Divided Nation Is Moving Further Apart

Election Shows Red and Blue States Are Here To Stay

Reality Bites: Soaring rhetoric aside, the election shows the nation really is divided into red states and blue states.
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Reality Bites: Soaring rhetoric aside, the election shows the nation really is divided into red states and blue states.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published November 09, 2012, issue of November 16, 2012.
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It’s even more instructive to divide the red states into their two component regions, the Old South and the mountain-prairie West. In most of the Great Plains and Western states, whites went between 39% and 42% for Obama (the sole exceptions: Utah and Wyoming, at about 32%). In the Deep South, by contrast, the white Democratic vote ranged from 26% in South Carolina and Texas down to 14% in Louisiana, 11% in Mississippi and 10% in Alabama.

Not surprisingly, the white Obama vote in the swing states was mostly in the mid-range between red and blue — 42% in Florida, 45% in Nevada, 46% in Ohio, 48% in Pennsylvania.

How many people are we talking about? You’ll be surprised. Total population of the blue states: 140 million. Red states: 94 million. Swing states: 74 million. Blue states aren’t a majority, but they’re close being one. As we saw November 6, a Democrat who carries the blue states only needs a few swing states to gain an Electoral College majority. A Republican who sweeps the red states still needs most of the swing states.

Those numbers provide a clue to solving another riddle: How is it that Obama can rack up such a strong numbers in the Electoral College while getting such a razor-thin majority in the popular vote? Answer: Looking at the white votes, you can see that the red states are much more intensely red than the blue states are blue. That is, Democrats have a much slimmer majority in the blue states than the Republicans have in the red states. That means that a good many Republican votes in blue states are lost when the Electoral votes are totaled. There aren’t many Democratic votes to get lost in the red states.

This also helps explain why the red state Republicans are so much more fiercely partisan and hostile to Democrats than vice versa. Democrats in blue states live in a more diverse atmosphere and have to learn to get along. Republicans in red states live in a hothouse.

Importantly, the map hasn’t changed much in decades, even though party labels have shifted. The Senate coalition that blocked efforts to admit Jewish refugees in the 1930s, that refused to let FDR assist Britain against the Nazis until Pearl Harbor, and after the war fought mightily against admitting Jewish DPs, consisted of Southern Democrats and conservative Republicans from the prairie and mountain states. Today those same Senate seats are the core of the Republican caucus. You could neatly lay today’s familiar red-blue map over the map of World War II-era nativists and not know which was which.

Remember when Obama said on election night that we’re “more than a collection of red states and blue states,” that we’re “an American family, one nation”? Fuggedabout it. It’s pretty talk, but it’s just talk.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


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