U.S. News & World Reports; by Michael Barone; April 02, 2008
In reviewing the maps of the Democratic primary results, in Dave Leip’s electoral atlas, I was struck by the narrow geographic base of Barack Obama’s candidacy. In state after state, he has carried only a few counties—though, to be sure, in many cases counties with large populations. There are exceptions, particularly in the southern states with large numbers of black voters in both urban and rural counties. But overall, the geographic analysis has pointed up to me a divide between Democratic constituencies—a divide as stark as that between blacks and Latinos or the old and the young—which has not shown up in the exit polls. It’s a division that helps to explain the quite different performances of Obama and Hillary Clinton in general election pairings against John McCain.
Let’s look at Obama’s and Clinton’s geographic bases in the primaries, in order of voting. Readers who are not interested in detailed analysis, or whose eyes tend to glaze over, may want to skip to the concluding paragraphs of this post.
New Hampshire. In the first primary state, Obama’s support was spread across the state—though not heavily enough for him to beat Clinton. As I pointed out shortly after the primary, his geographic and demographic base was very similar to Bill Bradley’s against Al Gore in 2000. This would have provided a handy metric for judging Obama’s performance in later primaries but for the fact that Bradley dropped out of the race after New Hampshire. In what was still a multicandidate race, Obama won 36 percent of the white vote—a good thing for him, since there are almost no blacks in New Hampshire.
Michigan. The Democratic National Committee has ruled that these results do not count, and Obama was not on the ballot, though prominent Democrats urged Obama supporters to vote for “Uncommitted.” Hillary Clinton beat “Uncommitted” by the unambiguous but not overwhelming margin of 55 percent to 40 percent. Yet Obama carried only two of 83 counties: Emmet County, a small county at the northern tip of the Lower Peninsula, and Washtenaw County, the site of the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University. “Uncommitted” beat Clinton in two of 15 congressional districts, the black-majority 13th and 14th districts.
South Carolina. Obama’s big primary victory in this state was indeed very broad based. He lost only two counties, Horry to Clinton (Myrtle Beach, the Grand Strand) and Oconee to John Edwards (it was his childhood home). Blacks made up about half the electorate, and they voted 78 percent for Obama, but he also got the votes of 24 percent of whites—an impressive showing in a three-way race.
Florida. The Democratic National Committee has ruled that these results do not count; all the candidates were on the ballot but didn’t campaign here (unless you count a national cable TV ad for Obama and Clinton’s arrival in the state on Election Day). Obama carried five of the state’s 25 congressional districts—the two panhandle districts (1, 2) with narrow pluralities over Clinton and Edwards and the three black-majority (or near-majority) districts (3, 17, 23). In terms of counties, he carried only seven of 67 counties, including Duval (Jacksonville), Alachua (the University of Florida), and Leon (the state capital and Florida State and Florida A&M universities). He trailed Clinton by fairly large margins in the big I-4 corridor and Gold Coast counties where Edwards was a minimal factor.
The Super Tuesday states . Obama did best in Georgia, where he beat Clinton 66 percent to 31 percent (Edwards had withdrawn, and it was essentially a two-candidate race). He got 88 percent among blacks and an impressive 43 percent among whites. He carried most of the state’s 159 counties and got very large percentages in metro Atlanta’s 20 counties—a combination of black and upscale white voters, it appears. He also carried most of south Georgia, where probably more than half the voters were blacks. But note that the counties at the northern edge of the state voted for Clinton, in many cases by wide margins. This was the first sign in the primary season of Obama’s great weakness among Appalachian voters—call them Jacksonians, after their first president. We see this also in Alabama, where Obama lost all but one county north of Birmingham and several counties in the southern wiregrass region: These are almost entirely white counties (indeed they were conquered from the Indians by Andrew Jackson and settled by Tennesseans). Note Clinton’s 85 percent in Winston County, a hill county ornery enough to have opposed the Confederacy in the Civil War.
Speaking of Tennessee, Obama carried only eight of its 99 counties. They include Hamilton (Chattanooga), Davidson and Williamson (Nashville and its most affluent suburbs), Shelby (Memphis), and four counties just east and northeast of Memphis. Obama got 26 percent of white votes in Tennessee, almost identical to his 25 percent in Alabama, but that level of support didn’t enable him to carry any county outside these enclaves. In Scott County, the ancestral home of former Sen. Howard Baker, Clinton beat Obama 85 percent to 9 percent. You see a similar pattern, even more marked in Arkansas, but here I think the story was Clinton’s strength more than Obama’s weakness. She won the state 70 percent to26 percent; some of her critics may charge she used Arkansas only to advance her ambitions, but evidently Democratic primary voters there regard her warmly and don’t resent her going off to New York and running for the Senate there. Obama carried only three black-majority rice-growing counties in the Delta. Old acquaintance, however, does not explain Clinton’s big win in Oklahoma, where Obama won only one county (Oklahoma, which contains most of Oklahoma City). Clinton ran particularly strongly in east Oklahoma, the most Jacksonian part of the state.
You can see a similar Jacksonian effect at the edges of the South. In New Mexico, Clinton won a 1 percent victory by carrying Hispanics (most of them with deep roots in the state) and Little Texas. She lost Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos, and Los Alamos, the most urban and upscale parts of the state. (Santa Fe and Taos are thick with trust-funder liberals.) New Mexico, by the way, is one of at least six states in which Obama has won more than 50 percent of the vote in primaries; the others are Illinois, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Vermont. Scoot around the country to Delaware, and you’ll see that that state’s three counties produced different results: New Castle (Wilmington and suburbs) 56 percent to 40 percent for Obama (he’d love to duplicate that in the demographically similar Philadelphia suburban counties), Kent (Dover, the state capital) 52 percent to 43 percent for Obama, and Sussex (the southern-accented south end of the state) 53 percent to 40 percent for Clinton.
