Category Archives: U.S.A.
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.
Legislative elections were held in Georgia (the country – not the state) on October 1, 2012. All 150 members of Georgia’s unicameral Parliament were up for reelection. This election follows some major amendments to the Georgian constitution and a change in the electoral system. According to amendments passed in 2010, the President of Georgia will eventually – by the beginning of the next term (due after the October 2013 presidential election) – be reduced to a ceremonial role while the Prime Minister and Parliament will assume more powers, seemingly with the obvious aim of transforming Georgia into a parliamentary republic.
The new electoral system has 77 seats elected by proportional representation (with a 5% threshold) and 73 seats elected by first-past-the-post. The 73 district seats seem to correspond to the second-tier administrative divisions (the districts), which would explain the huge malapportionment (the cities being badly underrepresented, as this map shows).
Since 2004, Georgia has been governed by Mikheil Saakashvili, who came to power shortly after the 2003 Rose Revolution removed Eduard Shevardnadze from office. Saakashvili, a young anti-corruption reformist, had briefly served in Shevardnadze’s cabinet before becoming one of the major leaders of the opposition in 2001. By 2003, Shevardnadze’s government, in power since 1995, had become extremely corrupt and had clear authoritarian inklings. The 2003 legislative election, allegedly rigged to allow Shevardnadze’s party to narrowly defeated Saakashvili’s opposition party sparked the Rose Revolution.
In 2004, Saakashvili was elected President with 96% of the vote. Saakashvili, which has sought to cultivate the image of a young pro-Western (which entails, in this case, pro-American, pro-European and pro-NATO) anti-corruption reformer, has a mixed and controversial record in power. On the overarching issue of corruption, a problem which every Georgian government has faced, while some of Saakashvili’s efforts to curb corruptions were lauded by the international community, at the same time he has been accused of corruption by opponents and foreign observers. His economic policies have freed the business climate in Georgia and have received warm acclaim abroad, but at homes critics point to the high unemployment (16%) and deep poverty in rural Georgia, which has not benefited from his modernization program.
Saakashvili placed his country on the map in 2008 when the Georgian military invaded the breakaway republic of South Ossetia. Since independence, Georgia has had only incomplete control over its territory, with the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – two regions home to ethnic minority groups – causing headaches for every Georgian government. Both of these internationally unrecognized republics are described as Russian puppets (especially South Ossetia); indeed Russia is the sole major international power which has granted recognition to those countries and Moscow has clear interests in both: Abkhazia for its access to the Black Sea and South Ossetia because gas and oil pipelines transit through it.
Saakashvili had already faced a potentially explosive situation in 2004 when Aslan Abashidze, the local pro-Russian strongman of the autonomous region of Adjara in southwestern Georgia, refused to submit to the new Georgian government. He avoided armed confrontation and was able to lead the issue to a peaceful resolution with Abashidze’s resignation. In dealing with the breakaway republics, he had favoured diplomacy until 2008, when he ordered the invasion of Tskhinvali in South Ossetia following border clashes. Georgia’s military was no match for Russia’s military, which quickly pushed back the Georgians. The war ended as a disaster for Saakashvili, with the peace deal signed in August 2008, Georgia lost control of parts of South Ossetia and Abkhazia which had remained under its control.
Saakashvili has faced an often divided but very feisty opposition, which has often resorted to street demonstrations after failing to defeat Saakashvili at the ballot box. While international observers regarded the 2008 presidential and legislative elections as acceptably free and fair, the opposition has accused Saakashvili – perhaps not entirely unjustly – of abuse of power and authoritarianism. It is true that Saakashvili is known for his arrogant, vindictive, erratic and slightly autocratic tendencies and he has not quite transformed his country into a “Western democracy” since 2004 – it still has “partly free” ratings on press freedom, political and civil liberties and the Democracy Index rates it as a “hybrid regime”. His regime faced large protests organized by the opposition in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2012.
The opposition to Saakashvili is extremely heterogeneous and generally noted for its internal squabbling. It unites a wide range of personalities, ranging from supporters of the former regime to right-wingers to left-wingers to nationalists to former allies of Saakashvili (including Nino Burjanadze). A lot of politicians in Georgia have been business tycoons. The 2007 protests were led and organized by Badri Patarkatsishvili and the runner-up in the 2008 election was Levan Gachechiladze, two business tycoons who had large stashes of cash backing them.
The new opposition coalition this year, Georgian Dream, was no different. Georgian Dream is a coalition of different parties, but it is steer-headed by a billionaire, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is a French citizen (he recently relinquished a Russian passport) after being stripped of his Georgian citizenship in 2011, allegedly for breaking dual citizenship laws but probably because he was entering politics. Ivanishvili made most of his money working in Russia, in a wide variety of sectors during the lucrative privatization era in the 1990s.
Georgian Dream is a heterogeneous movement. The Economist noted that “Mr Ivanishvili’s ragtag coalition is united mainly by his own largesse. Its ranks include xenophobes, chauvinists and those nostalgic for the old days, partly constrained by some distinguished pro-Western liberals who fell out with Mr Saakashvili.” The coalition’s platform was terribly vague, Ivanishvili said his sole priority is “happiness for all” and he has promised a wide range of goodies: more jobs, medical coverage, more schools, better pensions and a freer press and judiciary. The governing party – the United National Movement (UNM) – was similarly vague in its policy orientations. Its economic policies do not seem vastly different from those of Ivanishvili’s coalition, which is hardly surprising given that what divides the two parties are personality and power struggles rather than ideological disagreement. On foreign policy, the government promotes itself as pro-Western and pro-NATO, but Ivanishvili similarly supports NATO membership and closer ties with the west – all while also wanting closer ties with Moscow (which has led to Saakashvili accusing him of being a Russian stooge).
The campaign, as all electoral campaigns in Georgia, was very bloody. The two sides lobbed insults at one another, the opposition apparently refers to Saakashvili as “the rat” and has branded him a fascistic tyrant. The turning point during the campaign was the revelation of a video which showed prisoners being tortured and beaten up by prison wardens, the outrage forced a cabinet minister to resign and analysts have said that the outrage allowed Ivanishvili’s opposition coalition to take the lead.
The results were as follows, for the PR and the FPTP seats. Turnout was 59.76%.
Georgian Dream 54.85% PR / 53.42% FPTP winning 83 seats (44 PR, 39 districts)
UNM 40.43% PR / 46.58% FPTP winning 67 seats (33 PR, 34 districts)
Christian Democratic Union 2.05% PR winning 0 seats
Labour 1.24% PR winning 0 seats
New Rights 0.43% PR winning 0 seats
Free Georgia 0.27% PR winning 0 seats
Others 0.72% PR winning 0 seats
The election, largely free and fair, resulted in the defeat of Saakashvili’s party and the historic victory of the opposition. Though Saakashvili originally held out hope that the UNM would be able to win by virtue of the district seats, but he quickly gracefully conceded defeat to the opposition. The opposition was not as gracious in victory, Ivanishvili originally called on Saakashvili to resign before quickly backtracking on that statement. The country enters a funny transition period, Saakashvili will remain President until the October 2013 presidential election while Ivanishvili will become Prime Minister. The new parliamentary-type regime is due to take effect following the October 2013 election, between now and then Ivanishvili and Saakashvili will need to learn to work together. Ivanishvili will also need to learn to accept a strong parliamentary opposition, something which the UNM lacked in the last parliament.
Ivanishvili likely has a tough road ahead of him. His rag-tag coalition is held together in large part by his cash and a mutual hatred of Saakashvili, but they might find it very hard to stick together once in power, similarly to how Saakashvili lost a lot of his original 2004 allies during his presidency. Some will justifiably worry about the type of leader Ivanishvili will turn out to be. Will he continue the imperfect reformist path of Saakashvili or will he go down the road to crony capitalism, entrenching a regime of oligarchs? His platform was unbelievably vague, which means that few know exactly what he wants – besides happiness, a fairer society and a pro-Western foreign policy (all while being more pro-Russian than Saakashvili).
The maps to the right, drawn up by a friend of mine, show the results of the PR and FPTP votes by district. The opposition’s stronghold was the capital, Tbilisi, where it won upwards of 70% of the vote. Tbilisi has traditionally been a stronghold of the anti-Saakashvili opposition, for example in the 2008 election, the capital was one of the three districts which he lost. The opposition is also traditionally strong in a few districts bordering South Ossetia (some of these districts are only partly under Georgian sovereignty).
The UNM’s strongholds correspond to those districts where Saakashvili polled best in the 2008 elections. These include a large block of districts south of Abkhazia, a region with a large Mingrelian (and Svan) population (a Georgian subethnic group); and border regions in the south of the country, including a few districts with Armenian and Azeri majorities.
Regardless of the nature of this election or the country’s future, it is refreshing to see democratic elections of this kind in the former Soviet Union which result in the peaceful transfer of power. At least the voters had a choice, even if this choice is perhaps was not what some would wish it was.
The Republican primary season will now be entering its final stretch, following a primary in Louisiana on March 24 and primaries in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Wisconsin on April 3. At this stage, it seems like the race is start to wrap up. I don’t think there’s any question about the fact that Mitt Romney will eventually be the nominee, but beyond that it seems as if he could come close to officially sealing the deal by the end of this month. The chances of a brokered convention or Romney going into Tampa with less than the absolute majority of delegates seem increasingly distant now.
The reason is that most Republicans are rallying to Mitt Romney as their party’s nominee and moving on to the question of beating Obama in November. Following Romney’s big win in Illinois, he was dealt a big but expected blow in conservative Louisiana, but few people in the GOP establishment seem to have noticed that. Romney’s support has become locked in and he has been gathering new supporters at a rapid pace according to Gallup’s national tracking poll which now has him up to 40%, up about 15 points on Rick Santorum, which remains his main rival. The days of the “flavour of the months” which continued up until late February are definitely over. Romney has taken the lead and is running away with it. A nice portion of the base remains uneasy with him, and he does not have the amount of approval from the wider GOP electorate that John McCain had when he was wrapping it up in 2008. But it is too late, at this point, to block Romney bar a major event which would turn the campaign on its head.
The four most recent primaries were, as aforementioned, Louisiana (April 24), Maryland-DC and Wisconsin (April 3).
Louisiana is a Deep South state, very conservative and solidly Republican (at least at a presidential level). But its demographics are a bit different from those found in Alabama or Mississippi. Louisiana has an added French Catholic (Cajun) element which contributes at least 35% or so of the GOP primary electorate, obviously way bigger than the Catholic vote in either Alabama or Mississippi. Mike Huckabee had narrowly won Louisiana in 2008, but it was entirely on the back of his strong base of support with fellow non-Cajun Protestant Evangelicals in northern Louisiana, because John McCain swept Acadiana and won the Catholic vote by a whooping 27-point margin. Santorum has performed poorly with Catholic GOP voters thus far, despite being a (very conservative) Catholic himself. That being said, the Cajun element in Louisiana is definitely not the same type of Catholicism than that found in, say, Ohio’s Catholic working-class urban areas, which favoured Romney.
Romney did not put much of an effort into Louisiana, while Santorum did put some effort. Newt Gingrich will run for President until he drops dead a few years from now, so Louisiana wasn’t a “last stand” for him, because Gingrich is just trolling by now.
Rick Santorum 48.99%
Mitt Romney 26.69%
Newt Gingrich 15.91%
Ron Paul 6.15%
Buddy Roemer 1.18%
Looking through exit polls, Santorum’s support broke most income, age, sex and demographic categories. He won all age groups, doing best with young and middle-aged voters. He won all income levels except the top 11% (!) making $200k or more – Romney’s core group of support in any state which went for Mitt 43-24. Santorum did best (65%) with the bottom 11% who make less than $30k. In religious terms, 61% of voters were Evangelicals, and they broke heavily for Santorum (55-20) who lost the non-Evangelicals by one point. Santorum won Protestants convincingly (53-25) and won Catholics, who made up 36% of the electorate, albeit by a narrower 16 point margin (46-30).
Those who were ‘very conservative’ (49% of voters) chose Santorum by 30 point spread (53-23) over Romney, who still lost his core ‘somewhat conservative’ base and moderates (23%). Romney still dominated with those voters who feel that a candidate’s ability to beat Obama is the top quality – he won them by 20 (50-30). These voters, always a plurality in almost every state with about 40% or so voters, have become a solid demographic for Romney.
Romney won only a single parish in Louisiana – heavily Democratic and largely black Orleans Parish, which covers New Orleans and some of its more affluent white suburbs. He won 43.6% to Santorum’s 28.5% there, but Orleans Parish only contributed 7.8k voters to the GOP primary, compared to 18.7k and 17.4k in suburban/exurban Jefferson and St. Tammany Parishes. Romney ran fairly decently in East Baton Rouge, taking 29.5% to Santorum’s 45.6% but also in the pro-establishment lowland counties along the Mississippi River (which have large black populations, but wealthy white business owners). He lost Caddo Parish (Shreveport) 28% to 50.5%.
Louisiana does not really have lots of affluent suburban voters, and what it does have in suburbs – although fairly well-off and heavily white – are of the Southern, white-flight influenced suburban/exurban variety. Predictably, Romney was a poor fit for these areas in Louisiana. He lost Jefferson Parish, home to most of New Orleans’ conservative white suburbanites, with 31.7% to Santorum’s 44%. He lost St. Tammany Parish, home to some very conservative New Orleans exurbia across the lake with 27.7% against 47% for Santorum.
Rick Santorum won by fairly strong margins in southern Louisiana’s Cajun country (Acadiana) though Romney pulled a few respectable showings in a handful of parishes (as did Newt Gingrich). However, in heavily Evangelical and conservative rural northern Louisiana, Romney was swept out of the water by Santorum. Romney didn’t even break 20% in a handful of these parishes, which had been David Duke’s strongest base of support in that famous 1991 gubernatorial runoff against Edwin Edwards. Santorum won 61% to Romney’s 18% in La Salle Parish, (in)famous for the city of Jena.
Newt Gingrich did extremely badly in Louisiana, winning only 16% in a state which should naturally have given him a bit more support. It definitely appears as if most of Gingrich’s “potential” support coalesced around Santorum, as is happening with most anti-Romney conservatives in other states.
Maryland and D.C.
Maryland (and D.C. which has like no Republicans) was always favourable territory for Mitt Romney. The Republicans in Maryland, save those on the Eastern Shore and the Panhandle, tend to affluent white suburbanites and overall quite moderate. Santorum did not put much effort in the state. As for Washington DC, the few Republicans (when I say few, I mean really few) it has are moderate, white and wealthy. Rick Santorum wasn’t even on the ballot in DC.
Mitt Romney 49.18%
Rick Santorum 28.88%
Newt Gingrich 10.92%
Ron Paul 9.5%
Mitt Romney 70.20%
Ron Paul 12.01%
Newt Gingrich 10.77%
Jon Huntsman 7.02%
Maryland was, as predicted, a huge Romney win though he ultimately fell just a bit short of winning over 50% of the vote. In terms of exit polls, Romney won big with all those aged over 45, and lost more narrowly to Santorum with the voters aged below 45. Naturally, he found his strongest support from the wealthiest 11% who make over $200k, where he won a staggering 64% to Santorum’s 16%. He did well with other middle and upper-middle class voters. The reasons for Romney’s landslide in Maryland are apparent looking only at exit poll crosstabs: only 7% of voters earned under $30k, but a full 48% of voters made over $100k which is, I believe, their largest share in any state which has voted thus far (though New York and New Jersey might beat that). Evangelicals made up only 38% of the electorate, and Romney even won those voters (although by only 2, 41-39).
30% of voters were “very conservative”, and though those guys favoured Santorum 42-39 over Romney (a strong performance by Romney, still), Romney owned (58%) with “somewhat conservative” voters and with moderates (48%). 41% felt that a candidate’s ability to defeat Obama was the most important candidate quality, with these voters Romney took 72% to Santorum’s tiny 13%.
Rick Santorum won only two counties: Garrett County, deep in the conservative Panhandle (and closer to WV or than to the bulk of Maryland) and Somerset County, a rural county on the fairly conservative Eastern Shore. He did not even do all that well in the conservative blue-collar areas of the Panhandle, losing Allegany County (41.6-35.9), and in good part performed fairly atrociously on the Eastern Shore which, at least in the past, had some culturally Southern elements to it. It has likely come under Baltimore’s exurban influence in parts, while other areas have grown affluent with wealthy residents moving in to coastal properties.
Mitt Romney’s base was, naturally, the moderate, suburban and affluent corridor between DC and Baltimore. Though he took ‘only’ 44.5% and 45.8% in Baltimore City and Prince George County (both of which are heavily Democratic), Romney won by much larger margin in the truly suburban affluent counties. He won 50.4% in Baltimore County, 54% in Anne Arundel County (Annapolis), 54.6% in Howard County and 59.8% in Montgomery County (suburban DC) – all four of them tend to be fairly moderate but extremely affluent suburban counties (though Baltimore County has lower-income areas and exurbs). He also won 59.9% in Talbot County, on the Eastern Shore. Rick Santorum raked in more respectable performances, however, in the more conservative exurban counties surrounding Baltimore including Carroll County (41.9-34.3), Harford County (46.4-28.7) and Frederick County (44.2-32.4).
In the District of Columbia, only a bit over 4000 Republicans came out (against 53,000 Democrats) in this black-majority and solidly Democratic city. The Republicans in DC being largely white and affluent (in wealthy neighborhoods such as Spring Valley), they voted overwhelmingly for Romney. Nonetheless, sign perhaps of the very moderate-to-liberal nature of DC Republicans, 7% of DC Republicans cast their ballots for Jon Huntsman – who has been out of the race for over two months now.
Wisconsin was the big fight on April 3. Polls there pre-Illinois had shown Santorum leading Romney by large margins in the state, but Illinois seems to have been a pretty decisive moment as it convinced a lot of voters of Romney’s inevitability. Wisconsin is not quite identical to Illinois or Ohio, but generally fairly similar. Its suburbs are not as moderate or affluent as Chicagoland and its rural areas largely lack a culturally Southern element (obviously). It does have a sizable Evangelical minority which turns out in Republican primaries, but unlike in the South they do not form anywhere near a majority of voters. Wisconsin is thus more pro-Santorum than Illinois ever was, but slightly less pro-Santorum than Ohio. Romney took the lead in Wisconsin post-IL, leading by fairly comfortable margins in every poll.
Mitt Romney 44.08%
Rick Santorum 36.85%
Ron Paul 11.18%
Newt Gingrich 5.84%
Romney dominated almost all demographics in Wisconsin. He won all age groups save those aged 40-49, once again performing best with the quarter or so of voters aged over 65% (53% for Mitt). He won all income categories except for the poorest 13% of voters making under $30k – they voted for Santorum 39-36. He won those making over $200k with 59%, and won those making between $100k and $200k with 52%. 38% of voters were Evangelical, but Santorum won them by only 5 percentage points while losing the non-Evangelical majority by a much wider 47-33 margin. Once again, Santorum also lost his correligionists (Catholics, 37% of the electorate) taking 35% to Romney’s 48%. He even lost Catholics who attend church weekly, although by only one point. He did better with Protestants overall, losing them by 5.
Wisconsin’s GOP electorate was unusually moderate or liberal in their self-identification: 39% were moderates or liberals. That might be because Democrats made up 11% of the GOP primary electorate in this open primary, and obviously they went overwhelmingly for Santorum (44-24). Santorum lost independents, 30% of the electorate, by four points. As a result, he only lost moderates by three points (33 vs. 36). Most surprisingly, he lost the 32% identifying as ‘very conservative’ by one point to Mitt (43 vs. 44) who dominated with somewhat conservative voters (55 vs. 36). 38% of voters identified the ability to beat Obama as the most important candidate quality. Unsurprisingly, they went big for Romney: 68-22. A margin, when complemented with his traditional domination in the ‘right experience’ category more than makes up for his terrible showings in the ‘true conservative’ and ‘strong moral character’ categories. 80% of voters think Romney will win the nomination. Though 43% feel that Romney’s political positions are not conservative enough, only 31% would not be satisfied if he wins the nomination.
