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With a new House at work in DC, Democrats are now back up to their pre-1994 election numbers, and we can make a direct comparison of the composition of the parties.  For this year, below, I show a distribution of the seats held by each party according to how their district voted in 2000, with a smooth curve drawn through the data:

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Below, you'll find the comparisons going back to 1994 as well as some info on where the representatives come from.  Here's a preview:

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In Brief

The quick take is that Democrats now represent more liberal districts than they did just before the 1994 midterms, and Republicans represent more conservative districts.  In other words, Obama has a much better chance for a cooperative Democratic caucus in the House than Clinton did.  In addition, almost half of Republicans are now from the South.  Previously, this was not the case.

Change in the House

Let's simplify the graphs above to just the smooth curves for both parties:

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We can see the Republicans are having a devil of a time getting elected in districts that did not vote for Bush in 2000.  With the glaring exception, of course, of a certain district in Louisiana - that's that little red bump way out to the left.  The House has shifted leftward compared to 2000 presidential results: Of those districts that voted between 46-50% for Bush in 2000, Democrats now hold 77%.  But of those districts that voted 51-55% for Bush, Republicans only hold 55%.  

Let's look back in time.  On the left, the curves shown above are plotted along with the curves from just before the 1994 midterm elections.  On the right, an animation for the whole time period.

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In 1993, we had Democrats representing districts across the spectrum of politics, and Republicans representing districts across most of the spectrum (but not the most liberal).  Now, we have achieved a fair amount of separation between the two parties - political chromatography, so to speak.  After the 1994 election, this separation began to take place, with Democrats and Republicans swapping liberal for conservative districts.  Then, in 2006 and 2008, Democrats pushed over the 50% line and into Republican territory (note there's still room to grow...).  Democrats, although still elected from conservative districts, are rare in districts that voted for Bush by 61% or more in 2000 (7 now, 18 in 1993), while Republicans are rare in districts that voted for Bush by 45% or less (4 now, 30 in 1993).  Here's a graph that makes this more clear:

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There's simply a much sharper distinction between the parties now.

Warts and Things

There's several flaws associated with these graphs.  First, it is convenient to use Bush 2000 vote totals to categorize districts because it splits the country in half, and we have numbers for pre-2002 districts and post-2002 districts.  But, because presidential campaigns ignore many states, the votes can be exaggerated.  Also, we have home state effects in Texas and Massachusetts.  Another thing is that the conservative/liberal dichotomy does not line up perfectly with Bush/Gore (although exit polls show 80% of conservatives voted for Bush and 80% of liberals voted for Gore).  Finally, districts change over time, and not all districts change in the same way at the same rate.

What Happened?

We can chop things up in several other ways to look at this in more detail.  First, race:  Republicans have a damn hard time getting elected in any district that's less than 60% non-Hispanic white.  This hasn't changed much in the past 20 years, although there is some change.  Republicans have gone from representing 16% of majority-minority districts to 9%, as the number of majority-minority districts increased.  For districts less than 60% non-Hispanic white, they've gone from 20% to 13%.  

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I already showed you the regional breakdown, using Census regions, above the fold.  It shows that 47% of House Republicans are now from the Census South.  Can we call it a regional party yet?  

We can be more specific, though, and look at the numbers by race and region:  

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Democrats lost white Southern districts to Republicans since 1993.  So very surprising, huh?

Let's look at a more detailed regional picture:  

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Essentially, Democrats lost Texas, but gained all of New England and a fair chunk of the Mid-Atlantic.  What is striking is that both parties used to have proportionate representation throughout almost all regions - 55% to 67% Democratic everywhere except the Mountain states - but now there is a wide divergence, from 28% in West South Central to 100% in New England.

I don't like the census groupings of states - it doesn't make sense politically - so I also used Robert Sullivan's ten regions, which do not follow state boundaries, to divide up the country.  Being a crank, I take issue with these too, but what the hey.  Here they are:

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In addition to the Texas/Northeast trade-off, we learn a little more from this set of definitions:  the cities of the Southwest (El Norte) trended towards Democrats, while the remaining portions of the Interior West (Sagebrush) and Appalachia moved towards Republicans.  Not earth-shattering news, of course.  Sullivan also updated his map after the 2006 elections; I like the newer version less, but here's the matching graph for it.  

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Overall, Democrats are now a national, yet more liberal, party as defined by their House districts, while Republicans have been reduced to a mainly white, Southern party.  There is a much clearer separation between the two parties in the House now than when Clinton first came into office.  Is this the natural final result of a decades-long realignment or a temporary problem resulting from recent hyperpartisan rhetoric?  

