The red and blue states of white* America (*and hispanic)

Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

On his blog, Brian Beutler remarked upon the difference between the popular perception of California as a bastion of liberal group think and the reality:

California’s a much different kind of “blue” state than is, say, Massachusetts. The dense population centers outside of San Diego and Orange counties are liberal enough to give California’s electoral votes to the Democrats every four years. But for the most part the rest of the state is bright red.

He emphasised the stark contrast between blue and red counties and concluded that in this sense, aside from the San Diego and Orange counties, California “rightfully belongs” in the same category as Oregon and Washington.

While praising Beutler’s post, Ezra Klein offers a somewhat different take. There may be a real contrast between the blue coast and the red inlands, but what it’s informed by is primarily ethnic demography:

The state’s political transformation in recent years has been somewhat ideological, but it’s been much more demographic. Namely, it’s been driven by Latino immigration. Folks think of California and conflate its politics with San Francisco and Hollywood. White, affluent, cultural liberals. But that’s not why California is reliably blue. In 2004, Bush had a five percent margin among white voters.

This sets California apart from a state like Washington, he continues:

In the aggregate, whites everywhere are somewhat conservative. But in other liberal states, they really do swing left. In Washington, Kerry had a six percent advantage among whites. In Vermont, he had an 18 percent advantage. [..] California, by contrast, is a very Democratic state, but somewhat less coherently liberal. It’s solid blue because Latinos are solid blue, not because the place is packed with liberals.

This had me thinking. On a national electoral map, when placed on a scale from clear blue to bright red, California and Washington are the same pale blue. But if the white vote in those states differs so clearly, does it look different elsewhere too? How different would the map of red and blue states look when only showing the white vote?

The 2004 Presidential election – national vote (all groups)

This map of the 2004 election results is not the type youve seen everywhere: the country is not artificially divided up between blue and red states. Instead, it shows the degrees in between. A state where Bush won 100% would be fiery red, a state where Kerry won every vote would be the coolest blue, and a state where the vote was divided equally is white.

This map of the 2004 election results is not the usual type: the country is not artificially divided up between "blue" and "red" states. Instead, it shows the degrees in between. A state where Bush won 100% would be fiery red, a state where Kerry won every vote would be the coolest blue, and a state where the vote was divided equally is white.

Read on and view the map for white voters only beneath the fold.

The map above makes for a nice relativation to all the hype about how mortally divided the country is between two parts that will never meet – blue-state America, red-state America, the coastal liberals, conservative fly-over country. One look at this map shows how relative all that is. Most states are  evenly spread between Dems and Reps, or lean just a little this or that way.

But how much is that due to the vote of minorities? African-Americans vote reliably blue, Hispanics mostly do too. And there’s a lot of them in some of the reddest states, effectively canceling out the white vote. So does a map of only the white vote heighten the contradictions? Taking the data from the 2004 exit polls, a map is made relatively easily with the Google Chart API:

The 2004 Presidential election – the vote of white America

What the electoral map of the 2004 elections looks like if you only count white voters

What the electoral map of the 2004 elections looked like if you only count white voters

Looks depressingly different, doesn’t it? For one, the country is much redder. Even states with a thoroughly “blue” reputation like New York and California turn tossups when looking only at the white vote. Tossup states like Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Ohio turn reddish, with Bush votes of 55%+. But most interesting is how the landscape of safe red states changes.

Looking at the red states on the national electoral map (all groups), it’s the states of the mountain West and the plains of the Midwest that are most solidly Republican: Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, Nebraska and Oklahoma. This is the map that you will have roughly in mind if you’re into electoral maps, I’m guessing.

But the Republican Party’s vote is drawn overwhelmingly from white voters. Calculating the numbers on the basis of the exit poll data, 87% of the Bush voters was white, while just 66% of Kerry voters was. And if you filter the map to reflect only the vote of white Americans, you get a very different view of where the hard core support of Bush Republicanism was located. It centred around white voters in the Deep South.

Bush may have gotten a stunning 72% of the vote (and 73% of the white vote) in Utah, but he outdid this number still among whites in the Deep South. He got 74% of the white vote in Texas, 75% in Louisiana, 76% in Georgia, 78% in South Carolina, 80% in Alabama and a baffling 85% in Mississippi.

Since African-Americans, Asian-Americans and “Others” each made up just 2% of the national Bush vote, mapping their geographic spread makes little sense. But Bush did enjoy a fair bit of support among Hispanics, who made up some 7% of his vote. And mapping this support underlines just how misguided it is to use “the Hispanic vote” as some kind of container category. Differences from state to state are huge — even if you keep in mind that the volatility may be overstated in the exit polls because of small sample sizes. This is the map:

The 2004 Presidential election – the Hispanic American vote

The electoral map of the 2004 presidential elections: The Hispanic vote

The electoral map of the 2004 presidential elections: The Hispanic vote. Pale yellow means there weren't enough Hispanic voters to split into a separate category in the exit polls; white means that their vote was equally divided between Bush and Kerry.

In short: Hispanics who have settled in the north largely lean Democratic, as do the Hispanics in California. But along the border in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, they are more evenly divided, while the Hispanic voters in Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma lean Republican.

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  1. [...] electoral map of how whites voted in 2004 already showed that when you single out white voters, it’s not Wyoming and Utah that are the [...]

  2. [...] map shows, state by state, how much the white vote, taken separately, changed since 2004. It looks very different, doesn’t [...]

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