it has cabinet positions) and that it is too early to talk about 2014. But this election showed that the division between the PT and PSB, traditional partners for over 20 years, has grown quite deep as the PT pursues alliances for allegedly opportunistic and selfish reasons with other parties (firstly the PMDB) while the PSB is eager to mark its independence from the PT.
Eduardo Campos’ candidacy is still not a certainty, as there is a chance he might prefer to wait until 2018 where there is a chance that he could be endorsed by the PT. After all, Dilma is not dead in the water – far from it – she has strong approvals and it is unlikely that Lula would directly challenge her for the PT nomination (though if he did, he would be the favourite). Her policies have carried a particularly strong appeal to middle-classes which have traditionally been cooler towards the PT, and it is not clear if discontent on her left would express itself electorally. However, 2018 could be too late for Campos and he might see 2014 as an opportunity to build up his name and image ahead of a winning run in 2018, similar to what Ciro Gomes had tried to do in 1998 and 2002. On top of that, there are now rumours of a sort of “super-ticket” between Campos and Aécio for 2014, an idea which has been endorsed by FHC.
I hope that this post provided some interesting information and details about Brazil’s complex local politics to those interested.
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General elections were held in New Zealand on November 26, 2011. The unicameral Parliament of New Zealand has 120 members, sometimes more due to overhang seats. Since 1994, New Zealand has used mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) in which 70 members are elected in single-member constituencies (the electorate seats) through FPTP and at least 50 members are elected through party-list proportional representation in a national constituency with a 5% threshold (parties winning one electorate seat can be exempted from the threshold). Of the 70 electorate seats, 63 members are elected in general constituencies were all voters are assigned to by default, while 7 members are elected in Māori electorates (created in 1868) where the only eligible voters are those citizens of Māori ethnicity who ask to be placed on the Māori electoral list. Not all Māori voters vote in these Māori electorates: a small minority of them preferred to be enrolled on the general electoral list and vote in the 63 general constituencies. The Māori electorates have long been a source of political controversy and the current government wishes to abolish them by 2014. Elections are held every three-years in New Zealand.
New Zealand has been governed since 2008 by John Key of the centre-right National Party, who defeated incumbent Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark who was first elected in 1999. The National Party was formed in 1936 by the two old rival parties of the centre and the right: the United Party (the old Liberals) and the Reform Party – to counteract the rise of the Labour Party which won power for the first time in 1935 following the defeat of the United-Reform coalition government. The Nationals first won power in 1949 and governed until 1957, returned to power in 1960 and ruled until 1972, returned to power in 1975 and ruled until 1984, won back power in 1990 and lost power to Labour in 1999. Traditionally, like all centre-right parties, National has usually favoured liberal economic policies and pro-business policies. But the experience of the Robert Muldoon government (1975-1984) sets it apart a bit: Muldoon, a populist autocrat, favoured heavily interventionist economic policies such as price freezes to control inflation or the “Think Big” energy initiatives. In contrast, the Labour government originally led by David Lange was by most regards far to the right on economic issues. Lange’s finance minister between 1984 and 1988 was the emblematic Roger Douglas, architect of neoliberal “Rogernomics” which included monetarist inflation control, cutting the tariff and farming subsidies, privatizations and tax cuts. This was a departure both from traditional social democratic policies but also Labour’s own traditional policies. Indeed, past Labour governments prior to 1984 had followed far more progressive and interventionist policies. Michael Joseph Savage, the first Labour Prime Minister, became something of a left-wing icon for his creation of the country’s welfare state. The second Labour government between 1957 and 1960 was defeated following a “Black Budget” in 1958 which had significantly raised taxes. Douglas was eventually forced out in late 1988, and Lange himself resigned in 1989 but it was not enough to save Labour from a landslide defeat in 1990 at the hands of Jim Bolger’s Nationals. Rogernomics had divided National, which had a history of economic interventionism and statist conservatism going back to Muldoon’s days. However, Bolger’s finance minister, Ruth Richardson, was a fan of Rogernomics and in fact believed they had not gone far enough: she implemented even more radical Ruthanasia – major spending cuts in social welfare and unemployment benefits. These policies almost cost it victory in 1993, in which third parties did well. Bolger was pushed out by Jenny Shipley in 1997 but she lost the 1999 election to Helen Clark, who abandoned the Rogernomics era in favour of Blairite Third Way policies. Presiding over economic growth and a progressive decline in unemployment, she held office until 2008.
