Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A follow-up to "Interesting Electoral Maps

I mentioned some of the interesting data that had come from this last election a few days ago. If you'll recall, I noted among other things that:
One thing that jumps out is the coastal areas of Louisiana and Mississippi, which experienced a massive ethnic cleansing in the wake of the 2005 hurricane season. Not surprisingly, those areas went substantially more "red". We might also note how much more "red" parts of the Southeast US became, including northeast Texas, eastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, northeast Mississippi, northern Alabama, the Florida panhandle, southern West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky became. These areas are largely rural, mountainous (Appalachian and Ozark regions) parts of the old Confederacy - with the exception of Oklahoma, whose eastern portions are culturally very similar to the South.


Did race play a role in the results in the southeastern regions that reddened? I wouldn't be surprised, given what I know about a few of these areas (in particular, northeastern Texas and eastern Oklahoma). I'm reasonably sure that McCain and Palin were banking on the Southern Strategy. If nothing else, some the rhetoric of that particular campaign and its surrogates fanned a few flames. The culture warriors are making their last stand in this region.


I'm sure that one thing that will come out of the electoral fallout is the question about whether the GOP is still a national party, or if it is increasingly a regional party whose base is to be found in the Ozarks and Appalachian Mountains.
Well, here's another NYT article that seems to add some more to the discussion - For South, a Waning Hold on National Politics:
VERNON, Ala. — Fear of the politician with the unusual name and look did not end with last Tuesday’s vote in this rural red swatch where buck heads and rifles hang on the wall. This corner of the Deep South still resonates with negative feelings about the race of President-elect Barack Obama.

What may have ended on Election Day, though, is the centrality of the South to national politics. By voting so emphatically for Senator John McCain over Mr. Obama — supporting him in some areas in even greater numbers than they did President Bush — voters from Texas to South Carolina and Kentucky may have marginalized their region for some time to come, political experts say.

The region’s absence from Mr. Obama’s winning formula means it “is becoming distinctly less important,” said Wayne Parent, a political scientist at Louisiana State University. “The South has moved from being the center of the political universe to being an outside player in presidential politics.”

One reason for that is that the South is no longer a solid voting bloc. Along the Atlantic Coast, parts of the “suburban South,” notably Virginia and North Carolina, made history last week in breaking from their Confederate past and supporting Mr. Obama. Those states have experienced an influx of better educated and more prosperous voters in recent years, pointing them in a different political direction than states farther west, like Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, and Appalachian sections of Kentucky and Tennessee.

Southern counties that voted more heavily Republican this year than in 2004 tended to be poorer, less educated and whiter, a statistical analysis by The New York Times shows. Mr. Obama won in only 44 counties in the Appalachian belt, a stretch of 410 counties that runs from New York to Mississippi. Many of those counties, rural and isolated, have been less exposed to the diversity, educational achievement and economic progress experienced by more prosperous areas.

The increased turnout in the South’s so-called Black Belt, or old plantation-country counties, was visible in the results, but it generally could not make up for the solid white support for Mr. McCain. Alabama, for example, experienced a heavy black turnout and voted slightly more Democratic than in 2004, but the state over all gave 60 percent of its vote to Mr. McCain. (Arkansas, however, doubled the margin of victory it gave to the Republican over 2004.)

Less than a third of Southern whites voted for Mr. Obama, compared with 43 percent of whites nationally. By leaving the mainstream so decisively, the Deep South and Appalachia will no longer be able to dictate that winning Democrats have Southern accents or adhere to conservative policies on issues like welfare and tax policy, experts say.

That could spell the end of the so-called Southern strategy, the doctrine that took shape under President Richard M. Nixon in which national elections were won by co-opting Southern whites on racial issues. And the Southernization of American politics — which reached its apogee in the 1990s when many Congressional leaders and President Bill Clinton were from the South — appears to have ended.

“I think that’s absolutely over,” said Thomas Schaller, a political scientist who argued prophetically that the Democrats could win national elections without the South.

The Republicans, meanwhile, have “become a Southernized party,” said Mr. Schaller, who teaches at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “They have completely marginalized themselves to a mostly regional party,” he said, pointing out that nearly half of the current Republican House delegation is now Southern.

Merle Black, an expert on the region’s politics at Emory University in Atlanta, said the Republican Party went too far in appealing to the South, alienating voters elsewhere.

“They’ve maxed out on the South,” he said, which has “limited their appeal in the rest of the country.”


In Arkansas, which had among the nation’s largest concentration of counties increasing their support for the Republican candidate over the 2004 vote, “there’s a clear indication that racial conservatism was a component of that shift away from the Democrat,” said Jay Barth, a political scientist in the state.

Race was a strong subtext in post-election conversations across the socioeconomic spectrum here in Vernon, the small, struggling seat of Lamar County on the Mississippi border.

One white woman said she feared that blacks would now become more “aggressive,” while another volunteered that she was bothered by the idea of a black man “over me” in the White House.

Mr. McCain won 76 percent of the county’s vote, about five percentage points more than Mr. Bush did, because “a lot more people came out, hoping to keep Obama out,” Joey Franks, a construction worker, said in the parking lot of the Shop and Save.

Mr. Franks, who voted for Mr. McCain, said he believed that “over 50 percent voted against Obama for racial reasons,” adding that in his own case race mattered “a little bit. That’s in my mind.”

Many people made it clear that they were deeply apprehensive about Mr. Obama, though some said they were hoping for the best.

“I think any time you have someone elected president of the United States with a Muslim name, whether they are white or black, there are some very unsettling things,” George W. Newman, a director at a local bank and the former owner of a trucking business, said over lunch at Yellow Creek Fish and Steak.

Don Dollar, the administrative assistant at City Hall, said bitterly that anyone not upset with Mr. Obama’s victory should seek religious forgiveness.

“This is a community that’s supposed to be filled with a bunch of Christian folks,” he said. “If they’re not disappointed, they need to be at the altar.”

Customers of Bill Pennington, a barber whose downtown shop is decorated with hunting and fishing trophies, were “scared because they heard he had a Muslim background,” Mr. Pennington said over the country music on the radio. “Over and over again I heard that.”

Mr. Obama remains an unknown quantity in this corner of the South, and there are deep worries about the changes he will bring.

“I am concerned,” Gail McDaniel, who owns a cosmetics business, said in the parking lot of the Shop and Save. “The abortion thing bothers me. Same-sex marriage.”

“I think there are going to be outbreaks from blacks,” she added. “From where I’m from, this is going to give them the right to be more aggressive.”
One thing that immediately jumped out was the apparent outright belief in the various urban legends that had been spread regarding the Obamas. I've written about the willful ignorance and eliminationist rhetoric (and action) that has been on display often enough that it need not be repeated in depth at this point. Much of the above article seems to be confirming my hunch at this point that the Ozark and Appalachian region will be the last stand for the right-wing cultural warriors. Much of what seems to be driving these folks is fear, largely unfounded, but treated as real by those caught up in it. The contention that voting for Obama or at bare minimum not voting for McCain (as some of us in the election boycott camp would say) is somehow tantamount to earning a one-way ticket to Hell seems to have been a theme pounded into a good number of church congregations in the region and perhaps elsewhere in the US (even in my region, it appears that plenty of folks got the message at recent church sermons that Obama was the Antichrist among other bits of misinformation). In many ways, I'm relieved at the prospect of less Southern influence on the nation's political culture.

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