“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.