North America

Texas: The Real Swing State 

There are, in a certain sense, three big political regions in the United States: the Northeast, the Southeast, and the Southwest.

The Northeast has a temperate climate, excellent natural harbours along the Atlantic Ocean and Great Lakes, and a long border with Canada. The Southeast has a sub-tropical climate, less-than-excellent natural harbours (excepting New Orleans), and no international borders. The Southwest has a semi-desert climate, an abundance of energy and mineral resources, and an extremely long border with Mexico.

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For the purposes of this article, the Northeast has five “core” states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. These states are geographically contiguous, and they have voted for the same party as one another in all six of the presidential elections since 1988 and in 23 out of the 30 elections since 1892. At least four of them have voted in unison in 27 of the past 30 elections.

If you subtract the smallest of these states, Connecticut, then at least 3 of the remaining 4 of these states have voted in unison in 29 of the past 30 elections. The sole exception to this was 1988, when New Jersey and Pennsylvania voted for George H W Bush while New York and Massachusetts were two of only ten states to vote for Michael Dukakis, who had been governor of Massachusetts.

Before that you have to go back 31 elections to see the Northeast vote split, when in 1892 Grover Cleveland won New York and New Jersey while Benjamin Harrison took Pennsylvania and Massachusstetes. While in those days the Democrats had been more popular in the south than in the north, the Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland had already been governor of New York, mayor of Buffalo, and President of the United States, and he was born and raised in New Jersey.

Today the five Northeastern core states account for 15% of US electoral college seats. New York and Pennsylvania, the most populous of the five, account for 9% of US electoral college seats.

The Southeast arguably has five core states as well: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. These too are geogaphically contiguous, and they have voted in unison during all four of the most recent presidential elections, 9 out of the past 13 elections, and 27 out of the past 34 elections — including, incredibly, a run of 17 elections in a row from 1880 to 1948. Other states like Arkansas could probably be included in this group as well, but for simplicity’s sake we’ll leave them out for now.

Today the Southeastern core states account for 8% of US electoral college seats, led by Georgia which is by far the largest of the five. As the population of the Southeast core is roughly half as large as that of the Northeast core, it often requires support from adjacent populous states, most notably Texas and Florida but also North Carolina and Tennesse (both of which are larger than any of the Southeastern core states with the exception of Georgia) in order to be electorally competitive with other regions.

The Southwest, in contrast, has just two core states, which are not geographically contiguous: Texas and California. These have not voted in unison since 1988, and have voted in unison in just 5 of the past 13 elections — twice for Reagan, who had been governor of California, twice for Richard Nixon, who had been born in California and served as both a Senator and a Congressman representing California, and once for George H W Bush, who had been Reagan’s Vice President.

This division has, perhaps more than anything else, defined modern American politics, as California and Texas are the most populous states in the country, accounting for 17% of the electoral college seats in a presidential election. By comparison, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada combined only account for 7% of electoral college seats.

During the past six elections, starting with the very first post-Cold War election of 1992, which also happened to be the dawn of the (ongoing) Clinton era, the Northeast core and California have voted for the Democrats while the Southeast core and Texas have voted Republican. This has occasionally left the presidency in the hands of populous areas  located on the fringe of the three political regions, such as Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Colorado, Virginia, Michigan, and upstate Pennsylvania. Not incidentally, this year’s Democratic National Convention will be held in Pennsylvania, while the Republican National Convention will be held in Ohio.

Ohio, currently the seventh most populous state in America, has voted for the winning president in every election since it voted for Nixon (who was beaten by Kennedy) in 1960, Hewey (who was beaten by FDR) in 1944, and Harrison (who was beaten by Grover Cleveland) in 1892. Ohio’s president-picking has been even better of late than that of Missouri, the “bellwether state”, which voted for all but one victorious president between 1904 and 2004 before failing to pick Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Florida has almost exactly the same successful record as Ohio since 1928, except that unlike Ohio it voted for Bush Sr., who was beaten by Clinton, in 1992, and for FDR to have a fourth term as president during the Second World War election of 1944. While today Florida has a population much larger than any state apart from California and Texas, it was only the 18th most populous state in 1950, and at the begining of the 20th century had a population barely larger than that of Rhode Island.