New Zealand adopted MMP in 1993, the result of a series of disproportional elections under FPTP in which parties such as Social Credit won nearly 20% of the vote but only one or two seats. MMP encouraged the growth of third parties, but New Zealand has retained a stable two-party system despite the adoption of MMP. It might be a result of the continued impact of the two-party system bred by FPTP or of the failure of third parties to appeal to a wide base, often because of their more ‘radical’ nature in the political spectrum. The most important of these third parties has been the populist New Zealand First (NZF), led by former National MP Winston Peters. NZF is a bit hard to pin down politically, but it is similar to other right-populist parties by its social conservatism, its anti-corporate rhetoric coupled with a low taxes and reduced spending agenda. Peters’ NZF, which won 13.4% in 1996 and held the balance of power formed a coalition with the Nationals which lasted until 1998. Between 2005 and 2008, NZF had a confidence-and-supply deal with Clark and Peters served as foreign minister. In the 2008 election, NZF was shut out as it fell to an all-time low of 4.1%.
Recently the Greens have grown in strength, polling 7% in 2002 and 6.7% in 2008. The Greens, who are pretty left-wing (they were a part of the left-wing Alliance in the 1993 and 1996 elections, winning 18% in 1993 and 10% in 1996), have a close working relationship with Labour but they have never signed formal coalition or confidence and supply deals with them, in part due to the hostility towards the Greens on the behalf of NZF and United Future. Other parties with a presence or foothold in recent years include United Future, ACT and the Progressives. United Future was founded as a merger of a secular centrist party and a right-wing Christian democratic party in 2000, and won 6.7%. United Future has been something of a weird beast, with a more moderate centre-right wing including Peter Dunne, the party’s leader and sole MP, with a more right-wing socially conservative ‘Christian right’ faction which has recently been eliminated. Today, United Future appears to be an empty shell and nothing more than a personal vehicle for Dunne, an extra-cabinet minister who has served under the last two governments. ACT is a free-market right-wing liberal party founded in 1994, advocating a flat tax, welfare reform, controlling government spending and debt, tough-on-crime policies and other right-wing positions on defense and the environment. It won between 6 and 7% of the vote between 1996 and 2002, but only 1.5% in 2005. It managed to win 5 seats in 2008, entering government. ACT’s leader until this election was Don Brash, the former leader of the National Party who had narrowly lost the 2005 election. Brash, on the National Party’s right, was progressively forced out after the election and resigned in 2006, at which point John Key, more centrist, won the National Party’s leadership. Until he retired this year, the other main actor was Jim Anderton’s Progressive Party. Anderton had split from the Labour Party in 1989 over Rogernomics and then played a key role as leader of the Alliance in the 1990s, a party which formed a coalition with Labour after 1999. But Anderton split from the Alliance, part of which thought he was moving too close to Labour. He held his electorate of Wigram in 2002, 2005 and 2008 but especially after 2008 the party became an empty shell. Anderton’s retirement this year killed the party. In the Māori electorates, the Māori Party, a splitoff from Labour founded in 2004. It won 5 Māori seats in 2008 and it has members outside cabinet since then.
John Key has been a fairly popular Prime Minister, and at any rate, New Zealand rarely turfs out first-term governments unless they’ve done something quite disagreeable or have been terrible. The country has been affected by the recession, and its unemployment rate is now 6%, but GDP growth is strong at 2% and projected to reach 3.8% in 2012. The government cut taxes, but increased the GST and minimum wage. Above all, Key is seen as a pleasant “Kiwi bloke” as opposed to Labour leader Phil Goff, seen as incompetent and desperate. The government was handed a nice boost by the All Blacks’ win in the Rugby World Cup earlier this year. Alongside the election, National also followed through with its election promise to hold a referendum on keeping or changing MMP. FPTP, STV, SM and preferential voting were the four proposed options in case voters voted to change MMP. Like most similar referendums, few voters seemed to care very much about the topic.
