After last November's elections provided us with a trove of new elections data, I am finally able to revive my series on the political geography of the states that I first started last year. In it, I wanted to get a feel for how local Democrats perform in statewide or local elections and how that varies from Obama's 2012 performance. Given how counties are by far the easiest unit to find election data for in various states, I will be looking at how statewide candidates do on a state by state basis by county (and town in New England).
For every state, I've compiled all of the statewide, partisan D vs. R races since 2006 and averaged the results (excluding presidentials) to give you an idea of how a generic local Democrat will do on average, assuming a 50-50 race statewide so that even in heavily Democratic or Republican states you can see which areas are relatively more friendly to each party. Using this average Partisan Voter Index (PVI) where the state as a whole is Even, counties where the vote share is more Dem than the state are D+ and those that are more Republican are R+. Additionally, I've mapped out how Obama's 2012 map looks different than how an average Dem does who won or lost by the same margin. Finally, since the 2012 House of Representatives results are almost always presented by the district map, I've mapped out both the results themselves by county as well as by how much the House candidates ran ahead of or behind Obama in 2012.
All of the partisan percentages were calculated using two-party vote share only so as to have the most direct comparison between races. All of the data was taken directly from the relevant state's board of elections or equivalent office. You can find it for download by state here. (Please let me know if you find any errors)
Using the Census Bureau's division of the United States into four general regions, Part 1 covers the West, Part 2 the Midwest, Part 3 the Northeast, and Part 4 the South. Part 5 will look at the US as a whole, specifically the US House of Representatives election from 2012.
Part 4 includes: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia (West Virginia being included here more for convenience).
So follow me over the fold for the partisan average charts, a little analysis, and a whole lot of maps.
Starting off we have Alabama which is one of the most conservative states in the country. Typical of the deep south, there is a very clear pattern of racial polarization with Democrats doing very well along the band of counties crossing the south of the state known as the Black Belt as well as heavily black urban areas like Birmingham and Mobile. Additionally, Democrats do well with the white Blue Dog areas of the north of the state along the Tennessee river valley, but increasingly this region is trending Republican. Republicans best areas are the heavily white suburbs of cities such as Birmingham and Mobile as well as the heavily white rural areas throughout most of the state.
Very typical of the Deep South, Obama's coalition relies much more on turning out heavily minority areas while he underperforms significantly in the largely white areas, particularly in the north of the state.
Looking at the House map you can see Dems carrying just the Black Belt and Birmingham while doing very poorly in the heavily white counties throughout the state. Democratic candidates generally ran about the same as Obama did except for parts of the west of the state where Terri Sewell and our challenger in the 4th district ran better with white conservative Democrats than Obama did.
Arkansas has been undergoing a rapid political transformation over the last few cycles. Following 2008, Dems controlled both senate seats, 3 of 4 house seats, all statewide offices, and supermajorities in the legislature. After the 2014 elections, Republicans will likely control every statewide office except possibly one senate seat, all 4 house seats, and the legislature. Still, Democrats like Senator Mark Pryor still have a fighting chance of winning and if he does his map might look something like this.
Dems typically do best in the rural and more minority heavy east of the state that forms the Delta region as well as the fairly rural south. Dems also do well in Little Rock itself as well as parts of cities in the northwest like Fayetteville. Republicans do very well in the heavily white suburbs of Little Rock and the northwest in general, both of which have been growing and pulling the state to the right. The northwest in particular, unlike much of the south, has been historically Republican for a long time now.
More than almost any other state, Obama's performance in Arkansas is a very poor predictor of local Democratic strength. Obama underperforms what a generic D should get almost everywhere, but he holds up significantly better in the northwest, Little Rock, and the most non-white counties in the Delta. He underperforms massively in the whiter parts of the Delta, the south, and center of the state.
To illustrate this idea further, let's compare Obama to Blanche Lincoln. Averaging Obama's two performances yields a two party vote share identical to Lincoln's blowout 2010 loss, yet there coalitions look very different. I've outlined and labeled Lincoln and Boozman's old 1st and 3rd districts with the label on their base (though Lincoln was technically living in Little Rock). As you can see, Lincoln does much better in the rural Delta area and parts of southern Arkansas while Obama does better in Little Rock and the northwest.