Cross posted at Open Left.

Originally posted to dreaminonempty on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 10:42 AM PST.


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Comment Preferences

  •  By the way... (27+ / 0-)

    I mentioned that Republicans have trouble winning in districts that are less than 60% non-Hispanic white.  Turns out the Census projects the whole country will be less than 60% non-Hispanic white in just 16 years.  Hmmmm....

  •  But do Blue Dogs count as GOPers? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    As we will all discover in the coming weeks, not all Democrats are democrats. The vast majority of the Blue Dog Caucus are from southern CDs and do not agree with much of the mainstream Democratic agenda. While Dems concentrate on putting people to work and re-regulating business, the Blue Dogs are screaming about balanced budgets, deficit reduction, and PayGo.

    Another big group of Dems, the New Democrats, led by CA Dem Ellen Tauscher, describe themselves as socially progressive and fiscally conservative, which is code for their pro-corporate agenda of more H1-B visas, more outsourcing, more corporate tax breaks, and reductions in the social safety net.

    Which is why there is still much work to be done in getting better Dems elected. My own suggestion is to primary Steny Hoyer(D-corporate toady), Ellen Tauscher(Dem-CA), and Jane Harman(Blue Dog-CA). Defeating these three congresscritters would send a heavy-duty message to all Dems who are using the Democratic Party as cover while pushing the traditional GOP policies.

    Other DINOs who really, really need a primary are Cuellar(TX) and Lipinski(IL).

    -6.38/-3.79::'A man is incapable of comprehending any argument that interferes with his revenues.' Descartes

    by skrymir on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 12:17:45 PM PST

  •  Excellent work here (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Garrett, gogol, Woody

    Political scientists writing in the 1950's noted that  both major political parties were coalitions of diverse groups that tended to span the socio-economic and ideological spectrums. The Republicans set out to change that, polarizing American politics. This diary demonstrates how well they have succeeded, to their detriment.

    Democrats: Members of the Democratic Party working to advance democracy; Republicons: Members of the Republicanist Party working to advance Republicanism

    by word is bond on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 02:27:24 PM PST

  •  Nice work: useful graphs & discussion! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    In other words, Obama has a much better chance for a cooperative Democratic caucus in the House than Clinton did.  In addition, almost half of Republicans are now from the South.  Previously, this was not the case.

    This is why I have some trouble understanding why BO is making a fetish of attracting Republican't support for his stimulus package, or much of anything.  They exist (as do most oppositions) to OPPOSE WHATEVER HE WANTS TO DO.  

    As a reminder, Clinton's 1993 tax reform/stimulus package passed both the House and Senate without one single Republican't vote and even w/ Democratic control in both houses there were enough defections that VP Gore had to break the Senate tie.  

    I'd prefer that BO use his popularity and confidence to announce "this is the plan" and if R's want to get on board, fine, but let them explain why they aren't "getting w/ the (popularly-supported recovery) program".

    But, for me, this was the nut graf:

    Republicans have a damn hard time getting elected in any district that's less than 60% non-Hispanic white.

    IMHO, W & Rove had a reasonably practical dream of attracting Hispanic voters to the GOP to overcome this.  However, the wagon (party) they hitched themselves to has a diehard white-supremacist base, who can't let go of the immigration issue (political poison for Hispanics) while the party can't let go of its white-supremacist christianist (if anyone wants to argue, I'll remind 'em that the KKK doesn't burn Stars of David...) activist base (who are political poison for the rest of the electorate).  As a Dem, I'll be proud to have us lapping them while they argue in the pits.

    Again, thanks for the insightful post, DOE!

    •  you got to the nut better than the poster did (0+ / 0-)

      This myth dies hard:

      Republicans have been reduced to a mainly white, Southern party.

      The poster says that even after demonstrating that the Republican base in 2008 was in
      Appalachia, Sagebrush, Southern Comfort, and Farm Belt close to equally. Pretending Canton and Dodge City are part of the south isn't going to help us win more districts for Democrats.

      Obama, not paying too much attention to the conventional wisdom, won much of the Southern Lowlands: DE, MD, VA, NC, and came close enough in GA to force the TV networks to retract their early calls for several hours.

      How do you win over really white districts?  I think universal health care and universal broadband will chip some holes in that brick wall.

      "Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all." --Hypatia of Alexandria, c.400

      by jayskew on Sat Jan 10, 2009 at 12:03:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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