Turnout seems to be quite a bit lower than in 2008. Here are the results:
National 47.99% (+3.06%) winning 60 seats (+2) [41 E, 19 L]
Labour 27.13% (-6.86%) winning 34 seats (-9) [22 E, 12 L]
Greens 10.62% (+3.9%) winning 13 seats (+4) [13 L]
NZF 6.81% (+2.74%) winning 8 seats (+8) [8 L]
Māori 1.35% (-1.04%) winning 3 seats (-2) [3 E]
ACT 1.07% (-2.58%) winning 1 seat (-4) [1 E]
Mana 1% (+1%) winning 1 seat (+1) [1 E]
United Future 0.61% (-0.26%) winning 1 seat (+1) [1 E]
Conservative 2.76% (+2.76%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Without any suspense, John Key’s popular incumbent National Party was reelected to a second term but, it was the surprise of the night perhaps, failed to win a majority and remains in a hung parliament albeit it’s almost a majority. The Nationals breaking the magic 50% line, as a lot of polls had predicted (less so in the final days), would have been pretty historic given that it’s not been broken by any party since National’s landslide in 1951. Labour, meanwhile, suffered a pretty significant defeat. Labour had never really stood a chance against a popular one-term government, and by all means its gadfly leader Phil Goff (from the party’s right-wing) was nothing more than a stopgap leader who would lose in 2011 while Labour’s more popular leadership contenders would wait until the 2014 election, which was the earliest National could be defeated. Goff led a pretty desperate campaign on stuff like the “cost of living” or removing from the GST from groceries. In contrast to Key, a popular and generally competent leader who is personally popular with voters and who has been able to wash off potential scandals, Goff and Labour never really stood a chance. 27% is a poor showing, but by no means a landslide defeat really. In terms of electorates, it seems as if Labour had it its core seats by 2008: it only lost Waimakariri while gaining West Coast-Tasman and the Māori seat of Te Tai Tonga.
In a pretty rare but how so amusing result, the vote in Christchurch Central ended up as a perfect tie between Labour MP Brendon Burns and National candidate Nicky Wagner at 10,493 votes apiece. The result will be determined by special votes. If National wins the seat, it would lose its last list seat without affecting the overall result. Similarly, if Labour wins the seat it would lose its last list seat without again affecting the final result. You thus have a situation where the last elected individual on each party’s list is wishing that their party doesn’t win Christchurch Central – if they did, they’d lose their seat.
The Greens had a good night, winning their best result ever. They likely took a lot of soft-left votes from Labour, especially in the final days of the campaign when they experienced their surge. I wonder how much the Tauranga oil spill on October 5 might have affected Green support: their real upsurge in support came after the spill.
The major surprise of the night was Winston Peters, NZF’s leader who had been thrown out of Parliament in 2008. He was not expected to reenter Parliament this year, and even in the final days as NZF picked up steam few people predicted it would win seats. With 6.8% and 8 seats, its success was the main surprise of the election. Its success, spectacular in some regards, is attributed to the Tea Tape scandals which taped a compromising conversation between Key and ACT candidate John Banks. NZF had taken the forefront in leaking the tapes, and Peters, whose party receives many votes from the elderly, claimed that Key insulted the elderly in the tapes.
ACT, which has suffered from poor performance in cabinet and leadership disputes which claimed Rodney Hide’s leadership, suffered its worst electoral result since its foundation. The party is basically in terminal state right now. Its chances hinged on its pivotal electorate seat of Epsom, a very affluent suburb of Auckland which it has held since 2005. Rodney Hide, who had been ACT’s Epsom MP since 2005, was deselected in favour of John Banks, the former mayor of Auckland defeated last year. In some regards, the Nationals might have seen it in their interests to use ACT’s terminal condition to unplug it and rid itself from a controversial ally. But in other regards, Nationals need ACT as one of their only sure bases of coalition support. The Nationals stood a candidate in Epsom, Paul Goldsmith, but in an amusing situation Goldsmith – who led most polls for the seat – campaigned telling voters not to vote for him and instead give their electorate vote to ACT (Banks) and its list vote to the Nationals. ACT’s John Banks finally won Epsom with 45% against 37% for Goldsmith, while the list vote in the electorate split 65% in National’s favour (ACT taking a pathetic 2.6%). The Nationals winning Epsom would have been rather amusing and an embarrassing situation for themselves, but it can breath a sigh of relief as it has saved ACT for a bit longer keeping it plugged in and providing Key with a coalition partner. United Future, which is now more than ever a personality cult for Peter Dunne and which will die off like the Progressives once Dunne retires, is also seen as a likely coalition partner. The Māori Party, which lost two seats this year (one to Labour, another one – Te Tai Tokerau was held by dissident MP Hone Harawira of the Mana Party), could also continue backing the government. I wonder to what extent the Māori Party’s poor showing this year can be attributed to it propping up a National government given that Māori voters are pretty starkly anti-National in their voting and have been so for years. On a final note, a new right-wing party, the Conservatives, did fairly well for a newbie party with 2.7%. Its leader Colin Craig, helped by his personal wealth, won 21% standing in the National stronghold of Rodney north of Auckland. It will be interesting to see how the Conservatives carry on after a fairly strong showing in their first outing.
