The geography of the bailout bill vote

Politics, US Politics

Who voted for the “bailout” bill? (Talking of lousy branding.) More relevantly, who voted against it? Ever since it all fell apart, pundits are dissecting consequences and solutions, but also simply the lay-out of the vote itself. How did the expected majority collapse? Who defected? Are there any patterns?

A couple of basic ones have been presented, beyond the partisan breakdown of Democratic and Republican votes. Since two-thirds of Republicans and 40% of Democrats voted no, the landscape is more interesting than usual.

Breakdown one: those in more or less safe seats versus those in vulnerable seats. Representatives who are facing a tough fight this campaign, or who were elected last time by a narrow margin, were much more likely to vote against. Two: ideology. A rebellion of the rock-ribbed conservatives in the Republican Party, and a lesser one of liberals in the Democratic Party. Three, and mentioned less often: those who are in or close to the party top or House Committees versus the rank and file.

You’ve read all this, though there are more twists to it than you might think. What I was wondering was whether there was a fourth axis: geography. How do the votes from the different regions stack up? A question of combining roll call 674 with Wikipedia’s list of US Representatives by state. Green stands for “yes” votes, red for “noes”:

Republican vote by region

Republican vote by region

There are significant variations by region — and by state. Republican opposition was strongest in Texas, which delivered 15 “noes”, the Southwest and the Plains. Of the 13 remaining republicans in the Northeast, however, a majority voted in favour.

The Democratic vote varied at least as greatly by region. The Democrats in the Northeast voted in favour by almost 3:1. But more than two-thirds of the Democrats in the Southwest and Mountain states voted against.

Democratic vote by region

Democratic vote by region

On a note of caution, it’s important to recognize the cross-fluence of factors. If Congressmen in vulnerable seats are much more likely to vote against, then maybe that colours the breakdown by region too. If the Republicans in a certain state massively voted against the bill, it might have little to do with specific regional interests or the ideological colour of that state’s delegation, but instead just be a function of the races in that state being closely fought.

You’d expect, in short, that the parts of the country that are most “purple”, where races are most likely to be tight, would turn out to have voted against the bill disproportionally. At first blush that doesn’t seem to be the case though. You’d think Republicans in the Northeast are among the most endangered, and yet they were the only ones to sign off on the bill in majority. Whereas every single Republican in Arizona, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina voted against; not immediately the most closely contested states.

Definition of regions

Definition of regions

Clustering the vote by region is just one way of looking at the vote, of course (and you try defining regions that roughly make sense culturally and spatially but also represent more or less equal numbers of US Representatives). You can go into more detail, much more detail. The New York Times published a beauty of a map, district by district, with the Republican and Democratic No votes coloured in separately. Patrick Ottenhoff at The Electoral Map couldn’t, at first blush, discern much system in the madness:

The [NYT] has a great map of the “NO” votes on the bailout bill yesterday. There’s not really a clear trend since members of both parties and representatives from Cape Cod to Cape Disappointment voted against it.

If we find any pattern, it’s that Members representing financial centers like New York, Chicago and San Francisco supported it, and those from poor urban cores like Detroit and Atlanta opposed it.

In this sense, the regional breakdown above might be a useful addition. In the great detail of the NYT map it’s easy to lose sight of the forest through the trees, with opposition to the bill seemingly spread from Cape to Cape. The breakdown by region suggests more overall patterns.

On the Republican side, the geographic breakdown is practically the stereotypical blue state/red state one. Republicans in the Northeast and on the West coast were most likely to vote in favour (those on the West coast were balanced 50/50). But Republicans in the fly-over states overwhelmingly voted against the bill, by two-thirds to three-quarters.

Among the Democrats, it was the East coast that was pushing the “yes” vote. Not just the US Representatives from the Northeast, but also those from the Upper South voted in favour of the bill by over 2:1, largely thanks to Congressmen from Maryland and Virginia. Scepticism centred primarily in the Southwest, but also in the Rust Belt.

the Democratic vote by state

Voting on the bailout bill: the Democratic vote by state

On this state-by-state map – a kind of middle road between the NYT map by district and the overall breakdown by region – I’ve only coloured in the states that were represented by at least two voting House members. Where there was only one, his/her vote is indicated with a dot.

In a band of states along or near the Gulf and Southern border, sceptics dominated from Mississippi to Nevada. Texas alone provided eight Democratic “noes”.

The relative focus of no-votes in the Rust Belt is also clear: Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky. The Democrats from the independent minded New England states of Vermont and New Hampshire all voted against.