Mitt Romney’s core base of support in Wisconsin, was, like in every other state, the suburbs – which cast a bit over half of the votes in this primary. Milwaukee’s suburbs, a lot of which lie in Waukesha County, tend to be much more conservative than Chicagoland’s affluent moderate centrist suburbia. The suburban belt around Milwaukee, save for Racine and Kenosha (two blue-collar Democratic strongholds) tend to be the most solidly Republican area in the state, voting for McCain over Obama in 2008 (or preferring McCarthy over LaFolette in that famous 1946 GOP primary). Milwaukee’s suburbia, with a few exceptions, is also not as wealthy as some of Chicagoland’s affluent suburbs in Lake and DuPage counties or Detroit’s Oakland County suburbs. In a general election, they certainly form a stark contrast with poor inner-city areas of Milwaukee County or liberal Dane County (Madison). A more religious population and a large German Catholic population are the main causes for the conservatism of Milwaukee suburbs, similar to the conservatism of Minneapolis’ suburbs in Minnesota.
Despite their conservatism, Milwaukee’s suburbs largely prefered Romney over Santorum. Santorum has not performed extremely well in upper middle-class suburbs, even if they are conservative, in primary states north of the Mason-Dixon line. His base is far more rural, blue-collar and Evangelical. At any rate, Romney won the Milwaukee suburbs with results even more impressive than his results in Chicagoland or his native Oakland County. He won 51.9% to Santorum’s 31.9% in Milwaukee County, but in Waukesha County (almost as important as Milwaukee County in raw vote terms) he won a staggering 61.5% to Santorum’s 28.6%. He also won other suburban counties in southeastern Wisconsin by large margins: Ozaukee County (61-27.3), Washington County (54.7-34.7), Walworth County (51.7-30.4), Racine County (54.1-31.7) and Kenosha County (49.8-31.1). These counties were by far Romney’s strongest performances, though he won big in remote rural Vilas County (48.6-29.6) – probably because of the cottages and lake homes on the lakes (Romney loves the lakes, remember) – and did well in the Door Peninsula (Door County, 43.7-36.2).
Mitt Romney narrowly won very liberal Dane County (Madison), with 37.5% to Santorum’s 36.2%, which is a much narrower margin than we could have expected. On the other hand, however, liberal white-collar Dane County is likely filled with those Democrats who voted in the GOP primary to fool around as part of the infamous ‘Operation Backdoor’. Romney and Santorum both performed fairly well, though Santorum a tad better, in the largely Democratic areas of southwestern Wisconsin which are largely Scandinavian in ancestry.
Romney did poorly in most mid-sized cities in the state, besides Winnebago County (Oshkosh) which he won with 39.7%. Rick Santorum surprisingly performed well in the largely Belgian (and Catholic) city of Green Bay (Brown County, 43.7-36.8 for Santorum) and neighboring5 heavily Belgian Kewaunee County (52-31). Santorum otherwise won Outagamie County (Appleton, 40.7-31.7), Fond du Lac County (Fond du Lac, 42.2-41.2), Chippewa County (Eau Claire, 39.4-36.1), La Crosse County (37.9-35.9), St. Croix County (Twin Cities exurbia, 42.2-35.8) and working-class Douglas County (Superior, 44.9-33.4). A lot of these areas are fairly working-class, and a lot tend to be fairly conservative.
Santorum performed best in a string of inland couties in northern Wisconsin, between Lake Michigan and the Minnesota border, a region which is quite Evangelical, fairly low-income and working-class (the Fox River Valley’s mills) and which had given Mike Huckabee a few solid wins in 2008 when he had lost the WI primary by nearly 18 points to John McCain.
As in Illinois, it appears as if Romney owes his victory more to the fact that he mobilized his voters very well rather than any major breakthrough in categories where he was particularly weak (though his victory with ‘very conservative’ voters is surprising and interesting). Despite the inevitability which surrounds his eventual nomination, he still won the state with a fairly anemic 44% (McCain had won it with 55%, despite, it is true, the race being almost over and two-man contest with Huckabee). A good portion of voters, who probably have resigned themselves to Romney’s victory, still voted for Santorum or the the two other also-rans.
The next contests are on April 24 in delegate-rich New York, Santorum’s home turf of Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Delaware. New York, which has 95 total delegates, will be a very big prize for Romney who will win New York in a landslide. Connecticut and Rhode Island will probably go in his direction by a large margin as well. Pennsylvania will be the most seriously contested state, and could prove to be Santorum’s final stand if he loses his home state. Santorum is going to fight to the last man in Pennsylvania, where he has a clear favourite-son advantage but one which is getting eaten into by Romney’s momentum and the Mittens treasury which will likely shower the state with ads. If Santorum wins his home state, it will not be a game-changer for him as it will not be enough for him to miraculously regain viability, but it would guarantee that he stays in the race for a while longer. If he loses his home state, he could be forced to withdraw earlier than he would wish to. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich will not be a significant presence in any of these five states.
The race for the Republican nomination moved to Puerto Rico on March 18 and then Illinois on March 20 following last week’s primaries in Alabama, Mississippi and Hawaii. The race is now entering a slower period after the half-way mark, as the rhythm of primaries slows down a bit. Four states vote on April 3, but then the next five primaries are only on April 24. The race is also in a kind of weird situation, where there is a clear frontrunner – Mitt Romney – who is quasi-certain to win the nomination – but who does not yet have the 1144 delegates needed to grasp the nomination (he has over 550 or s0) and faces resilient rivals who will not back out of the race until it is mathematically impossible for them to deny Romney 50%+1 of the delegates. Romney could only be shaken off his pedestal at this point by game-changing loses to Rick Santorum – who is clearly his only serious rival at this point – in big states such as Illinois.
Rick Santorum did not get much of a boost out of Alabama and Mississippi. It seems as if the race has stabilized at a point where the allegiances of GOP primary voters are becoming locked in, with a net plurality of voters solidly behind Romney and a sizable minority backing Santorum with Gingrich and Paul reduced their rump of supporters in the 8-12% range nationally. Illinois would have been one of those game-changers that Santorum needed in order to shake Romney off the top spot, but instead he chose to quixotically chase votes around in Puerto Rico. Of course, it seems as if Santorum’s point of going to PR was more to rest a bit on a beach, but in the process he hurt his chances in Illinois and got nowhere in PR itself after suggesting that Puerto Ricans seeking statehood should learn English (he later backpedaled on that statement a bit). The results in Puerto Rico certainly proves that Santorum wasted his time on the island:
Mitt Romney 82.88%
Rick Santorum 8.02%
Buddy Roemer 2.21%
Newt Gingrich 2.05%
Fred Karger 1.43%
Ron Paul 1.22%
Mitt Romney won a blowout in Puerto Rico, which netted him 20 delegates and cost his rival, who chased around 8% of the vote, precious campaign time in Illinois. It is hard to know much about Puerto Rico’s Republican primaries, given that there is no real Republican party on the island but rather politicians and members from the main pro-statehood party, the PNP – such as Governor Luis Fortuño – who affiliate nationally with the Republican Party. Turnout was only 118k votes, about 5.8% of the island’s electorate and way below the turnout in the 2008 Democratic primary. The main political debate in Puerto Rico is that of statehood, which is up for a vote this November, and the PR Republicans usually tend to be heavily pro-statehood (the Democrats are split, given that some PNP members are Democrats). Rick Santorum of course injected himself into that debate, while Romney aptly avoided getting into it too much and relied heavily on the backing of the island’s Republican/PNP Governor, Luis Fortuño.
Puerto Rican GOP primaries have tended to be biased hugely in favour of the establishment candidates in the past, who have usually taken in 85-90% of the vote. Based on that record, it should have been clear that Romney was headed for a blowout win in Puerto Rico. It has also been said that some Puerto Ricans voted for Romney as a proxy for statehood, believing that their best hope for statehood lies with a President Romney and a re-elected Governor Fortuño in November.
Rick Santorum did not double-down on Illinois has he had on Michigan and Ohio. He kind of conceded defeat to Romney there, realizing that the state was favourable to Romney, that Romney would outspend him by a landslide margin and that he did not really have the time to campaign there in a way to destroy Romney’s natural advantage there. Illinois is a Midwestern state, but it is quite unlike Michigan and Ohio which were both more favourable to Santorum than Illinois. Most importantly, Illinois – especially Chicagoland – has way more affluent suburbs than either of those two states. Chicagoland’s moderate, white-collar and very affluent suburbs lock in a majority of the state’s votes and electoral powerhouses like Cook, Lake or DuPage counties would be Romney strongholds just like Oakland County in Michigan. On the other hand, Illinois does have a pretty sizable conservative, Evangelical voting bloc which is more Southern than Midwestern but despite forming, geographically, a good part of the state those regions of Southern Illinois only account for a much smaller minority of the GOP primary electorate. The results in Illinois were:
Mitt Romney 46.71%
Rick Santorum 35.02%
Ron Paul 9.32%
Newt Gingrich 7.96%
Mitt Romney won a decisive victory in Illinois, probably the first time in a long time where we can clearly say that Romney unambiguously had a good night. He won Illinois by nearly 12 percentage points over Rick Santorum. This nets him a good 40 or so delegates, and the Romney campaign is all about piling up delegates at this point. His delegate edge at this point is pretty unsurmountable and the only way in which Romney could still be stopped was if his rivals accumulated enough wins to hold him below the magic 1144 number. Of course, doing that would require denying Romney a win in his final firewall states – the big states using WTA (or WTA-by-CD) allocation which will grant him big margins near the end of the nominating contest. At the same time, the states which are less favourable to Romney – including the big state of Texas – use proportional allocation rules which would still give Romney a nice catch even if he loses, in a scenario resembling what happened last week in Alabama and Mississippi where Santorum’s popular vote wins only gave him a miniscule boost in total delegate percentage.
Some have said that Illinois might be a game-changer for Romney, the victory which gives him a burst of momentum and which rallies the remainder of the party to his ship as that of the eventual nominee. However, Romney’s core weakness with a vocal and sizable minority of the conservative base has certainly not been erased by Illinois and it is doubtful that they can be convinced to rally around the Mitt flag just because he won Illinois. On top of that, Romney’s rival(s) are resilient. Ron Paul is quietly accumulating his fabled ‘ninja delegates’ through his organization’s unmatchable knowledge and manipulation of the arcane state nominating rules. Newt Gingrich is a dictionary definition of quixotic persistence in face of tremendous odds and at this point it is hard to see him drop out despite his campaign being totally irrelevant. At this point Gingrich will not drop out until the 2016 election. Finally, Rick Santorum – Romney’s only serious opponent at this juncture – is determined to fight this fight until to the last man, the last state. He has shown no exhaustion or eagerness to drop out and hand Romney the nomination on a silver platter. His underdog campaign against Mitt’s money machine still speaks to the conservative base of the GOP which harbours a deep-seated suspicion of the former Massachussetts governor as a moderate who cannot be trusted. He maintains that Romney’s delegate lead is not as big as the media outlets report, which is probably true, but at the same time Santorum’s campaign is not really strong enough to toy around the arcane delegate rules like the Paul team is.
Exit Poll Analysis
The usual patterns showed up clearly in Illinois. Older voters were the most likely to back Romney, though he won all age groups. He took 41% to Santorum’s 36% with those aged 18 to 29 but trounced Santorum 49-32 with those who are aged over 65, a ground which constituted 24% of the electorate against only 8% for the 18-29 group. Income, of course, proved the other top indicator of Romney strength following a graduated scale. While Romney lost the bottom 10% (those who earn less than $30k) 37 against 45 to Santorum, he won the 28% earning between $100 and $200k with 55% to Santorum’s 30% and carried the wealthiest 10% (those earning over $200k) with 57% against only 27% for Santorum.
Evangelicals accounted for 42% of the electorate, and they backed Santorum with 46% to Romney’s 39%. Those who were not Evangelicals backed Romney by a huge 54-26 margin over Santorum. Once again, the Catholic Santorum lost the Catholic vote (35%) to Santorum by a 53-30 margin and did better with Protestants – losing 38 to 45. Interestingly, Santorum also lost weekly church-attending Catholics to Romney by a whole 9 points (48-39) while winning weekly church-attending Protestants 42-39. He lost Catholics who do not attend church weekly 57-21 to Romney. Catholic Republicans, as previously mentioned in our discussion of Ohio on Super Tuesday, nowadays tend to be rather moderate conservatives who live predominantly middle-class lifestyles in urban or suburban areas (this is especially true in Illinois) and usually support the establishment candidate. They don’t attach any particular political significance to their faith and they don’t have anything against Romney and probably don’t care much for a social conservative insurgent candidate like Santorum.
64% of voters were conservatives against 36% who were moderates or liberals. Conservatives overall backed Romney 47-39, while moderates backed him by a much wider 48-27 margin over Santorum. Mitt Romney still lost the 29% who were ‘very conservative’ by 11 points, 48-37 in Santorum’s favour.
Romney trounced 52-31 with the 59% who said the economy was their top preoccupation and won the 25% who said the budget deficit was their top preoccupation 53-29 over Santorum. His lead over his rivals with the 36% who said the ability to beat Obama was the top candidate quality was larger than anything we’ve seen before. He won them 74-17 over Santorum. At the same time, however, he only took 11% with those who said being a true conservative was the top quality and 18% with those who thought a candidate with a strong moral character was the top quality.
As previously noted, Cook County and the Chicagoland suburban ‘Collar Counties’ (Lake, DuPage, Will, McHenry, Kane, Kanakee and Kendall counties) contribute over half of the total statewide vote. According to the CNN exit poll, Chicago (5%), the Cook County suburbs (16%) and the Collar Counties (34%) combined for 55% of the GOP primary vote on March 20. Cook County is less important in GOP primaries than in either Democratic primaries or the general election, because Chicago is so heavily Democratic and contributes so little to the total GOP base in the state. Cook County does include some Republican-voting suburban areas such as Kenilworth or Winnetka, which tend to be much more affluent than the county as a whole. However, Chicagoland’s Collar Counties, historical Republican strongholds but increasingly purple swing areas, are affluent (especially Lake and DuPage counties) and more socially moderate than the rural Illinoian GOP counties. In the 2010 gubernatorial primary, the eventual winner of the extremely fragmented field, the ultra-conservative Bill Brady, did extremely poorly in the Collar Counties (5-8%) while winning statewide with 20.3%. It is a naturally favourable base for Mitt Romney and the main explanation for his built-in advantage in the state.
Romney easily carried Cook County (Chicago) with 56.9% to Santorum’s 26.5%. In inner suburban Lake and DuPage counties, home to some very affluent suburbs (some of which are rather liberal, like Highland Park), Romney won by similarly huge margins. He took Lake County 56-28 and won DuPage 54-28. He carried Will County, taking in the less affluent Chicago Southland white suburbs, with 49.3% against 33% for Santorum. Decisively, Mitt Romney also carried the fairly affluent but more high-growth exurban and socially conservative outer collar counties including Kane County (49-32.5), McHenry County (47-32), Kendall County (44.5-36) and Kanakee County (43-39). He even carried the more further out northern Illinois counties including DeKalb, LaSalle and Livingstone counties which are more rural but rapidly evolving counties. Mitt Romney certainly did exceed expectations in exurban conservative Kane and McHenry counties, and that explains why he won by the margin he did – given that, as we’ll see, his downstate performance wasn’t anything to write home about.
Mitt Romney also pulled off some fairly key wins in some of the more industrial towns in central Illinois which should have voted for Santorum if he had been to win the state. Mitt Romney does well in urban areas, but some of central Illinois’ urban areas are more blue-collar and fairly conservative, thus one would imagine more inclined towards Rick Santorum. Romney carried Peoria County (Peoria) with a decisive 46.6% to 37.5%. He also prevailed in Winnebago County (Rockford, in northern IL) 42-37, Macon County (Decatur) 45-32, McLean County (Bloomington) 42-38 and Sangamon County (Springfield) 48-33. He did, quite interestingly, lose working-class Rock Island County (Moline) 46-38 to Santorum. In 2008, Romney had carried two counties in the whole state against McCain: Rock Island and next-door Henry County – perhaps because they are in the Davenport, IA media market. He lost both this year. Romney carried the college town of Champaign (Champaign County) 43-34 with Ron Paul taking 13%. The university likely contributed little votes if any given the spring break.
If the primary had been fought in 1852, Rick Santorum would have prevailed. Indeed, he won most of rural small-town Illinois and won by huge margins in Southern Illinois. Santorum won the Midwestern-like and less Evangelical rural counties of northern Illinois, areas where we could have expected Romney to win, although Santorum only won them by a fairly narrow-ish margin overall.
His victory, however, in rural Southern Illinois left no doubt. Southern Illinois is in a good number of ways more similar to Kentucky or southern Missouri than it is to Wisconsin, Iowa or Minnesota. It was settled by Southerners, for a long time retained an economy more typical of the South than of the north and to this day remains a working-class, socially conservative area with a sizable Baptist population for a northern state and an even larger proportion of Evangelicals. This is where Romney finds his toughest crowds, the base which is still wary of Romney despite the narrative about him as the frontrunner and eventual nominee. Mitt Romney failed to break 30% and Santorum broke 45 and even 50% in the vast majority of the counties in the south of the state.
There is a fairly clear north-south divide when you map out Mitt Romney’s performance by county. He did as poorly in these rural conservative areas of southern Illinois as he did in parts of Alabama or Ohio. This still does not portend well for his chances in Louisiana’s primary on Saturday March 24. Romney carried a single county in southern Illinois, traditionally Democratic St. Clair County (fairly working-class despite being suburban) with 42.5% against 41% for Santorum. Santorum carried next-door Madison County (43-38) and Jackson County (Carbondale) 43-37. Romney might have exceeded our expectations in exurban Chicagoland, but he didn’t exceed expectations in conservative rural Illinois for sure. Romney by maximizing his natural base (through heavy ad spending and campaigning in the Chicago media market), not by converting hostile voters in the areas where he still struggles. Santorum exceeded our expectations in southern Illinois, where he dominated by an even larger margin than previously assumed. The main reason is Gingrich’s collapse in Illinois, taking just 8% compared to 15% in Ohio on March 6 (performing best in Santorum-favourable counties). Gingrich’s electorate of sorts in southern Illinois clearly decamped towards Santorum.
The bad news for Santorum in all this is that southern Illinois’ conservative counties carry nowhere close to the weight of the Collar Counties. Illinois is way different from either Michigan and Ohio, and even if Illinois has that clearly Southern element which Michigan lacks entirely and which Ohio has little has, that Southern element in Illinois is minimal even in a statewide GOP primary unless the field is so divided as in the 2010 gubernatorial primary that it allows the conservative candidate of the rural areas to squeak in.
Mitt Romney, I repeat, will be the nominee. He can’t be stopped at this point bar some unexpected massive game-changer or a dead baby in his closet. His delegate lead is quite impressive even if it is probably true that it is not quite as big as the media projections make it out to be. Yet, the delegate allocation rules in the remaining states (all primaries, so no caucus shenanigans) favour Romney in a way or another and it would be impossible for him to be overtaken outright in the delegate count and unlikely for him to ultimately fall short of the 1144 threshold even if it may still take some work on his part to get there. The question will be whether or not a rather protracted nomination fight will have hurt Romney and still left him without the full support of the party’s right.
At any rate, the next contest is on March 24 (Saturday) in Louisiana. The conventional wisdom is that Louisiana being a very conservative state in the South, Santorum should win easily especially given that Gingrich’s campaign has turned into an irrelevant footnote. However, Louisiana brings one additional factor into the equation which few observers have considered. Louisiana is not quite a pure Southern state because southern Louisiana (Acadiana) was settled by and retains a large French (Cajun) Catholic presence which is not Evangelical though still conservative in a way which blends it in increasingly with traditional Baptist northern Louisiana. Yet, even a basic look into Louisiana’s voting patterns will reveal key distinctions between Acadiana’s French Catholics and the more traditionally Southern Baptists found in the rest of state. Santorum has done poorly with Catholics (though not, let us point out, with Catholics in rural areas) and in 2008, McCain easily won French Catholics in Louisiana despite losing the state by 2 points to Mike Huckabee. Romney, however, does not quite match McCain’s 2008 base in the South and Santorum, as a conservative Catholic, could easily exceed the performance of the Baptist Huckabee with conservative French Catholics in Acadiana.
