Why have recent US national elections been so close? It’s the regions, stupid.
In an analysis of election data and exit polls of the past five decades, political scientists Earl (Political Science/Rice Univ.) and Merle (Politics and Government/Emory Univ.), twin brothers and coauthors (The Rise of Southern Republicans, 2003, etc.), show that the Democrats and Republicans are now evenly balanced in the national electorate, each having two regional strongholds and battling for voters in the ten-state Midwest swing region. The authors note that this development may be traced back to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, which ended a Democratic advantage among white voters dating to the New Deal. Reagan realigned white voters, with conservative whites going to the Republicans (now redefined as a conservative party emphasizing national security, economic growth, lower taxes and traditional positions on cultural and religious matters) and liberal whites increasingly joining the Democrats. It was the beginning of the end of the party factions once known as liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. Trends continued gradually, and by 2004, the parties were more polarized than ever, with Republicans now drawing their strength from the South and Mountains/Plains states, the Democrats from the Northeast and Pacific Coast. These sharp regional differences now drive American politics, say the authors, and have ushered in an era of highly competitive, ideologically contentious and close elections. Goodbye, landslides. The Republican Party is now dominated by white Protestants (with evangelicals comprising 59 percent of them in 2004), the Democrats by minorities and non-Christian whites, and neither party can win a national election with only the support of their regional strongholds. Hence, the Midwest battleground will continue to determine the outcome of our elections. Using charts, the authors explore facets of their regional analysis and show how easy it is for national elections to go either way.
Bedside reading for Karl Rove wannabes preparing for 2008.