Do you know which of the 50 states where President Obama realized the greatest gain in 2012 compared to 2008? You might be as shocked as I was to know it is Alaska. Nate Silver called this to my attention in a Dec. 5 blog post:
He lost it by “only” 14 percentage points this year, considerably less than his 22-point margin of defeat in 2008.I know what you are thinking! In 2008 the vote was artificially high for McCain because (and I am sorry to mention her name) Sarah Palin was on the ticket. Silver again:
That probably doesn’t explain all of the shift, however.More below!
Consider that in 2000 — also without Ms. Palin on the ballot — the Democratic nominee, Al Gore, lost Alaska by 31 points.
Mr. Silver goes on to break down some of the reasons for the shift. The changing demographics that are bringing down the GOP nationally are a factor. In Anchorage, the largest city where two thirds of the state's population lives students in K-12 schools have been less than 50% white for five years or more. Some local pundits are starting to acknowledge these changes; most are still in denial, saying it's still a pretty red state. And the State Republican Party organization is reacting in the same way seen elsewhere -- convinced they can hang onto dominance if they shift further to the right.
Silver notes that AK has been adding population in the last two years at a faster rate than all but two other states -- and that most of the people who relocated here came from California and Washington state.
Another factoid about Alaska that tends to be counter-intuitive is that it's the fourth least religious state in the union, behind only MA, ME and NH.
Living here is in some ways like being in Seattle or Portland, OR. In the city of Anchorage you can surround yourself with many others of similar outlook. I work for a design firm with 20 employees, and 17 of them are left wing. Most of Anchorage is represented by Democratic state Representatives and Senators, although the Rs experienced a slight gain in 2012 because of redistricting. Where I live in the Mt. View neighborhood of NE Anchorage, the Republicans don't even field a candidate most elections. The outlying areas to the north and south of Anchorage are solidly Republican, but more sparsely populated.
It's worth looking back to 2008 and the Anchorage Democratic Party Caucus. Barack Obama was such an exciting candidate that he engendered a 1,700% increase in turnout over 2004. People came out on a cold night with some of the worst driving conditions of the year and overwhelmed the school where the caucus was held. Proceedings threatened to descend into chaos until a radio announcer took over with a bullhorn from an observation gallery, after all of the participants had been moved to the gym. 'LET'S HAVE DISTRICT 20 IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM!!' And a hand count by candidate, by district ensued. 23 people had voted in my district at the '04 D caucus. In '08 Mr. Obama prevailed over Ms. Clinton by a vote of 174 to 35.
After making some general points about Alaska's natural resource extraction based economy, Silver concludes:
If the Democratic nominee in 2016 is someone like Hillary Rodham Clinton, who embraces a relatively traditional Democratic agenda, she will have better places to compete.As usual, maybe there are lessons in candidate selection here that also apply to other swing states, particularly in the West and Midwest.
But a Democrat who was perceived as being of the center-left or the libertarian left, especially one from a western state like Colorado’s governor, John W. Hickenlooper, could conceivably be competitive in Alaska. And if Alaska continues to add population from states like California and Washington, it could be competitive on a more regular basis in 2020 and going forward.
Mostly, though I am just excited about the prospects. After 40 years in this godforsaken (but breathtakingly beautiful and unique) outpost, I am on the verge of feeling a lot better about the majority of my neighbors than I have ever been before.