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Differences in Voting Behavior

Characteristics of Voting Behavior

Characteristics of U.S. Regions

Implications of the Regional Voting Divide


Works Cited

The Voting Characteristics of U.S. Regions


             The characteristics of voting behavior listed above play different roles in different regions of the United States.  Each region has a dominant factor, which is the characteristic that has the greatest effect on how the electorate of that that region votes.  The dominant factor varies from region to region.


            The factor that seems to dominate in the Northeast is urbanization.  The Northeast, which contains megalopolis, is the most highly urbanized region in the country (see Map 2).  Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C., which are all major U.S. cities, are located within the Northeast region.  Some of the northeast states also have large Jewish populations, which vote heavily Democratic and have a very high turnout rate (Abramson et al. 1998).  Northeastern states also have high rates of union membership.  New York (26.7%) and New Jersey (19.6%) are ranked first and third in the country in percentage of workers belonging to labor unions (see Map 3) (AFL-CIO 2002). 

The Northeast is also the richest and most highly educated region in the U.S.  Ten of the twelve states in this region have a high school completion rate above the national average of 81.6 percent.  Ten of the twelve also have a higher than average percentage of people with bachelorís degrees or higher (see Map 4).  The median household incomes of the Northeast states are among the highest in the country (see Map 5).  Connecticut, Maryland, and Massachusetts are ranked one, two, and three in this category, with median household incomes of $46,648, $45,289, and $43,015 respectively.  These are well above the national average of $37,005 (Census Quickfacts 2002). 

The high levels of urbanization, union membership, and Jewish population, clearly identify the Northeast as a strongly Democratic region.


Map 2


            In the South, the factor that dominates is religion.  This is due to the strong presence of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in the region (Webster 1997).  ďThe SBC has an enormous influence in defining the social, economic, and political outlooks of southerners and thus the character of the southern region (Webster 1997, 151).Ē  Southern Baptists, a Protestant Christian denomination, are the largest single denomination in almost every state in this region (Webster 1997).  The Southern Baptist Convention heavily favors the Republican Party due to their support for the right to life for the unborn as well as their opposition to the expansion of homosexual rights.  In addition, church membership in the South is significantly higher than in any other region of the country (Miller and Shanks 1996).

            The states of the South are also characterized by having urbanization levels below the national average of 75.2 percent (Census 1995).  In fact, Florida and Texas are the only two states in this region to have an urbanization level above the national average.

While the south is also the region with the highest percentage of African-Americans, a solidly Democratic voting bloc, this factor does not seem to affect the vote.  One reason for this is that there is a low voter turnout rate among African-Americans in the South (Abramson et al. 1998). 

The states of the south also have the lowest rates of Labor Union membership in the country.  Texas (5.6%), Mississippi (5.5%), Virginia (5.0%), North Carolina (4.5%) and South Carolina (3.7%) are ranked 47th, 48th, 49th, 50th, and 51st respectively in percentage of the work force under union coverage (AFL-CIO 2002). 

            The south is a solidly Republican region despite nine of its 11 states being below the national average of population that has completed high school and ten of the 11 being below the national average of those who have completed a bachelorís degree or higher (American FactFinder 2002).

            The characteristics of the South, with a low level of urbanization and union membership and the strong presence of Protestant religion, identify it as a solidly Republican region.


Map 3


The characteristics of Midwestern states do not show a likely favoritism toward either party.  All the states in this region have urbanization rates below the national average except for Illinois (84.6%).  Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan have median household incomes above the national average while Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky and Iowa are below the national average.  Union membership in the Midwest is second only to the Northeast.  Every state has a union membership rate higher than the national average except for Kentucky and Iowa.  Union membership, while experiencing declining rates nationwide, though, has been declining at a faster rate in this region.  Michigan, for example, has gone from 25.4 percent in 1996 to 21.8 percent in 2001 (US Census 1998).  Every other state in the region has also experienced significant decreases in their levels of union membership (AFL-CIO 2002).  Education rates vary from state to state.  The percentage of those with at least bachelorís degree is highest in Minnesota (28%) and lowest in West Virginia (14.1%).  All the states in this region except for Illinois and Michigan have a lower than average percentage of blacks. 

These characteristics do not indicate that either party should dominate in this region.  With union membership in decline, however, these states appear be moving closer toward identification with the Republican Party.  There was evidence of this in the 2000 election as Midwesterners voted Republican in higher numbers than in previous elections (CNN 2000).


Map 4

Mountain West

            Urbanization is the key factor determining voting behavior in the Mountain West.  This region is home to many of the states that have the lowest levels of urbanization in the country.  In North Dakota and Montana, for example, just 53 percent of people live in urban areas, which is well below the national average.  This region is solidly white, with low levels of African-Americans or other minority populations.  The absence of African-Americans and other minorities hurts Democratic support in this region.  The median household incomes of the Mountain West states are below the national average.  In fact, Colorado and Utah are the only states to have median household incomes above the national average.  While 12 of the 14 states in the region have high school completion rates above the national average, only three states have a higher than average percentage of population with at least a bachelorís degree (Census QuickFacts 2002).

While voting similarly to the other states in the Mountain West, Utah does not share the same characteristics.  Utah has a high level of urbanization, a high median income, and a higher than average high school completion rate and percentage of people with bachelorís degrees (Census QuickFacts 2002).  The dominant factor in Utah, which is not a factor in the other states (except Idaho), is the Mormon Church.  The Church places an emphasis on family values, is opposed to homosexuality, and supports the right to life for the unborn.  As a result, like the Southern Baptists in the South, Mormons vote heavily Republican.  The Mountain West, possessing many of the same characteristics of the South, is, like the South, clearly a Republican region.

Map 5

West Coast

            The voting behavior of the West Coast is similar to that of the Northeast.  Like the Northeast, the West Coast is highly urbanized.  California has the highest urbanization level in the United States, with 92.6 percent of its population living in urban areas.  Washington is also above the national average for urbanization while Oregon is just below the national average (Census 1995).  Race also plays an important role in the West Coast region.  In California, Hispanics, a group that tends to vote Democratic, make up 32 percent of the population (Census Quickfacts 2002).  Labor Union membership in the West Coast states is high as well.  Washington (18.6%), California (16.4%), and Oregon (15.8%) are all above the national average in labor union membership. 

           The income and education levels of the West Coast are also like those of the Northeast.  All three states have median household incomes above the national average and all three states also have a higher than average percentage of people who have attained at least a bachelorís degree.  Voters on the West Coast also tend to favor the Democratic Partyís stand on environmental issues.  The characteristics of the West Coast are similar to that of the Northeast, and like the Northeast, it is a strong Democratic region. 


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Last Updated:  March 28, 2005