With the two house maps we can get a good look at the extent of ticket splitting last November. In both the eastern 1st and southern/western 4th, Democrats ran a Blue Dog candidate who outpaced Obama in most of the district, particularly in the whiter counties. In the 2nd, we ran a liberal who actually ran behind Obama while in the northwest the Republican was uncontested but would have run similar to Romney if he had been. Looking at this map of the actual outcome, Democrats could have done much better in the US House in the state and could have won 2 of the 2 districts with better line drawing.
Moving on we come to Florida, one of the most important swing states in the country. The state has a slight Republican tilt overall but thanks to gerrymandering and a superior bench, Republicans have a fairly firm grip on the state government. Democrats tend to do best among the state's large minority populations outside of Cuban-Americans. This means they do very well in places like Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Orlando, Tampa, and Tallahassee. Republicans do well in the state's large suburban population centers in places like Orlando and Jacksonville. They also do very well with Cuban-Americans in Miami, the heavily white southwest, the Space Coast in the east, and the more Deep Southern region of the state in the panhandle and north-central Florida. The key swing region of the state is the I-4 corridor which spans from Tampa Bay to Daytona Beach and contains a huge share of the state's population.
With Obama's performance we can see very clearly how he underperforms almost universally in the north of the state which shares a lot more in common with southern Georgia than South Florida. He does much better than average in areas that have in particular a large Hispanic population, such as Osceola County and Orange County in the center of the state as well as Miami-Dade County in the south where Obama's improvement among Cuban-Americans and Hispanics in general was very pronounced last election.
Several seats in Florida were uncontested and resulted in these two maps looking a bit odd. In particular, the 15th in Hillsborough and Polk counties and the 24th in Miami-Dade weren't even on the ballot since only the incumbent filed and are therefore gray. Still, we can see Dems doing well in the southeast, I-4 Corridor, and Tallahassee region while Republicans did very well in the panhandle, north-center of the state, as well as the Space Coast and southwest. Unsurprisingly, Dems generally ran ahead of Obama where they were incumbents or faced crazy opponents like Allen West while Republican incumbents generally ran ahead of Romney except for in the panhandle.
In Georgia we see a state with dynamics that are somewhat similar to neighboring Alabama but with much more favorable demographics. Georgia is rapidly becoming less white and with it more Democratic. Dems do the best in heavily minority areas of Atlanta and the more rural black belt that stretches across the state. In addition, Dems do well in cities like Savannah and parts of the whiter rural counties in the south. Republicans do best in the heavily white and very populous suburbs and exurbs north of Atlanta as well as the very heavily white rural Appalachian counties further north. They also do well in the whitest counties in the far south and east of the state as well as the whiter suburbs of Augusta and Savannah.
As a harbinger of things to come, Obama's performance diverges from the average in that he does much better among the white yet diversifying inner suburbs of Atlanta while boosting turnout significantly among minorities in the city and along the Black Belt. Conversely, Obama does drastically worse among white conservative rural voters, pparticularly in the north of the state and the south-central counties.
The house maps are somewhat distorted since three Republicans went uncontested, but you can still clearly see Democrats doing very well in Atlanta proper and the less white suburbs while also doing very well in the Black Belt. Republicans put up commanding margins north of Atlanta and in the very far south. Thanks to our Dem incumbents in the south being Blue Dogs, they both ran significantly ahead of Obama but even our some dude challengers ran ahead of him in the Appalachian north. Republicans ran ahead of Romney in the Atlanta suburbs as well as in the far south of the state with longtime incumbent Jack Kingston.
Kentucky is yet another very conservative state in the south, but thanks to coal and the unionization it brings with it in a lot of the counties is still very amenable to voting Democratic downballot. Indeed, Democrats, despite controlling neither senate seat and just 1 of 6 congressional seats, hold all but 1 statewide executive office and control one of the legislative chambers. Democrats do the very best in the unionized coal counties in the far east and west of the state. They also do very well in the more urban regions such as Louisville and Lexington proper, though Republicans do very well in their largely white suburbs. Republicans also dominate in the populous Cincinnati suburbs in the far north of the state and the largely rural south, which has been Republican since the Civil war. The swing region of the state is generally the Purchase region in western Kentucky and the Bluegrass region in the north/central part of the state.
