Barack Obama won 29 states in the November election, but he won something more important: he improved Democrats' performance in all but 22 counties nationwide, among white voters, urban and suburban voters, Catholics, low income and high income voters, and among more educated voters all over the U.S. His remarkable success among a coalition of better educated white voters, Hispanics, African-Americans and young voters not only propelled him to victory, and helped secure 2012 (the demographics are moving even more his way,) his successful campaign marginalized and isolated a region of the country that used to rule it electorally: the American south. The New York Times reports today:
What may have ended on Election Day, though, is the centrality of the South to national politics. By voting so emphatically for Senator John McCain over Mr. Obama — supporting him in some areas in even greater numbers than they did President Bush — voters from Texas to South Carolina and Kentucky may have marginalized their region for some time to come, political experts say.
The region’s absence from Mr. Obama’s winning formula means it “is becoming distinctly less important,” said Wayne Parent, a political scientist at Louisiana State University. “The South has moved from being the center of the political universe to being an outside player in presidential politics.”
Why is that so?
Many people in these more rural, less educated and less progressive parts of the South and Appalachia remain deeply suspicious of Obama (they form the core of what I call the Palinites -- anti-Washington, anti-government, anti-big city and anti-intellectual, not to mention anti-not-white...) people like this guy, for instance ... (sorry, Lee County. Just try not to get pulled over if you're a Democrat... or if you have a Middle Eastern sounding name...) But for them, and for the country, that doesn't really matter much anymore, at least not electorally or in terms of the exercise of federal power:
One reason for that is that the South is no longer a solid voting bloc. Along the Atlantic Coast, parts of the “suburban South,” notably Virginia and North Carolina, made history last week in breaking from their Confederate past and supporting Mr. Obama. Those states have experienced an influx of better educated and more prosperous voters in recent years, pointing them in a different political direction than states farther west, like Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, and Appalachian sections of Kentucky and Tennessee.Southern counties that voted more heavily Republican this year than in 2004 tended to be poorer, less educated and whiter, a statistical analysis by The New York Times shows. Mr. Obama won in only 44 counties in the Appalachian belt, a stretch of 410 counties that runs from New York to Mississippi. Many of those counties, rural and isolated, have been less exposed to the diversity, educational achievement and economic progress experienced by more prosperous areas.
Florida (along with Virginia and North Carolina, and very nearly Georgia,) managed to escape the hold of the old Confederacy, and emerged as a shaky in parts, but fairly solid, part of the New, Suburban South. That's a good thing for Florida, which along with the North Carolina research triangle, is fighting to be a part of the high tech future, and to gain a foothold as a tech hub for Latin America. It's also good news for moderate Republicans like FL Gov. Charlie Crist, who is no Palinite, and who needs a progressive, moderate coalition to beat back what will surely be an aggressive Democratic challenge for his seat in 2010.
Less than a third of Southern whites voted for Mr. Obama, compared with 43 percent of whites nationally. By leaving the mainstream so decisively, the Deep South and Appalachia will no longer be able to dictate that winning Democrats have Southern accents or adhere to conservative policies on issues like welfare and tax policy, experts say. That could spell the end of the so-called Southern strategy, the doctrine that took shape under President Richard M. Nixon in which national elections were won by co-opting Southern whites on racial issues. And the Southernization of American politics — which reached its apogee in the 1990s when many Congressional leaders and President Bill Clinton were from the South — appears to have ended.
Labels: 2008 election, Barack Obama, Democrats, demographics, southern strategy, swing states, The South