Illinois, in spite of being America’s fifth most populous state, has been less successful in getting its preferred candidates into the Oval Office. It did not vote for George W Bush in either of his elections, and voted for Gerald Ford rather than for a victorious Jimmy Carter in 1976. Many people, however, believe that Illinois was the decisive state in the election of 1960, the closest election of the 20th century. It has been alleged that Illinois’ vote was rigged in Kennedy’s favour that year.

Michigan has been nearly identical to Illinois in its voting patterns, with the exception of 1968 (Michigan voted for Hubert Humphrey rather than Nixon), 1948 (Michigan voted for Dewey rather than for Truman), 1940 (Michigan was the largest of just 10 states to vote for Indiana-born Wendell Wilkie instead of Franklin D. Roosevelt), and 1912 (Michigan was one of just seven states to vote for Progessive Party candidate Theodore Roosevelt instead of for Woodrow Wilson). Today Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Florida account for 15% of electoral college seats.

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Source: Future Economics

The Break-Up 

The most significant modern shift in American politics has probably been in the Southwest. Whereas California voted for the Republicans nine out of ten times between 1952 and 1988, it has voted for the Democrats in all six elections since. Whereas Texas voted for the Democrats four out of ten times between 1952 and 1988, it has voted for the Republicans in all six elections since. And whereas Texas and California voted in unison seven out of ten times between 1952 and 1988 and fourteen out of nineteen times between 1916 and 1988, they have not voted in unison since. It is certainly more difficult now to imagine a Republican president hailing from California, as both Reagan and Nixon did, or a Democratic president hailing from Texas, as Lyndon Johnson did.

California’s shift has occured probably as a result of a demographic influx from Latin America, the Pacific rim, and other parts of the US. Texas’ political shift has been less distinctive than California’s, meanwhile; it went from red-violet to red whereas California went from nearly red to blue.

Texas’ solidification as Republican state may be partly due to economics and environmental politics. Whereas oil and gas production across much of the rest of the US plummeted during the 1980s and 90’s (including in California, where oil production has halved since 1985), oil in the Gulf of Mexico rose from under 15% of total US oil production in 1985 to nearly 45% of total US oil production by 2000. This left Texas, which also produces prodigious amounts of natural gas and coal, with an even larger role in American energy production, just as many Americans were becoming increasingly concerned with the ozone layer and global warming. As states were forced to choose a side in the environmental war, Texas’ allegience was an obvious one: it is with the Republicans.

The Bush and Clinton families may perhaps have played a role in the political shift in Texas as well. The Bush’s, historically a northeastern family, shrewdly put down roots in Texas during the 1950’s. George H W Bush became a Texas congressman and George W Bush would later become its governor from 1995-2000. Bill Clinton, meanwhile, was born in neighbouring Arkansas, and served as governor of Arkansas from 1983-1992 (remember when Hillary Clinton had a southern accent?) before beating George H W Bush in the 1992 presidential election. In that year Texas voted for a second Bush term, while Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, and Tennessee all voted Clinton.

The Clinton-Bush rivalry has continued in intensity since then, first because of the contested election between Bush Jr. and Clinton’s Vice President Al Gore (which occurred in the wake of Bill Clinton’s perjury scandal, which the Republicans at times tried to tarnish Gore as having been involved with), then because of Hillary’s 2008 anti-Bush primary campaign (before it became clear that Hillary’s true opponent was Obama, rather than just the legacy of George W.), and finally during 2015 when many thought that this year’s election would be Hillary vs. Jeb. Perhaps this Clinton-Bush, Arkansas-Texas dynamic has helped to sour the Texans on the modern-day Democratic Party to some degree.