Even more so than with Arkansas, Obama's performance is a horrendously bad indicator of local Dem performance and it is very easily explained by coal. Obama holds up about as well as a local Dem would in the heavily urban/suburban counties containing cities like Louisville and Lexington and the Cincinnati suburbs. He does astoundingly worse than average in the coal dominated eastern Appalachian region as well as the Western Coal Fields.
With the house maps, you can see just hot utterly dominating Republicans' performance was thanks in part to the strength of longtime incumbents like Hal Rogers in the east and Ed Whitfield in the west. Democrats still did very well in Louisville and Lexington though and outran Obama significantly in the north and east of the state.
Thanks to its history of French colonization, Louisiana's politics are somewhat different than the neighboring Deep South states. Still, there is a fairly clear correlation between race and partisanship with Democrats doing overwhelmingly better in the state's rural black counties and parts of cities such as Baton Rouge and New Orleans with a large black population. Republicans do best in the large and heavily white suburbs of these same cities, as well in as in the very heavily white areas of the rest of the state, particularly in the north. The swing region in the state is the French-influenced south known as Acadiana, though it has been trending Republican for a while.
Unsurprisingly given its Deep South culture, Obama does far worse than average with rural whites and much better with minorities across the board. He also does better than average in the white suburbs of cities such as New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Part of this has to do with different turnout scenarios; statewide races aside from US senate are run in odd numbered years when minority turnout is relatively lower compared to whites than it is in a presidential election.
The house maps are very distorted by the fact that three of the state's six districts saw an uncontested Republican while another district saw a lot of Dems crossover to vote for one of two Republicans thanks to the state's unique jungle primary. As such, you only see how Dems do very well in the New Orleans based 2nd while doing very poorly everywhere else.
Perhaps the most racially polarized of any state in the nation, it is unsurprising to see Democrats do very well among the heavily minority counties of the Delta and in black majority cities like Jackson while Republicans utterly dominate the heavily white suburbs of Memphis and Jackson while also doing very well in the heavily white areas rural of the state in general.
Similarly to Alabama, Obama overperformed significantly among the more minority heavy counties. Like Louisiana, a large part of this is attributable to presidential turnout since state elections generally take place in odd numbered years when minority turnout tends to be lower. He underperformed significantly in the very white and rural northeast of the state as well as the very heavily white south. However, Obama performs about average to somewhat better among the largely white suburban areas in the state.
With the House map you can see Dems dominating the heavily non-white counties while Republicans dominate the rest. in particular you can also see how our local candidate outran the presidential ticket significantly in the northeast despite being a sacrificial lamb.
North Carolina has for a long time been dominated by Democrats downballot, though recently the state has been trending towards Democrats in general while at the same time seeing less ticket splitting. Democrats' best regions are without a doubt the heavily minority regions of the state which include the heavily black but rural southeast and northeast as well as the predominantly minority parts of cities such as Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, and Durham among others. Unlike most of the south though, North Carolina has a fairly large contingent of both white liberals and white conservative Democrats. The former can be seen in places like Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh which were a huge draw of creative class types and northeasterners during the housing bubble. The latter can be seen in particular in eastern North Carolina as well as parts of the Appalachian counties in the west though both are trending Republican.
Republicans do best in rural western North Carolina and increasingly the whiter parts of the rural east. They also do very well in the populous and growing suburbs of the big cities such as Raleigh, Charlotte, Wilmington, among others, though these have been trending Democratic.
North Carolina was one of the few swing states in the south but still saw Obama's performance diverge fairly significantly from the average. Almost universally, Obama does much better with urban and suburban voters in the states largest cities such as Charlotte. On the other hand, he does dramatically worse among white conservative Democrats in the rural east and west of the state who have long voted Dem locally but GOP for president.
North Carolina's House results were a testament to the power of gerrymandering. Democrats actually won the popular vote in the state but were gerrymandered into just 4 of 9 seats and nearly lost one of those. You can see Dems racked up huge margins in the counties with a lot of minority voters and white consevadems in northeastern and southeastern NC. Dems also carried the large urban counties such as Mecklenburg (Charlotte) or Wake (Raleigh). They also performed quite respectably in western North Carolina with our 11th district nominee carrying several Romney counties. Republicans ran very well in the western Piedmont and outer banks as well as the suburbs of cities such as Charlotte and Raleigh.