In the referendum on the voting system, MMP prevailed with 53.74% opposing the change and 42.62% supporting a change. 3.64% of ballots were marked ‘informal’ or invalid. In the follow-up question (ultimately useless because MMP won) on which alternative system to adopt, FPTP logically came out on top with 31.89%, followed by 14.53% for SM, 11.24% for STV and 8.19% for PV. But 34.15% of ballots were ‘informal’ or invalid. The map of the result shows strong support for MMP in core urban areas, especially lower-income or trendy neighborhoods (much less support, in fact, in the wealthier suburbs). Opposition to MMP was heavier in rural areas, though some rural areas – I don’t know why – tended to support MMP as well. Māori voters were strongly behind MMP with over 70% support for the country’s current electoral system. The referendum in Northland ended as another perfect tie!
Elections to the Folketing, the unicameral Danish Parliament, will be held on September 15. Denmark has been governed since 2001 by a centre-right coalition, which is famous for its dependence on a far-right party for parliamentary support. The current Prime Minister is Lars Løkke Rasmussen, in office since 2009 when his predecessor Anders Fogh Rasmussen became the Secretary-General of NATO. Notably, the last name of the Danish Prime Minister since 1993 has been ‘Rasmussen’, though none of the three are related to each other.
How does it work?
The Folketing has 179 seats. There are 175 seats in Denmark, while the Danish dependencies of the Faroe Islands and Greenland are represented by two members each. The four ‘overseas’ seats are usually called the “North Atlantic mandates”. 135 of the 175 Danish seats are elected by a modified form of d’Hondt PR in ten multi-member constituencies where voters may vote for a party list, one of the candidates on a party list or (rarely) an independent candidate. The remaining 40 seats are compensatory mandates to equalize representation, and these are elected through Saint-Laguë PR. The threshold for the compensatory seats is 2%, making for a wide representation of parties in the Folketing. However, ballot access in laws in Denmark for non-parliamentary parties are quite tough: these parties must gather roughly 20,000 signatures in order to gain ballot access.
Danish parliamentary politics is unlike Westminster parliamentary politics. A government is not required to win a vote of confidence, and what matters is whether the legislature is against the government rather than for it. This means that minority governments are common and that governments must usually form majorities on a bill-by-bill basis.
Denmark, like Sweden or Norway, is a Scandinavian welfare state and historically a left-wing country dominated by the Social Democrats. In Denmark, the Social Democrats were the largest party in all elections between 1924 and 2001. Denmark is marked by its strong welfare state and its very high levels of taxation.
In Danish politics and everyday political lingo, each party is commonly referred to by a letter which it is assigned and which appears on ballots. A lot of these letters have little connection with the party’s actual name. I refer to both the party’s letter, its alternative abbreviation and its name in English (or Danish in some cases). For shorthand, I usually talk about parties using their letter or abbreviation.
Between 1924 and 2001, the largest party were the Social Democrats (A or S/SD) and the Social Democrats have governed between 1924 and 1926, 1929 and 1942, 1945, 1947 and 1950, 1953 and 1968, 1971 and 1973, 1975 and 1982 and most recently between 1993 and 2001. As such there are not quite as dominant as the Swedish Social Democratic Party which has governed for the bulk of the post-war era but they were close to being a dominant party. The Danish Social Democrats are more urban-based than their Swedish or Norwegian partners, in fact Copenhagen is a left-wing stronghold while Oslo and especially Stockholm are quite right-wing. Under the Poul Nyrup Rasmussen governments between 1993 and 2001, the Social Democrats experimented with a successful model of ‘flexicurity‘ which maintained the strong unemployment benefits with deregulation of labour laws. The shocking defeat of the Social Democrats in 2001 in which the party fell out of first place for the first time since 1924 was caused by an unpopular 1998 tax hike (to balance the books) but most importantly a post-9/11 mood swing against immigration. Since then, the Social Democrats have failed both to gain power or take back a symbolic first place. Instead, their results have progressively worsened: from 29% in 2001 to 25.5% in 2007. Like so many European social democratic parties these days, the Danish Social Democrats have been confused in their positions and failed to motivate the electorate. The current leader of the party, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the daughter-in-law of Neil Kinnock, is generally regarded as hapless and uninspiring. The main Social Democratic strongholds are Copenhagen, the lower middle-class/working-class suburbs of western Copenhagen, large cities such as Aarhus, Odense and Aalborb and finally northeastern Jutland.
