John Kerry the Midwesterner, OR Why the Midwest and South are Actually Not Near Each Other

“No more northeast liberals! We “know” from history that they don’t play well in the MidWest and the South!” How many times have we heard statements like this? Probably too much to count.

As far as the South goes, yes northeast liberals don’t play well in the South. Of course given the fact that no Democrat has won a majority of the southern white vote since 1948 it’s kinda hard to argue that anybody the Dems nominate will play well in the South. Except for 1964 and 1976, no Democrat has won even 40% of the southern white vote since 1960. In fact, since 1964 only one Democrat (Carter in 1976) has won a majority (or even a plurality) of the total southern vote-despite massive support for Democrats among most southern non-whites. Yes, Virginia (no pun intended) even Bill Clinton lost the southern vote. Clinton won 45.9% of the southern vote in 1996, 41.0% in 1992, while Kerry won 42.0% there in 2004 and Gore won 43.4% in 2000.

But what of the Midwest? Well the Midwest might still be close to the south geographically, but it’s moving away from the South politically. How is this so?

A comparison with other post-1948 Democrat nominees is instructive. For all the talk about northeasterners not playing well in the Midwest, Kerry won 48.2% of the total popular vote in the Midwest. Aside from Lyndon Johnson in the Democratic landslide year of 1964, only two other post-1948 Democrats have-barely-won a greater percent of the Midwest vote than Kerry did. Clinton won 48.5% in 1996, Carter won 48.6% of the Midwest vote in 1976.

Of course Carter was running in the aftermath of Watergate, the then unpopular Ford pardon of Nixon, the helicpoters leaving Vietnam in 1975, and a deep recession that had wreaked havoc on the economy-especially in the Midwest.

Clinton was an incumbent running for re-election at a time when the economy was shifting into high gear, Perot was less of a factor than he had been in 1992 (and was taking votes mostly away from Dole anyway), the GOP base was at best lukewarm about their nominee, and the GOP nominee himself ran the epitome of a lackluster campaign. Don’t forget 1996 is just a year after the Oklahoma bombings, so the face of anti-government rhetoric was no longer Ronald Reagan, it was Timothy McVeigh. Also, in 1996 the face of the GOP was not Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, or even Bush Sr., it was Newt Gingrich-nuff said. If anything, both Carter and Clinton should be taken to task for not doing better in the Midwest given the cirumstances they ran in.

In contrast, Kerry was challenging an incumbent president. Yes the Midwest had lost jobs on Bush’s watch. But Kerry also had to deal with an incumbent that a majority of Midwesterners (and Americans in general) liked and trusted personally. Kerry was also challenging a wartime president who was fighting a war that most Midwesterners (and Americans in general) thought was the right decision to make.

Illinois was the only state in the Midwest where Bush did not have an approval rating over 50% at the time of the election. Illinois was also the only state in the Midwest where a majority did not approve of Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq. All other Midwest states a majority approved of the job Bush was doing and approved of his decision to fight a war in Iraq. Ergo, Kerry overachieved by winning 4 Midwest states (as opposed to one) and coming close in two others. Given Bush’ s high personal and job approval ratings in all non-Illinois Midwest states, it is a fairly certain conclusion that Kerry’s higher numbers were due to people voting for Kerry– as opposed to the proverbial “anybody but Bush.”

Kerry also won a greater percent of votes in every Midwest state than Clinton did in 1992. Kerry also bested Gore in all the blue and battleground Midwestern states save for two states that both men lost- Missouri and West Va. Nor was there a big dropoff from 2000 to 2004: Gore won 47.5% of the Missouri vote, Kerry 47.1% (Clinton won 47.5% in 1996).

Comparing the blue and battleground states from 1996 and 2004 is also instructive in debunking the “Midwest don’t like NE liberals” arguement. Except for West Virginia, Kerry’s and Clinton’s vote totals were very close to each other in every other Midwest blue or battleground state. For example, Clinton outdid Kerry in Missouri 47.5% to 46.1% and outdid Kerry 50.3%-49.2% in Iowa. On the other hand Kerry outdid Clinton 49.7% to 47.8% in Wisconsin and outdid Clinton 48.7% to 47.5% in Ohio. Indeed, had Kerry won Ohio but gotten the same Wisconsin percent Clinton recieved, he would have lost the electoral vote as Bush won 49.3% there. For the record, Kerry’s 48.7% of the Ohio vote virtually tied Carter’s 1976 total of 48.9%. Outside of that tie and LBJ’s landslide in 1964, not one post-1948 Democrat has won as great a percent of the Ohio vote as Kerry.

Another point to keep in mind is Kerry’s percent totals in the Midwest compared to the NE and the South. Kerry won 55.8% of the NE vote, 42.0% in the South, and 48.2% in the Midwest. The gap between Kerry’s Midwest and NE percent totals is 7.6%. The gap between Kerry’s Midwest and South percent totals: 6.2%. In contrast, at 42% of the vote, Clinton got only 1% more of the MW in 1992 than his southern total, 4% less than his NE total that year. Since 1996-and continuing in 2004- Democrat percent totals in the Midwest have been inching closer to their popular vote percents in the Northeast and away from their totals in the South.
Sigh, I can hear the Kerry doubters at Fox “news” and Dkos now.

“Wait a minute, Nick. While Kerry did well in the Midwest, he still lost the total Midwest vote 50.9% to 48.2%. Yes, he won the popular vote in the West (49.9%-47.8%) and the Northeast (55.8%-43.0%) and did better in the Midwest than in the South. Still, he LOST the Midwest popular vote, just like he lost the southern popular vote. How can you still claim the Midwest is moving away from the South?”