Given how we ran several credible Blue Dog candidates in heavily conservative seats, it should come as no surprise that our house nominees generally ran significantly ahead of Obama. In particular you can see how Mike McIntyre and Larry Kissell ran way ahead in the southeast and Hayden Rodgers did the same in the far west. Even in the northeast, black Dem GK Butterfield ran ahead of Obama by doing better among white conservadems. On the flip side, entrenched incumbents Howard Coble and Walter Jones ran ahead of Romney fairly noticeably in the triad and outer banks, respectively.
Oklahoma is one of the most conservative states in the country, but prior to 2010 was still very open to voting for Democrats locally, indeed Dems controlled nearly every non-federal statewide office until 2010. A relic of the Dixiecrat tradition, Dems best region in the state isn't the two large urban areas of Tulsa and Oklahoma City, but rather the very rural east of the state which is partly known as Little Dixie. Increasingly though this region is trending Republican relative to the state and Democrats are relying more and more on urban voters and minorities.
As with neighboring Arkansas, Obama underperforms pretty significantly in the state though it is highly asymmetrical. He holds up fairly well in minority heavy urban centers such as Tulsa and Oklahoma City but performs ridiculously below average throughout the rural parts of the state, especially Little Dixie in the southeast.
It should come as no surprise then that our one competitive house nominee in the eastern based 2nd district ran far ahead of Obama in almost every county. Republican incumbents ran modestly ahead of Romney though this was probably more due to undervoting than crossover voting. Republicans still carried every county in the state just as Romney did, but Dems best region was without a doubt the rural east and Little Dixie especially.
South Carolina has been stubbornly persistent in staying a moderately red state over the last several election cycles and like many states in the Deep South sees fairly stable racially polarized voting. Democrats do exceedingly well in the minority heavy counties that span the state from the southwest to northeast and make up part of the region's Black Belt. Democrats also do very well in the minority heavy parts of cities such as Charleston and Columbia, but increasingly see white liberals in both cities giving them a growing vote share. Republicans' best region is the Appalachian-influenced Upcountry that includes cities such as Greenville and Spartanburg. They also do well among the wealthy white beach communities such as Hilton Head that are a destination for conservative retirees. Finally, Republicans do very well in the whiter suburbs of cities such as Charleston, Columbia, and the state's share of the Charlotte suburbs in the north.
Typical of the Deep South and Obama inspired turnout among minorities, Obama does much better in the counties that are less white but underperforms somewhat in the rural whiter parts of the state, particularly the northwest and the north-central region of the state. In general though and unlike the other Deep South states, Obama's performance doesn't diverge that radically from local Dems thanks to the decreased impact of white conservative Dems.
Two districts here, the 2nd for Republicans, and 6th for Democrats, were uncontested and skew the map somewhat, but outside of those two safe districts the House vote generally followed the presidential vote and was heavily racially polarized as well.
Tennessee is yet another conservative state in the south, but unlike nearly every other one in the region, it has had a much longer tradition of electing Republicans. In particular, the eastern third of the state which contains a large part of Appalachia, has been staunchly Republican since the Civil War and as such has elected some relatively moderate Republicans rather than Blue Dog Democrats. Dems on the other hand do relatively better in the rest of the state, particularly in heavily minority cities such as Memphis and Nashville, but also the more rural and white Tennessee River Valley. Republicans also tend to do very well in the very white and populous suburbs of Memphis and Nashville.
Obama's performance diverges pretty significantly from the average. He does much better in the state's large urban areas, particularly the ones that are less white such as Memphis. On the other hand he performs far worse in the much more white and rural counties of western and central Tennessee.
The two House maps give us a pretty good indication of candidates and incumbency mattering. In particular you can see where Diane Black was unchallenged in the 6th district in the center of the state and how Republican incumbents in the east and west ran ahead of Romney. Blue Dog Dem Jim Cooper ran far ahead of Obama in his Nashville based district, while Scott DesJarlais unsurprisingly ran significantly behind Romney in his central Tennessee district thanks to his scandals unfolding a few weeks prior to election day.