The 2012 Republican primary season did not wrap up on Super Tuesday, held on March 6, and it will probably not wrap up for quite some time. What I like to compare to a good TV show left the Super Tuesday states to move on to Dixie Tuesday on March 13, when Alabama, Mississippi, Hawaii and American Samoa voted. Between those two airings, however, some of the characters featured in some side-shows featuring contests in Kansas and three insular territories (Guam, the US Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) on March 10.
Super Tuesday had ended up being fairly favourable to the frontrunner/presumptive nominee of sorts, Mitt Romney, who took six of the ten states which held nominating events on that day, including the crucial state of Ohio. But at the same time, his weak performance in states like Tennessee and Oklahoma and the nature of his win in Ohio only reinforced the narrative about Romney’s flagrant weaknesses with the conservative (largely Southern) base of the party. He is a frontrunner, but a pathetically weak one at that, and one who can’t score knockout blows even with the most formidable warchest of cash of all the candidates. Rick Santorum came out of Super Tuesday like he came in: not particularly strong, not particularly weak but with a still strong profile as the main conservative opponent to Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, won the right to continue a serious campaign after he was able to win his homestate of Georgia in a landslide – but it was his only success of the night.
The next steps on the calendar didn’t play to Romney’s strengths: a Saturday caucus in Kansas and two primaries in Alabama and Mississippi – the buckle of the Bible Belt, the heart(s) of Dixie. Only the insular contests in Hawaii plus the tiny but disproportionately important US dependencies of Guam, the USVI, the Northern Marianas and American Samoa seemed to favour Romney.
Alabama and Missisippi were, of course, the most important contests out of the flurry of contests held in the past week. Their demographics, as relatively low-income, very conservative, Southern states were very unfavourable to Mitt Romney who has a big ‘Southern problem’ or at even ‘conservative problem’. These are states where, according to PPP, nearly half or over half of the GOP electorate thinks Obama is Muslim and where a sizable minority are opposed to interracial marriage.
However, Alabama and Mississippi’s anti-Romney vote was bound to be seriously divided between Southern native son but increasingly irrelevant Newt Gingrich and conservative but Yankee Rick Santorum. Gingrich doubled-down on Alabama and Missisippi, which, although he won’t admit it, were basically make or break for him, his last chance to prove himself and his Southern strategy. Rick Santorum has proven that he can win big with Midwestern conservatives, but his appeal to the South has thus far been limited to the more populist Republicans of the Upland South (Tennessee as a good example) and up until this point he had not really proven himself to be a serious contender in the Deep South – but perhaps that was because the two Deep South states which have voted – South Carolina and Georgia – did so in ‘special circumstances’ – SC before his surge 2.0 and Georgia was Newt’s home state.
The fact is that the Gingrich-Santorum fight for conservative prominence in Alabama and Mississippi was so evenly divided that Romney stood a real chance at creeping up the middle to win in Alabama and/or Mississippi, which would have been based on artificial grounds but which, in the media narrative, would have been a serious boost to Romney (along the lines of ‘Romney finally breaks through in South’). A Rasmussen poll showed him up 7 in Mississippi, while PPP had him up 1 in Alabama and down 2 to Gingrich in Mississippi. The Santorum camp seemed to have resigned on both states somewhat, given that no poll showed Santorum ahead in either though he did stand a fighting chance in both states.
Kansas and the Islands (March 10) caucuses
Rick Santorum 51.21%
Mitt Romney 20.93%
Newt Gingrich 14.40%
Ron Paul 12.62%
Mitt Romney is reported to have won all 9 delegates with 83% in a straw poll
Mitt Romney 87.26%
Rick Santorum 6.25%
Ron Paul 3.30%
Newt Gingrich 3.18%
US Virgin Islands
Ron Paul 29.17%
Mitt Romney 26.30%
Rick Santorum 5.99%
Newt Gingrich 4.69%
Rick Santorum easily won Kansas. It carried all the factors which favoured him: a Midwestern state, a caucus state and a very socially conservative state. Kansas’ caucus-goers have usually tended, especially in recent years, to favour social conservative insurgents rather than more moderate establishment candidates. In 2008, Mike Huckabee trounced opposition with nearly 60% of the vote in the Kansas caucuses despite John McCain having the nomination basically wrapped up by that point. Mitt Romney, who finds himself in a position and profile similar to McCain in 2008 (albeit far weaker), understood that and totally ignored the contest in Kansas. In fact, he put more effort in Guam’s territorial caucus than in Kansas, which did not go down well with KS GOP voters. Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, despite ignoring the state, did perform relatively well taking in 14.4% of the vote.
Rick Santorum won all but one county in Kansas (the gray counties did not hold caucuses: voters could caucus at any location within their congressional district). He won all of the state’s major areas, including regions which are of favourable nature to Mitt Romney. He won 59% in Wyandotte County (Kansas City), but the GOP base in that heavily Democratic inner-city county is minimal. He otherwise won 50.2% to Romney’s 23.7% in Shawnee County (Topeka), 38.5% to 28.2% in Riley County (Manhattan) and 51.5% to 21.2% in Saline County (Salina). He romped in Sedgwick County, home to the blue-collar city of Witchita (which has a large aviation, oil and gas sector), taking in 56.2% of the vote against 18% for Ron Paul and a pathetic distant third for Romney (13.4%). He even performed very strongly in Johnson County, where most Kansas Republicans live and a generally fairly moderate, affluent and suburban county to the south of Kansas City including growing suburbs such as Overland Park and Olathe. This is, of course, supposed to be favourable terrain for Romney, who has thus far usually performed best in these kinds of moderate, suburban and affluent areas. He did perform strongly, taking 30.1%, but Santorum won 47.1% of the vote. The only county which Romney won is tiny, rural Lane County in sparsely populated west Kansas. For all we know, there might be a Mormon family there.
Mitt Romney won the Pacific territorial caucuses with no contest. In Guam, where he sent his son Matt to campaign for him, he won all 9 delegates with only some 200 voters showing up (out of 159k inhabitants). In the Northern Marianas, he won 87.3% in a straw poll and took 9 delegates with only 848 voters showing up (out of 53.8k inhabitants). Surprisingly, Romney’s organization in the Caribbean territory of the US Virgin Islands was unusually terrible (the islands are heavily black and the local GOP is unorganized). Uncommitted won the most votes, with Ron Paul in second. However, by some quirk in the delegate allocation, Romney still walks out with 7/9 delegates from the USVI – 7 delegates won with only 101 votes!
Dixie Tuesday, Hawaii and American Samoa (March 13)
Rick Santorum 34.51%
Newt Gingrich 29.30%
Mitt Romney 28.99%
Ron Paul 4.97%
Rick Santorum 32.77%
Newt Gingrich 31.18%
Mitt Romney 30.59%
Ron Paul 4.40%
Mitt Romney 45.38%
Rick Santorum 25.30%
Ron Paul 18.28%
Newt Gingrich 11.04%
Mitt Romney is reported to have won all 9 delegates with no details of a straw poll
The polls which had shown Romney up in Alabama and Missisippi always sounded a bit strange to me, and, simply put, I refused to buy into a Romney victory in either state until I saw it. In both cases, I was correct, given that Romney placed third – though a fairly solid third – in both states. Mitt Romney did still win his two strongest showings to date in a Southern contest (Mississippi is the first Southern state where he has broken 30% – and, no, Florida isn’t Southern), and Newt Gingrich did win rather strong results.
Romney had kind of conceded that winning these two states would be hard, but his machine – especially his infamous SuperPAC, dumped tons of cash into both states and ended up outspending Santorum by the same 5-to-1 margin he outspent him in Ohio (which Romney narrowly won on March 6). Santorum was also outspent by Gingrich, who had put a lot of campaign efforts into Alabama and Mississippi, the core states for the success of his Southern Strategy. Romney’s inability to win in AL/MS despite another moneybomb in those two states reveal how important his conservative or Southern problem is. The base of the party, or at the very least the ‘very conservative’ voters who make up a good third of the party, are still either opposed to Romney or reluctant to support him.
Mitt Romney probably wouldn’t have cared too much about a Gingrich win in both states, which seemed like a fairly reasonable proposition going into election day. Gingrich, as a purely sectional candidate at this point, could not have used victories in either AL or MS to propell him back to the top. Since he collapse prior to Florida, Gingrich has had no major bump in the polls – in fact, his numbers have usually trended downwards. His credibility as a GOP candidate is, at this point, pretty low. If Newt had won both contests, Romney would remain in a comfortable position given that it would give Gingrich a compelling reason to stay in the race and continue splitting the vote with Santorum.
Rick Santorum’s double win does not net him a significant amount of delegates given that the delegate results out of AL and MS will end up pretty evenly split between the three candidates. In fact, Romney still wins a plurality of delegates from all March 13 contests. However, the double win in the Deep South shows that he is not a Huckabee-like sectional candidate and that his conservative appeal carries from Lake Michigan to the Gulf Coast. It solidifies him in a position as the sole anti-Romney candidate who still has a distant but solid chance at the denying Romney a majority of delegates (or, less likely, the nomination). While Romney didn’t have a major post-Super Tuesday surge, it is probably likely that Santorum could enjoy a small post-AL/MS surge.
More importantly, this is really the first time that there is significant (non-pundit) pressure on Gingrich to drop out and the first time that speculation on what a Gingrich-free race would look like. Newt Gingrich, again, seems extremely resilient, largely because he has nothing to lose at this point (it’s not like he’s going to run for office again after 2012) and because – I think – Adelson pumped some cash recently. But Jon Huntsman was adamant about staying in post-NH and Rick Perry was pretty confident (publicly) about fighting it out in SC. Neither did that. Gingrich is neither an Huntsman or a Perry and his campaign probably still has more chances to go somewhere than either of them did, but I don’t think that anybody can seriously make the case for Gingrich to win another state, save some weird Santorum collapse. A case could be made for Louisiana (March 24), but if Gingrich lost AL/MS, he won’t win Louisiana. If Gingrich doesn’t drop out, then Romney will win the nomination without sweating too much. If he does drop out soon enough – perhaps even before Illinois on March 20 (but I have a hard time seeing that) – then Romney could face a real challenge from Santorum and his very status as presumptive nominee could be put into serious jeopardy.
Ron Paul won his worst results of the race thus far (ignoring the CNMI). Alabama and Mississippi, are, of course, hardly receptive to a candidate like Ron Paul and the Paul brand of libertarianism has very little appeal in the Deep South in general. After an encouraging start, with strong showings in Iowa, NH and even South Carolina, Ron Paul’s showing in recent contests have not been spectacular. He hasn’t won any state and probably won’t win any state, and in most cases they are barely above his 2008 results (while in the early states they were far above his 2008 results). As the race carries on into what increasingly looks like a two-way contest between Mitt and Rick, Paul is reduced to his core of supporters, which, while still pretty sizable in a lot of states, cannot give him spectacular showings any longer.
In Alabama, there was a gender gap between Gingrich and Santorum. Gingrich won males 34-31 over Santorum, Romney taking 28%; but lost women handily to Santorum 38-25, with Romney taking 30%. In terms of age, Romney again won his core 65+ constituency with 37% to Gingrich’s 31%, while Santorum won all other age groups – including 41% with those 18-29 and 39% with those 30-44. Gingrich’s electorate, compared to Santorum’s, is older though not by that huge of a margin. Finally, in terms of income, Romney took 36% to Santorum’s 31% with the top 23% who made over $100k. Santorum won all other income levels, doing best (40-29 over Gingrich) with the poorest 17% (under $30k) while Gingrich did best (31% to Santorum’s 32%) among those making $30-50k.
In ideological terms, a surprisingly large 33% identified as moderates, but this is self-identifying ‘moderates’ by Alabama standards, voters which would probably be considered ‘very conservative’ in Vermont. Romney did win moderates 39-29 over Santorum, Gingrich taking only 18%. Santorum beat Gingrich 41-36 with the 36% who were ‘very conservative’, with Romney taking in only 18%. Gingrich beat Santorum and Romney (33-31-31) with ‘somewhat conservative’ voters. Republicans were 70% of the electorate, independents were 24%. Gingrich did much better (32% vs. 25%) with Republicans.
75% of voters were Evangelical Christians, and they picked Rick 35-32 over Gingrich, with Romney still taking 27% of their votes. Romney won the non-Evangelicals 34-31 over Santorum. The 46% who said that the religious beliefs of candidates mattered ‘a great deal’ chose Santorum 47-31 over Gingrich, with Romney winning only 16%. This is likely reflective of an anti-Mormon or at least coolness towards Mormons with Evangelical voters.
Romney still dominates on the electability question (46% said he would be the best to beat Obama), and won those who chose based on a candidate’s ability to defeat Obama (51-32 over Gingrich, Santorum at a horrible 15%). 50% of voters felt Romney was not conservative enough.
Early Mississippi exit polls had Romney winning, but exit polls are corrected nowadays. Once again, we find a clear gender gap: Santorum took females 35-29 over Gingrich (Romney: 32%) but lost males 31-34 to Gingrich. Gingrich won the oldest voters, taking 39% to Romney’s 35%. Santorum won all other voters, doing best (45%) with those aged 17-29. The income data is a bit weird: Romney’s best income group (30%) was the $50-100k, because he only 28% to Santorum’s 35% and Gingrich’s 30% in the $100-200k group. The $200k+ group was too small to get good data, but Romney did win the combined $100k+ group 34-31 over Santorum. Gingrich won the poorest voters (the 15% making under $30k) 35-32 over Santorum.
Again, 29% of people would like us to think that they’re moderates or liberals in the Mississippi Republican Party, but at any rate Romney won them 38-28 over Santorum. Santorum did win 39-35 over Gingrich in the 42% who were ‘very conservative’, Romney taking just 22%.
80% of voters were Evangelical Christians, and they picked Santorum 35-32 over Gingrich, with Romney still taking 29% of their votes. Romney did far better (26%) with the 47% of voters who said that the religious beliefs of candidates mattered ‘a great deal’, but Santorum won those voters easily.
Romney still dominates on the electability question (49% said he would be the best to beat Obama), and won those who chose based on a candidate’s ability to defeat Obama (46-30 over Gingrich, Santorum at 22%). 52% of voters felt Romney was not conservative enough.
The Alabama results present to us a nice three-way of the split of the state, which follows the state’s main regions rather neatly. As in the rest of the South, there is a pretty important split in Alabama between the Upland and Midlands/Lowlands of the state. The Uplands tend to be whiter, more populist (a more plebeian tradition inherited from the lack of large plantations in the hilly regions of the Uplands), more working-class (textiles, manufacturing, the TVA) and ever slightly more conservative. This is a region where insurgent conservatives like Mike Huckabee have done well and it was where Rick Santorum had performed best in South Carolina.
In Alabama, Santorum swept the Upland regions (north of Birmingham) which are heavily Evangelical and rather working-class areas. He took 40% in a good number of these Upland counties. There are a lot of Dixiecrats in these old Democratic strongholds (save for Winston County), and a lot of them still self-ID as Democrats despite voting increasingly Republican at almost all levels – and this might explain why Santorum underpolled so much. Social conservatism is certainly big in this region, and it was where opposition to interracial marriage was highest in 2000 and where opposition to school desegregation was highest in 2004.
But Rick Santorum also performed well in the urban centres of northern Alabama, including in places where Romney had done well in 2008 and where he needed to do well this year. Santorum won Madison County, home to Huntsville’s increasingly white-collar workforce of affluent air-and-space engineers and rocket scientists, which was where Romney had done best in 2008 (with 29%). Santorum took 33.3% to Romney’s 30.5%, a major underperformance for Romney compared to 2008. In neighboring Limestone County, where Romney took 27% in 2008, he won only 23.7% this year, placing third behind Santorum (40.4%) and Gingrich (28.2%). Romney also placed third, with 25.1%, in working-class Decatur (Morgan County) where Santorum took 39.8% to Gingrich’s 27.8%. Santorum also won working-class Gadsen (Etowah County), with 40.1% to Gingrich’s 29.8%.
Newt Gingrich did best in the Midlands, especially the Black Belt, which concentrates the bulk of Alabama’s black population (which of course does not vote in GOP primaries), largely because the flatter Midlands were the core of the Southern plantation economy. The Midlands have retained a bias towards somewhat conservative establishment candidates – John McCain did best in the Midlands in South Carolina but also Alabama, and otherwise tend to be slightly less populist (perhaps because of the traditions associated with the once-powerful patrician plantocracy) and ever slightly so less socially conservative and Evangelical (interracial marriage and school desegregation found higher support, although support or opposition for both still broke largely on racial lines). Gingrich had performed best in the Midlands region of South Carolina, which is similar to this part of Alabama. However, Gingrich is not much of an establishment candidate any longer – in fact, his decrepit campaign presents itself as something of a long-shot, insurgent, screw-the-establishment conservative campaign. Gingrich’s appeal in this part of Alabama may simply be due to proximity to Georgia, though his support in the Midlands does extend all the way to the Mississippi state line.
Mitt Romney’s support was, of course, heavily urban. He won Jefferson County, home to Birmingham and some of its affluent suburbs (Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills), though his margin of victory there was certainly far from what he would have needed to win statewide. He took 34.8% to Santorum’s 30.4%. Worst, Romney lost Shelby County – the wealthiest county in Alabama, including some of Birmingham’s newer affluent exurbs – to Santorum, 30.7% to 33.9%. Shelby County, like most similar newer suburban or exurban counties in the Deep South, is one of the state’s most Republican counties. Similar to what we observed in South Carolina, north Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, Southern suburbia – even if affluent – is probably too conservative to vote heavily for Romney.
Romney lost more blue-collar Tuscaloosa County (Tuscaloosa) to Santorum, 35.6% to 29.7%.
Romney carried Montgomery County, home to the state capital and some of its affluent suburbs, with 36.7% to Gingrich’s 30.5%. Romney also carried Mobile and Baldwin counties, the two Alabama Gulf Coast counties home to defense-driven industries and affluent suburbs of Mobile and condominiums along the Gulf Coast. Romney won Mobile County with 35.6% to Santorum’s 33.5%, and won Baldwin County (Gulf Shores, Spanish Fort) convicingly with 36.2% to Santorum’s 29.3%.
The map of the results in Mississippi is a bit more random. Firstly, Mitt Romney won far more counties in Mississippi than in Alabama or the rest of the Deep South states for that matter. His performance in the state, as noted above, was the best result for Romney in the South (30.6%). Based solely on demographics – Mississippi is poorer and less urban than Alabama – Romney shouldn’t have done that well. However, Mississippi politics is still fairly hierarchical and the weight of old paternalistic, top-down relations still have a big impact in Mississippi. The Mississippi GOP bench is fairly ‘establishment’ rather than ‘insurgent’ conservative (like Alabama is sometimes) with the likes of former Governor Haley Barbour and incumbent Governor Phil Bryant, both of whom endorsed Romney. Barbour’s political machine is apparently rather powerful in Mississippi, which might explain why Romney did so well.
If we look at Romney’s support, it mixes his traditional urban centres of affluence with most of the heavily black Mississippi Delta (a very poor area) – where turnout, shockingly, was extremely low (below 1,000 votes in the most heavily black areas, including those two dark blue Gingrich counties on the river). Again, the Mississippi Delta areas really have the plantocratic tradition of the Midland South – Mississippi is by and large a ‘Midland’ state. Romney’s establishment image and support might explain his support there, where hierarchical and patriarchal traditions in social relations are perhaps more dominant and leads, in GOP contests, to a bias for the establishment favourite. Newt Gingrich often placed second in the Delta counties, with Santorum doing quite poorly.