Looking Ahead

The question now is whether or not the post-1980’s predictable electoral system will begin to change. Will the Republicans continue to dominate the Southeast, or will the Democrats make inroads there, solidifying their position in Florida and even moving into the Southeast core? The Southeast has certainly been changing in recent years; among the ten fastest-growing Hispanic populations in the US during the 2000s, eight were in the Southeast. The Southeast may also have seen growth among its white liberal population, as metropolitan areas like Raleigh, Atlanta, Nashville, Austin, Houston, and Dallas have all been among the fastest-growing American cities in the past decade.

Similarly, could the Republicans look to take back some Northeast (and Midwest) states that have been reliably Democratic-leaning since 1992? The Northeast too has seen some big changes; Pennsylvania, for example, is in the midst of a gargantuan natural gas boom that could perhaps help tilt the state towards the Republicans, assuming environmentalist voters finally tire of the Democrats’ somewhat cynical embrace of burning natural gas as a “transitional” substitute for coal and begin to pressure the Democrats to abandon their alliance with the gas industry. New York may have similar gas resources, but fracking there is prohibited for now.

Finally, could California and Texas reconcile?  Texas, now effectively serving as the Republican heartland, and California, now the Democratic heartland, actually have some commonalities. Both have large Mexican populations. Both are arid and sunny. Both have a lot of oil (especially if the Southern Monterey shale formation is viable, though even without it California remains the fourth biggest oil producer in the US). Both have substantial ties to Asia: California because of its Pacific frontage and sizeable Asian population; Texas because the port nexus of Houston-New Orelans handles by far the most bulk goods of any shipping region in America, making it an integral component of US-Asian trade. (Houston, in fact, has suprisingly become one of the top Chinese tourist destination in the US, a legacy of Yao Ming and later Jeremy Lin having played for the Rockets).

Texas and California are also the two most populous states, and so would benefit from electoral reforms that would stop the US Senate and US presidential election rules from continuing to over-represent small states like Rhode Island and Hawaii in favour of big ones like California, Texas, and Florida. Florida, to be sure, has commonalities with California and Texas as well: it is populous, sunny, and home to a large number of Spanish-speakers.

Texas and California, when combined with Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, have 24% of the electoral college seats in the US. Between 1928 and 1964 Texas and California voted for the same candidate in 9 out of 10 elections: 3 Republicans, 6 Democrats. Could it happen again? It seems extremely unlikely to this year, but the longer-term future is less certain. Indeed Texas, with its enormous population, its  20th century history as a purple state, and its position straddling both the Southwest and the Southeast, is in some ways arguably America’s truest swing state. It has simply forgotten how to fly.

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Images, North America

Image of the Day — Changing Electoral Demographics

From America’s Internal Environmental Geopolitics:

As you can see from the graph below, the US immigration boom has increased steadily in recent decades, and took off in a big way around 1990. So, immigration to the US is to a certain degree actually a fairly recent phenomenon (ignoring the pre-WW1 immigration boom, which is practically ancient history at this point). In fact, most second-generation immigrants from the heart of the most recent boom are still just turning 18 around now. And even among those who have already turned 18, voting participation tends to rise with age.

USA-Immigration-Annual1

We already discussed the flipping of California from swing state to Democrat state, which was, at least in part, the result of inward internal migration from other parts of the US as well as external immigration to the state from Asia and of course from Latin America. More recently, immigration from Mexico has flipped the state of New Mexico, which voted for the Republicans in every presidential election from 1968 until 1992, but has now voted Democrat in every presidential election since (with the exception of 2004, when it voted for a second Bush term). In the 2000 election, in fact, New Mexico was surrounded by a virtual sea of red states (see map below), but still voted for the Democrats; it was the counterimage of New Hampshire in that election, which voted Republican but was utterly surrounded by blue states.