The main right-wing party in Denmark has traditionally been Venstre (V), which is technically translated into English as “Left”. Which does not mean that V is remotely left-wing: the name Venstre emerged in the late nineteenth-century when V was the main progressive opposition to the Right (the Social Democrats being far-left back then). It is more commonly referred to in both English and Danish as the “Liberal Party”. Venstre was founded in 1870 as a Nordic agrarian party, advocating free trade and low taxes. It is usually the largest right-wing party, though it is not always the case (for example in the 1980s). In 1998, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, author of a book well-acclaimed in libertarian circles for expousing a minimal state with low taxes, became party leader and then Prime Minister in 2001 when V outpolled S for the first time since 1924. In power, V and Rasmussen moved away from its original theses of classical liberalism and although the Danish government since 2001 has implemented some major tax cuts, it has maintained the welfare state intact and not exactly reduced the size of government. The Liberals are generally perceived as being more fiscally responsible than the left. All V governments since 2001 have depended on the support of the far-right Danish People’s Party, which has resulted in some of the strictest immigration laws in Europe. The main V strongholds are rural, conservative southern Jutland and generally other rural areas. It is quite weak in Copenhagen, which has historically been a very weak zone for the rural-oriented V.
The Danish People’s Party (O or DF) was founded in 1995 by Pia Kjærsgaard but the direct roots of DF lie in the Progress Party (Frp), a right-wing populist party founded in 1972 by crazy lawyer Morgens Glistrup who claimed that he paid no taxes. The Frp supported radical tax cuts (abolishing the income tax), huge spending cuts (disbanding the Defense Ministry entirely) and eventually doing away with public servants. Frp surged to massive popularity in the so-called “landslide election” of 1973 in which five new parties entered parliament and in which Frp became the second largest party with 16% of the vote and 28 seats. Gradually the Frp moved away from the more radical positions, began to defend the welfare state against those ‘undeserving’ of receiving welfare (as such, it stole many votes from the left) and positioned itself against Muslim immigration. While Glistrup was in jail, the “pragmatic” (and more anti-immigration, populist) faction led by Pia Kjærsgaard took control of the party against the “fundies” led by Glistrup who refused any cooperation with other parties. Tensions continued, however, and the pragmatists quit the party to found DF in 1995. It won 7% in the 1998 elections and has seen its support grow unabatted since. Since 2001, DF has become crucial to the right-wing government in that its parliamentary support provides it with a majority. DF is very much anti-immigration (especially Muslim, of course) and against multiculturalism. Through its control of the government since 2001, DF is perhaps one of the most politically powerful far-right parties in Europe. Indeed, the government implemented some of the toughest immigration laws in Europe since 2001, the most notable of which is the “24-year law” intended to crack down on arranged marriages and family reunification. DF combines these very right-wing positions on immigration with left-wing positions on the welfare state, being a big defender of the welfare state, high social spending (on stuff like pensions) though, like Frp, it is very much against the so-called “welfare scrouges” (a lot of whom happen to be immigrants). DF won 13.8% in the 2007 elections and a record 15% in the 2009 European elections. It has lost some popularity since 2010 after it supported an austerity budget presented by the government. Its longtime leader, Pia Kjærsgaard, is probably the most controversial politician in Denmark.
The Socialist People’s Party (F or SF) was founded in 1959 by a former Communist leader (and CIA agent) who had been expelled from the DKP for opposing Russian intervention in Hungary in 1956. SF’s ideology is Scandinavian “popular socialism”, a variant of democratic socialism which intends to be a centrist middle-ground between communism and social democracy. In recent years, it has moderated its traditional euroscepticism and left-wing positions in order to become both more “green” ideology-wise and “responsible” policy-wise. SF, for example, is not a member of the European Left group in the European Parliament, instead sitting in the Green-EFA group. The party has been led since 2005 by Villy Søvndal, who has led the party to major successes in both the 2007 general and 2009 EU elections (13% and 15.6%). In a bid to make SF appear as a responsible party, it voted in favour of the government’s 2008 budget. Villy Søvndal also took some marked positions against radical clerical Muslim clerics, a move applauded by the right. SF has never actually been in government when the Social Democrats have governed, but they have supported various Social Democratic governments from outside (similarly to how DF props up the current government), most recently the Nyrup Rasmussen government between 1993 and 2001. SF is very strong in downtown Copenhagen (it won the bulk of the downtown core of the city), popular in artsy-liberal intellectual milieus (called the ‘café latte’ crowd in Denmark, similar to the ‘bobos’ in France). It is strong in other urban areas, but in contrast to S it is rather weak in Copenhagen suburbia or northeastern Jutland.
