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In my previous post, I noted that almost all the counties President Barack Obama won have become more Democratic since 1992, while almost all the counties Senator John McCain won have become more Republican since 1992.

In fact, comparing maps of the 2008 presidential election and the county changes from 1992 indicates a striking correlation.

Here is the 2008 presidential election:
Here are the changes from the 1992 presidential election:
I will attempt to analyze what this means below the fold.

On the one hand, all this is somewhat intuitive. If a Democratic candidate does well in a specific place, he or she probably improved on a previous Democrat’s performance there – and vice versa. Moreover, these maps do not imply that all blue regions became more Democratic (nor the opposite); rural Appalachia, in the most famous instance, has trended sharply Republican, while much of suburban American has gone in the opposite direction.

On the other hand, this phenomenon does not constitute a mathematical rule. If a Democratic candidate wins a county, that doesn’t necessarily imply that he or she improved upon a previous Democrat’s performance. He or she could have done worse but still won; the previous Democrat might have overperformed, or the Republican might have encouraged cross-over voting.

Yet by and large, this has not been the case. Obama practically always outperformed former President Bill Clinton in today’s Democratic counties. Mr. McCain practically always overperformed former President George H. W. Bush in today’s Republican counties.

Taking a look at selected states provides a powerful illustration of this fact.

All this implies something rather disturbing: electoral polarization has been steadily increasing. Obama only improved on Mr. Clinton’s performance in the counties Obama won. McCain only improved on Mr. Bush’s performance in the counties McCain won. The almost total lack of cross-over gain suggests that each party has come to depend on deepening their base, rather than widening the electorate and appealing to moderates.

That America is getting more divided has, of course, been known for a fairly long time. In some ways the maps exaggerate the polarization: 1992 Clinton appealed to many Republicans, while Obama’s strength lay amongst the Democratic base. Then there is the Ross Perot effect, which lowered margins in both party strongholds (e.g. New England, the Plains states).

But perhaps a bit of exaggeration is needed. Polarization has rarely been good for any country, and its increasing prevalence bodes poorly for the future of the United States. A map like this provides a stark picture of polarization in action; indeed, I have never encountered a more striking illustration of its increase. Such a stark picture might do us some good.


(Note: All images are credited to the NYT.)

Originally posted to Inoljt on Sun Nov 22, 2009 at 04:31 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (5+ / 0-)

    by Inoljt on Sun Nov 22, 2009 at 04:31:19 PM PST

    •  Great Diary (0+ / 0-)

      Great Diary, Inoljt.

      We do live in a polarized country.  Nothing we can do about it.  Yesterday's vote reflects this.

      Question is, what can the Dems do to ensure electoral triumph.

      I say, we get as much data as possible on independent HHs, and craft messages targeting this demo group.

      Allocate as much resources as we can on the Independents.

      That's how we'll win elections.

      And do it on broadcast and cable TV.

      So many people have misread President Obama's election strategy.  Yes, he used new media a bit more effectively than McCain.

      But he spent at least 50% more on broadcast and cable TV than McCain did.

      Elections are still won or lost on TV, and TV means we need to ensure we maintain our financial edge over the GOP.

      Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project.

      by PatriciaVa on Sun Nov 22, 2009 at 05:13:09 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Polarization is Good (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    When one pole is as completely morally and factually bankrupt as the Republican Party, I think that polarization is a good thing.  If we can get rid of the Liebermans and the Lincolns and Republicans can get rid of the Charlie Crists and the Olympia Snowe's, it will be a lot easier for the average person, who doesn't have time to read blogs like you or me, to figure out which party is on his side and which party is on the side of corporate board rooms.

    I can't even count how many times Republicans have used the handywork of conservative, corporatist Democrats to argue that it is they who represent the real interests of the people, and not the Democrats. Democrats will not really accomplish much as long as Republicans and conservative media figures are able to blur the lines between who really represents the interests of the people.

    So I agree, we are becoming more polarized, but I think it is a very good thing.  And no, that doesn't mean Stalin or Hitler will becoming to power anytime soon. It just means that like many other countries in Europe and other parts of the world, we will have a clearer distinction between who represents which interests.

    Better Luck Next Universe.

    by the new on Sun Nov 22, 2009 at 04:45:36 PM PST

  •  Alan Abramowitz, an old friend of mine, wrote (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    about this polarization and analyzed it empirically years ago. He has several academic articles written on this topic in the top tiers political science journals.

    Don't give a damn a/t each & every politician currently alive in the US. Last time i voted for the top part of the ballot was 1972. Never missed SB election

    by Mutual Assured Destruction on Sun Nov 22, 2009 at 05:15:33 PM PST

  •  There is still a moderate majority (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    beyond the polarization,

    you just have to look to find it.

    I'll stop arguing with you when you start agreeing with me.

    by bourbonblue on Sun Nov 22, 2009 at 05:19:55 PM PST

    •  Not really (0+ / 0-)

      The people who switch between elections tend to fall into one of two groups:

      1. Unsophisticated people who don't pay much attention to politics and are generally uninterested in the issues. Most TV ads are geared towards these people; and
      1. Ideological people who find themselves uncomfortably straddling the two parties. (Racists for universal healthcare! Anti-tax activists for gay marriage!)

      Ok, so I read the polls.

      by andgarden on Sun Nov 22, 2009 at 06:03:58 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  you forgot a group (0+ / 0-)
        1. New people, mostly young who are voting for the first time.

        Among those over 30 Obama only won by 1 point. Thus, I suspect he might have done only ok among groups 1 and 2 above. Group 3 is where he cleaned up and will likely continue to do so in future elections!

  •  Thanks much. Very astute analysis. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Although I think in 2012 there might be a slight correction in some of the Appalachian counties.  We shall see.

    •  I think many of the increasingly-red places (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      are also places where the median age of the population is increasing. In Appalachia at least, I'm pretty sure this is generally the case.

      I recall a story a few months ago about a plant closing that left a Tennessee county (Hawkins, I think) with fewer than 25 manufacturing jobs. Young people from these areas have great incentive to go somewhere else.

      On the other hand, cities with jobs, hospitals, universities etc., are becoming little blue islands in a previously all-red sea. Memphis has been one for a long time, Nashville more recently, and Knoxville will eventually be one, too.

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