Tune in next time for: There is More than One Midwest.

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About Nick

Teacher of Social Studies. Born in the 1970s. History major, music minor. Big Baseball fan. Economic progressive.
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7 Responses to John Kerry the Midwesterner, OR Why the Midwest and South are Actually Not Near Each Other

  1. Ginny in CO says:

    I sort of like that reference to my name and the state 🙂

    What will really be interesting this fall is where the southern states move after Katrina and Rita. (no pun intended, it just happened 🙂

    Aside from my usual interest in your statistical analysis, I put a comment on Saturday’s DailyKos blog on Kerry’s speech, referring people to your posts here so they could find out how well Kerry did do.
    Anyone who would be interested in doing this, look to the right side of your screen for the “categories” section and go down to “polls”. Click and you will find Nick’s many
    erudite discussions of the ’04 election statistics and others as well.

    Looking forward to learning how many Midwests there are!

  2. Nick says:


    Glad you enjoyed the analysis and thanks for spreading my analysis. If those Dkos want to know the truth I’m happy to help them. If they want to slander my analysis I have three words for them that you’ll probably recognize: Bring It On!

    Which reference to your name and state do you mean?

  3. Ginny in CO says:


    “Yes, Virginia” Ginny is the primary nickname for Virginia – my legal name.

    I used ‘the’ state because of the name association. I have been there, but never a resident. Beautiful state.

    You probably know the name was in honor of Queen Elizabeth I, who never married and was presumed to be a virgin. Or they pretended to presume? I often wonder what Queen Victoria thought of it. 😉

    And I have always been very fond of the Santa letter and answer. The editors cared. They understood the importance of a child’s question. The questions that were implied in it, not just the question she asked.

    I think that’s one reason I like statistics. You can think of a way to ask a question and find the answer with the numbers. Often it leads to another question the numbers can answer. As in all things, what is important is to ask the right question. The stupid things you can do with statistics, and other science, are from asking the wrong question. Using the wrong words or phrasing or reasoning.

    The beauty of your analyses is they are very difficult to slander, argue, or pull apart. In this whole picture, one of the things a lot of people have to realise is that analysed data often reveals information that is counter intuitive. That’s what “intelligence” agencies are all about. It’s what successful businesses do. They don’t assume their ideas are what will sell, they get data and analyse it.

    The sooner more of them can move past the idea that Kerry’s loss was major, the election should have been a cakewalk, that we need some one from the south, west, (heaven?), the sooner we can move on to how to win the next one – with the candidate that will make the best president.

  4. Nick says:


    Now I get it! Should have caught the Ginny=Virginia connection sooner.
    Thanks for what you say about my analyses. It feels good to know that folks think I have integrity-and that I can make a point in a way people understand.
    Your line about “In this whole picture, one of the things a lot of people have to realise is that analysed data often reveals information that is counter intuitive. That’s what “intelligence” agencies are all about. It’s what successful businesses do. They don’t assume their ideas are what will sell, they get data and analyse it,” is right on the money. Too bad most “political journalists” and pundits don’t understand this like you do.

    I don’t understand why people walk around thinking Kerry’s loss was by a large margin. My best guess is that most of these folks are either Deaniacs that are STILL upset their man didn’t get the nomination, or actually beleive that there was no difference between JK and GWB! Or they’re economic conservatives posing as centrists (e.g. Joe Klein) or Limbaugh right-wingers who really like the idea of Bush having a “mandate” to do things like dismantle Soc. Security.
    In defense of any truly decent folks who bought the “Kerry got his head handed to him” theory, all I can say is:
    most times conservatives have won they have done so in landslides with better than average support from working class folks (e.g. the GOP takeover in 1994, Coolidge in 1924, Reagan in 1980-84, etc.). They just assume that, being a conservative, Bush won because “Kerry was a patrician who couldn’t connect with average joe or mary.” The facts as you know, do not bear that out.

    By the way: if any Coloradans try any anti-Kerry lines on you, point out to them that at 47% of the vote in CO., Kerry won a greater percent of the vote in CO than any Democrat since 1948! (except for LBJ in 1964). If Kerry and/or a “northeast liberal” was so bad, why did he attract a greater percent of Coloradans than any Democrat-from any region of the country-for the past 4 or more decades? Hell, JK got a greater percent in 2004 than FDR got in 1944-when FDR was fighting and winning a fully justified war- can anybody in CO., or anywhere else, say that Dubya was fighting and winning a fully justified war in 2004?

  5. Ginny in CO says:


    W and rummy and cheney and … think they were fighting and winning a fully justified war in 2004 🙂

    Colorado Dems also retook the Capitol in ’04 and the political news is soo much better. They are actually doing some amazing things. Fixing school buildings that are falling apart, health care proposals, wonderful stuff.

    And since Wayne Allard got into Time’s worst 5 Senators list, I think we will take the Govenors seat back in Nov.

    Frankly Nick, I sometimes think people spend a lot of time walking around NOT thinking. I have one of those ADD brains that will not stop. Even at 12:15 am …

  6. Nick says:

    “I sometimes think people spend a lot of time walking around NOT thinking. I have one of those ADD brains that will not stop. Even at 12:15 am …”

    ADD brain at 12:15 am, huh? Don’t feel bad about that.,I’m usually the same way. Your absolutely right about people walking around not thinking. I don’t know what the solution is to that- I guess as long as folks don’t wander into a voting booth while in “not thinking” mode this country will be in good shape.

  7. Nick says:


    The West totals were 49.9% Kerry to 48.7% Bush, not 47.8% Bush. Sorry for the mixup.