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No Bradley effect, but…

November 6th, 2008, 11:13pm by Sam Wang


Obama gained support nearly everywhere compared with John Kerry in 2004:

But in some places the movement was 20 points or more in the other direction. Appalachians and Okies A lot of residents of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee sure didn’t like Obama. Imagine that. Click the map for the NYT interactive slide show.

Tags: 2008 Election

37 Comments so far ↓

  • Paul

    I’d love to see that same map renormed so that grey corresponds to the average blueward shift. Where did Obama pick up relatively more or less support?

  • Abigail

    I had a great time this election; thanks for all your hard work. Withdrawal is already setting in.
    As xkcd says:
    http://xkcd.com/500/

  • Michael

    georgia looks fishy to me. Look at slide #2, see how the pattern in georgia is really “buckshot”? all the other states sort of follow these smoother geographic transitions and trends.

  • Logan

    Well looking at the map of the Okies and Appalachia at least we now know where to store the nations nuclear waste.

  • Steve

    Here is an article on Obama’s strategy in Virginia to counteract “The Appalacian Problem” in southwest Virgina. Apparently it was enough to carry Virginia but I don’t think any amount of economic populism would have worked in West Virginia.

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/10/06/081006fa_fact_boyer?currentPage=all

  • blair alef

    Absolutely great map!! Probably the last word on understanding this election. Thanks again Sam.

  • Eric

    Sam, I think it’s called the “banjo belt”. Amazing website, thanks for the ride.

    Logan: Almost sprayed coffee on my screen.

  • Bruce W

    While it is horrifying to see the extent of the racism in Appalachia, Oklahoma, and the Gulf coast mapped out like this, it is comforting to see that most of the western and plains states were bluer than in 2004 (we can forgive Arizona, I think, since their guy was running). It actually gives me some hope for humanity.

  • Ed B

    Whoa there! This writer has checked this site every day for months. I live in the Appalachians of Western North Carolina, and my own county went heavily for Obama. Let’s keep it fair. WNC and western Virginia show a lot of blue.

  • Sam Wang

    Ed B – It’s a fair point. The states with the largest overall differences are Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee. Also, even 20%, which occurs in just a small fraction of those counties, is one in five voters. People vary in their preferences, and this is no exception.

    In any event, I found this to be a very good display tool for seeing a race-based effect. This doesn’t have to be racism in the most negative sense of the term. Race relations are complicated mix of feeling unfamiliarity with other groups you don’t belong to, actual negative stereotypes, and who knows what else.

  • Ed B

    Sam – Thanks for rejigging what you did. I agree that racial issues are very complex. Thanks also for maintaining such a fascinating and interesting web site.

  • Jonathan Lundell

    Notice also the fairly clear home-state effect: AZ, AK, MA, DE, WY, but not NC and not really TX.

  • loren

    It would be interesting to compare this map with one drawn for Kennedy 1960 [perhaps against Truman ’48+ one of the Stevenson: The area around my home town, a small dairying community in the Northwest went from roughly 60:40 GOP to nearly 80% for Nixon, and I’m sure this was a reflection of anti-Catholic fear.

  • Bob

    I think we can blame some of the shift in Louisiana on the relocation of population following Hurricane Katrina. It would not surprise me if the total vote was down in those counties.

    Which the cynical among us might argue, “Precisely.”

  • Mark S.

    That is a great map and slide show – but it obscures some things. It also unfairly blames Appalachia.

    From CNN exit polls: The most extreme white racial voting was in Alabama and Mississippi. Whites there voted 10% Obama, 88% McCain. Louisiana (14% Obama) was similar. Georgia was slightly better (23%).

    (I personally find that deeply horrible.)

    The white vote for Obama consistently increased as one moves north. Obama got 26%-30% in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, 34%-36% in North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky, and 41% in West Virginia..

    Excluding the south, the white vote was close to 50-50.

    The NY Times map singles out Appalachia, Arkansas and Oklahoma because these regions have a relatively small African American population. In Alabama and Mississippi, race-based voting patterns were hidden because the county-wide totals include the huge African-American vote for Obama.

