Seeing Red and Blue

We are happy to have this post-election analysis from Robert David Sullivan, who blogged about the presidential and vice-presidential debates for America. You can read his blog on politics and TV here, and his analysis of the 2008 election here. -- Tim Reidy

The most striking aspect of the 2012 red vs. blue map of the United States is how little it’s changed. Forty states have voted for the same party for the past four consecutive elections, despite the huge events (9/11, two wars, the Great Recession, the passage of Obamacare) that have reshaped American politics during that time, and 33 states haven’t flipped sides since 1996.


With one big exception, the states that supported George W. Bush’s re-election and also backed a second term for Barack Obama switched sides because of demographic changes brought on population growth, not because of any change in voter opinion. That’s a danger sign for the Republican Party; they’ve lost Colorado, Florida (assuming Obama keeps his thin lead), New Mexico, and Virginia because their brand has become toxic among the racial minorities and urbanites that have grown in those states. (The big exception is Ohio, where the Obama administration’s loans to the keep the auto industry afloat seem to have earned the loyalty of some former Bush supporters.)

A lot of today’s headlines refer to Obama’s sizable, even “landslide” victory in the Electoral College of 332-206 (again, assuming he keeps Florida). Technically, Mitt Romney only had to flip two states to win. But one of them had to be California, which was a hotly contested state in every close race of the 20th century and this time gave its 55 electoral votes to Obama thanks to a popular vote margin by more than 20 points. The GOP is noncompetitive in the biggest state in the US, with the biggest chunk of electoral votes in American history, because a negligible share of California’s population lives in overwhelmingly white small towns. It’s the same with New Jersey, which could have been the second flipped state and which also was competitive throughout the 20th century: Its almost completely urban and increasingly nonwhite population is a nonstarter for the GOP.

This reality must have been quite frustrating for Mitt Romney, who built his political career in the heavily urban, highly educated and immigrant-rich state of Massachusetts and then lost the state by 23 points as a presidential nominee. Even more bitter was his 21-point defeat in Belmont, where he lives and is just the kind of upscale, white-collar suburb that his “Moderate Mitt” persona should have played well.

As was evident in the presidential debates, Romney hoped to win as a Mr. Fix-It, someone who had the expertise to turn the national economy around without getting bogged down in ideological debates. But he was weighed down by the Republican Party’s flirtations with extremism. We’ll never know how hard Romney would have worked toward a privatization of Medicare, or zeroing out government spending on things like public broadcasting, but the Tea Party faction of the GOP would have demanded payback after working so hard to elect him. That prospect doomed Romney in places like the Philadelphia suburbs, where he went in the closing days of the campaign in a futile attempt to put Pennsylvania in play. Those suburbs, as well as similarly upscale suburbs around places like New York City and Washington, D.C., remained loyal to the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton, who first dragged them away from the GOP.

The electoral map is changing slowly, but the Republican Party has no choice but to rehabilitate its poor image with city dwellers and racial minorities. Conservatives have long hoped that they would make gains with black and Latino voters through social issues like opposition to abortion and gay marriage. But the Republican Party’s insistence on passing laws making it harder to vote, and its intransigence on liberalizing immigration law, have only alienated such groups. (Yesterday’s results in Maryland, where a successful referendum approving same-sex marriage lost by 2 points in heavily black Prince George’s County, indicates social conservatism, but less so than in the past.)

At least in the early stages of the campaign, it seemed possible for Mitt Romney to reach out to minority communities on economic issues, based on the idea that reduced tax rates and regulations could help promote small businesses. But his party’s insistence on repealing “Obamacare,” with its guarantee of affordable health insurance for self-employed and part-time workers, probably didn’t help his message of economic opportunity. Hostility toward urban amenities such as public transportation may be another millstone for the GOP.

As always, Barack Obama didn’t win a mandate so much as he put together a winning coalition of demographic groups and voters with particular interests. Geographically, that translated to a big advantage in the Electoral College, and there’s bound to be talk of a Democratic Party “lock” based on the states they’ve won consistently for the past quarter-century. (They include former members of the 1972-88 Republican Party “lock,” including California, Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey.) This winning streak will surely come to an end, but only when the Republicans make a serious effort to improve their image in the places where most of us live.

Robert David Sullivan

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Stanley Kopacz
7 years 3 months ago
Just a little advice for Karl Rove.  Get a remote start for your car.  You took a lot of investment money from some fat cats and didn't deliver.  Your ROI is zilch.
Mike Brooks
7 years 3 months ago
I'm not sure that analyzing POTUS results based on the issues and the party's platform is helpful.  A mere two years ago, Republicans swept the midterms.  This year the results in the popular vote and battleground states were very close.  Am I the only one who remembers the 2004 elections when after Bush won, the question was whether the Democrats could ever win an election again?  The electorate might be changing, but the voting is still based on the same thing:  which candidate does the individual voter relate to more? 