Mitt Romney’s second area of dominance were the rather affluent, in some cases very affluent, suburbs of Jackson, the state capital. Romney carried Hinds County (Jackson) with 40.6% to Gingrich’s 27.5%, in a county where the GOP electorate is probably much wealthier than the county’s average resident. He also won convincingly in Madison County (Jackson’s very wealthy northern suburbs, including Ridgeland) with 42.9% to Gingrich’s 26.6%. He also won Rankin County (Jackson’s eastern suburbs) with 33.9% to Gingrich’s 32%.
Along the Gulf Coast, Romney carried Harrison County (Gulfport-Biloxi) with 32% to Santorum’s 30.8% and also won Jackson County (Pascagoula) with 33.8% to Santorum’s 32.5%. The Gulfport-Biloxi includes wealthier retirement communities, wealthy seaside residents and a significant military presence. It is also more moderate than the rest of the state, in part because of casinos along the coast (or is it the other way around?). Still, Romney would have needed stronger margins in Harrison and Jackson counties to win statewide, to match his big margins in Madison and Hinds counties.
The other two Romney counties which are less than 40% black are Lafayette County (Oxford) and Oktibbeha County (Starkville), home to Ole Miss in Oxford and Mississippi State in Starkville, both of which are not as liberal as other American college towns. College towns would seem like a place where Romney should do well, but he lost the liberal college towns of Gainesville (Alachua County, Florida) and Athens (Athens County, Ohio) by fairly big margins and he lost Lee County (Auburn, Alabama) 29.6 to 32.9% for Santorum.
If Mitt Romney did best in counties with the largest black populations, Newt Gingrich did well in the counties with a significant but not particularly large black population – that is to say, most of the coastal Lowlands (Pine Belt region) and other counties bordering Alabama or the Mississippi Delta region. Gingrich won Hattiesburg (Forrest County) with 35.8% to Santorum’s 29%. As to why Gingrich (and not, say, Santorum) performed best in these types of counties and whether the size of the black population has something to do with it is anyone’s guess.
Rick Santorum did best in the counties which have the lowest proportions of blacks in the state, regions which usually tend to be fairly working-class because of the lack of old plantation agriculture. Santorum clearly dominated in northeastern Mississippi, which is the only Uplandish region of the state (it is clearly distinct from the rest of the state if you look at recent and older election maps) and the region with the smallest black population. He won big in Lee County, the major urban area of the region (Tupelo), taking 41.6% to Gingrich’s 29.8%.
Santorum, in no small part, owes his victory and Romney his defeat to the results in DeSoto County, a booming heavily white county located just south of Memphis, TN. Based solely on income – it is the wealthiest county in the state – then it should be natural Romney country and certainly a place Romney needed to win if he was to win statewide. But DeSoto, like other heavily white, upper middle-class high-growth counties in the South, is less moderate, affluent older suburbs and more rather affluent but white flight exurbia/suburbia. As I pointed out in Georgia and Tennessee on March 6, Romney did poorly in those types of counties. No different in Mississippi. He lost DeSoto by a wide margin to Santorum: 28.8% against 37% for Santorum.
A world away in Hawaii, Mitt Romney won a comfortable victory in the state’s first GOP nominating contest either in a long time or ever. In 2008, the Hawaii caucuses held no presidential straw poll. Mitt Romney’s victory, which ended up narrower than many had thought, was won in large part on the back of a big win in Honolulu County, which is also the state’s most populous county. He took 51.9% in the county, against 25.9% for Santorum. Honolulu County mixes a bunch of demographics favourable to Mitt Romney: Mormons (in Laie), seniors, defense-driven communities and affluent suburbs/urban areas.
I sadly don’t know much at all about voting patterns in Hawaii, and even less about the few Republicans on the island. Asians actually tend to be slightly more Republicans than whites in Hawaii. Mitt Romney won two of the other insular counties by smaller margins (36.2-28.4 in Kauai and 30.7-29.8 in Maui). Ron Paul won the Big Island (Hawaii County) with 32.1% to Romney’s 30.7%. Your guess about the GOP electorate on the Big Island is as good as mine.
Following these races, the next major race is the Illinois primary on March 20. Before that, Missouri begins its binding caucuses on March 17 but no presidential straw poll is being held at those caucuses. Santorum, who won the state’s non-binding primary in early February, should win the plurality of delegates out of the state unless the rules are weird. Following that, Puerto Rico holds a GOP primary on March 18. This is the first Republican nominating contest in Puerto Rico which is seriously contested, and the first GOP primary. It is largely an unknown quantity, given that the island’s demographics are a world away from anything we’ve seen. The electorate will be made up in overwhelming majority of Catholic “Hispanics”, and the only thing we know about GOP Hispanics in this contest is that Mitt Romney won huge with Cubans in Florida. Romney should win Puerto Rico easily, with the backing of the state’s pro-statehood Republican-PNP Governor Luis Fortuño, and with Santorum’s comment about Puerto Ricans needing to learn English if they wanted to become a state.
The Illinois primary favours Mitt Romney. A lot of votes are stored in Chicago’s ring of white-collar, affluent and moderate suburbs which is Romney country if I’ve ever seen it. Rick Santorum should perform strongly in southern Illinois, which is rather Southern in its politics and culture, and perhaps also the more rural parts of “Midwesternish” Illinois. A Gingrich withdrawal between now and then would surely help Santorum and give him a fighting chance even in Illinois, but it’s tough seeing Gingrich drop out just yet.
The good news about the increasing likelihood of a rather protracted contest like this is that it will make for some beautiful maps and a great opportunity to learn about the different “types” of Republican voters and their presidential preferences.
After the primaries in Michigan and Arizona on February 28, the fascinating race for the Republican presidential nomination moved on to Super Tuesday’s seven primaries and three caucuses held on March 6. Side-shows caucuses of sorts were held in Wyoming (Feb 9-29) and Washington (March 3) between these two big sets of contests.
In my post on the last primaries, I compared this nominating season to a good TV show which returns to us almost every week with new intrigues, new twists and always a good load of suspense. In last week’s episode, Mitt Romney broke Rick Santorum’s momentum with a predictable landslide in Arizona and a close win in his home state but Santorum target state of Michigan. Mitt Romney surged to a pretty sizable lead in national polling over Santorum and second-tier rivals Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. It seems very likely at this point that Romney will be the nominee, given the delegates he has amassed so far and his strength in late-voting WTA states which could place him over the top. However, his rivals are resilient and are unlikely to give him a free pass. The race could go on for quite some time still before Romney officially and formally seals the deal.
Between MI-AZ and Super Tuesday, Wyoming wrapped up its month-long county caucuses and Washington held a caucus on March 3. These caucuses, like – I think – all other caucuses held thus far, do not directly allocate delegates to the RNC in Tampa. These news-generating caucuses are only presidential preference straw polls with either no effect or a limited effect on delegate allocation, decided later in county conventions. The delegate projections created by media outlets based on the caucus results in these states thus vary wildly and are fairly inaccurate projections.
Wyoming (Feb 29) and Washington (March 3) caucuses
Wyoming (county caucuses)
Mitt Romney 38.99%
Rick Santorum 31.93%
Ron Paul 20.83%
Newt Gingrich 7.83%
Mitt Romney 37.65%
Ron Paul 24.81%
Rick Santorum 23.81%
Newt Gingrich 10.28%
Mitt Romney won a fairly comfortable victory in Wyoming’s month-long county caucuses (February 9 to 29) while in Washington he managed a comfortable victory over Ron Paul and Santorum. Washington was held in the wake of Romney’s post-MI momentum, which destroyed any chance for a Santorum victory. The delegate projections out of Wyoming indicate that Romney and Santorum both won roughly the same number, with Romney eeking out a narrow plurality. In Washington, Romney could have won between 30 and 34 of the state’s 43 delegates.
In Wyoming, the results indicated a fairly clear east-west split in the state’s GOP voting patterns. Mitt Romney dominated in the western part of the state, especially heavily Mormon Lincoln (75%), Uinta (65.7%) and Big Horn (70.4%) counties, all counties which showed turnout numbers heavier than the very low statewide average – only 2000 or so registered Wyoming Republicans turned out. Mitt Romney also carried the ski resort county of Teton (56.3%) fairly easily. In eastern Wyoming, he only carried Albany County (Laramie), and only with 35%. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul split the remaining counties in the east of the state. Santorum’s two major victories were in Laramie County (Cheyenne), in which he took 41.3%; and Natrona County (Casper) in which he took 38.6%. His other big win was in Goshen County, which seems sparsely populated but cast 146 votes, 65.8% of those for Santorum. Ron Paul won isolated plains county, including the old mining county of Sweetwater.
In Washington, Mitt Romney’s victory was helped in no small part by the heavily populated Seattle-Tacoma area. In King County, where most Republican voters tend to be affluent, educated Seattle commuters, he won 47% to Ron Paul’s 25%. In Snohomish County, another Seattle sprawl county, he won 42% to Paul’s 25%. In more exurban Skagit County (Mt. Vernon), Romney won 41% to Santorum’s 21%. In Pierce County, Tacoma and its suburban sprawl, he won 37.9% to Santorum’s 25.8%. Romney won eastern Washington’s main urban centre, Spokane, by a very narrow margin (30-29.8) over Santorum. He carried Clark County (Vancouver) with 37% against 28.5% for Paul. Vancouver is a fairly conservative urban area by PacNW standards, likely because it attracts the kind of residents who like low taxes (Washington has no income tax, neighboring Oregon has no sales tax). Romney took 43% to Santorum’s 25% in Benton County, home to the nuclear industry-driven Tri Cities.
Rick Santorum won Whatcom County (Bellingham, near the Canadian border) with 33% to Paul’s 28%. It may surprise, but it is likely that the GOP electorate in Whatcom County comes from Lynden rather than the liberal college town of Bellingham. And Lynden is an ultra-conservative Dutch Calvinist enclave, and those types of places have been Rick Santorum’s strongest locales thus far. Santorum also won three random eastern Washington counties where nobody lives. Ron Paul carried the four eastern Washington counties which border Canada, the coastal logging county of Pacific, two counties along the Columbia River and two counties in southeastern Washington. One of those counties, Whitman, is home to Washington State University (in Pullman).
Super Tuesday – Eastern Primaries (MA, VT, OH, VA, GA, TN)
Mitt Romney 72.09%
Rick Santorum 12.07%
Ron Paul 9.57%
Newt Gingrich 4.64%
Mitt Romney 39.79%
Ron Paul 25.49%
Rick Santorum 23.65%
Newt Gingrich 8.14%
Jon Huntsman 2.03%
Mitt Romney 37.95%
Rick Santorum 37.07%
Newt Gingrich 14.59%
Ron Paul 9.24%
Mitt Romney 59.52%
Ron Paul 40.47%
Newt Gingrich 47.20%
Mitt Romney 25.90%
Rick Santorum 19.56%
Ron Paul 6.55%
Rick Santorum 37.43%
Mitt Romney 28.09%
Newt Gingrich 24.18%
Ron Paul 9.11%
Super Tuesday – Western Primaries and Caucuses (OK, ND, ID, AK)
Rick Santorum 33.80%
Mitt Romney 28.04%
Newt Gingrich 27.48%
Ron Paul 9.63%
North Dakota (caucus)
Rick Santorum 39.74%
Ron Paul 28.07%
Mitt Romney 23.71%
Newt Gingrich 8.48%
Mitt Romney 61.59%
Rick Santorum 18.17%
Ron Paul 18.10%
Newt Gingrich 2.10%
Alaska (non-binding straw poll)
Mitt Romney 32.61%
Rick Santorum 29.03%
Ron Paul 23.96%
Newt Gingrich 14.15%
As the dust settled, it was clear that Mitt Romney eeked out a narrow win overall on Super Tuesday. The crucial state out of all 10 states which voted, the one which was most unpredictable and the one on which almost all candidates centered their attention on, was Ohio. And Mitt Romney, like in Michigan, was able to narrowly upset Santorum in the Rust Belt state, but only with 38% to Santorum’s 37.1%. A victory by the skin of his teeth, but still a momentum-maintaining win for Romney. Mitt Romney also emerged on top in Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia and Idaho; where he was widely expected to win, and also won Alaska’s non-binding caucus straw poll. Rick Santorum won Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota. Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia.
There are two ways to look at Romney’s victory in Ohio. On the one hand, Romney supporters will likely perceive it as a narrow victory but a victory nonetheless for Romney – which makes his likely nomination even more certain – in a state demographically favourable to Santorum (which isn’t quite true). On the other hand, a lot of people will probably see Romney’s victory as an underwhelming victory in a state where he outpsent Santorum 5 to 1 but was only able to beat him by less than 1% despite blowing him out of the water on the money race side of things.
Mitt Romney’s victory in Ohio does not seal the deal for him just yet, but it indicates that Romney’s route to the eventual crowning moment will be a little bit shorter than it would have been if he had lost to Santorum in Ohio. Mitt Romney’s delegate advantage increased on Super Tuesday, and he now has roughly 400 delegates, with 1,144 needed to win the nomination. Realistically, this lead is likely insurmountable for either Santorum or Gingrich unless one of them dropped out in favour of the other and was able to gather tons of momentum and cash to challenge Romney in his new firewall: WTA states in the Northeast plus California. However, Santorum and Gingrich are both proving to be resilient fight and it is tough to imagine either of them dropping out this week. Gingrich has little to lose in this contest, and Santorum seems to be in no mood to just give up and give Romney the nomination. Romney could emerge as the official nominee by the end of April or mid-May. Only Gingrich dropping out and giving Santorum the chance to build a conservative coalition could rejig the race, but even then it could be too late. And Gingrich won’t drop out for a week at least.
Romney’s victory on Super Tuesday is murkier than headlines indicate. He has failed to overcome his “Southern problem” or “conservative problem”. He lost to Santorum by fairly consequent margins in Tennessee and Oklahoma, despite a fairly divided conservative electorate in these conservative Republican bastions. In Ohio, as our geographic analysis will show, Mitt Romney – like in Michigan – won because of the votes of GOP voters in big-city Democratic strongholds and swing-vote suburbs, but lost to Santorum in the traditional Ohio Republican strongholds. All this indicates that while Romney will win the nomination, he will do so with a conservative base which is fairly unexcited about him to say the least and generally lukewarm towards his candidacy. John McCain faced a similar problem in 2008 but his selection of Sarah Palin as his Veep turned matters around for him as the same conservatives who had shown reluctance towards McCain were energized by the Palin pick. Romney could resolve the issue in a similar fashion, but at this point in time, he faces an uphill battle to gain the confidence of these voters. The overall results also indicates that Romney could struggle in the general election against Obama in working-class areas, but at the same time do well in suburban areas.
State-by-State Analysis: Exit Polls and Geographic Analysis
Massachusetts was the most boring contest of the night: Romney won 72% of the vote and won all 38 delegates which were up for grabs. With such a margin, you could think that Massachusetts is full of Mormons! It doesn’t actually have lots of Mormons besides Romney, but it does have other things: it is Mitt Romney’s adoptive home state – where he served as Governor between 2003 and 2007 – and its Republican electorate tends to be moderate, affluent, educated suburbanites. A huge landslide is what happens when a favourite son candidate named Romney is the only ‘moderate Republican’ on the ballot. The fact that the other candidates totally ignored the state also explains stuff to some extent.
Romney’s win in Massachusetts in 2008 was nothing to write home about – he beat McCain by only 10 points in his home state – but that was largely because McCain, favourite son effect erased, was a much better candidate for Massachusetts GOPers than the conservative Romney of 2008.
Exit polls, of course, are boring. Romney won 80% with those aged 65 or over, a group which made up 29% of voters. His support was still kind of graduated by income, but not as perfectly as before. He won 73% with the top 10% – those making over $200k, but took 77% of those 31% with an income between $100 and $200k.
Independents were 51% of the electorate and moderates/liberals were 49% of primary voters. Romney did better with registered Republicans (78%) than with independents (69%, Paul took 14%), and won 72% support from moderates against 64% support from ‘very conservative’ voters (15%). However, he won the most support – 76% – from somewhat conservative voters. Romney won 69% support among the 51% of voters who said that so-called RomneyCare – the state’s healthcare law passed by Governor Romney and later the blueprint from ObamaCare – went too far. This might explain why attacks on RomneyCare don’t seem to stick to Mitt: voters tend to disassociate the two or at least don’t consider Romney responsible for it. Romney won 82% support from the 43% who said that his ties to Massachusetts mattered a lot or a bit to them.
On a geographic basis, Mitt Romney received the most support in and around Boston in eastern MA. These counties (Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth) are made, largely, of moderate, highly educated and very affluent suburban communities. Plymouth is slightly more exurban and less affluent, but Republicans here – and there are quite a few by local standards – care a lot about taxation and such stuff. Romney won 72% in Brookline, 80% in Needham, 75% in Newton, 83% in Wellesley, 74.6% in Framingham, 72% in Waltham, 77.8% in Milton, 72.7% in Quincy, 75% in Weymouth and 82% in Duxbury. In this densely populated region, his only more underwhelming performances were in less affluent, more working-class areas such as Somerville (59%, 23% for Paul), Chelsea (54%, 27% for Paul) or liberal college towns like Cambridge (59%, 21% for Paul). He won 69.6% in Boston.
Romney also performed well around Cape Cod (Paul did well in Provincetown), with 75% in Barnstable, for example. He didn’t do as well in the declining post-industria cities of Fall River (55%, 21% for Santorum), New Bedford (54%, 22% for Santorum), Springfield (58%, 23% for Santorum), Holyoke (59%, 20% for Santorum) or Chicopee (59.5%, 23% for Santorum). His worst performances, however, were in the Berkshires, where he sometimes hovered below 50% and rarely did better than 60%. This is a Vermont-like liberal stronghold, but Santorum and Paul did fairly well. Interestingly, Paul didn’t do spectacularly well in college towns such as Amherst (21%) or Adams (13.7%).
Vermont has shifted away from the Republican Party in droves in recent years, but we usually assume that those who remain in the Vermont GOP tend to be moderates. Based on this assumption, Romney should have done very well in Vermont. But his victory, with 39.8% to Paul’s 25.5% is not the landslide we might have assumed. When we think about stuff in more detail, it makes sense. Moderate or liberal Republicans are endangered species, but the idea that Romney dominates them has not really been proven. Mitt Romney won New Hampshire by the margin he did largely because of more conservative or libertarian affluent Boston suburbanites, while he did poorly in western NH, which most resembles Vermont in political and demographic terms. Vermont is not particularly well-off, and it certainly doesn’t have those New Hampshire-type very affluent suburban voters who are Romney’s strongest backers. It also has a fairly anti-establishment, independent streak which is hard to quantify or even observe in specific elections, but which can rear its head from time to time.
The exit polls prove that this observation is true: only 3% of Vermont voters made over $200k and only 17% made over $100k. Romney won that top 17% with 42%, while Ron Paul won the poorest 13% of voters (income under $30k) with 37% to Mitt’s 32%. Independents were 40% of the VT primary electorate, but for the first time this year, conservatives were outnumbered by moderates-liberals in Vermont: only 47% of the voters were conservative. Paul won independents, 38-31 over Romney, while Romney won Republicans 51-25 over Santorum. Santorum won the 19% who identified as very conservative, while Paul lost the moderates and liberals by only one point to Mitt (34 vs. 35).
Mitt Romney did best around Burlington. He won Burlington proper with 37% to Paul’s 29%, but did far better in the kinda-suburban towns which surround Burlington and which tend to be slightly wealthier. He won 51% in affluent Shelburne, 47% in South Burlington, 43% in Colchester, 42.6% in Essex, 42% in Jericho and 45.8% in Williston. Outside Chittenden County, Romney also did well in Rutland (45%), Bennington (38.5%), Brattleboro (39.8%) and especially the affluent ski resort of Stowe (48.6%). Ron Paul did really well in the Northeast Kingdom (Essex, Orleans and Caledonia counties) but also most of Lamoille County and inland Franklin County. Rick Santorum took a few towns here and there too, including Highgate on the Canadian border. The towns won by Paul or Santorum are largely sparsely populated rural small towns in the Green Mountains, where voters are pretty poor and portray Vermont’s independent, anti-system streak fairly well. Ron Paul also won Marlboro, a college town in southern Vermont, but there certainly isn’t any college town rule in the results. Santorum won Putney; Romney performed strongly in Northfield, Middlebury, Norwich and Hartford.
