The nonvital South

The Northeast and white non-Southern voters are increasingly vital.

By Thomas Schaller
Published November 11, 2008 8:03PM (UTC)
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It's not every day I get called "prophetic" by the New York Times. So you'll pardon me, to borrow a line from David Shuster, for pimping today's Adam Nossiter piece about the declining relevance of the South in national politics. I'd only quibble with one point Nossiter makes, and expand on another.

The quibble is that the South may be less pivotal when it votes uniformly, but that does not necessarily mean the region is automatically nonvital. Though it's true that a region up for grabs (think Midwest, Southwest presently) will automatically be the focus of attention for both parties, and thus pivotal, a region voting uniformly can still be vital if it's part of the winning coalition. The reason the South is neither pivotal nor vital right now is that it votes rather uniformly for the minority party. There are signs, however, of growing competitiveness in the South, something I acknowledged Monday, which is good, long-term news for the South and Democrats (but potentially bad long-term news for the GOP). North Carolina is the most powerful, if still incomplete, evidence of that.


Meanwhile, the Northeast isn't pivotal either, but it's damn sure vital. In those 12 states from West Virginia and Maryland up to Maine, the Democrats hold 88 percent of senators and 82 percent of House seats, and Obama won every single Northeastern electoral vote. Put simply, there are no Democratic majorities without the Northeast, a region where, just a few cycles ago, the Republicans had a majority of governors and were very competitive in both chambers of Congress. No more.

The one point I'd expand on pertains to the white Southern vote, which Nossiter reports as going one-third for Obama while, nationally, Obama won 43 percent. True, but keep in mind that that 43 percent includes the lower, white Southern share. By my rough estimate, and presuming that 30 percent of all white voters were Southern, Obama won about 47 percent of the non-Southern white vote -- almost half. That's about what John Kerry got four years ago; eight years ago, Al Gore won the non-Southern white vote nationally. As I wrote, ahem, rather prophetically in "Whistling Past Dixie," the Democrats don't have a white voter problem: They have a Southern white voter problem. And even that is not so problematic anymore.

Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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