There is More Than One Midwest

As I stated in my previous post, Kerry’s percent of the popular vote in the Midwest (48.2%) was comparable to other post-war highs among post 1948 Democrats. Still, no Democrat, except for 1964, has won a majority of the Midwest vote since 1948. This is mainly because Republicans have for a long time had a base of votes in the Midwest to rely on. Isn’t that a sign for pessimism? Not really.

While LBJ was the only Democrat to win a majority of the electoral college vote from 1952-1988, the Democrats won a majority of the electoral college Midwest votes from 1992-2000. Kerry only lost the Midwest EV 71-58. A shift or 1.05% of the Ohio popular vote gives Kerry an EV Midwest victory of 78-51. A shift of .5% of the Iowa popular vote (or add two thirds of the Nader and libertarian vote to Kerry) gives Kerry a 65-64 EV victory in the Midwest. Indeed, some polls gave Kerry the edge in Iowa just before the release of the Bin Laden tape 4 days before the election.

A more important point to remember is that in comparing the Midwest (a swing region) to the South (the most GOP region of the country) is There is more than one Midwest.

Our first Midwest is the 5 state area of Indiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, and Nebraska a.k.a. safe GOP. Franklin Roosevelt carried all 5 of these states in 1932 and 1936, while LBJ won all 5 in 1964. Other than those three Democrat landslide years, not one of these states has come remotely close to voting for a Democrat since 1916! Bush won at least 59.4% of the vote in all 5 safe GOP states. Interestingly, Bush also won 59.4% of the vote in only 5 southern states, so these states are as safe as Mississippi, Alabama, and Oklahoma.

There are some bright spots for Democrats here:

1) All 5 safe GOP midwestern states have lost electoral votes since the 1960s, so they mean less in the electoral College or the House of Representatives than before. They are worth a combined total of 28 EVs, while Minnesota and Illinois are worth 31 EVs!

2). There are 5 Democrat Senators from the safe GOP -more than in the entire South. What’s more these Democrats are pretty to very liberal on the issues. Even Ben Nelson from the conservative state of Nebraska has a voting record rating from Americans for Democratic Action of over 60%.

Now for the Second Midwest: the newly blue states of Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. 7 of the 8 Senators, and 3 of the 4 governors are Democrats. Two of these states have voted Democrat 5 elections in a row (i.e. since 1988), two of these states have voted Democrat 4 elections in a row (since 1992). Prior to 1988 however, not one of these states had ever voted for Democrat as much as 4 times in a row. In Wisconsin and Illinois Kerry got a greater percent than Gore or Clinton ever got. In Minnesota, Kerry tied Clinton (1996) (51.1%) while besting Gore’s percentages there. In Michigan there was a statistically insignificant gap between the candidates: Kerry won 51.2% to Gore’s 51.3%, Clinton 1996 51.7%. Of course, in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin Kerry managed to win those states despite the fact that a majority of voters approved of Bush and the war in Iraq in those states.

Now for the third Midwest: the total tossup states of Ohio, Missouri, Iowa, and West Virginia. The governors are split 2-2, while the GOP Senators from here hold a slight advantage here 5-3-though that could change if voters in Ohio and/or Missouri do the right thing in 2006.

Note to Missourians: please save the working people of America and vote out Jim Talent. This guy is so anti-labor he makes Ronald Reagan look like Mother Jones!

Note for the following comparisons I don’t count LBJ in the Democrat landslide year of 1964 as LBJ outdid all post 1948 Demcorats in every Midwest state.

In Ohio, Kerry’s percent total (48.7%) outdid all post-1948 Democrats save for Carter 1976 (48.9%). In Iowa, Kerry’s percent total outdid all post-1948 Democrats save for Clinton in 1996 (50.3%) and Dukakis in 1988 (52%). Indeed, at 49.9%, Bush’s percent total was 5% less than his approval rating in Iowa! Bush’s Ohio vote was also 4% less than his approval rating there. Once again, Kerry overachieved.

Between Kerry and Dukakis, only Ohio and Missouri have never voted for a Massachusetts liberal- and Kerry only got 1.4% less of the Missouri vote than Gore or Clinton ever got. With Republicans in control of both houses of the Missouri state legislature and the Missouri governorship and both Senate seats for the first time in 80 years-it’s safe to say that for the past few years the GOP has been in the ascendant in Missouri for the past few years.

That could change though: Polls show Jim Talent to be vulnerable this year, while the approval ratings of Gov. Matt “Can’t stop smokin” Blunt have plummeted. Even in defeat Kerry managed to win in the much coveted Kansas City and St. Louis suburbs-places that have traditionally not been kind to Democrats. To the best I can tell, the Bush victory there was mostly a function of both high GOP turnout and high Bush vote totals in rural Missouri-particularly in the rural southwestern part of the state. (See link)

West Virginia is an anomoly. With more veterans per population than any other state (and with Bush having a 57% approval rating there in 2004) it looked Republican. On the other hand, with Democrats in control of the state legislature, governorship and both Senators it looks Democratic. On the other hand-it has voted for the incumbent president in every election since 1920 save for 1932 and 1992.