Ohio was the race which everybody was interested about. It was the most competitive contest of all 10 states which voted on Super Tuesday, and it was where Romney, Santorum and Gingrich focused their strengths. Rick Santorum polled very well in Ohio right up to his loss to Romney in neighboring Michigan, which allowed Romney to close the race down to a statistical tie. Romney outspent Santorum, whose campaign was so disorganized it failed to qualify for a full slate of delegates in each CD, by a 5-to-1 margin. Yet, Romney, unlike in Florida, was unable to use this money advantage to blow Santorum away. It has often been said that Ohio is demographically favourable to Santorum, even moreso than Michigan. This is not quite true – its demographic makeup is either as favourable or slightly less favourable to him than Michigan was. It has more Catholics, less Evangelicals and no Dutch Calvinists. In one of the closest races of the primary, Romney won Ohio with 38% to Santorum’s 37.1%. Newt Gingrich, who had focused on the state to an extent, won only 14.6%, a bit less than what the polls had given him. I discussed the two ways of interpreting this and the significance of this in more details above. I will now look at how Romney won, and why I subscribe to the view of Romney’s Ohio win as underwhelming.
The exit poll provides interesting information. Firstly, in terms of age groups, Santorum won all age groups besides those 65+, which Romney won by a crushing 47-31 margin over Santorum. In addition to what we have observed since day one about Romney’s support increasing as one’s personal income increased, we can add to that another strong correlation: Romney’s support really increases as one gets older. The income correlation was still there, of course, but interestingly the correlation was not quite perfect. Romney, of course, won those making over $200k with 53% to Rick’s 24%, but his worst income group were lower middle-classes ($50-100k), where he got just 32%, and not the lowest 15% (those making under $30k), where he tied Santorum at 35-35. Santorum stood at 43%, his strongest result, with those making $50-100k.
In ideological terms, 66% of primary voters were conservatives, and Santorum won that large group with 41% to Mitt’s 35%. With the third of voters who were very conservative, he won 48%. Moderates or liberals, a third of voters, backed Romney 43-29 over Santorum while also giving Paul his best result (13%). Romney won Republicans (41-37) but Santorum won both independents (26% of voters, 37-31) and Democrats (5% of voters, 47-27).
47% of voters were evangelical or born-again Christians, and they picked Rick by a 17-point margin (47-30) over Santorum. A third of voters were Catholic, and Santorum lost his coreligionists 44-31 to Romney while winning Protestants by a narrower 41-39 margin over Romney. Santorum had already lost fellow Catholics in Michigan and Iowa. It is interesting that there is absolutely no ‘Catholic vote’ for a fellow coreligionist. From a psephological aspect, I think this goes a long way to explain the general nature of Catholic voting patterns in the United States. If one seeks an explanation for this rather interesting element of the exit polls, it might be because social conservative and Evangelical/Christian right voters tend to be disproportionately Protestant rather than Catholic, or that Catholic voters tend to care more about economic issues than culture war/wedge issues such as abortion or gay marriage. Many American Catholics have moved away from their Church’s traditional conservative position on those issues and tend to be quite secularized despite claiming a Catholic faith or tradition.
Mitt Romney won his narrow victories on the back of big margins in late-counting big cities and inner suburbs. Romney won all of the main urban counties including Cuyahoga (Cleveland), 48.7-29.6; Summit (Akron), 43-34.3; Franklin (Columbus), 40.7-36.1; Hamilton (Cincinnati), 48.9-29; and Montgomery (Dayton), 39.7-31.4. The only major city he lost is working-class Toledo (Lucas County), in which he took 36.6% to Santorum’s 37.8%. Republicans in these traditionally Democratic counties tend to be affluent, educated and more suburban than the county’s population as a whole. Cuyahoga County certainly includes some very affluent suburban places, besides Democratic inner-city Cleveland. Columbus and Cincinnati are also largely white-collar cities with big corporations and affluent GOP-leaning residents. Cincinnati (Hamilton County) is a conservative metropolitan area by almost all standards, perhaps because of its large German Catholic population or particularly rock-ribbed GOP suburbs filled with affluent voters.
Besides the big cities, Romney also won their highly-educated and affluent suburbs or exurbs. He won 41.6% to Santorum’s 34.6% in Warren County in suburban Cincinnati and 41.9% to 34.4% for Santorum in next-door Butler County, an affluent exurban-suburban area. In suburban Columbus’ Delaware County, he won 42.3% to Santorum’s 35.9%. In the greater Cleveland area, he crushed in very wealthy Geauga County with 45.7%, but also carried slightly less affluent suburban Lake County (43.5-32.2) and exurban Portage County (39-35) and Medina County (40.8-34.7). He also won Erie and Lorain Counties, whose GOP voters tend to be suburban or exurban and fairly wealthy.
In these close races, people like to cling to random things and sensationalise about how candidate x owes his victory exclusively to those things. In this race, you can say that Romney won because he won the urban counties big, because he won Catholics or because he won working-class Catholics. I don’t like sensationalising in such ways, but from one point of view, Romney ironically won, in part, on the back of his narrow victories in working-class Catholic areas. In Youngstown-Warren, a low-income and working-class post-industrial urban conglameration, Romney beat Santorum 37-34.5 in Mahoning County (Youngstown) and 35.8-35 in Turnbull County (Warren). These post-industrial counties have a big Catholic population of Eastern European, Irish or Italian descent in large part. We should perhaps re-evaluate all the stuff which has been written about Santorum’s particular appeal to working-class voters in the Rust Belt. His appeal in older, urbanized manufacturing and post-industrial cities, which tend to have a large Catholic electorate, has been fairly limited. He did win Toledo and Flint, but fairly narrowly; but he lost Saginaw, Bay City, Macomb County and now Youngstown-Warren. His Rust Belt populist appeal seems to be working out in more rural, less big-city, less solidly Democratic working-class areas.
Rick Santorum won the rest of the state. The rest of the state includes very conservative rural ‘Corn Belt’ counties in western Ohio, which has a large rural German Catholic population which Santorum likely won; Protestant Evangelical and low-income voters in the corridor between Akron and Columbus; working-class Rust Belt areas in the Ohio River valley; and culturally Southern voters in southeastern Ohio (which includes a bulk of counties with a plurality of ‘American’ ancestry residents). In the Appalachian white working-class (mining, manufacturing, steel) counties of the Ohio River valley, an area where Obama had really struggled in 2008, Romney is roughly in the same boat as Obama was. He failed to break 30% in a handful of counties in this area, including Jefferson County where Santorum won 57.7%. I’m not sure what’s up in Athens County (60% for Santorum, 19.6% for Romney) – it could be an error – but it seems like it may be another case of Alachua County, Florida – a liberal county with a big college town which leans heavily to the left, but with a Republican electorate which is extremely conservative.
Virginia’s primary was a rather bizarre affair: only two candidates – Mitt Romney and Ron Paul – gathered the required signatures to appear on the ballot, leaving Santorum and Gingrich off the ballot in the state where both of them are currently registered to vote. The result was a primary basically conceded to Romney, but also a chance to measure how Paul – the least popular of the anti-Romneys amongst the social conservative/right-wing GOP crowd – could measure up to Romney in a contest where he was the only anti-Romney. In the end, Romney won, of course, taking 59.5%, but Ron Paul’s 40.5% was a very strong showing for him. Virginia certainly isn’t prime Paul territory and I think he would have had trouble breaking 10% in a normal primary, so he obviously took quite a number of votes from the anti-Romney crowd, which is likely pretty strong in Virginia which is at least half-Southern in its makeup. Virginia is not entirely relevant, as turnout was low and the Paul base was likely very motivated, and the anti-Romney crowd didn’t turn out en masse, but I still think it speaks volumes about Romney’s base problem that he only won 59.5% of the vote against a guy who is widely considered to be unelectable and who is the only contender who hasn’t won one state thus far.
Exit polls reveal how the primary electorate was small and hardly representative of a normal VA GOP electorate. 34% were moderates or liberals, which seems high for Virginia, and only 44% of voters were Evangelical or born-again, which seems low for Virginia. Otherwise, Romney won older voters (83% with those 65+), Paul won won those 17-29 (61%) and 30-44 (63%). Ron Paul did much better (48%) with those earning $30-50, the lowest income group to be quantified, but lost heavily (64-36) to Romney with those voters making over $100k.
Paul won independents, a third of the electorate, with 64%, but lost Republicans 73-27 to Romney. He tied Romney with the 34% who described themselves as moderates or liberals, and won 36% support from the very conservative voters (32%).
Ron Paul actually won a few counties, quite a few of them too. He won a fairly bizarre string of them in southwestern Virginia, all of which were won by Huckabee over McCain in 2008. One of these counties, Montgomery County includes the liberal college town of Blacksburg (Virginia Tech), but I’m tempted to attribute these victories to a conservative anti-Romney vote, although one which seems fairly limited because Paul certainly didn’t have Huckabee’s appeal in southwestern Virginia, the most Dixie-like region of the state.
Paul also won Lynchburg (51%), a conservative college town which includes the Christian right’s Liberty University; the liberal college town of Charlottesville (52%), Manassas Park (53%) and random Buckingham and Warren counties. He also proved popular in black-plurality Norfolk (50.6%), Portsmouth (51.5%), Surry County (53.5%) and Charles City (52.2%).
On the other hand, Romney blew Paul out of the water in Richmond’s affluent suburbs: 63.9% in Henrico County, 67.3% in Goochland County, 62% in Chesterfield County, 57% in Powhatan County and 57.3% in Hanover County. In Richmond proper, Paul took 48.5%. Romney also dominated in NoVa, where Republicans tend to be of the very affluent and highly educated demographic so favourable to Romney. He won 62% in Loudoun County, 65.3% in Fairfax County, 60.8% in Prince William County, 67.6% in Alexandria and 64.6% in Arlington. Romney also did very well – breaking 70% in two counties – in the Chesapeake Bay region, specifically the Northern Necks, where I assume you find a fair number of affluent retirees in the small coastal resort communities.
Georgia is Newt Gingrich’s kinda-home state, and certainly the state where his base is strongest and where he has maintained strong support despite his campaign’s descent into the near-abyss since Romney handily defeated him in Florida over a month ago. Santorum seemed to be in a position to give Gingrich a bit of a race, but Gingrich had a mini-surge of sorts in Georgia following Santorum’s momentum-crushing loss in Michigan a week ago, and the conservative vote united around Gingrich and abandoned Santorum. The result was a strong victory for Gingrich in a delegate-rich state, taking 47% to Romney’s 25.9% and denying Santorum, who won only 19.6%, a chance to get delegates out of the state.
Romney had won 30.2% of the vote in Georgia in 2008, meaning that he actually did better in 2008 than in 2012 in Georgia. Newt Gingrich’s landslide victory carries us back to the days of South Carolina back in January, but we shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that Georgia will resuscitate his fledgling candidacy. It was a favourite son victory, about as relevant as Howard Dean winning Vermont in 2004 or John Edwards winning North Carolina that same year. It wasn’t really a Southern candidate victory, as his performance in Tennessee shows.
Newt Gingrich dominated nearly every single demographic. He polled strongly even in Romney’s core 65+ constituency, won all income levels besides those who make over $200k (Romney won them by one, 39-38). He trounced Romney 53% to 19% among very conservative voters (39% of voters), a group where Santorum actually ran a distant second with 25%. He even won moderates, with 40% to Mitt’s 28%. 64% of voters were Evangelical, and he took them with 52% against 24% for Santorum. On the other hand, he only defeated Romney by one (38-37) among the minority of voters who were not Evangelicals. He also lost Catholics, 12% of voters, by four points to Romney (38-34), despite being Catholic himself. Even among those 45% of voters citing one’s ability to defeat Obama as the top candidate quality, he beat Romney by 10 (48-38). 61% of voters say that Gingrich’s tie to Georgia didn’t matter, but all these numbers indicate that Gingrich got a big favourite son vote in Georgia. I mean, 39% of voters considered him the candidate most likely to defeat Obama in November…
Romney had done well in the Atlanta metro area in 2008, and it was where he did best this year again. He won convincingly in Fulton County (Atlanta), 45.6% to Gingrich’s 33.2%. He also carried neighboring black majority DeKalb County (39.2-35.7). Fulton County should actually be two counties; a southern part (Atlanta) which is heavily black, low-income and very Democratic and a northern part (Sandy Springs, Alpharetta, Roswell, Milton) which is heavily white and includes some of the wealthiest areas in the Deep South. Romney won big there in 2008, and won big again in 2012. In Fulton County, the GOP electorate is not as conservative as the one found outside the Atlanta metro. The Republican parts of DeKalb County, few and far between, are also very affluent. However, Gingrich beat Romney in four suburban/exurban Atlanta counties Romney had carried in 2008. In Cobb County (Marietta), more exurban despite some very wealthy inner suburban areas, Romney lost 43.7% to 32%. He won only 28.8% in Gwinett County, 20% in Clayton County, 28% in Forsyth County, 28.3% in Fayette County; all exurban counties. Gingrich used to represent GA-06, which in his time covered northern Fulton County and parts of Cobb and Cherokee counties. He likely won his old district’s old boundaries convincingly.
Romney’s only other victory was in Chatham County (Savannah), with 39% to Gingrich’s 35%. Besides Savannah, it includes some very affluent coastal island resort communities (Skidaway Island, Wilmington Island).
Newt Gingrich swept the rest of the state, similarly to South Carolina. He won the Black Belt areas, generally supportive of establishment candidates in presidential primaries (McCain won it in 2008); the white rural areas of southern Georgia; Atlanta’s exurbs and northern Georgia. Like in South Carolina, Gingrich was able to build a favourite son coalition made up of more populist and Evangelical Upstate (northern Georgia) voters and the more patrician-tradition and pro-establishment conservatives of the coastal plains and Midlands. Gingrich took most of Georgia’s mid-sized urban and suburban areas. He won Bibb County (Macon) with 46.9% to Mitt’s 26.8%, Muscogee County (Columbus) with 40% to Romney’s 29.7% and Richmond County (Augusta) with 40% to 28.9%. Gingrich won Clarke County (Athens, a college town) by a smaller margin: 39% to 30%, with Paul pulling in 13.5% in fourth place. Romney performed slightly better in these urban areas the more affluent Colonial Coast (Golden Isles region), but failed to carry Glynn County (Brunswick) which he had won in 2008. However, in the bulk of rural Georgia – north and south – he was badly trounced, rarely breaking 20% and often placing third behind Rick Santorum – whose support is closely correlated with the map of white Evangelicals.
As we found in Jacksonville, Florida; Romney’s affluent suburban base is rather limited in the Deep South. He had done well in those conservative Dixie suburbs in 2008, but that was when he was the non-Evangelical conservative contender rather than the blander establishment moderate in the race. Southern suburbs are more conservative (tending to be the most Republican counties in the state) and less ethnically diverse than most of their northern counterparts, which are more receptive to more moderate candidates such as Mitt Romney. White flight is also a major phenomenon in a lot of the newer Southern suburban counties, and the type of voter that such suburbs contain are hardly favourable to him. Romney lost Savannah white flight Effingham County 41-23 to Gingrich, placing third behind Santorum. It is hard to quantify, but Romney has shown that he has only very limited appeal to Southern voters in newer suburban or exurban areas, his Southern suburban strength being really just concentrated in the wealthiest of the older inner suburbs.
Tennessee emerged as the second most competitive Super Tuesday contest after Ohio. A Southern state where Gingrich lacked a favourite son appeal, it was to be the first test for Rick Santorum’s ability to win in the Deep South despite not being a Southerner in a race which features a Southerner (Gingrich). Until the final few days, it seemed as if Santorum would win Tennessee easily, but after Michigan, his numbers fell and Gingrich’s numbers rose some. The division of the conservative vote between Santorum and Gingrich gave Romney the chance to creep up the middle and win what could be a symbolic victory in the South. It did not come to be. Santorum won 37.4% to Romney’s 28.1%, a decisive victory. Newt Gingrich performed fairly strongly with 24.2%, but this was only good enough for an unremarkable third place showing – in a Southern state bordering Georgia no less. Since Nevada, Gingrich has failed to come second or better in any state except Georgia. That shows how moribond his campaign is at this point.
Tennessee’s GOP electorate is conservative – it voted for Huckabee over McCain in 2008 – but at the state level it has tended to support moderately conservative establishment candidates like Bill Haslam, Bob Corker or Lamar Alexander over insurgent conservative candidates. Romney faced an uphill fight in Tennessee, but it would not have been impossible for him to win if he had proved to have a larger base appeal.
Santorum swept most demographic categories in the Tennessee exit poll, leaving Romney to his core demographic stregths: older voters (65+, he won them 34-31) and the wealthiest (those making over $200k, he won them 47-26). Santorum did better with middle-aged voters, as well as poorer and lower middle-class voters.
The electorate was overwhelmingly conservative, at 73% identifying as conservatives including 41% who were ‘very conservative’. Republicans made up 68% of voters, independents made up an additional 27% and 5% of voters were Democrats. Santorum won Democrats (41-21) and independents (38-25) by larger margins than he won Republicans (38-29 over Romney, Gingrich pulling 27%). With the very conservative voters, Santorum won 48% to Newt’s 27% and Romney’s paltry 18%. Romney, however, won ‘somewhat conservative’ voters by two (35-33) and moderates by five (33-28). 73% of voters were Evangelical, a group which Santorum won with 42% to Gingrich’s 25% and Mitt’s 24%. Romney still dominated with those who felt one’s ability to beat Obama was the most important quality (40-32 over Gingrich, Santorum in a poor third with 25%), and 43% of voters saw him as the candidate most likely to win in November. But, on the other hand, a full 49% of voters felt that Romney’s positions were not conservative enough.
As we found in Georgia, Mitt Romney’s base was rather limited. He had won a handful of counties in 2008, when he had won 23.6% in Tennessee, but this year he won only three counties. Two of them were in the Nashville area. He took 33.1% to Santorum’s 30.9% in Davidson County (Nashville) and 35.8% to Santorum’s 32.5% in Williamson County (Franklin, south of Nashville). Republicans in Williamson and Davidson counties, which include suburbs of the like of Forest Hills, Oak Hill and Brentwood tend to be the most affluent voters in the state – Williamson is the wealthiest county in the state. Romney also won, more randomly, Loudon County (36.2-34.6) which seems to include some more affluent suburbs of Knoxville in eastern Tennessee. However, Romney, like in Georgia and Florida, was unsuccesful in the newer, solidly Republican upper middle-class exurbs or outer suburbs of Nashville and Memphis. He had won exurban Nasvhille’s Rutherford, Sumner and Wilson counties in 2008; this year he lost them all. He lost 41-24 in Rutherford, 38-27 in Sumner and 40-24 in Sumner (placing third behind Gingrich). Romney also lost Shelby County (Memphis) 37.4-34.2 to Santorum. White flight is more pronounced in Memphis’ otherwise affluent suburbs included within Shelby County.
Rick Santorum swept the rest of the state save for one (or two? there are differences between sources) in eastern Tennessee which voted for Gingrich. Santorum was able to put together a coalition composed of East Tennessee Hill Country, Middle Tennessee and West Tennessee. He narrowly won Knox County (Knoxville) with 34.5% to Mitt’s 33.7% and prevailed in Hamilton County (Chattanooga) with 31.5% against 28.9% for Romney. Despite being hilly and historically very much opposed to the patrician plantation owners of West and Middle Tennessee, East Tennessee’s ancestrally Republican (Unionist since the Civil War) electorate has, unlike the Upland voters in South Carolina, usually favoured establishment candidates. Gerald Ford won most of the region in 1976 against Ronald Reagan and John McCain did fairly well against Huckabee there in 2008. This year, Mitt Romney did fairly well too in East Tennessee, but Santorum did well enough to sweep it in its quasi-entirety (despite strong Gingrich showings). He won, however, his best results (over 40%), in the more purely Dixie plain country of Middle and West Tennessee, where candidates of the populist/Huckabee variety do well.
