Procrastination Nation

Things that Robert is thinking about that keep him from accomplishing anything.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2004
Let the Fun Begin
It appears we're now down to a Kerry-Bush contest. While the Edwards campaign is bowing out, it's worth visiting their site until it goes under.

The Edwards campaign has laid out the electoral map with details about each state's voting patterns (click "View Election Trends"). For example, State X has voted Republican in every election since 1964 type info.

Of particular interest are the yellow states. Whereas much of the punditry and news analysis speaks of (a) the urban-rural divide, (b) the need for Democrats to break the South, presumably through its Vice Presidential nominee, and (c) the importance of battleground states along the Great Lakes, the map points out quite the opposite.

Specifically, if you follow the yellow states from Lousiana up the Mississippi River to where the Ohio River intersects, then follow the Ohio to its origins, you will see where the real Democratic strategy needs to focus. Here are the election trends for the Ohio Valley and Lower Mississippi Valley, the OV-LMV area:
  • Louisiana: Has voted for the winner in every election since 1968 (when it voted for Wallace)--that's 9 straight;
  • Arksanas: Has voted for the winner in every election since 1968 (when it, too, voted for Wallace);
  • Missouri: Has voted for the winner in 11 straight elections;
  • Tennessee: Has voted for the winner in 10 straight elections;
  • Kentucky: Has voted for the winner in 10 straight elections;
  • Ohio: Has voted for the winner in 10 straight elections.

(Note: "since" does not mean inclusive of that year.)

The other OV-LMV states are:
  • Mississippi: which has voted Republican in every election since 1976;
  • Illinois: which appears to have voted for the winner since at least 1980. We know it didn't vote for Mondale, and the site plays up its Democratic tendencies since voting for Bush Sr. in 1988. By my count that's at least 4 straight before Bush Jr.
  • Indiana: which is solidly Republican, having voted Republican in every election since 1964.
  • West Virginia: which voted Democrat for Dukakis and both Clinton terms, before getting on the Bush Jr. bandwagon.

If you look at the Great Lakes states, sure they seem to switch parties, but their votes have not been indicative of the winner in the same way as the OV-LMV states. They will be important, but the issues that play in the OV-LMV will also work on the Lakes.

Pursuing the South as a strategy is fairly ridiculous. Alabama, Mississippi, Viriginia, and the Carolinas are solidly Republican. Georgia and Florida are the only other places swing-ish states, but Florida has voted Republican since 1976, except for Clinton '96, and Georgia was one of three states to vote for Clinton in '92 and switch in '96, plus it voted for Reagan in '84, Bush Sr. in '88, and Bush Jr. in '00. Thus, these Southern swing states are not so swinging, and the others are pretty clearly Republican.

What is the story to tell here? First, the OV-LMV are predominantly rural states, where even the large cities are not huge. New Orleans, Cleveland, Cinci, Nashville, Memphis, Louisville, and St. Louis are about as big as it gets; these are barely top 30 markets (Cleveland 17th; St.Louis 22nd; Nashville 30th). Even Ohio is pretty rural between its larger cities.

Second, they have a fair amount of industrial and manufacturing production yet are losing such jobs, even in right-to-work states like Arksansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee. (I'll try to verify this, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics is not available--conspiracy theorists start your engines.)

[Update: Turns out I can connect to BLS now. I couldn't find unemployment data by sector, but I got monthly data for OV-LMV states for 1/01 and 12/03 (seasonally adjusted). These are the breakdowns:
  • Louisiana: 6.1 - 6.3
  • Arkansas: 4.7 - 6.3
  • Mississippi: 4.8 - 5.6
  • Tennessee: 4.0 - 6.0
  • Missouri: 4.4 - 5.4
  • Kentucky: 4.8 - 6.0
  • Illinois: 4.9 - 6.7
  • Indiana: 3.8 - 5.1
  • Ohio: 3.9 - 6.2

Data are from the BLS. Not surprisingly, every state is doing poorly. The national average for 12/03 was 5.7%. We see that, of the swing states I've identified in the OV-LMV region, all but Missouri were above the national average. IN and MS are part of the region, but not swing states.]

Third, they have large military populations (active duty, reserve, and veterans). (I'll work to verify this, too.)

Fourth, these are disproportionately white states: the national average is 75% white, but Arksansas and Tennessee are 81%, Ohio and Missouri are 86%, and Kentucky is 91%. Louisiana is the exception (68%), but this is largely driven by the fact that New Orleans and Baton Rouge are majority black cities. (Tennessee has the same clustering of blacks in Memphis and Nashville.)

The key for Kerry and the Democrats is to find a way to be more rural in its appeal to voters. That means a fair amount of god, country, and family and children issues. They'll also need some nuance to guns and sportsman issues. Look for a Kerry hunting or fishing trip soon.

Clinton was able to take these states because he could play economic issues in family terms (e.g., FMLA, Hope credit), and he could call on being from a Southern state; Bush focuses on morality/character issues and his regular guy Texas appeal. There is no single right combination that works consistently, the key is simply framing the issues where you are strong to the interests of these voters. Can Kerry make the economy matter in a way that strikes a chord with rural voters, or will Bush be able to define the agenda in terms of patriotism and the war on terror? Will each be able to score points against the other in their strengths (e.g., Kerry a tax-and-spender, Bush as a bad war president)?

I'll post some thoughts on Democratic VP candidates later, with this as the frame for discussion, as well as updates on my assertions about jobs and state demographic composition.

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