2000 US election map

Immigration from Latin America (plus internal migration of young liberals to the city of Denver) may also have led Colorado – the population of which is now 20-25 percent Hispanic – to go from voting for the Republicans in every presidential election but one from 1968 until 2008, to voting for Obama in both of his elections. A similar thing is probably true of Nevada (now 25-30 percent Hispanic, and with a huge amount of internal US migration to Nevada’s Las Vegas metropolitan area in the past decade), which has actually voted for the winning US president in every single election since after 1976 (most of which have been Republicans), and could be about to vote Democrat for the third election in a row in 2016.

Many Democrats also think it may just be on the verge of happening in Arizona as well (now 30-35 percent Hispanic, and with lots of people from across the US moving to Phoenix), which voted Republican in every single presidential election but one since 1948. In 1964, in fact, Arizona was the only Republican-voting state in the country outside of the “South” – see map below. While Arizona did not vote for Obama in either of his elections, it may be that it would have voted for Obama in 2008 had his opponent not been Arizona’s own John McCain. Arizona and Nevada both produce almost no fossil fuels.

1964_Electoral_Map

Immigration may also help the Democrats win the eastern states of North Carolina and Virginia, the 9th and 12th most populous US states, respectively, neither of which produce much fossil fuels. The populations of North Carolina and Virginia are both now around 10 percent Hispanic (in other words, far less than some states, but far more than many other states). The population of Raleigh, North Carolina has also been swelled by a very large amount of internal migration from across the country during the last decade, as has the population of the metropolitan area of the city of Washington. D.C., which extends into Virginia. In fact, the cities of Charlotte, North Carolina and Raleigh, North Carolina have had the US’s two fastest-growing Hispanic populations since 2000, and Washington D.C. was not far behind them. North Carolina had not voted Democrat since 1976 and Virginia not since 1964, but both voted for Obama in 2008 and Virginia voted for Obama in 2012 as well.

Even more importantly, many Democrats think these same trends are now working to help them secure some of the country’s largest states, most notably Florida. Florida has historically tended to vote for the Republicans more often than the Democrats, but voted for Obama twice (and may technically have voted for Gore over Bush in the contested 2000 election which saw a Florida recount, even when the governor of Florida at the time was Bush’s own brother Jeb). Florida’s population is now around 25 percent Hispanic, and in particular has seen a large amount of growth in its non-Cuban Latin American population and among younger Cuban generations. This demographic shift is probably significant, given that the original Cuban generation that has been prominent in Florida’s politics in recent decades tended to be relatively conservative politically, reflecting the fact that in many cases it was made up of middle-class and upper-class Cubans who had to leave Cuba following the Communist Castro takeover there. Florida too produces very little fossil fuels.

Illinois, which in recent decades has been a swing state that has tended to vote for the Democrats, has perhaps seen its Democratic base strengthen as well because of demographic changes. It is now more than 15 percent Hispanic. New Jersey, the 11th most populous US state, is a Democrat state that used to vote often Republican prior to Bill Clinton (and which the Republicans probably hope to retake, which may be a part of the reason why they have been considering choosing the current Republican New Jersey governor Chris Christie as their candidate in 2016), and it now has a population that is approximately 19 percent Hispanic.

Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, the three largest conventional swing states in the US apart from Florida, have also had fast-growing Hispanic populations in the past decade or so, though their overall Hispanic populations remain only about 3.5 – 7.5 percent of their total populations. (Michigan also had fast-growing immigration from Iraq during the past decade). On the other hand, these states have also seen some outward internal US migration of young voters to other states.

Finally, even Georgia, a firmly Republican state which is the 8th most populous state in the country, could perhaps soon flip to the Democrats, the result of having a fast growing Hispanic population (the 10th fastest-growing of any state since 2000, which now accounts for more than 10 percent of the state’s total population), a large, long-established African-American population (roughly 20 percent of the state’s total population), and some young, potentially liberal families moving to Atlanta (which was one of the US’s fastest-growing metropolitan regions during the 2000s). Georgia also produces very little fossil fuels.

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