Oklahoma is a very conservative state, but tends to have fairly erratic presidential primary voting patterns for both parties. John McCain narrowly defeated Mike Huckabee in 2008, in a map which revealed a split between the more Southern parts of the state and the Midwestern parts of Oklahoma. Rick Santorum, unlike Huckabee, has proven to be more than just a sectional candidate and has real appeal to both Southern and Midwestern conservatives; while Romney doesn’t have McCain’s appeal to Midwestern conservative voters. Oklahoma was always going to be a slam-dunk for Santorum after his post-CO/MN surge. He won a fairly poor 33.8% to Romney’s 28%, hurt in good part by Newt’s very strong showing: 27.5%. I find it amusing that Romney basically won the same percentage in both Tennessee and Oklahoma. Can we assume that Romney’s Southern base of sorts is 28% of the vote in a three-way contest?
The exit polls are somewhat interesting. Gingrich won men, but lost women to Santorum (and Romney) by a big margin. He actually performed very strongly with the 65+ crowd (40%), while Romney did meh with those voters, usually his top demographics (only 29%, he did better with those 30-44). Romney did, however, win the wealthiest voters: he took those earning over $100k by a 10 percent margin (40-30) over Santorum and tied Santorum among those earning $50-100k. Santorum (39%) and Gingrich (35%) both performed best with those earning less than $30k. Evangelicals were a full 72% of the electorate, and Santorum won them by 10 (37-27) over Romney and Gingrich.
Predictably, this being Oklahoma, conservatives made up 75% of the GOP primary electorate, including 47% who were “very conservative”. Santorum won both groups, the latter by a crushing 40-32-21 margin over Gingrich and Romney and the former by 10 over Gingrich (38-28, 25% for Romney). Romney won the quarter of voters who were moderates, 38-28 over Gingrich with Santorum pulling just 19%. Santorum still had major problems convincing the 40ish percent of voters who feel that a candidate’s ability to beat Obama is top candidate quality; he won just 18% with them.
Mitt Romney, again, saw his appeal concentrated heavily in urban areas. He won Oklahoma County (OK City) 34.5% over 30.6% for Santorum, but he lost Tulsa County (Tulsa) 32.3% to 28.8% to Santorum – and placed a close third behind Gingrich (29.6%). He lost Comanche County (Lawton) 30.5% to 35.6% for Santorum. Romney’s other win was in Payne County, home to the college town of Stillwater, which he won 31.3% to 28.2% for Santorum. Romney failed to prevail in OK City’s two main suburban counties; Canadian County (lost 34.8% to 27.7%) and Cleveland County (Norman, lost 33.1% to 30.3%). He placed a poor second or third in the more exurban counties of OK City and Tulsa.
Newt Gingrich won a few counties, in a way which is so random that it is hard to explain. He won around Enid and Woodward in Midwestern northwest Oklahoma, did well around Tulsa but fairly poorly in Little Dixie. Santorum won the rest of the state, with appeal to both Midwestern and Southern-like areas of the state. He did well in Little Dixie, but also did very well in the very conservative Oklahoma Panhandle, which is very Midwestern.
Idaho is a conservative state, it is a caucus state; so based on those two factors, Romney shouldn’t have done overwhelmingly well. Indeed, some observers were fairly conservative about his chances in Idaho. But Idaho is the second most heavily Mormon state after Utah, with some 26% of its population being Mormons, heavily concentrated in eastern Idaho – or “northern Utah”. Given how solidly Republican the Mormons are, and how motivated of a base they are for Romney this year, we can estimate that Mormons made up at least half of the Idaho caucus electorate this year, if not close to 55-60% of the whole caucusgoers in Idaho this year. Thus, predictably, Mitt Romney won Idaho easily, taking 61.6% to Santorum’s 18.2% and Paul’s 18.1%. The map is all shaded in with over 50% shades because ID caucuses are run with an intricate recaucusing system, voting in each county continues through successive ballots until a candidate receives a majority or only two candidates remain (at which point a final ballot is taken). Any candidates placing below 15%, plus the bottom remaining candidate are eliminated each round. This explains why in some counties, when looking over results in details, you will find some straight two-way contests excluding two of the other candidates – like Romney – because the others failed to qualify for the final ballot.
There were no entrance polls for the caucus in Idaho, unfortunately, but it would have revealed some interesting things about Mormons vs. non-Mormon Protestants in Idaho’s GOP caucus electorate. We can safely say that Romney like won some 90-95% of the vote with Mormons, but at the same time lost the non-Mormon minority by a sizable margin to either Santorum or Paul. Our map of the result confirms this, by highlighting a major fault line between eastern and western Idaho/the Idaho Panhandle. In eastern Idaho, which is very heavily Mormon (like Utah), Romney killed. 79.5% in Bonneville County (Idaho Falls), 79.2% in Bannock County (Pocatello), 78% in Teton County (Mormons-n’-ski bunnies). In the smaller, rural counties of the region, he broke 80% with ease. In tiny and heavily Mormon Franklin County (which we can take as a good example) he took 86.1%. It is interesting to point out that Paul often did comparatively well in Mormon country, breaking 10% in a few counties including Franklin County. Some stuff has been written about Paul’s appeal with Mormon voters, based on his constitutionalist principles which seem to appeal to some Mormons not enamoured by their coreligionist Mitt Romney.
Mitt Romney carried Blaine County (Ketchum-Sun Valley) with 60.5%, likely because the ones who aren’t Democrats there are probably Mormons or at least affluent ski resort Republicans. Similar comments can be made about the Boise-Nampa area, which he won on the back of a Mormon base mixed in with suburban affluence. He took 51.8% to Santorum’s 22.8% in Ada County (Boise) and 51.8% to Santorum’s 32.7% in Canyon County (Nampa).
On the other hand, Mitt Romney failed to carry a single county in the Panhandle, heavily non-Mormon, though he did do well in Nez Perce County (Lewiston) and Shoshone County, where low GOP turnouts leads to a strong Mormon base in the GOP caucus-going electorate. There remains a fairly strong anti-Mormon sentiment in these parts of western Idaho, which despite being roughly as conservative as Mormon country, have little else in common politically. Romney often failed to qualify for runoff viability in a handful of counties in the Panhandle. Ron Paul won easily in Latah County (Moscow, a college town) with 52.3% to Romney’s 20.2% and narrowly beat Romney in the runoff in more working-class Nez Perce County (Lewiston) with 50.6%. Santorum, however, did win most of the Panhandle’s working-class belt, taking 63.8% in Lewis County, 64% in Clearwater County, 54% in Shoshone County and 50.9% in Benewah County. He won the region’s main urban centre, Coeur d’Alene in Kootenai County with 57.6% in a runoff against Paul.
North Dakota, a caucus state, went for Romney on Super Tuesday in 2008, but it was a tough state to predict. Some were reluctant to give the state to anybody else given that Romney won it, while others claimed that Santorum’s success in surrounding Plains state guaranteed him a win in conservative North Dakota. They ended up being right, as Santorum easily won with 39.7% to 28.1% for Ron Paul. Mitt Romney placed third with 23.7% in a state which went to him with 35.7% in 2008. We can now ascribe Romney’s win in 2008 to the “conservative caucus” effect, a conservative crowd of caucus-goers which turns out for the ‘pure’ conservative candidate in the race. Romney’s advantage in caucuses was overwhelming in 2008, and while he hasn’t lost it entirely this year, his caucus performances are underwhelming more than anything.
There were no entrance polls in ND, and the results were only reported by state house district, which Google Politics was good enough to give us. Results by house district are both less detailed in rural areas where districts cover many counties, and more detailed in urban areas where house districts cover only parts of a single larger county. Rick Santorum swept the bulk of rural North Dakota, his lowest showing in rural North Dakota coming from HD-9, a predominantly Native American district where he polled third with all of 13 votes against 15 votes apiece for Paul and Romney. In rural ND, Ron Paul performed best in the more hilly areas to the west and north of the Missouri River, including the Badlands and Little Missouri Grasslands. Santorum did better in the traditional Plains region of rural ND.
Santorum also prevailed in the state capital, Bismarck, losing only an affluent northern suburb to Romney, though Paul did well in the city’s small core. Romney won Minot with 44% to Santorum’s 25%; the presence of Minot AFB likely explains Romney’s advantage. Santorum seems to have narrowly prevailed in Grand Forks, although both other candidates won a district. Ron Paul won the college town of Dickinson with 36.7% to 35.8% for Santorum. Ron Paul dominated in Fargo, the state’s largest city and home of NDSU. Santorum only won two districts, which seem affluent, south of downtown Fargo.
Alaska can take the prize for most erratic voting patterns in GOP primaries. Steve Forbes almost won the state against George W. Bush in 2000, Pat Buchanan won it in 1996 and Pat Robertson won in Alaska in 1988. In 2008, Mitt Romney carried the Alaska caucuses with 44.6% to Mike Huckabee’s 22.4% and Paul’s 17.3%. Given its electoral history and its very pronounced against the grain, independent and anti-establishment streak (it gave over 10% of the vote to Ralph Nader in 2000 and to Libertarian Ed Clark in 1980), predicting Alaska was tough. Ron Paul campaigned in Alaska, to my knowledge the only candidate to do so, and Alaska’s alleged libertarianism favoured him. Ultimately, Romney won narrowly, with 32.6% to Santorum’s 29% and Ron Paul’s rather underwhelming 24% in the state where he perhaps had the best chance of winning.
An entrance poll would have been interesting, but obviously none was taken in remote Alaska. The map of results by district gives us the next best clues about who won what in Alaska. Unlike in 2008, Romney seems to have lost the Mat-Su valley (which goes from Anchorage to Fairbanks) to Santorum. The Mat-Su is the most conservative region in Alaska and it was where insurgent candidates Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan had done best. Romney still won a handful of districts in the Mat-Su, but Santorum likely won it overall. In Anchorage’s suburbs of sorts in the valley, Romney prevailed in Palmer but Santorum had the upper hand in Sarah Palin’s world-famous hometown of Wasilla (where she voted for Gingrich).
Romney performed best in Anchorage, where Paul also won a few precincts. He, of course, dominated with over 40% of the vote in Anchorage’s wealthier neighborhoods. He also won in Juneau, the state’s liberal state capital, and on Kodiak Island, which appears to be fairly moderate. Ron Paul’s best performance was in Fairbanks, where he apparently did best around the more liberal neighborhoods around the university while Santorum (and Gingrich, who won a district in Fairbanks) did better in the conservative areas around the military base and North Pole. Ron Paul also won the bulk of the bush. No caucuses, it seems, were held in extremely remote Bethel, Barrow and the Outer Aleutians.
The next states to vote are Kansas, which holds caucuses on March 10; and the twin primaries in Alabama and Mississippi on March 13. Romney is unlikely, at this point, to win any of these three contests, unless there is a major division of the conservative vote between Santorum and Gingrich. Mike Huckabee won the Kansas caucuses in 2008, and realistically Santorum should do very well there. Alabama and Mississippi are not as clear. Newt Gingrich could perform well in these Deep South states, and even stand a chance at winning one or both of these states. Rick Santorum, on the other hand, showed in Tennessee and Oklahoma that he has expanded his social conservative base into the South and will likely emerge with more momentum than Gingrich from Super Tuesday. The demographics of either Alabama and Mississippi are hardly receptive to Romney, given that his traditional base of seniors or affluent, educated suburbanites are not really important in either state. His only chance to win these states would be a moneybombing (and it would take a lot of money, lots of it) or hoping for a split in the conservative vote. If the results in Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and even Florida are any indication; then Romney should lose pretty handily in both these Deep South states.
Mitt Romney will win the nomination, but up until this point he has faced tremendous resistance from the party’s conservative base, which still hasn’t warmed up to him. In Ohio and Michigan, his victories were due to more moderate conservative voters while the most conservative voters in both those states voted in large numbers for Santorum. In the Deep South, up until this point, Romney was basically shut out everywhere outside the more moderate, older affluent suburbs of the largest cities. John McCain faced a similar problem with the conservative base in 2008, but the results we saw on Super Tuesday indicate that Romney faces an ever deeper problem. McCain had been able to win some regions of South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma which soundly rejected Romney.
The race for the Republican presidential nomination in the United States returned to prominence on February 28 with two crucial primaries in Michigan and Arizona. These primaries follow a pretty dry spell running since February 7, when two states held caucuses, a spell interrupted only by a jumbled-up caucus in Maine concluding on February 11 and a final debate in Arizona on February 22.
The Republican primaries this year are certainly filled with unexpected twists and turns and for casual observers it has become almost as enjoyable as a good TV show which comes back on every week with some new suspense or new twist. The February 7 episode of this show was certainly filled with such unpredictable twists. The winner of the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses nearly two months ago, Rick Santorum, came out of basically nowhere to win a huge 3-state sweep (the two caucues and Missouri’s beauty pageant primary). Santorum had his moment in January, but after fading out of the picture in South Carolina and Florida’s late-January primaries, it began to seem as if his Iowa magic had worn out. After South Carolina, Newt Gingrich seemed like the main conservative opponent to Mitt Romney, who won New Hampshire and went on to crush Gingrich in Florida and Nevada. However, after his defeat in Florida, Gingrich started fading away nationally. Mitt Romney, shaken in South Carolina, looked as if he had put his act back together and would win the nomination fairly easily after all. Then Santorum’s 3-state sweep changed the narrative again, and this sweep was followed by a Santorum surge nationally but also in key states such as Ohio which votes on March 6 – Super Tuesday.
Michigan and Arizona thus shaped up to be very critical contests. If they had been held within days of the February 7 Santorum sweep, then Santorum would likely have carried Michigan by a landslide and stood a good chance in Arizona. However, the three week gap between the two strings of contests allowed Romney to re-group, as he did after South Carolina.
Michigan and Arizona’s primaries were more open-ended, especially Michigan. Michigan is Mitt Romney’s birthstate and he has maintained a strong footing in his native Detroit suburbs, and he carried the state in the 2008 GOP primaries against John McCain. It is also a fairly moderate state in terms of GOP electorate, having voted for McCain over Bush in the 2000 GOP primaries. At the same time, Michigan is a pretty low-income state with a strong working-class electorate, and Mitt Romney’s support has thus far almost always followed a graduated income scale with strongest performances with the affluent GOP voters and bad performances with poorer GOP voters. Rick Santorum’s kind-of populist economic rhetoric, his strong base with social conservatives and Evangelicals (there is, of course, also a correlation between social conservatives/Evangelicals and lower incomes in these contests) promised him a strong base in Michigan. Arizona, on the other hand, is more favourable to Romney. It has a significant Mormon base (11% of GOP voters) and its Republican voters tend to be older and affluent. Its GOP base is more conservative than the GOP base in Michigan, but part of those conservatives are Mormons while others are likely conservative on immigration where Romney seems to have an edge. Rick Santorum decided to put his admittedly thin resources into Michigan and concede Arizona to Mitt. Michigan remained crucial to Romney both for strategic purposes and rhetoric about it being his homestate (admittedly, Mitt Romney has 4 homestates). Neither Ron Paul nor Newt Gingrich seemed to care much about either state.
Santorum came out of February 7 with a big surge in Michigan, but like in Florida, Romney easily outspent Santorum but Romney was unable to turn the race around in the way he did in Florida where he turned Newt’s post-SC surge into a 15-point deficit by election day in the period of 10 days. By February 20-22, Romney was back to a tie or narrow lead over Santorum in Michigan. In the debate on February 22, Romney performed well and Santorum had a tougher time, the focus of both Romney but also Ron Paul’s attacks. Santorum’s main problem is that Romney successfully painted him a Washington insider because of his time in Congress and lobbying, and Santorum has been surprisingly slow in running away from that damaging label. At the same time, Santorum has had trouble distancing himself from his voting record which Romney and Paul attacked as being supportive of spending and big-government. However, Romney made a gaffe in Detroit on February 24 where he said that his wife drove a bunch of Cadillacs, which again hit at Mitt’s Achilles heel – his elitist image. Santorum had a last-minute second surge to bring the race to a tie or a narrow win for either of the candidates depending on the pollster.
Results and Conclusions
Mitt Romney 47.3%
Rick Santorum 26.6%
Newt Gingrich 16.2%
Ron Paul 8.4%
(the ghost of) Rick Perry 0.4%
Mitt Romney 41.1%
Rick Santorum 37.9%
Ron Paul 11.6%
Newt Gingrich 6.5%
Mitt Romney won a landslide in Arizona, which isn’t surprising because the state’s primary had practically been conceded to Romney weeks ago and nobody watched the primaries there with too much interest. Arizona is still a WTA state, which nets Romney 29 delegates and adds to his already sizable lead over the other candidates in the delegate count. On the other hand, Michigan went right down to the wire, but ultimately Santorum’s performance in rural Michigan was not enough to overtake late-counting precincts in Romney’s native son strongholds in the Detroit MSA. If Mitt Romney had ended up losing Michigan, it would have been a huge blow to his campaign both for the lost-his-homestate symbolism but also because the race had turned into a pretty decisive make-or-break thing for Romney (not for Santorum). A loss would have been a decisive blow which he would have a hard time working his way out of. He only won narrowly, but instead of a narrative of a poor performance in a homestate, Romney is going to get the narrative of a decisive victory in a key state which shows his resilience.
He didn’t lose Michigan, which has the effect of saving his campaign and returning him into more comfortable likely nominee territory. But at this point in the race, it is unlikely he’ll get any huge bump out of Michigan and anything is possible. Rick Santorum certainly isn’t dead, because Super Tuesday is favourable, on paper, to him. Newt Gingrich has no intention of dropping out, and Adelson pumped some more millions into the campaign, which means that Gingrich might as well experience a final third surge. Ron Paul is pretty chummy with Romney, which becomes important in case of a brokered convention, but he has no intention of dropping out either. Still, Romney is back in the race but he must prevent falling asleep as he did after his NH and FL win. The race is unlikely to be finished anytime soon, and if a nominee is decided rapidly, it will probably be in April (if not later) and not in March.
On February 29, final results out of Wyoming’s staggered caucuses are due out, but on partial results, Romney has a lead of some 7-10% over Santorum with a bit less than 40% of the votes. On March 3, Washington holds GOP caucuses. Santorum seems favoured in Washington, which despite its overall liberalism, has a rather conservative GOP which will turn out for the not-Romney in a caucus setting. On March 6, Super Tuesday, ten states will vote. Mitt Romney’s victory is a near-certainty in Massachusetts, Virginia (Paul is the only other candidate on the ballot) and probably Idaho. Vermont looks favourable, on paper to him, but a poll showed him with a surprisingly narrow lead. On the other hand, Rick Santorum is looking pretty strong in Tennessee and Oklahoma, and Gingrich leads his homestate, Georgia. The main state to watch will be Ohio, where Santorum seems to have a strong lead and a ‘Rust Belt’ populist appeal to a state whose GOP base mixes rural conservatives with more working-class or lower-income voters. A caucus in Kansas (March 10) and Dixie primaries in Alabama and Mississippi on March 13 could go for either Gingrich or Santorum but probably not Romney unless the first two split the not-Romney vote.
However, Romney will more likely than not end up as the nominee. Romney can’t wrap the race up because of fundamental weakness with certain key GOP electorates, but they are unlikely to form a brick wall for Romney, though those weakenesses might rear their heads in November for Romney. Even if early March seems tough, Romney’s delegate lead remains pretty important and it will only be complemented by Romney victories in WTA states in the Northeast which vote quite late but will likely wrap up the race in Romney’s hand. Santorum’s path to an unlikely nomination is made much harder by a defeat in Michigan, because it might halt his momentum, not because Michigan’s actual delegate count will be a blow to him. Michigan allocated its delegates by CD, and it appears as if they either split evenly 7-7, giving Romney a 16-14 delegate victory or even split in Santorum’s favour by 8-6, giving him a 16-14 delegate victory despite a statewide loss.