California is something of a wash, with little over half of the Democrats from there voting in favour. But it is the motherlode of the Democratic majority, so even if the no-voters from there were in the minority, there were still 15 of them – by far the largest single state group of no-voters.

With the Californians fairly divided, it was the New York Democrats who drove support for the bill. They broke down 20 to 3! The state of New York thus provided one in seven Democratic “ayes”.

the Republican vote by state

Voting on the bailout bill: the Republican vote by state

The Republican state-by-state map is of course much redder. There’s a few notable exceptions though. The Republicans from New York voted in favour by 5 votes to 1. On closer scrutiny, however, this is helped by the fact that at least three of the NY Republicans are retiring (Reynolds, Fossella and Walsh). The lone NY Republican opponent was Randy Kuhl, whose chances of reelection are cast in the tossup category by the Cook Political Report.

Alabama is also apple-green. I’m guessing this is at least partly because the House Republican’s delegate to the negotiations over the bill, Spencer Bachus, is from that state.

California’s yellowy green is worth a mention because this turned out to be the ultimate bipartisan state. Republicans and Democratic Representatives from the state each divided up by identical margins; 56% in favour, 44% against.

A bright red, on the other hand, is Arizona, John McCain’s state. Every single Representative from that state, Republican as well as Democrat, voted against the bill that McCain suspended his campaign over to save.

McCain, however, isn’t the only one whose influence on his homestate colleagues looks shaky. First Read remarked on it twice on Tuesday. Headlining one post “Lord of the Flies” inside the GOP, it noted:

Bush’s leadership and trust issues within his party has been evidenced for quite some time, and the icing on the Bush legacy cake is that fact that he could only convince FOUR Texas House Republicans to support his bill.

In another post:

In fact, check out this nugget, courtesy of the Washington Post: “Yesterday, Bush called nearly every member of Texas’s Republican delegation, GOP aides said. He won over four of the 19.”

Numerically, it was Texas and Florida that were the motherlodes of the Republican “no” vote. They delivered 15 and 13 “no” votes respectively, against just 4 and 3 “yes” votes.

The Floridian Democrats voted as disciplined in favour of the bill (by 8 to 1), however, as the Republicans voted against it. But Texas is a different matter. Most of the Democrats there turned against the bill alongside their Republican colleagues. That put Texas at the forefront of the bill’s rejection.

Which states leant most on the scales? Mapping the net balance of votes from each state

Which states leant most on the scales? Mapping the net balance of votes from each state

All in all, Texas delivered a net 14 votes against the bill. Georgia and Arizona yielded a net 9 and 8 votes against the bill; North Carolina 5. There you have the states that weighed most on the scales against the bill.

States whose delegations, counting both parties, were evenly divided and states that simply have few votes in the House all appear as yellow on this map. But in green you see the states that delivered the most votes for the bill. New York? A net 21 votes in favour. Then a large, large gap. Trailing far behind, there’s California (a net +6 votes for the bill) and the unlikely combination of Massachusetts and Alabama (+5).

Marc Ambinder noted that “the failure of the bailout is being interpreted in some quarters as a Jacksonian-style triumph of democracy over the know-better decisions of the technocratic elite — Main Street’s whims over Wall Street’s needs.” But the quintessential Jacksonian region, the Appalachians, did not especially weigh in on the result. The three West-Virginian Representatives broke in favour of the bill by 2 votes to 1. The Representatives from Tennessee, Virginia and Pennsylvania voted the same as the national average. Only the North-Carolina and Kentucky Representatives turned against the bill.

Instead, if anything, the map suggests that it was the Southern states with some of the most rapidly growing economies of the country that did the bill in. A curious finding, considering you’d think they’d most need the liquidity. But Sunbelt 1 : Manhattan 0 it is.

Update: For some reason, I had labelled the Southwest (SW) as Southeast (SE) throughout the post and graphs. Fixed now.



  1. sozobe  •  Oct 2, 2008 @5:27 am


    Lots of meat there, another one I’ll be reading a few times I think. This stuck out though on my first pass:

    “A bright red, on the other hand, is Arizona, John McCain’s state. Every single Representative from that state, Republican as well as Democrat, voted against the bill that McCain suspended his campaign over to save.”


  2. FreeDuck  •  Oct 2, 2008 @11:34 am

    My preferred interpretation is that there are a lot of vulnerable Republicans in regions where they used to be very strong. Yeah, sounds good to me.

  3. norm teller  •  Oct 25, 2008 @8:04 am

    where is the money going state by state by population in each state?

  4. norm teller  •  Oct 25, 2008 @8:06 am

    are we bailing out the over priced areas in our country?

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