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News from the Votemaster

How Republican is the South?

When Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act 50 years ago (July 2, 1964 to be precise), he muttered that he knew full well that he was turning the South over to the Republicans for at least a generation, but it was the right thing to do so he did it. It is now inconceivable that any major politician from either party could do something that he or she thought was "right" but would have disastrous consequences for his or her party for decades. Here we are two generations later. Where do we stand?

Johnson, of course, was correct. Until the Civil Rights Act, Southern whites nominally voted overwhelmingly for the Democrats, the party of the slave owners. Actually, they voted against the Republicans, whose first President, Abraham Lincoln, freed the slaves (well, not exactly because the South ignored the Emancipation Proclamation and the North didn't have any slaves, but at least he tried). While all the maps of presidential elections show a solid sea of red down South, it is nevertheless perhaps instructive to look in a bit more detail to see if all the Southern states are equally Republican. It turns out not to be true.

The first issue to consider is: "What is the South?" For our purposes, it will be the 11 states that seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy, plus two other states, Missouri and Kentucky, that never formally passed a state law leaving the Union but did join the Confederacy nevertheless. So we will consider the 13 states in the Confederacy as the "South."

The next issue is how to determine how Republican a state is. There is many ways to do it. One way is party registration, but that isn't really so good because a fair number of people register as independents but really lean heavily to one side or the other. Another way is to look at the percentage of the vote in presidential elections, but it turns out that is somewhat misleading as there are states that vote heavily for the Republicans in presidential elections but less so in state elections, where the Democratic candidates are more in tune with the local electorate than the national candidates are.

The method we have chosen is to look at actual elections: how do people really vote. None of this "I'm an independent" business since with the exception of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Angus King (I-ME), there are precious few candidates with (I) after their name. When you vote, you have to make a real choice. We have chosen to examine seven criteria:

  • The 2012 presidential election
  • The two senators
  • The partisan composition of the U.S. House delegation
  • The governor
  • The elected statewide officers (governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, etc.)
  • The partisan composition of the state senate
  • The partisan composition of the state house

The results for these 13 states and 7 categories of offices are shown below, color coded blue for Democratic control, red for Republican control, and purple for a tie. The data come from Wikipedia and The Green Papers.

State Pres 2012 Senate House Gov Officers State senate State house Score
Virginia D 2 - 0 3 - 8 D 3 - 0 20 - 20 33 - 67 +2
Kentucky R 0 - 2 1 - 5 D 6 - 1 15 - 22 55 - 45 -1
Arkansas R 1 - 1 0 - 4 D 5 - 2 14 - 21 49 - 51 -2
Missouri R 1 - 1 2 - 6 D 4 - 2 10 - 28 53 - 110 -2
Florida D 1 - 1 10 - 17 R 0 - 5 14 - 26 45 - 75 -4
North Carolina R 1 - 1 4 - 9 R 6 - 4 18 - 32 43 - 77 -4
Louisiana R 1 - 1 1 - 5 R 0 - 7 13 - 26 44 - 59 -6
Alabama R 0 - 2 1 - 6 R 0 -7 12 - 22 39 - 65 -7
Georgia R 0 - 2 5 - 9 R 0 - 8 18 - 38 60 - 119 -7
Mississippi R 0 - 2 1 - 3 R 1 - 7 22 - 30 58 - 64 -7
South Carolina R 0 - 2 1 - 6 R 0 - 9 18 - 28 46 - 76 -7
Tennessee R 0 - 2 2 - 7 R 0 - 1 7 - 26 27 - 71 -7
Texas R 0 - 2 12 - 24 R 0 - 9 12 - 19 55 - 95 -7

In each cell with two numbers, the first number is the number of Democrats and the second number is the number of Republicans. For example, the Virginia state house has 33 Democrats and 67 Republicans. To order the states somehow, we did the following. Every blue cell gets +1 points. Every red cell gets -1 points. Purple cells get 0. So algebraically higher values are more Democratic and algebraically lower values are more Republican. Six states (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) max out at -7, meaning the Republicans won all the marbles. Nevertheless, in the other seven states, the Democrats show some signs of life. In Virginia, they are actually the dominant party now. In fact their dominance is even slightly more than shown because the state senate is split evenly 20-20, but the Democratic lieutenant governor gets to cast the tie-breaking vote, so in effect the Democrats run the state senate.

None of this is going to predict how the 2014 Senate races in Kentucky, Arkansas, North Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, or Mississippi will turn out, but it does show that the idea of a Democrat winning anything in the South is not preposterous. In fact, current polls seem to align well with the final score in the table. Kentucky and Arkansas are only slightly Republican, and the Democratic Senate candidates there, secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), respectively, are statistically tied with their Republican opponents. In North Carolina and Louisiana, Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) are somewhat further behind (although Landrieu's case is more complicated due to the state's peculiar jungle election in November where a candidate needs 50% in the first round to win outright). From the above table, one would logically conclude that Mississippi is a done deal for the Republicans, and normally that would be the case, except there is a chance a tea party candidate so far right, Chris McDaniel, could defeat Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) in the primary to give the Democrat a small, but nonzero, chance of winning the general election.

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---The Votemaster
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