Exit Poll Analysis
In Arizona, Romney swept pretty much every category. Voters over 65 made up 24% of the electorate, and Romney won them 48-27 over Santorum. 50-64 voters were another 34%, and they backed Romney by a similar margin. In terms of income, those earning over $200k made up 6% of the electorate, and those with $100-200k earnings made up 20% of the electorate. Romney’s support again followed an income scale, with the poorest voters backing him by a narrow 37-31 margin over Santorum and the wealthiest voters backing him by a 67-14 margin.
Conservatives were 74% of the electorate, but Romney even took those voters, winning 47% of their votes against 30% for Santorum. He won the very conservative voters (38%) with 41% to Santorum’s 35%. Romney dominated with voters who said the economy was the top issue (49%) with 51% to 26% for Santorum. This being Arizona, 13% said immigration was the top issue, and while Gingrich did well with those voters (23%) Romney still took 41% of their votes. The most right-wing voters on immigration (the 34% who said illegals should be deported) voted 47-28 for Romney over Santorum. The more liberal voters (34% who said illegals could apply for citizenship) backed Mitt with 53%.
Once again, the ability to defeat Obama was the top candidate quality for 40% of voters and Romney predictably romped with those: 56-22 over Santorum. Santorum did win those who said being a true conservative or strong moral character was the top quality.
Mormons made up 14% of voters, Romney won 93% of their votes.
Michigan also had an older electorate. 24% were 65+, and a full 49% were between 45 and 64. Romney won the oldest crowd with 49% to Santorum’s 33% and took the 45-64 group by two points over Santorum. Paul won 18-29 voters, and Santorum won those between 30 and 44. Income remained a very strong predictor of one’s vote in Michigan. Romney won only two income groups: the 9% earning $200k+ and the 24% who win between $100-200k. In the latter group, he took 46%, in the former he took 55%. Though Romney won 37% with the poorest voters, higher than his 34% with those earning $30-50k, otherwise vote for Romney and high incomes are positively correlated. Santorum did well with the poorer voters, but his strongest performance was not with the very poor (under $30k) but with those earning $30-50k. 23% of voters said somebody in their household was a union member, and Santorum carried those voters by 15 points over Romney and lost the 77% who said no by a 44-36 margin. He also won the 14% of voters who were unionized themselves.
There were big fears in Michigan about an “Operation Backdoor” of Democrats flooding the open primary contest to vote for Santorum, whom Democrats perceive as weaker than Romney against Obama in November (I might disagree on that). Democrats were 9% of voters and Santorum won 53% of their votes. Santorum had started controversial robocalls targetting Democrats, and the blowback from that might have hurt him with Republicans: he lost them 48-37 to Romney. Conservatives were 61% of the electorate, and Romney won them by a 43-41 edge. Moderates or liberals backed Romney 39-33 over Santorum. Very conservative voters, three in ten voters overall, gave Santorum 50% against 36% for Mitt.
Rick Santorum is a Catholic and has made his faith a large part of his political image. He has strong appeal to social conservatives partly because of that. Yet, in Michigan, like in a lot of other states thus far, Santorum has actually done better with Protestants than with Catholics. It is likely because Protestants tend to include the socially conservative Evangelicals so favourable to Santorum and that Catholics now tend to attach less significance to their faith. Romney won Michigan Catholics 44-37 but lost Protestants by 2 to Santorum.
The economy was the top issue for 55% of voters, and Romney had a decisive 17-point advantage with those voters as he did with those who cared more about the budget deficit. You still had a surprisingly sizable share of voters who felt abortion was the top issue (14%), and predictably Santorum won those with 77%. 50% of Michigan GOP voters disapproved of the auto bailout, against 44% who approved. Interestingly, Romney did better with those who approved of the bailout.
A fairly small 32%, still a plurality, felt a candidate’s ability to beat Obama was the top candidate quality. Romney won that group with 61%, against 24% for Santorum. Electability still remains Romney’s top card, as does his business experience: most GOP voters (57%) want a candidate with business rather than government experience, and those voters backed Romney 57-27.
Over half of GOP votes were cast in Maricopa County, Arizona’s most populous county and also one of the most populous counties in the whole United States. Maricopa includes Phoenix and the vast majority of its suburbs including Scottsdale, Glendale, Mesa, Chandler, Glendale and Tempe. Mitt Romney, of course, did not will just on the heels of Maricopa, but his margin of victory owes a lot to his performance there. He won Maricopa with 49.7% against 24.5% for Rick Santorum. Four years ago, when Romney lost Arizona to home-stater John McCain by 12.6%, he had won a congressional district (old CD-6) in suburban Phoenix. Maricopa County includes a mix of demographics favourable to Mitt Romney: Mormons (around Mesa and Chandler), very affluent and educated suburbs (basically the bulk of the county besides the places with Hispanics) and older voters (especially in the Paradise Valley area).
Arizona’s Mormons, besides those in Maricopa, live in Graham County or the largely Native American counties (Navajo and Apache Counties). Romney, like in 2008, won Graham with a huge margin, taking 67.5%. He also took 57% in Navajo and 48% in Apache counties.
Mitt Romney won all other counties, including fairly populous Coconino (Flagstaff), Yavapai (Prescott) and Pima (Tucson) counties. Paul performed best with 11% in Coconino, which includes the fairly liberal college town of Flagstaff. Romney won 40.8% in Coconino, and took 40.4% in Yavapai and 44% in Pima. Santorum and Gingrich performed best in desert rural counties. Gingrich took 24% in sparsely populated La Paz County, while Santorum won his best result, 33.8%, in Cochise County, a sparsely populated on the Mexican border which is also the only county where Romney did not improve on his 2008 performance.
There are usually two main political regions in Michigan, both in general elections and presidential primaries. There is eastern Michigan, which includes the Detroit MSA, the state capital of Lansing, Flint and the Tri-Cities. Then there is western Michigan, on the shores of Lake Michigan, which includes Grand Rapids but also Muskegon, Holland, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo. Industrial eastern Michigan, the core of the auto industry and an integral part of the Rust Belt, has attracted immigrant workers from southern and eastern Europes but also, obviously, blacks from the South and working-class whites from Appalachia. Urban decay, poverty, population decline and inner cities which are associated with Michigan are found here. Western Michigan, fairly industrial but also with a larger agricultural base, has tended to attract immigrants from the Netherlands (Christian Reformed) who fled religious persecution. It is wealthier and traditionally opposes the political influence of eastern Michigan, a heavily Democratic region especially in and around Wayne County (Detroit-Livonia).
Mitt Romney’s birthstate homebase is in metro Detroit, specifically Oakland County which includes some very affluent and educated suburbs such as Bloomfield Hills – one of the wealthiest communities in the United States. Mitt Romney won 50% of the vote in Oakland against 28.9% for Santorum, his best performance in the state, in a county which cast more votes than Wayne County itself. But Romney was able to extend his strong performance to the rest of metro and exurban Detroit. He won 41.6% to Santorum’s 33.2% in Wayne, but apparently lost inner-city and heavily black CD-13 (new lines) to Santorum – Operation Backdoor? Paul also performed well in Detroit and won 16% in Wayne, his best performance statewide. Romney won 43.3% to Santorum’s 34.6% in Macomb, which is traditionally the more blue-collar and ‘Reagan Democrat’-like of the two northern Detroit suburban counties. The race in heavily Democratic Washtenaw County, which includes the liberal college town of Ann Arbor and thus probably a good number of fairly politicized and educated Democrats who would participate in Operation Backdoor, was narrower: 42-37 for Romney.
Mitt Ronney also had success in exurban Detroit, where George W. Bush had done well against McCain in 2000. He won 43.8% in Livingston County and 42.3% in Jackson County. Further west, Romney carried Ingham County (Lansing and its affluent suburbs) with 42.8%. Romney also performed surprinsingly strongly in blue-collar white Catholic (lots of Poles) areas in the Tri-City area: 42-40 in Saginaw, 41-37 in Bay City and 43-39 in Midland, the wealthiest and most white-collar of the Tri-City counties.
Romney’s strong performance in the northern Lower Peninsula, which holds very few voters, surprised a lot of observers. He won Grand Traverse County easily, 43% to 35%, but also played surprisingly well in more rural counties of northern Michigan. This is a fairly low-income and traditionally working-class (lumber, mining etc), but it seems a bit less Evangelical than other parts of the state and more moderate – Huckabee had done poorly in 2008. Electionate’s analysis showed a strong, negative correlation between Huckabee-08 and Romney-12 performances.
Santorum won the Upper Peninsula fairly easily. The UP is a socially conservative, albeit not Evangelical, region with a strong working-class tradition rooted in mining and lumber. The labour radicalism of Finnish immigrants in the UP, immigrants who provided the only sizable Communist electorate in the country, has passed as mining has died off and voters have started voting less on the basis on economic issues.
In the mainland, Santorum dominated in western Michigan, but not by a sufficiently large margin to win statewide. Firstly, Romney actually won two of the main urban areas here: Battle Creek (Calhoun County, 40-39) and Kalamazoo (41-38). Romney lost, but by a narrow 2% margin, Kent County, which includes Grand Rapids, the largest city in western Michigan and a fairly conservative area. Kent County mixes two ambiguities in GOP primaries: a strong conservative Christian Reformed influence, but also some wealthy suburbs. On this basis, the county split fairly evenly.
Rick Santorum showed in Iowa and Minnesota that Dutch-Christian Reformed voters were one of his most solid electorates. Dutch-Americans in Iowa and Michigan, the two main regions where they are found, tend to be extremely conservative by their association with the Christian Reformed Church. Ottawa County, a heavily Dutch-American county west of Grand Rapids, is usually the most Republican county in the state (over 70% for Bush in 2004, the only county over 60% for McCain in 2008). Santorum’s margin in Ottawa County (Holland) was surprisingly small given the demographics – 48.7-35.5.
Santorum also won working-class Muskegon (44.5-36.2) and won, not always by large margins, rural counties in the rest of the state including eastern Michigan. He won Genesee County (Flint) narrowly, 39-38, the same margin as he carried outer Detroit exurban but fairly blue-collar St. Clair.
While it seems as if Mitt Romney will, after all this fun, be the nominee, the race is not over yet and this race has been so open-ended and downright insane that anything is still possible. Like any good TV series, it will need to end someday, but we have more episodes of this great show coming up next week (Super Tuesday on March 6).
While Nevada and then Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri voted; Maine held week-long Republican caucuses kicking off on February 4 and ending on February 11. As in most caucuses, these are but straw polls which do not directly affect the allocation of delegates – those are apparently decided in May. Some areas of Maine decided to hold their non-binding straw polls before or after this week-long process, but their results are not counted in the results of this week-long caucus.
Some of these municipal caucuses were held after Rick Santorum’s 3-state sweep on February 6. Santorum’s come-from-behind wins in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri likely sent a shiver down Mitt Romney’s spine, as it shook the (formerly?) likely nominee from his position as frontrunner. Since his wins on February 6, a new strings of polls have shown that Santorum has surged into first place nationally, while Newt Gingrich is in a state of near-collapse. That Santorum would surge nationally was quite obvious, but Santorum needs to hold his momentum until the next major primaries in Michigan and Arizona on February 28. Santorum seems ready to concede Arizona to Romney for now (it is a fairly favourable state for Romney) but is taking on Romney head-on in Romney’s second home-state of Michigan. In a ominous sign for Gingrich, polls have also shown Santorum gaining or even first in a number of Super Tuesday Southern primaries, which were supposed to be Gingrich’s lifeline.
As for Maine, nobody cared besides Ron Paul, still looking for a win, and Mitt Romney who woke up late realizing that he might lose Maine, which he had won with 52% in 2008, to Paul. Maine’s Republican caucus-goers tend to be much more conservative than other New England GOP voters. In 2000, George W. Bush won Maine (which held primaries then) while losing every other New England state to John McCain. Of course, the Bush family, which vacations in Kennebunkport, has always had a built-in advantage with the Maine GOP. In 2008, Mitt Romney, as the conservative alternative to John McCain, won Maine’s off-the-map caucuses with 52% against 21% for McCain and 18.4% for Ron Paul.
Maine has an independent, against the grain streak which even beats that of Vermont and equals that of Alaska. It elected independent governors, most recently Angus King. It was Ross Perot’s best state in 1992, giving him 30% of the vote and a second place showing. Its congressional delegation includes two more or less standard-fare liberal Democrats in the House, two famous moderate Republican Senators. But in 2010, Maine elected Paul LePage, a Tea Party-backed candidate, to the Governor’s Mansion. Since 2010 (or even before), the Maine Republican Party seems to have been taken over by the right-wing of the GOP.
The results were announced in one batch on February 11, but does not include the bulk of results from Washington County where the votes were delayed due to snow.
Mitt Romney 39.21%
Ron Paul 35.74%
Rick Santorum 17.71%
Newt Gingrich 6.25%
Mitt Romney was able to pull off a rather narrow victory, in spite of early reports (from the Paul camp, fair enough) which indicated results rather favourable to Ron Paul. Not that it matters all that much, given that few people actually cared all that much about Maine and its results are unlikely to give Romney any type of momentum. Mitt Romney performed about 13% worst than in 2008, which indicates Romney’s new problem with caucuses whose participants are overwhelmingly conservative. At the same time, Ron Paul performed about 17% better than in 2008. Maine was Ron Paul’s best chance for win in all the states which have voted thus far, but he was ultimately unable to pull off a win. His other chances for a win are probably Montana, Washington, Alaska and North Dakota; but can he actually win a state, even with a strong GOTV operation on the ground and motivated supporters willing to turn out?
Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich did not campaign in Maine, but Santorum still did fairly well without any campaigning. Perhaps if Rick Santorum had put a bit of an effort in Maine, he could have made this a real three-way contest.
The Maine GOP released county and township results, which appear to be incomplete in parts. It only includes ten votes cast in a single town in Washington County, while counties such as Waldo (90 votes) or Aroostook (137 votes) appear to have reported either partial results (I know some parts of Aroostook voted before February 4) or that turnout was really low. The county map looks random, the town map looks both random and empty.
Mitt Romney’s victory was won in Cumberland County, Maine’s most populous county which cast 1,552 votes. While Ron Paul won Portland, Maine’s largest city, Mitt Romney dominated in the affluent coastal suburbs/resorts including Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Cumberland, Yarmouth, Freeport and Harpswell. Romney also performed well in other affluent coastal resort communities including York Beach, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Boothbay Harbor, Camden, Rockport and Bar Harbor. At the same time, in less affluent or perhaps more hippie resort areas such as Ogunquit, Old Orchard Beach, Thomaston and Vinalhaven, Ron Paul came out ahead.
Ron Paul also seems to have performed well in the more conservative inland regions, but at the same time he did quite poorly in backwoods Somerset, Franklin and Oxford Counties. Ron Paul’s best showing was in Aroostook County, which he had won in 2008 and which he won this year with 59% this year. But looking at a town map, Aroostook has reported results from only a handful of towns. The heavily Democratic French-Canadian townships of the Madawaska River Valley has basically no results. Aroostook, like Coos County in New Hampshire, seems to be natural Ron Paul territory. It is isolated, conservative but with a fairly independent or libertarian streak. Ron Paul did well in the college towns of Orono and Farmington, but at the same time lost larger college towns such as Gorham or Augusta.
Maine is a fairly working-class state, an element hardly apparent to out-of-state summer vacationers. There seems to be little consistency in results between Maine’s various working-class mill towns. Ron Paul won Lewiston and Auburn, in Androscoggin County, while Rick Santorum performed well in small mill towns in Somerset County. Santorum also performed well in Androscoggin County (26%), which, as Catholic working-class territory, seems to be fairly strong territory for Santorum. In York County, Mitt Romney won Saco and Sanford, but Paul won in Biddeford. Finally, no caucus seems to have been held in Waterville.
After Nevada’s caucuses on February 4, the race for the Republican nomination in the United States stayed west of the Mississippi with a mini Super Tuesday featuring caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota and a non-binding ‘beauty pageant’ primary in Missouri.
In Nevada, the Republican Party’s frontrunner Mitt Romney scored a triumph over his three remaining challengers taking 50% of the vote in a caucus state, and this despite a very conservative base of caucus-goers (8 in 10 were conservatives, the highest since Iowa on January 3). This win followed a 14-point win over Newt Gingrich in Florida’s primary at the end of January, which had allowed Mitt Romney to avenge his thumping at Gingrich’s hands in South Carolina 10 days prior. Newt Gingrich has tried to position himself as the ‘other guy’ in the race, to make this contest a choice between him – the alleged conservative alternative – and Romney – whose conservative credentials are often placed in doubt by others. His success in South Carolina and second place finishes in both Florida and Nevada have allowed Gingrich to retain this mantle. But Gingrich has so far failed to prove that he’s not a sectional candidate a la Mike Huckabee, with a base limited almost exclusively to the South. The February contests, none of which take place in the old Confederacy, are a tough spell for Gingrich. But these contests are generally seen as favourable to Mitt Romney. He had carried Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Maine and Michigan in 2008 – all these states vote (or voted) this month. In 2008, he won over 60% in Colorado’s caucuses and over 40% in Minnesota’s caucuses.
Outside Iowa (and Nevada, to a lesser extent), caucuses are unpredictable affairs. Their setup means that they attract far more limited turnout and its results are conditioned by those who attend caucuses, who are generally very heavily conservative. A candidate’s organization on the ground, with a strong ability to motivate base supporters to go out and caucus, are crucial factors in caucus politics. Barack Obama had understood that in the 2008 Democratic contest, and it perhaps proved determinant. In this race, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul dominate the field in terms of ground organization and GOTV capabilities. In contrast, Gingrich’s campaign in these caucus states was horrible.
In the 2008 Republican caucuses in Nevada, Mitt Romney had two things going for him: firstly, the fact that a quarter of the caucus-goers were Mormons like him. Secondly, the heavily conservative electorate suited Mitt Romney’s 2008 profile as the anti-McCain non-Evangelical conservative candidate. In Nevada this year, he didn’t really lose any of those two advantages. But in Colorado and Minnesota, both states he won easily in 2008 over McCain, his 2008 victory was apparently reliant pretty exclusively on the second condition (conservatism). Despite winning conservatives in Nevada pretty convincingly, conservatives have been 2012 Romney’s weakness. Furthermore, conservatives in Colorado and Minnesota tend to be different from those in Nevada. Nevada’s conservative base does not care all that much about ‘culture war’ issues and tend to be concerned about things such as taxes, the deficit and guns. Colorado and Minnesota Republicans tend to be far more socially conservative – though not Southern Baptist. In fact, the CO and MN GOP tend to be pretty conservative despite Minnesota’s liberalism and Colorado’s centrism. Minnesota Republicans include Michele Bachmann and Colorado Republicans included Tom Tancredo and Marilyn Musgrave.
The Missouri contest was a non-binding ‘beauty pageant’ primary which will not count in assigning delegates. In other words, it can be seen either as an irrelevant joke or a glorified straw poll. A caucus in March will be the one assigning delegates. The primary is made unique by the fact that Newt Gingrich is not on the ballot, although he will be on the caucus ballot. It was a contest between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, with Ron Paul also on the ballot.
Results and Conclusions
Rick Santorum 40.31%
Mitt Romney 34.85%
Newt Gingrich 12.79%
Ron Paul 11.75%
Minnesota (98% reporting)
Rick Santorum 44.99%
Ron Paul 27.08%
Mitt Romney 16.85%
Newt Gingrich 10.79%
Rick Santorum 55.68%
Mitt Romney 25.58%
Ron Paul 12.28%
After his come-from-behind triumph in Iowa, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum had it pretty tough in January. He finished a distant third in South Carolina, taking 17%, and also placed third in Florida with 13%. A few days ago in Nevada, he polled only 10%. Despite the momentum his Iowan victory generated, Santorum was unable to keep that short-lived big mo’ from eroding. Rick Santorum, on paper, is a terrific candidate for the GOP primaries: experienced, reliably conservative, no skeletons in the closet and a well-managed campaign. In practice, however, Santorum’s problem is that he has little funds, weak or nascent state organizations and he is not Southern unlike Gingrich. His poor showings in the other January contests after Iowa threatened to descend his operation into irrelevancy. He risked being left behind as Gingrich took the mantle of the conservative anti-Romney. However, Santorum was able to focus his efforts on these three states – especially Minnesota and Missouri’s symbolic primary. Beyond his wildest dreams, Santorum roared back into contention by scoring some pretty monumental blows to Romney. A landslide in Missouri’s beauty contest – 56% of the vote against a mere 26% for Mitt. A much wider than expected margin in Minnesota, taking 45%. More spectacularly, beating Romney by a significant margin in Colorado with 40% of the vote.
