For all of the time we spend looking at electoral maps to predict presidential elections, we hold a lot of conflicting ideas about how regional variations in demographics affect voting behavior. In the Jim Crow South, V.O. Key (who had pretty good maps for 1949) notes the relationship between the percent of the black population and support for conservative Democrats in the south (African Americans could not vote in the south). Southern Republicans at this time tended to live in Appalachia, some of the poorest and whitest parts of the south. Eastern Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, Arkansas, and parts of Northern Alabama served as the stronghold for the more liberal Southern Republican Party at this time. The regional variation in racial composition (which also correlates with arable land) was a strong predictor of voting behavior. In much of the South still today, whites, in counties with large black populations are typically the most conservative voters, and those most loyal to the Republican Party. This has always been thought of as a purely southern phenomenon but I wanted to see if there was any evidence of this in the much whiter midwest where Trump fared much worse than he did in the South or Northeast.
One of my goals at the end of the primary process is to create Republican and Democratic maps of all of the primary and caucus results to highlight the regional patterns from this election. Real questions about the role of class and race on political attitudes have correctly renewed attention to regional variation in the United States. Since V.O. Key we’ve know the role that region plays on voting behavior, and this primary season likely offers a lot of insight into those same questions. Below I’ve made an interactive map of the Midwest, excluding the caucuses of Minnesota and Iowa, which tend to be unrepresentative. If you want to fight me over my definition of the midwest, go ahead, but the map below shows the core, indisputable states of the Midwest. As you’ll note from the map below, there isn’t much of a relationship here.
Indiana is an outlier because in someways it is a southern state trapped in Midwest. The only reliable GOP state in the midwest, it’s also the birthplace of the KKK. Trump does better than you’d expect in Indiana, but it seems like by the time we got to Indiana, Republican voters had already coalesced around him.
However, there are regional models of voting behavior that instead focus on class instead of race. In Andrew Gelman’s Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State, he notes that in America, there’s a good relationship between income and vote choice. Higher income Americans vote more Republican, lower income Americans more Democratic. However, when you divide states up into Red and Blue states, the relationship changes. In rich states, which tend to be blue, social issues predict voting behavior, and income has a weak relationship to vote choice. In poor states, which tend to be red, income explains voting behavior much more strongly, with rich voters in poor states being very conservative and Republican, much more like the national pattern. Thus Gelman asks, “What’s the Matter with Connecticut?”
On The Weeds podcast last week, Yglesias and Klein do a great job breaking down Trump’s rise, particularly his overt and covert attacks on multiculturalism and the changing economic forces in America. Yglesias speaks at length about how in 2008, he thought the common theme that kept the GOP coalition together was its militarism toward the Middle East and it’s growing xenophobia/homophobia. Trump reanimates this ideological force, and his support for Social Security and Medicare falls right in line with many of these voters. Barack Obama’s presidency has brought multiculturalism to the forefront of the Democratic Party, pushing class issues toward the backburner, much to Sanders’ supporters demise. Cultural changes, even those that have nothing to do with race like the internet, have people on edge. There are ironically enough viral FB videos about our use of phones that you could watch a new one everyday for the rest of your life. Trump has staked his claim to “Making America 1985 Again!” while allowing different groups of working and middle class Americans, who don’t see bright futures for themselves, to come into the fold. His support of the existing welfare state, instead of turning the safety net into torn hammock like his Republican rivals has helped him with a certain kind of independent, those who would most likely be Republicans, but who don’t often vote and have weak non-ideological allegiances.
One of the ways you can tell that Trump’s appeal is not ideological is that he does well everywhere, but each for different reasons. Trump does well in the South despite a documented record of not caring at all about social issues, or Christianity in general. His xenophobia, misogyny and racism, plays well in the South, but it does not explain his dominance of the northeast. In the Northeast it seems that Trump’s focus on manufacturing and aggression on ISIS has helped with rural and working-class suburban whites. Trump winning Arizona, or South Carolina makes perfect sense to me. But New York, Florida, Michigan, and West Virginia are much harder to understand until you realize that Trump’s campaign is based upon opposition to the changing forces of economic and social life in America, not ideological positions, or party orthodoxy. Republican elites, co-opted by a libertarian approach to government in recent years do not offer anything to huge swaths of the public whose quality of life is declining in an international marketplace. Trump is running a reactionary campaign that longs for things to be like they once were. It’s not 1985 anymore, and that’s a good thing, but a lot of Americans (not even a plurality), wish it were.