Differences in Voting Behavior Between Regions
Political geographers have studied elections over time periods as well as over space. Shelley, Archer, Davidson, and Brunn, in Political Geography of the United States, examine the history of U.S. presidential elections at the regional, state, and county levels. Other studies have focused on differences between the way urban and rural areas vote as well as the differences in voting behavior between neighborhoods.
By studying historical political alignments as well as the results of the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election, one can easily see the depth of regional divisions in voting behavior (see Map 1). Prior to World War II, the heavily industrial, anti-slavery Northeast (Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and non-state Washington D.C.) identified itself with the Republican Party (Shelley et al. 1996). Following the war, however, the region underwent a major realignment. The Northeast has since evolved into the most liberal, Democratic region of the United States (Shelley et al. 1996). Out of the Northeastern states, only New Hampshire, which consistently votes differently from the rest of the region, voted for Republican George W. Bush in the 2000 election. The rest of the states in the Northeast overwhelmingly supported Gore, the Democrat, by an average of 58.4 percent to 37 percent, with the remainder of the vote going to other candidates (CNN 2000). In 1992 and 1996 Democratic candidate Bill Clinton won every state in this region (UVA 2001).
In the South (classified as Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas), prior to World War II, a different political alignment from that of the Northeast existed. The immense hatred for Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party led to consistent support of the Democratic Party in presidential elections among Southerners from the end of the Civil War until after World War II. In the South, the Republicans were viewed as “the Negro party and the force behind reconstruction” (Webster 1992, 48). During this time period support for the Democratic Party was so strong that the region was known as the “Solid South.” This changed in 1948, when Democrat Harry S. Truman began to advocate civil rights (Webster 1992). Since 1948, the South has undergone a significant transformation as today it stands as a stronghold of the Republican Party. In 2000, the Southern states, on average, gave George W. Bush 54.8 percent of the vote, compared to 43.2 percent for Gore (CNN 2000). Despite Bill Clinton winning by large margins nationwide in 1992 and 1996, the majority of states in the South opted for the Republican candidate (George Bush and Bob Dole, respectively) in these years (UVA 2001).
Prior to the Great Depression, the Midwest states (classified as Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa), like the Northeast, supported the Republican Party (UVA 2001). The coalition of the Northeast and the Midwest against the interests of the South in the Civil War led to a political alliance following the war. Following the Great Depression, however, the electoral geography of the Midwest changed, and it became a “swing region.” As a result, the presidential candidate that won a majority of the Midwest states usually ended up winning the election (UVA 2001). Ohio, for example, “has cast its electoral votes for the winning candidate in 13 of the past 14 presidential elections” (DeCorla-Souza 2001, 2).
In the 1992 and 1996 elections, every state in this region, except Indiana, voted for Bill Clinton, the Democrat, who won both elections (UVA 2001). In the 2000 election, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky, in addition to Indiana, supported the winner, Republican George W. Bush. In addition, Bush very nearly won Wisconsin and Iowa as well (CNN 2000). The Midwest states individually, however, still have either liberal or conservative tendencies. The states of the upper-Midwest (Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois) tend to favor Democrats while those of the lower-Midwest (Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan) tend to lean Republican.
The many, though sparsely populated, states of the Mountain West (classified as Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Missouri, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona), were admitted into the Union because of Republican initiative (Shelley et al. 1996). As a result they quickly aligned with the Republican Party. By the late nineteenth century, however, discontent arose among these states as they became increasingly dependent on the Northeast states “as a market for its minerals and agricultural products and as a source of capital and manufactured items” (Shelley et al. 1996, 92). As a result, the Populist Party emerged to represent the agrarian interests of these states. For the over 20 years it existed, the Populist Party had strong support in the Mountain West. Following the party’s demise, however, the Mountain West returned to support of the Republican Party (UVA 2001). Today the Mountain West is still a stronghold of Republican support. In the 2000 Election Bush won every one of these states, except for New Mexico, which Gore won by less than 400 votes statewide (CNN 2000). Support for Bush was an overwhelming 59.7 percent while support for Gore was only 35.7 percent. The majority of these states also voted Republican in the 1992 and 1996 elections (UVA 2001).
The West Coast states (California, Oregon, and Washington), after their respective admissions into the Union, quickly became strongholds of the Republican Party (Shelley et al.). Following World War II, the West Coast remained strongly Republican, despite the electoral realignments taking place in other regions of the United States at that time. Only very recently, following the presidency of California native Ronald W. Reagan, has the West Coast undergone its first major realignment (UVA 2001). The region is now only second to the Northeast in its strength of support for Democratic candidates. In the 2000 election, the three states in this region were won by Gore. The average margin of victory was 51.8 percent to 43 percent in these states (CNN 2000). Bill Clinton also easily captured all three states in 1992 and 1996 (UVA 2001).
Alaska and Hawaii were omitted from this study because, as exclaves of the United States, they do not belong to a geographic region of the country. Thus, only the 48 contiguous states are examined in this study.
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Last Updated: March 28, 2005