Mitt Romney is the real loser of the night. His campaign had been worried about Minnesota and Missouri, and they spent election day furiously spinning the two contests into irrelevance for their campaign. Romney ignored Missouri – his landslide loss there is more understandable and less humiliating. He came to Minnesota only once and it was not his main target – still humiliating, but more understandable. Still, distant third place in a state he got 41% in four years ago… pretty horrible, no? But even further than that, Colorado was Romney’s backyard. He had won it with over 60% of the vote in 2008. The demographics in Missouri and Minnesota didn’t play Romney’s way, but Colorado is full of very affluent and educated suburbanites who form Romney’s backbone thus far. It has a not-insignificant Mormon vote in the GOP caucuses, giving Romney a tiny boost over his rivals, all things being equal. His campaign efforts were largely focused on Colorado, and the polls in the state seemed to be going his way.
There was a late Santorum surge which no casual observer saw coming and which experienced observers saw only very late. Caucuses outside Iowa are notoriously hard to poll, so only PPP ventured out to poll the contests in Minnesota and Colorado. A first poll in Minnesota had shown a three-way tie with Santorum ahead and a last-minute poll out of Minnesota gave Santorum a 9-point edge over Romney. In Colorado, a final last-minute poll by PPP showed Romney with a 10 point lead over Santorum, who had closed the gap. The Colorado poll results averaged out two days of polling, meaning that the final day’s sample was pretty pro-Santorum. That was the only hint of what was coming. Even on election night, most analysts were still pretty certain that Romney would win Colorado, but I did find it hilariously prescient that in his speech, Mitt said that he was confident of ‘finishing number one… or number two… in Colorado’.
Rick Santorum’s recipe for success seems to have been heavy conservative turnouts. GOP caucuses are full of conservatives, and in a lot of cases full of conservatives who are motivated to go out there. Mitt Romney is not the type of candidate who you would go out caucus for after dinner, even if you’re a supporter. He does not motivate turnout. In fact, a 538 analysis picked up by Newt shows that turnout of GOP voters (independents are not counted, given that they are obviously far more likely to vote in contested GOP primaries than uncontested Democratic primaries) so far has tended to decline vis-a-vis 2008 in the places where Romney performs best. Gingrich says that Romney ‘supresses’ turnout, which is perhaps not the best way of putting it, but Romney has not won so far by motivation of his electorate or swing voters, rather he has won by apathy of swing voters and opponents towards his rivals. In Colorado and Minnesota, Santorum – and Paul to a lesser extent – proved capable of motivating turnout, especially among conservatives.
The results in Colorado and Minnesota, more than anything else, show how deep Romney’s conservative problem is. He won those two states in 2008 because their caucus-goers were conservative and he was the conservative alternative that year. He lost those two states in 2012 because their caucus-goers were conservative and he was the moderate choice. Mitt Romney has a serious problem in appealing to his party’s conservative base. Conservatives don’t trust him, don’t like him and don’t want him as their nominee. If he wins, it will likely be because the conservatives have failed to coalesce behind a single candidate. We should still be careful about spinning MN and CO’s results way out of proportion, given that they were low-turnout caucuses where those who turned out were motivated social conservatives who hated Romney. Like McCain and Hillary in 2008, Romney may have a caucus problem, but we can’t really ascertain that he has a primary problem too. McCain lost Minnesota in a landslide, but he did not have any problems in next-door Illinois on the same day.
In a way, Santorum’s victory could be a positive for Romney in the long run. But only if Santorum is unable to build up true momentum and only builds up enough to further divides the conservative anti-Romney vote, allowing Romney to eek out uninspiring victories in crucial states along the way and emerging as nominee-by-default. Romney is still the favourite, he has money, loads of it, and he has shown no reluctance of going negative on his rivals. He has the means to bomb Santorum like he bombed Gingrich in Florida. On the other hand, Santorum is far more of a threat to Romney than Newt is. As previously outlined, he has relatively few negatives which could hurt him with the base but a good list of positives which make him a strong candidate. Santorum should shift his focus to winning Midwestern primaries, where Santorum’s populist tone on economic issues with stuff such as rebuilding America’s manufacturing base would play very well with Republican voters in upcoming big primaries such as Michigan and Ohio. Santorum also needs to try to marginalize Gingrich as much as possible, with the aim of forcing him out of the race as soon as possible.
Given Gingrich’s horrible caucus organization, his results are not surprising. But they make him the second big loser of the night. He has yet to prove that he is more than a sectional, Southern candidate. Gingrich seems extremely adamant about the fact that he’s staying in the race vitam æternam, but if his main financial backer, Sheldon Adelson, stops bankrolling him after a string of results such as these, his determination could prove short-lived. But this race is so unpredictable, Gingrich could mount a fantastic comeback followed a week later by a spectacular collapse back to today’s level.
Ron Paul performed well in Minnesota, up from 16% four years ago. In Colorado, however, his result was bit underwhelming, up only a bit from the 8 or so percent he won in 2008. Early indications out of Maine, whose week-long caucus mess ends on Saturday, are favourable to him and he could be looking at potential victories in Alaska, Washington and Montana.
In Colorado, Rick Santorum’s victory was built on three main foundations. Firstly, he swept the sparsely populated counties of the state’s flat Eastern Plains. This is conservative, rural, agrarian, Evangelical country; but in the end it only provides a handful of votes. Secondly, and most importantly, Santorum won decisively in El Paso County (Colorado Springs), which cast the most votes of all counties. He won 47% to Romney’s 31%. Colorado Springs, a solidly Republican city, is driven by the military but also has a strong social conservative base as the headquarters of Focus on the Family, a socially conservative organization which endorsed Santorum. Evangelicals make up a big part of the CO GOP caucus-goers, perhaps up to nearly half of the entire electorate. They tend to be concentrated in the Eastern Plains but also non-touristic mountainous areas. Thirdly, Santorum’s victory was made possible by strong showings in the Front Range exurbs of Denver, which are to the right of Denver’s liberalizing suburbs, slightly less educated and less affluent. He carried Larimer County (Fort Collins) 44-30 and Weld (Greeley) 48-28. He also won the main population centre of the Western Slopes, Mesa County (Grand Junction) 47-35.
In the Denver area, Mitt Romney’s support was concentrated in urban Denver and in the educated, affluent and politically more moderate suburban counties of Arapahoe, Jefferson and Douglas. While his victories in Arapahoe and Douglas (45-34 and 47-33 respectively), he only won by a smaller margin of 39-37 in Jefferson County. Outside Denver and Boulder, however, Romney’s support was concentrated in low-vote locales including Mormon outposts (Conejos County, 79% for Romney, some counties along the Utah border) and liberal affluent ski resort places including Pitkin County (Aspen), Eagle County (Vail) and Summit County (Breckenridge).
Ron Paul did best (33%) in Gunnison County which includes both a college (in Gunnison) and a ski resort.
Rick Santorum swept Minnesota quasi-entirely, leaving out only four counties for Ron Paul. His strongest support was concentrated in rural areas, especially in parts of southwestern and northwestern Minnesota which have a large proportion of Evangelical Protestants. Mitt Romney had performed comparatively poorly in the bulk of these areas in 2008, when he won statewide, and this year he was utterly trashed in the vast majority of these counties, where the GOP caucus-going electorate is extremely conservative. But in terms of overall weights, these areas are fairly minimal.
Rick Santorum performed well – and so did Ron Paul actually – in Minneapolis’ famous exurban counties, including Michele Bachmann’s home-turf (the 6th district). Minnesota’s right-wing exurbia, which stands out from the liberalizing suburbs of Chicago, are marked by mega-churches and a politically significant Evangelical community. Romney had performed well here in 2008, he was swept out this year, performing below his statewide average and a distant third at best. Even in the more moderate and affluent inner suburbs of Minneapolis, Romney at best broke 20%, but Santorum still dominated.
Mitt Romney could not even place second in the Twin Cities, both of which were won by Santorum by a smaller yet still significant margin. He won Hennepin (Minneapolis) 36-29.5 over Paul and won Ramsey (St. Paul) 36-34. Santorum also carried two other large urban centres, Olmsted (Rochester) 40-29 and the Iron Range city of Duluth (St. Louis County) 45-29.5. Paul was victorious in Blue Earth County, which includes the college town of Mankato, winning 51 to 30.
Missouri’s beauty-pageant primary is ultimately meaningless for Santorum’s campaign, but because it has been reported on by the media, Santorum’s big win there has created some sort of narrative about him winning “the heart of America” and similar stuff like that. Whether or not he can win the meaningful caucus, in which Gingrich will be on the ballot, is still unknown given that Missouri’s demographics are closer to Gingrich’s Southern conservative base than Santorum’s emerging Midwestern conservative base. Still, Santorum’s landslide in the primary carried him over Romney in every single county in the state, a spectacular feat. He far surpasses Mike Huckabee’s close second performance in Missouri’s meaningful 2008 primary, in which he had won 31.5% to McCain’s 33% on the back of strong performances in the culturally Southern Ozarks of southwestern Missouri, the Dixiecratic Bootheel and the old plantation region of Little Dixie in central Missouri.
Rick Santorum still won these culturally Southern regions by huge margins, doing especially well in the Evangelical Ozarks and parts of Little Dixie along the Illinois and Iowa border. But in addition to these conservative bases, Santorum was able to extend his appeal – rather spectacularly – to places where Huckabee had not done as well. He defeated Romney by large margins in the reliably Republican German Catholic counties of the Missouri Rhineland, where McCain had won four years ago. Even more surprising was his ability to defeat Romney in what should be Romney’s backyard: the affluent, more moderate suburbs and exurbs of St. Louis and Kansas City. He won St. Louis’ exurbs in St. Charles County 56-25, in a county which had been one of Romney’s best counties in 2008. But he also won the older, more moderate affluent suburbs of St. Louis (St. Louis County) 53-29 and won the city proper 45-26. He also carried Jackson County (Kansas City) and Boone County, which includes the liberal college town of Columbia.
Slightly amusingly, Mitt Romney’s best result in Missouri came out of Pemiscot County (37.3%), which makes no sense whatsoever. Pemiscot was the only county to vote for Wallace in 1968 and it is a traditionally Dixiecratic county in the Bootheel. Of course, barely anybody (413) voted.
After Florida’s primary on January 31, the the race for the Republican nomination in the United States shifted far westward to Nevada, which held caucuses on February 4.
Following his landslide defeat to Newt Gingrich in South Carolina, Mitt Romney roared back in Florida with a 14-point win over Gingrich in the biggest state to vote thus far. Romney’s crushing of Gingrich in Florida was made possible by Romney’s huge financial base, which far outweighs Gingrich’s financial backings, and which made a series of hard hitting attack ads on Gingrich possible for Romney. Gingrich not only came out of Florida limping on to the next contests, he also came out of there with his favourability ratings almost down the train with GOP voters and a campaign which seems crazier by the day. Romney’s win in Florida re-established him as the likely nominee, but he will have to wait longer than he might want to officially get that crown. In the meantime, however, Romney can cheer himself up with a February schedule which is generally leaning in his favour and pretty unfavourable to Gingrich, who pins his hopes on Southern primaries on Super Tuesday March 6.
The first of the February contests was Nevada, where Mitt Romney had won 51% against Ron Paul’s 13.7% in 2008. Nevada’s caucus electorate is predictably very conservative – it was only slightly less conservative than Iowa’s caucus electorate in 2008 – and that advantaged Romney in 2008 but disadvantages him now. But 25% of Nevada’s GOP electorate is Mormon, which is Mitt Romney’s strongest base. Organization is also pretty important in a caucus, where a candidate’s ability to get out the vote is one of the main keys to caucus success. Romney has one of the strongest organization of any GOP candidate, while in contrast Gingrich’s organization in Nevada was in shambles and barely operative. Ron Paul’s Nevada machine, however, was well-oiled, and Paul has always performed strongly in caucus states, and perhaps doubly so this year as he appeals more and more to deficit-hawk conservatives.
The caucuses were a total mess and the vote counting process was a disgrace. It took the party about a full day to figure out what to count, how to count and when to count the votes in Clark County (Las Vegas), meaning that full results basically came out this morning after they wasted the whole of yesterday figuring out what they were doing.
Results and Conclusions
Mitt Romney 50.12%
Newt Gingrich 21.15%
Ron Paul 18.77%
Rick Santorum 9.96%
Mitt Romney was able to win a pretty significant victory in Nevada, with over 50% of the vote, despite the conservatism of 83% of caucus-goers. He won a result slightly below his 2008 result, likely because of his struggles with conservative voters thus far this year. But it is still a very significant win for Romney, a win which again boosts his momentum going into February.
Newt Gingrich manged to place a very distant second, surprisingly beating out Ron Paul for second place when many had assumed that Paul would do quite well (over 20% at least) in a state which is generally seen as being favourable to his campaign. Gingrich likely remains the second-place contender in the national race, but his path to a potential nomination is very much unclear and his campaign will struggle throughout February despite his insistence that he will fight until the convention in August. Perhaps Romney quite likes it that way, because having a Newt Gingrich consistently placing second but not dropping out only divides the ‘not-Romney’ vote and Gingrich is far less of a threat to Romney in a one-on-one fight than Santorum is. Santorum’s main problem is his lack of funds and his very feeble non-Iowa organization, because otherwise Santorum has the qualities required to seriously threaten Romney: a clean, polished and well-managed campaign, a strong and conservative record. In contrast, Gingrich’s campaign is all over the place, full of mishaps, his past full of skeletons and a record which doesn’t really reek of sparkling-clean conservatism. Yet, Santorum has too few funds and an organization too weak to appear as a viable conservative alternative. His base so far seems to be non-Southern religious/social populist conservatives, which is a very limited base to work with. Santorum placed a very poor fourth in Nevada, where he had invested some resources, with only 10% of the vote.
The February 7 contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri are a make-or-break chance for Santorum, who must fight to maintain his campaign in the sphere of relevance. Missouri’s primary is a joke as it is non-binding, but given that Gingrich is not on the ballot there, Santorum has a great chance at proving himself one-on-one against Romney in a state which has some demographics favourable to the not-Romney candidates. Romney carried Minnesota’s caucuses easily in 2008 against John McCain, but a poll has shown Santorum leading a very divided field, and a win in Minnesota would be excellent news for Santorum.
Ron Paul will also be fighting for the prize in Minnesota, where he might be within striking distance of his first state victory. A victory in Minnesota could boost his chances in Maine’s week-long caucuses (Feb 4-11), where early leaks have said that Paul is actually ahead thus far. Ron Paul won’t win the nomination, but in the very slight chance that it boils down to a convention fight, a Paul coming in with a big slate of delegates could give him some pretty strong bargaining cards.
Entrance Poll Data
Nevada’s electorate was quite old: 35% were above 65, about the same as in Florida. Given that older voters heavily back Romney everywhere (they did so in Nevada again, with 54%, the highest of all age groups), this likely explains part of why Romney won. He still won all other age groups except Paul’s core 17-29 base, which preferred Paul over Romney by 5 points (41-36). In terms of income, again, we find a graduated income scale in perfect correlation with Romney’s support. He lost those earning less than $30k to Gingrich and Paul (32 and 31% respectively vs. 29%) while winning all other income groups, peaking at 54% among those who earned between $100-200k. Nevada’s voters are not known for being extremely rich, and those earning over $200k made up only 6% of the electorate – too small for a reliable sample. They likely backed Romney very heavily.
83% of Nevada’s caucus-goers were conservatives – as much as in Iowa and 8% more than in the 2008 Nevada caucuses. That Romney was able to dominate this group without too much worries is encouraging for him, who has so far struggled to win conservatives (he lost the very conservative crowd to Newt in Florida). Conservatives gave him 51% support against 23% for Gingrich and 15% for Paul. This is down 5 from 2008, when Romney was clearly the conservative alternative to McCain. In fact, Romney did better with conservatives than moderates: he won moderates/liberals 48-36 over Paul. The 49% who identified as ‘very conservative’ backed Romney 46-25 over Gingrich, a result down 11 points from 2008 for Mitt. Yet, his result with moderates is up 11 on 2008. Nevada’s conservative electorate is unlike the ‘Southern-type’ conservative electorate in Iowa, South Carolina or Florida. Nevada conservatives are probably those who care the least about gays and abortions (only 4% cited abortion as their top issue), but are probably very conservative on economic and fiscal issues – 75% supported the Tea Party (those who did backed Romney pretty convincingly too). On issues of taxes and economic conservatives, Romney has indisputable appeal to those types of conservatives. Yet only 4% of those who cited being a “true conservative” as the top candidate quality backed Romney.
Mormons were a quarter of the electorate and gave Romney 88% of the vote, down from 95% in 2008. Catholics gave Romney 48% of the vote, but Protestants only gave him a 37-34 edge over Gingrich.
On the ability to defeat Obama, still the top candidate quality, Romney scored a home run: 70% of those who cited that as their top quality in a candidate backed Romney. His electability card remains a powerful weapon which all other candidates struggle to seize from him.
Nevada is a large state, but in electoral terms, elections are made and often won in Clark County (Las Vegas), which contained 53% of the GOP caucus-goers. In second place, Washoe County (Reno) contributes another share, while the vast sprawling desert contains few voters. Romney definitely owes part of his success in Nevada to his convincing victory in Clark, where he won 57.7% of the vote, Paul placing a distant second with 19% in the Sin City’s county. Clark County Republicans tend to be affluent and suburban, a perfect base for Romney. There might be a not-insignificant Mormon base in Clark County’s GOP caucus-goers, but Mormons are usually found in Lincoln County, just north of Clark, where Romney won 83.6% of the vote in a county which is about 50% Mormon (and looks like a flipped Utah). To a lesser extent, the Mormon vote likely influenced the results in White Pine County and maybe Elko County, but Elko is a fairly well-off semi-booming gold mining town, which is a kind of place which Romney should do well in.
Gingrich and Santorum performed better in the sparsely populated desert areas (outside those bordering Utah, obviously), likely more Protestant and conservative. Gingrich won 28% to Romney’s 42% in Washoe (Reno), and actually won a county – Mineral – which seems fairly unremarkable except being an old mining boom town county which barely has anybody left anymore (only 103 GOP caucus-goers).
Ron Paul had carried one county against Romney in 2008 – Nye – and he repeated his success in Nye, building on it even, taking 45.8% in Nye, whose biggest town is Pahrump. He also won tiny Esmeralda County – 58 GOP caucus-goers on Saturday. Pahrump and Nye are very libertarian places, part of it influenced by a phenomenon common to the entire Rocky Mountain West – the federal government owns most of the land. Otherwise, Pahrump is a very live-and-let-live type of place: unlike in Vegas, prostitution is legal and brothels operate in town; and people are extremely pro-gun, and voters are libertarian and independent in their politics. This is pure Paul country, and also the type of place – besides Vegas – which the name Nevada often evokes.
30,000 or so GOP voters turned out to caucus on Saturday, which is actually down from 44,000 caucus-goers in 2008. This is not an encouraging sign for the NV GOP in a swing state like Nevada. Unlike in the 2008 Democratic contest, the opposition party seems to have little ground enthusiasm for the candidates lining up to defeat the incumbent. Another part of the story is that the NV GOP is in shambles, as it demonstrated by its total ineptness at vote counting. Their organization on the ground is terrible and their coordination of the caucus was apparently a total mess. While this might not prevent Romney or the GOP candidate from potentially winning the state in November (although I wouldn’t bet on it), it is never good news for a swing state party to be inept at what it does and totally devoid in ground-base or organization.
For the first time since Iowa, we know relatively little about the caucuses and beauty-pageant primary being held on February 7. For the first time, in states such as Minnesota, we have a hard time predicting the outcome.