Was it a regional bias against Kerry? Well, they did vote for Dukakis by a wide margin in 1988. More interesting is to look at the elections of 1956-60 and 1984-88. In 1956 and 1984 the incumbent Republican defeated his challenger (from the Midwest) in a landslide in West Virginia. 4 years later, a Massachusetts liberal won West Virginia by a convicing margin while not running against an incumbent president. Since 1940, the only time West Va. voted for the incumbent party (but not the incumbent president) was in 1952 and 1968. In both those years the country was at war, wars that a majority of West Virginians approved of at that time. No reason to change parties in charge when fighting a war they approve of. Maybe West Virginia is becoming more Republican. Or maybe Kerry just simply ran in the wrong year? Incidentially, had Kerry won the same 51.5% of the vote Clinton won in West Virginia, Kerry would have won the same 48.5% of the Midwest vote Clinton won, as opposed to the 48.2% Kerry did win in the Midwest.

It should also be noted that Kerry was not necessarily a drag on the ticket in the Midwest. If anything he may have helped. The total number of Democratic state legislators went up as a result of the 2004 election. No Democrat Senator or challenger lost an election they were expected to win. Indeed, there was no change at all in the Midwest US Senate makeup as a result of the 2004 election, as Daschle was defeated but Obama won. Daschle was running for a fourth term as Senator, SD has never elected a Senator to a fourth term-regardless of party. Most interesting, the total number of Democrat Congressmen went up as Democrats lost a seat in Indiana, but gained seats in Illinois and South Dakota.

Only in governors did the Dems suffer in the Midwest. Indiana is a deep red state that elected a GOP governor for the first time since 1984- needless to say the Indiana GOP was due, espeically given that thee incumbent Democrat governor was otherwise busy being dead. In Missouri, the Democrat governor was so unpopular that he was defeated in his bid for renomination. In short, neither of these defeats can be laid at Kerry’s feet.

So Democrats are building a base in the Midwest to challenge the GOP base in the farm belt (outside Iowa) there-but it’s a work in progress. States that were as recently as 10 years ago considered GOP are now swing states, while several formerly GOP leaning swing states are now either Democratic leaning (e.g. Michigan and Wisconsin) or even outright blue (Illinois). There are no states (except maybe West Virginia) that show any signs of shifting away from the Democrats.

With the loss of most of the South, Democrats have had to look elsewhere for a base. They’ve also had to bring some nonsouthern GOP leaning states toward them. Keep your head up Democrats, they’re in the midst of doing just that-with a Massachusetts liberal at the top of the ticket no less.

Aside from Kerry’s (and the Democrats’) progress in the Midwest remember this:
Kerry won all 117 of EVs in the Northeast. Kerry’s 55.8% of the NE vote was second to only Gore (56.4%) there. Kerry beat Bush 77-47 EV in the West and won 49.9%-47.8% in the West, the best showing a Democrat has done in the West since 1948 (save for LBJ). Kerry also tied or beat post-1948 Democrat vote percentage highs in 3 formerly GOP states of Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.

When it comes to building the new progressive majorities, “just be patient. It’s a work in progress.” It also may be (especially the Midwest element) a lot closer than Karl Rove thinks.

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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 There is More Than One Midwest

  1. Nick says:

    Dukakis got a slightly better percent in Wisconsin than Kerry and got 52% in West Va. in 1988-slightly hihger than Clinton in 1996

  2. KJ says:

    “Note to Missourians: please save the working people of America and vote out Jim Talent. This guy is so anti-labor he makes Ronald Reagan look like Mother Jones!”

    I worked for Mel Carnahan and then for his wife, Jean Carnahan, who lost by around 1,000 votes to Talent in 2002. (She was another Senator who voted yes in IRW despite my calls to her office, but I forgave her quickly because that seat was so important.)

    Claire McCaskill has a good chance to give Mr. Jim the boot. We also need to 86 this dim son of a governor, Matt Blunt, (Ray’s idiot son.)

    Missouri is my adopted state and it just plain breaks my heart to live here!

  3. KJ says:

    And after the 2004 elections Missouri is now from the ground-to-the-top Red. Lot of work needed done on the local levels.

  4. lothario says:

    Your mind is amazing. Great work as usual. Man I wish we can get some of your stats to the general public.

  5. Ginny in CO says:

    “- needless to say the Indiana GOP was due, especially given that the incumbent Democrat governor was otherwise busy being dead.” LOL
    I don’t know, didn’t stop the Missouri voters from voting Carnahan over Ashcroft. 🙂


    Even getting the stats to the Dems who have swallowed the GOP talking points hook, line… and sunk.

    Interestingly, someone has figured out that the blogosphere is a rich source of information, ideas and analysis of many issues. Often doing better than the MSM.

    One book has been produced and more are apparently in the works.
    This link is to a review of a blog book on Douglas Feith (the stupidest man Gen Tommy Franks ever met).
    It has a link to purchase the book and one at the opening to a post about starting a blog tabloid to get the best of the blogs out to people who don’t know about them, don’t have the time, etc.

    Both good ideas. Nick’s stats need to go into a book with any body elses that are helpful. “A Work in Progress” ?
    Not an easy job to select, sort and edit. I have thought about cloning a lot, Pamela, Nick, Ron. Well, keep looking for someone who is inspired and has the time and determination to help.

  6. Nick says:

    Sounds like a plan


    Thank you for your compliments.

  7. Nick says:


    I agree more needs to be done on the local levels but if I may inject some optimism here (albeit from faraway Maryland): IF there’s one thing we can count on the GOP to do, (other than cut taxes on the wealthy) it’s that they overplay their hands BIG time. Seems Blunt is already doing that with his calls for cuts in the state Medicare program. Sure it’s only one issue, but it’s a start.