(County charts here)
Moving on to Texas we see yet another conservative southern state. Democrats do best in the heavily Hispanic counties in close proximity to the Mexican border. Additionally, they do very well in minority heavy parts of cities such as Dalls-Ft. Worth, Houston, and San Antonio as well as in white liberal cities such as Austin. Republicans do best in the very rural and white regions of the rest of the state but get a greater vote share out of the large white suburbs of Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. Rural east Texas, once a stronghold for Democrats, has been trending Republican downballot especially fast over the past decade.
Looking at Obama's performance you can see him doing about as well or much better than average in the minority heavy border counties and all of the states large urban and suburban centers. He performs drastically worse in rural east, north, and west Texas.
The house maps are rather distorted by having several Republican districts go uncontested, but you can basically see a reflection of the presidential map in central and eastern Texas. Democrats such as Pete Gallego and Henry Cuellar ran significantly ahead of Obama in certain counties thanks to being more conservative than him, while Republicans ran ahead of Romney in the Austin area and the suburbs of Dallas.
Virginia has undergone a transformation over the last few cycles from a solidly red state to being the state closest to the national median. This has resulted in it being heavily targeted the last two cycles, but thanks to having odd-year elections for state government sees a somewhat different coalition than the presidential map. Democrats do the best in the state's urban and heavily minority areas such as Richmond, Hampton Roads, and increasingly the DC suburbs in places like Fairfax County. Dems also do well among rural minority voters in the south southeast and some rural white voters in the west. Republicans dominate among white voters in the south of the state as well as the long-Republican Shenandoah Valley. They also do very well with white suburban voters around cities such as Richmond and Virginia Beach.
Compared to the average, Obama does significantly worse in almost every part of the Appalachian west of the state as well as some of the whiter parts of the Tidewater region in the east. He performs much better than average in Hampton Roads and the outer DC suburbs, but also among minority heavy regions in general thanks to presidential turnout.
The House maps give us a very good look at incumbency effects and downballot ticket splitting, particularly in the Appalachian southwest where our token nominee ran far ahead of Obama. Popular Republican incumbents such as Frank Wolf in northern Virginia and Randy Forbes in the southeast ran significantly ahead of Romney, while even Eric Cantor largely ran even with Romney.
West Virginia is one of the most Democratic states in the nation downballot thanks to the strength among unionized coal miners, though it has been getting more and more open to voting Republican. Still the state has the longest record of sending Democrats to the senate, having not elected a Republican since 1956. Republicans control just one statewide office, that of the Attorney General, which they very narrowly won last year against a scandal-tarred incumbent.
Democrats do their best in the most coal heavy regions of the state, particularly in the southwest and center of the state. They also do well in the states few urban areas such as Charleston. Republicans do best in the eastern Panhandle which is increasingly becoming a suburb/exurb of the DC metro area. They also do well in the northwest of the state.
Perhaps more than any other state in the nation, Obama's 2012 performance is a horrible indicator of Democratic performance downballot. In particular, Obama performs incredibly worse in the counties that are heavily reliant on coal mining in the south and center of the state. He comes closest to performing similar to local Dems in the eastern panhandle thanks to it being exposed to saturation ads from neighboring Virginia (the DC media market) and college towns such as Morgantown in the north. Obama still underperforms, but holds up relatively better in places like Charleston, but for nearly all of the rest of the state he performs significantly worse than generic D.
Looking at the house maps where I could give the district outlines due to zero split counties, we can see a nearly perfect display of the power of incumbency. In the 3rd district, longtime Rep. Nick Rahall ran light years ahead of Obama in every county, some by nearly 30% in terms of Dem vote share. In the 2nd district, popular incumbent and 2014 senate candidate Shelly Moore Capito ran significantly ahead of Romney in every county. Finally, in the 1st district, Freshman Rep. David McKinley ran behind Romney in the vast majority of counties despite his opponent being an unfunded liberal, but it wasn't enough to give him a close race.
That concludes part 4 and next week will see us take a look at the US House of Representatives election by state, district, and by county to illustrate where Dems did well and where House candidates diverged the most from presidential performance.