The Conservative People’s Party (C) was founded in 1915. The Conservatives have traditionally been the second-largest right-wing force but in the 1980s, they outpaced V for that role and in fact the Conservative Poul Schlüter governed the country between 1982 and 1993 with V as a junior party. Since then, however, C has struggled and polled only 10% in 2007. Its electoral fortunes are quite closely reversely correlated with that of V: it does well when V does poorly. C is the traditional governing partner for V, and all right-wing governments since 1950 have included C alongside V, often with C as a junior partner. In contrast to V, which in government has moderated its economic liberalism, C remains somewhat more economically liberal, supporting further tax cuts and eventually a flat tax (albeit a rather high flat tax). Traditionally, C has tended to be more nationalist and interventionist than V, but few of those policy differences remain today. On moral issues, C is moderate or liberal. Since 2007, C has been wracked by a whole slew of problems. Bendt Bendtsen, leader since 2009, quit in 2008 and was replaced by Lene Espersen, who was forced out when she became perceived as incompetent. The current leader is Lars Barfoed. The starkest differences between C and V are in terms of voter base. C is much, much more urban. Most of its strength comes from the affluent northern suburbs of Copenhagen, most notably Gentofte which has been governed by the Conservatives since 1909 and which was the only district where C topped the poll in 2007. It is also dominant in Frederiksberg, a very affluent municipality enclaved within Copenhagen. It is also strong in Odense and northern Jutland. It is much weaker in rural conservative southern Jutland, where V performs best.
The Radikale Venstre (B or R/RV), which translates into English as ‘Radical Left’ but are more commonly called ‘Social Liberal Party’ or ‘Radicals’, was founded in 1905 by a left-wing anti-militarist split off from Venstre. The Radicals are a centre-left social liberal party, mixing deep social liberalism with a more centrist attitude on economic issues. In the social sphere, the Radicals are the most pro-immigration and pro-multiculturalism party there is out there and is also quite pro-European. Economically, RV’s urban intellectual electorate is enamored with social liberalism and environmentalism, but they’re not as enamored by high taxes or social programs such as early retirement for blue-collar workers (efterløn). Recently, RV sided with the government in reforming the efterløn system leading to its gradual abolition. In the Danish system of negative parliamentarianism, RV has traditionally sought and received much political influence though less so since 2001. Despite their differences with S and especially SF on economic issues, RV is a key member of the left-wing coalition (though also the most likely to switch sides). Though RV governed in a right-wing coalition between 1968 and 1971 and participated in the Schlüter III cabinet (1988-1990) with C and V, it participated in all Nyrup Rasmussen cabinets between 1993 and 2001. The party’s current leader, Margrethe Vestager, pledged support to S in case of victory in 2007 and again this year. RV is now very much a urban party, polling best in downtown Copenhagen and other large cities. Its electoral clientele are very much ‘café latte’ type folks: educated, urban, young and decently well-off.
The Liberal Alliance (I) is the newest of the parties, adopting its current name in 2008 after being founded in 2007 as the ‘New Alliance’ (Y). The New Alliance was founded by the right-wing of RV led by Naser Khader (a prominent leader of ‘moderate Muslims’) and the left-wing of C led by Gitte Seeberg. Y’s original strategy was to become a centrist liberal governing alternative (for V and C) in the hopes of reducing DF’s influence on the government – a tall order which it failed to realize. After Y did rather poorly in the 2007 elections (2.8%), the party neared collapse as both Khader and Seeberg left the party (Khader is now a Conservative). The party was taken over by Anders Samuelsen, took the name ‘Liberal Alliance’ and moved to the right. Under Samuelsen, the Liberal Alliance has taken up most of C’s unfulfilled classical liberal policies including tax cuts, a 40% flat tax and so forth. The Liberal Alliance is also very much socially liberal: pro-gay marriage, pro-immigration and pro-EU but not environmentalist – it supports nuclear power. The party is extensively funded by the Saxo Bank.
Finally, we have the Red-Green Alliance or Unity List (Ø) is the most left-wing party in the Folketing. It was founded in 1989 by an alliance of three (later four) left-wing parties including the DKP and a Trotskyist party. This very left-wing party has moved out of old archaic communism in favour of environmentalism, feminism and other similarly trendy left-wing ideologies. It wants to nationalize big private companies such as Maersk but also Lego (!). Its support has oscillated between 2% and 4% (4-6 seats). In 2007, the party’s nomination of Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, a Muslim who wears a hijab and holds some radical views (although she is not an Islamist, obviously), sparked much debate and controversy. Ø is led informally by the 27-year old Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen, who is pretty popular with most people as a generally pleasant person.