    Last word – a special appreciation for Indiana, which had the largest red-to-blue shift, due mainly to white voters switching to Obama.

  • Mark S.

    ADDED: also an appreciation to the African-American communities – and to the people who waited in 5-hour lines to vote for Obama. From the slide show, every group has their own contribution to boast about – whites turned Indiana, Hispanics and young people turned New Mexico, African Americans and Hispanics together turned Florida, and blacks and whites together turned Ohio and North Carolina.

  • Paul

    Sam — I’d be curious for your level-headed take on the incongruously low turnout and unexpected results in AK. The conspiracy theories are already simmering; I’d really appreciate your reality-based take as a counterpoint … if there’s anything useful in the data to learn.

  • William Ockham

    If you look at those counties that went deeper red, you find they share the following demographic qualities:

    rural, low density population
    75% or higher white, non-hispanic population
    high rates of white poverty
    are in states that Obama didn’t contest

    If you zero in on Kentucky, you can see the pattern quite clearly. In the northern part of the state, white rural counties near Indiana and Ohio were slightly less Red, but the southeastern counties nearer Tennessee, W. Virginia and that tip of Virginia that Obama ignored got Redder.

  • Ken

    Sam,
    What is your take on the polling surprises in the AK senate race, in terms of both results and turnout.

  • Tony Woodbury

    Linguists and dialectologists will instantly recognize the red stripe on the map as the dispersion area of the so-called ‘Midlands’ dialect of American English. The Midlands dialect is associated with colonial Pennsylvania and with the overland westward migration into the Mississippi river system and eventually Oklahoma. (It is distinct from the traditional Northern and Southern dialects in vocabulary as well as in its maintenance of strongly articulated post-vocalic /r/ ‘s, as against the “r-dropping” associated with the other two traditional dialects.)

    (Yeah ok, this observation fails to account for the red patch around the FL panhandle and S. Louisiana…beats me, maybe FEMA’s performance in the Bush years won them the red-ward movement????)

  • Rachel Findley

    The red-shift area is the Borderlands “culture hearth” described by David Hackett Fischer in _Albion’s Seed_ (1989).

    The area is classic Daniel Boone and Andrew Jackson country. The first European settlers there were my own ancestral Scotch-Irish people from the North of England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. According to Hacket Fischer, the culture of these early arrivals still shapes the politics of the region. You can read about it here: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~UG97/albion/albion3.html (probably more than you want to know).

    The first settlers’ rejection of elites, their definition of freedom as “every man a sheriff on his own hearth,” their acceptance of violence to resolve disagreements, and their admiration of fierce women, all would seem to make the McCain-Palin ticket especially attractive, without imagining this region as any more likely to be racially prejudiced than the rest of the old South, at any rate.

  • Patrick

    As an Okie that makes me sad… Plus we re-elected Inhofe. Ugh. I voted in the little blue blob in the middle though, so I guess I can feel a little better about that.

    (Also, Logan – You can store your nuclear waste up in the panhandle. No one will notice.)

  • John Miller

    Could these red counties have taken the “they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion..” comment personally?

  • William

    If so, why didn’t Pennsylvania take them personally?

  • Marc

    Doesn’t show change from 2004 to 2008, but also interesting:

    http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mejn/election/2008/

  • Steve Roth

    Hey Sam:

    I was looking again at these maps and noticed an odd anomaly: a hard line at Arkansas’ northern, southern, and eastern borders (and to a lesser extent at Tennessee and Oklahoma borders).

    At Arkansas’ eastern border, well, there’s a big river there. But elsewhere, wouldn’t you expect a more gradual fade?

    Aside from vague and hardly-convincing psychological surmises (strong conservatives prefer living in northern Arkansas to southern Missouri?), the only explanations I can imagine for this are election-related. Is there something about registration and/or voting in Arkansas and Tennessee that causes this abrupt statistical shift at the borders?

  • Mike

    @Steve Roth, etc.