Remember John Kerry?  A large percentage of people in this country are struggling and do not relate to rich white guys born into a life of privilege; indeed, they do not trust them.  George W. Bush won over Gore and Kerry because of the whole folksy masquerade, not because of his stand on the issues.  Ditto for folksy Bill Clinton.

Republicans seemed to know the formula for winning elections with GWB; they seemed to recognize that a large part of the electorate watches American Idol and Dancing with the Stars.  The polls showed that most Americans thought the biggest issue in the election was the economy and that Romney was the better candidate to handle that issue.  And he still lost.  The rich white guy born with a silver spoon in his mouth never stood a chance against the Black guy brought up by a single mom who talks the common man's talk. 

JR Cosgrove
7 years 3 months ago
''If we can afford trillions to go to war and destroy things and people wantonly, we certainly can afford trillions to rebuild and invest in our own country and its people''

The problem is that the trillions that is being borrowed is to cover operating expenses and these operating expenses are getting bigger not smaller.  There is no investment in this trillion dollar deficit each year and consequently no hope that it will produce growth and more efficiency or innovation or a return on the borrowing.  Only more debt to pay our current bills.

It is different in a war time situation when we are temporarily borrowing to save ourselves with no intent to keep on borrowing.  It is also different when someone borrows to own a house which will produce comfort for years or education which will hopefully make the person much more valuable.  But when someone borrows to pay their current bills there is no hope for a good outcome unless the situation is very temporary.  That is not the case with our government which is borrowing not for the future but get by today with no hope it will change.  A formula for chaos.   Because eventually it has to be paid back or the lenders will stop lending and both will lead to a very quick downward spiral.

Too much emotion and not enough reason in all this.  Citing cliches is not an answer to physical and economic problems. 
JR Cosgrove
7 years 3 months ago
''R#41, there is no intent to keep borrowing in order to be operational.  I don't know why you presume what you do.''
Because that is what has happened and what is intended in the future.  Little of this money is for any type of investment.  It is mainly being used to fund social security short falls, medicare and other subsidies for welfare or operating expenses, mainly transfer payments.  A relatively small amount is for infrastructure or investment in technology
The other big chunk is for defense and we can have a separate discussion on that but that is also for operational costs not investment.  There is a fair amount of research in defense technology but again that is a relatively small amount.
So the borrowing is primarily for operational expenses.  There are plenty of websites that document complete government spending so if you disagree find your statistics and back it up.

''A friend of mine just voted for Romney even though he's pro-abortion access. Libertarian would have been a closer fit.''
Every day I visit the top libertarian site in the world to see what they are saying.  I am not a libertarian but it interesting to see what they say because I agree with them on many things.  They were almost to a person behind Romney because of economic reasons.  The big sea change in the last 35 years party wise was when Roe vs. Wade was passed and the evangelicals left the Democratic party en masse and joined the Republicans.  They cared less about economic matters versus religious one and abortion drove them into the Republican party.  They tended to be redistributionist in nature but accepted the Reagan plans for lower taxes rather than stay in the Democratic Party with its emphasis on abortion.  At the same time pro abortion forces from the north joined the Democratic party so that is why a lot of New England, Pennsylvania, Illinois and a few other states which were once solidly Republican are now Democratic and the South which was solidly Democratic is now Republican.  It has to do primarily with Roe vs Wade but there are other issues such as the environment or trial lawyers which the Democrats appeal to and blacks remain extremely loyal to Democrats.  Oh I am sure there are still some racial attitudes that affect choice but that is a very minor factor.  I would look to freedom as well as abortion as predominant.
While libertarians are generally pro choice, their overarching interest is freedom and especially economic freedom.  So they drift between parties depending upon election but recently have been overwhelmingly voting Republican for economic reasons because they see a threat to freedom from the Democrats that they didn't see till recent years.

There is another group that votes Democratic and that is whites who are educated and have sympathy with progressive ideas of fairness and tend to work in large organizations and for the government.  I think we see a lot of them on this site.  I have several close relatives who are such and they tend to be in the north.  A lot of them are rich and by the way 8 of the 10 richest counties in the US voted for Obama.
As I said it is certainly more than abortion but this was the cause of the big demographic sea change that took place in terms of voting. Blacks became part of the Democratic Party big time after the Depression and have not left but are there for reasons other than abortion.  Latinos are there for a different reason but are not as solidly entrenched with the Democrats as are blacks, pro abortion whites, and some other groups who see the Democrats as best meeting their needs.  My guess is that the Democrats fear a Republican Latino politician who can articulate why their future is best served outside the Democratic Party.  Might not happen but it would be interesting to see how the Democrats and the press demonize any Republican hispanic who may come along.  The next four years are going to be very contentious.


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