There is also a non-parliamentary party which used to hold seats (up to 9 in fact), the Christian Democrats (K). The Christian Democrats are very right-wing on moral issues such as abortion or homosexuality, but generally centre-left on economic issues. While in parliament, they participated in both the first two Schlüter right-wing cabinets and the first Nyrup Rasmussen left-wing cabinet. It has been shut out since 2005 and it is unlikely that it will win seats in the near future.
In Greenland and the Faroe Islands, partisan politics are entirely different (in a Northern Ireland sense). In Greenland, the battle both for the Folketing and the local legislature is between the governing left-wing separatist Inuit Community and the social democratic (similar to S) Siumut (Forward), which governed Greenland between 1979 and 2009. Both those party won seats in 2007 and will do so again this year. In the Faroe Islands, the spectrum is more open-ended. The major parties are Republic, a left-wing separatist party and the Union Party, a right-wing (similar to V) unionist party. The Union Party picked up a seat from the right-wing separatist People’s Party in 2007. The Social Democratic Party, a left-wing unionist party, also polls well.
There are two rather solid (though perhaps not as coherent) governing coalitions in Denmark which are widely expected to form government if they win. The current coalition is called the ‘blue block’ or less often VCOI, the electoral letter of its four main components. V and C actually hold seats in cabinet, O/DF has supported it from the outside since 2001 and I (Liberal Alliance) has also informally propped the VC governnent up after it lost its majority due to a Conservative defection. On the left, the coalition is referred to as AFB (or AFBØ), also the electoral letter of its components. A/SD and B/RV can be expected to form a governing coalition, propped up formally by F/SF and to a lesser extent by Ø. Blocks are actually a very big deal, more so than the strength of individual parties.
V – Venstre/Liberals 26.2% (-2.8%) winning 46 seats (-6)
A – Social Democrats 25.5% (-0.4%) winning 45 seats (-2)
O – Danish People’s Party 13.9% (+0.7%) winning 25 seats (+1)
F – Socialist People’s Party 13% (+7%) winning 23 seats (+12)
C – Conservative People’s Party 10.4% (+0.1%) winning 18 seats (±0)
B – Radical Left/Social Liberals 5.1% (-4.1%) winning 9 seats (-8)
Y – New Alliance 2.8% (+2.8%) winning 5 seats (+5)
Ø – Unity List 2.2% (-1.2%) winning 4 seats (-2)
K – Christian Democrats 0.9% (-0.8%) winning 0 seats (±0)
North Atlantic mandates 4 (3 left, 1 right)
Right (VCOY) 53.3% winning 94 seats (89 without Y, 95 with North Atlantic, 90 without Y with North Atlantic)
Left (AFBØ) 45.8% winning 81 seats (84 with North Atlantic)
The Campaign and the Issues
The election on September 15 will be very closely fought till the end and it will not be a landslide for anybody, but the left has a ‘decisive’ but narrow advantage going into tomorrow’s vote. The final polls give between 91 and 92 seats to the left block (excluding 3 likely red seats in the North Atlantic) and between 83 and 84 to the governing parties. This lead has been rather constant throughout the campaign and the summer.
The final polls (3 pollsters):
V – Venstre/Liberals 23.4%-24.1% winning 41-43 seats
A – Social Democrats 22.1%-25.3% winning 39-45 seats
O – Danish People’s Party 12-12.7% winning 21-23 seats
F – Socialist People’s Party 10.3%-10.8% winning 18-19 seats
B – Radical Left/Social Liberals 9.1%-11.7% winning 17-21 seats
Ø – Unity List 6.3%-7.4% winning 11-13 seats
C – Conservative People’s Party 5.6%-5.9% winning 10 seats
I – Liberal Alliance 5.3%-6% winning 10 seats
K – Christian Democrats 0.7%-1% winning 0 seats
(+4 North Atlantic mandates, likely split 3-1 left)
The economy has been the main issue in this campaign. Like in most of Europe, the Danish economy has been generally sluggish though not particularly badly off. Economic growth was slow in the first quarter of 2011 (0.1%) and is projected to be between 1.7% and 2% in 2011, weaker than in 2010. Unemployment is low by European standards, 4.5%, but it too has increased from an all-time low of 1.9% in 2008. Furthermore, as the opposition is keen on pointing out, the economic crisis has turned a surplus of 5% to a deficit of 4.6%. The incumbent government led by Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has proposed what it calls “fiscal responsibility” and “sustainable growth”. This includes some social cuts, such as cuts in student grants or the reform of early retirement, and investments in infrastructure to the level of €1.4 billion. Economists judge that low household consumption, a dead real estate market and high salaries impede economic growth. The government accuses the left of being fiscally irresponsible: high taxes and uncontrolled debt (Denmark’s debt as % of GDP is a sustainable 45%, down from 58% when the right took power in 2001). Løkke Rasmussen has presented the economic battle as a choice between “uncontrolled debt or the upkeep of the welfare state”. The left wishes to fuel economic recovery through growth, including increasing working hours by 12 minutes per day and boosting public investment. The economic situation perhaps does not do any favours for the government, but the Liberals are generally perceived by voters as being the most fiscally responsible. What is, however, hurting the government is its long tenure. It has governed for nearly ten years, which is generally the upper-limit for governments in Denmark, which has been incumbent-friendly since the 1970s. The mood is for change, and the government is increasingly perceived as being grubby opportunists without any ideas who slide their feet on everything in order to gain power.