    I’d bet this is because of feelings about Hillary. There are still a lot of people in those states who consider themselves Democrats at heart, and think the national party has just gone astray (much to do with social issues). It’s not necessarily true that Hillary could have carried any states other than Arkansas, but her losing the nomination almost certainly produced a backlash against Obama.

  • Jeff W

    The red areas seem to overlay roughly with those areas where, in the 2000 census, the largest group by population self-reported their ancestry as being “American.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_ancestry

  • Sam Wang

    Tony (#21), Rachel ((#22), and Jeff W (#29) – That’s really interesting. Jeff’s comparison to where self-reported “Americans” live is fascinating, and deserves to be reproduced here.

  • Sam Wang

    And here’s a version from Bob Vanderbei. Notice that without state boundaries, the Arkansas border anomaly appears less sharp, suggesting that it could conceivably be less of a state-specific effect as one might think from looking at the NYT map.

  • Jim M.

    The individuals identifying themselves as of “American” ancestry also seem to live in areas densely populated by African Americans (or those who answered “Black” to the ancestry question in the 2000 Census).

  • Eddie

    It makes me think of stratified data: PoorerXLessEducatedXWhiter.

  • Pete D

    Good observation, Sam. Also Mark S. for noticing a trend that may seem so obvious as to forget being mentioned. If you were to rank the states where Obama received poorest support among whites (starting with Alabama and Mississippi), you’d pretty much have a list similar to one which would show, from 1945-1965, the prevalence of lynchings, the percentage of voting-age blacks who weren’t registered, the relative power of the KKK, etc. In short, Obama received poorest support among whites in states in which systematic racism historically was at it’s harshest.

    Also, kudos to Tony, Rachel and Jeff for picking up on the overlap of these counties with those where residents were most likely to report themselves as “American”. That was one of the first thoughts that came into my head — how from Appalachia to the Ozarks, there was heavy anti-Obama sentiment (who, we can assume, did not report to the Census Bureau that he was “American”).

    Here’s another interesting map. Rather than asking what’s the matter with Kansas, the question should be “What’s the matter with ‘Americans’?”. Now, remember, poverty in the West is heavily associated with Hispanics and Native Americans. Also, poverty from the Mississippi River Valley down then eastwards through south Alabama, south Georgia and up through the eastern half of the South Atlantic states is heavily associated with African Americans.

    Southeast Oklahoma? It’s hard to say. So many of their counties are 10-20% Native American. Of all minority groups, Native Americans tend to be the ones whose members are most likely to live below the poverty line.

    http://www.ncsociology.org/sociationtoday/v2/image002.jpg

  • Observer

    I think Jim M has it slightly backward:

    The red belt is upland regions with low densities of black population. Check the Wikipedia map of black densities for the 2000 census. But they are adjacent to the ‘black belt’ (former tobacco and cotton regions) from eastern NC through SC, central GA, AL, MS to the Mississippi valley. This region, thus, is very white, has the anti-authority, independence traits noted by Rachel F from their Anglo-Celtic borderlands roots, and is a borderland between the black belt to the south and the ‘full north’ above the Ohio. Their region has historically been economically weak, and the relative economic disparity has only widened from colonial times.

    These people (and my ancestors hail from eastern Kentucky) have historically been susceptible to racist appeals, and IMHO still are. It’s easier, for all the traits mentioned, to convince them they face a ‘black threat’ and that is part of what holds them back.

    Not surprising that this region went redder against a black Democratic candidate.

  • Thomas

    Mike , the backlash of Hilary voters argument has a major flaw: look at her home state of New York. Most of the rural white Upstate counties that presumably voted heavily for Hilary increased their margins for Obama. While not a home state phenomenon, most blue collar worker counties in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana that backed Hilary also followed the national trend. Nationally, nearly 9 in 10 Hilary supporters backed Obama. The phenomenon can only be explained by the unique socio-economic and cultural background of the Applachia and the rural white South.

  • Kevin Y

    This is fascinating stuff. I’m wondering why all the white rural, lower income, anti-establishment people in states like Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and North Dakota so strongly supported Obama compared to Kerry. I’ve been wondering about this since the primaries. I would have thought those areas would be racist much like Appalachia but it’s the complete opposite.

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