Within each of the main coalitions, the largest forces remain at their weak anemic 2007 levels and both are even expected to drop below that. That is particularly bad news for the Social Democrats, whose 2007 result was its worst result since 1909. The leader of the opposition and perhaps future Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, is not particularly inspiring and has faced scandals of her own recently with questions over her British husband’s tax records in Denmark. Furthermore, she does poorly in polls about the ‘best leader’: she places third, with Lars Løkke Rasmussen placing first (though not with fantastic numbers: 20%). If she does win, it will be far more by default than anything else.
SF and DF could have been expected to gain even more this year following its record-high results in the 2009 elections. SF in particular was looking quite strong in the past few months (13-16% in polls) and its leader Villy Søvndal is very popular. At this point, both parties would lose support from their record-highs of 2007. This is a shaky conclusion in DF’s case, given its tendency to under poll by up to 1.5%. In SF’s case, its shedding of up to 3% is confirmed by most pollsters. SF’s problem is that it peaked too early, in 2008-2009, and has been unable to sustain those high levels of support. Its move to become more ‘responsible’ in fiscal issues has been coldly received by its more radical voters, while the party performed poorly in a debate over immigration reform recently (introducing a point-system) where its position was perceived to be close to the government’s position. It has lost its more radical voters to Ø, which is on track for its best result ever, and its more moderate ‘café latte’ voters to RV which has a charismatic leader and clear, well-articulated positions on major economic and social issues. These loses have not been compensated with minimal gains at S’ expense.
DF is unpredictable, because, as I said, they tend to under poll like most of the far-right. DF’s high standing might be wearing of some as immigration and Muslims are not as important in the economic-centered politics of today. It may also suffer a bit of old backlash from some of its working-class voters after it voted in favour of an austerity budget in 2010 (its poll ratings then slid to 11% or so). It is likely that DF, however, will end up doing roughly as well as they did in 2007.
C is going to suffer a major rout, losing about half of its seats. It was hurt significantly by the poor leadership of Lene Espersen (she resigned in January 2011), under whose leadership C’s numbers fell from 10% to 5%. It has yet to significantly recover most of its lost voters under the leadership of Lars Barfoed. One of C’s main problems is that it has lost a lot of its support (the bulk of it, in fact) to the Liberal Alliance, which, under the right-wing leadership of Anders Samuelsen has bounced up to 6% support on a platform which appeals to many affluent, professional suburban C voters (or young libertarians): major tax cuts with a dose of social liberalism and opposition to DF.
All polls in this campaign have given the left a lead in votes and seats. The last polls, as aforementioned, give it between 91 and 92 seats. The closest it has ever been is 89 seats to 86 in the left’s favour. The government would need 89 seats from the 175 Danish seats in order to be ensured victory with the likely 3-1 split in favour of the left in the North Atlantic. No poll has come close to giving it 89.
If the left wins, the most likely option is that Helle Thorning-Schmidt will form a ‘AB’ government with the Radicals, supported from the outside by SF and to a lesser extent by Ø. The ABFØ option is the most likely outcome of the election, but there is a possibility that negotiations will be rendered more difficult by major economic differences between the Radicals and SF. At the extreme, there is a small possibility that ABF negotiations will breakdown and the Radicals might be enticed by the right to join a centre-right coalition, perhaps even led by the Radicals like between 1968 and 1971. That is more of a threat used by the Radicals than anything serious, given how much DF and RV hate each other.
note: I will be blogging about Norwegian local elections shortly, and the Spanish elections guide will be updated in a few days time.
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