Then there’s Missouri. Obama’s 49 percent-to-48 percent win didn’t net him any delegates, but it gave him rights to brag that he could carry the southern-accented Midwest. Except that he carried only small geographic parts of it: St. Louis City and St. Louis County (the county is much larger than the city, and more blacks live in the county than in the city), Jackson County (central Kansas City), Cole County (Jefferson City, the state capital), Boone County (Columbia, the University of Missouri), and rural Nodaway County in the far northwest (did some Iowa caucus organizers go over the line?). He lost Pike County, Mark Twain’s home county, 63 percent to 33 percent, and Dunklin County in the southeast boot heel 78 percent to 18 percent. There’s a similar pattern to Obama’s landslide victory in his home state of Illinois, which he carried 65 percent to 33 percent but where he lost 14 of 102 counties, all of them in far downstate Illinois, all of them originally settled by southerners—more Jacksonian country.
Out west, Obama won big in Utah, where folk hardy enough to be Democratic are apparently pretty liberal and upscale and voted 57 percent to 39 percent for Obama. But this was a kind of enclave victory, too. Over half the votes, 58 percent, were cast in Salt Lake County, though only 40 percent of the state’s population lives there. The upscale neighborhood around the University of Utah, just a few miles east of the Mormon Church’s headquarters, is a hotbed of liberalism—well, at least as much of a hotbed as you can find in Utah. He won 66 percent to 36 percent in Utah County with a light turnout, which shows that there are at least some liberal faculty members at Brigham Young University.
Arizona is a different matter. Clinton won here 50 percent to 42 percent, with 53 percent of the votes from whites, 55 percent from Latinos, and 12 percent from the relatively few blacks. Obama carried one of eight congressional districts, the upscale Fifth (Scottsdale), and two of 15 counties, Yavapai (Prescott, Sedona) and Coconino (Flagstaff). Apache County, home of much of the Navajo Nation, voted 58 percent to 30 percent for Clinton.
The county map of California shows Obama carrying a fair passel of territory. But much of it in the north and on the Coast is lightly populated. When you look at the congressional district map, you get a different picture: The state looks overwhelmingly Clinton red. Obama lost the state by just 51 percent to 43 percent, not a crushing margin, yet carried only 11 of 53 congressional districts: 1 (North Coast and Napa Valley), 5 (Sacramento, another state capital where Democrats are liable to be upscale public employees), 6 (Sonoma and Marin counties), 8 (San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi’s district), 9 (Berkeley and Oakland, represented by the sole vote against military action in Afghanistan), 14 (Silicon Valley and Stanford), 23 (Santa Barbara coast), 53 (San Diego beaches), and 33, 35, and 37 (black-dominated districts in Los Angeles County). Clinton carried the one Jacksonian district in the state, 22 (Bakersfield), but did even better in heavily Latino districts—18 and 20 in the Central Valley, 31, 32, 34, 38, and 39 in Los Angeles County, 43 in San Bernardino County, 47 in Orange County, and 51 in San Diego and Imperial counties, in which she got between 60 percent and 73 percent of the vote. According to the exit poll, Clinton carried whites by only 46 percent to 45 percent and lost blacks by 78 percent to 18 percent, but she carried Latinos by 67 percent to 32 percent. Latino votes enabled her to lose the San Francisco Bay area by only 20,000 votes while she carried the four big counties in the Los Angeles basin by 316,000, three quarters of her statewide margin.
In the Northeast on Super Tuesday, Obama carried only enclaves. In New York, where turnout was lower than in Illinois, Clinton carried 61 of 62 counties, losing only Tompkins (Ithaca, Cornell University). Obama carried three of 29 congressional districts, all with black voting majorities, the Sixth in Queens and the 10th and 11th in Brooklyn. New Jersey was a similar story, though Clinton’s margin was slightly lower. Obama carried Essex County (Newark, large black percentage), Union County (Elizabeth, many blacks), Mercer County (the state capital of Trenton and Princeton University), and Somerset and Hunterdon counties (upscale suburbs and exurbs).
Connecticut, 51 percent to 47 percent for Obama, was a boundary land. Obama carried upscale Fairfield and Litchfield counties and heavily black central cities, but Clinton carried the grittier and less fashionable eastern part of the state. Massachusetts, despite Edward Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama, was a similar story. Leip’s map, which breaks down the vote by county but not, alas, by city and town, misses some helpful detail but gives you the general picture. Obama carried Hampshire and Franklin counties in the Pioneer Valley (Amherst, Smith, UMass), the central city of Boston, and Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.
Now we’re on to the Potomac primary of February 12. Here Obama made excellent showings among white voters: 52 percent in Virginia, 42 percent in Maryland, an unspecified number in the District of Columbia (I can’t find an exit poll, but Obama seems to have carried every neighborhood in the city). In Maryland, Obama got 75 percent and 73 percent in the two black-majority congressional districts (4, 7), 66 percent in Steny Hoyer’s District 5, which has a rapidly increasing black population, and between 55 percent and 58 percent in the white-majority suburban districts 2, 3, and 8. He lost the Eastern Shore district narrowly and the Sixth District (western Maryland) by a wider margin. Those Jacksonians again: The state’s three westernmost counties, beyond the first Appalachian ridge, gave Clinton margins between 21 percent and 26 percent (and seem to have squandered an unusually high percentage of their votes on John Edwards and Uncommitted). Virginia is the largest state so far except Illinois to have had a majority of its whites vote for Obama. In congressional districts with lots of upscale suburban Democrats (1, 2, 7, 8, 10, 11), he won between 60 percent and 66 percent of the votes; in heavily black districts (3, 4), he won even more. But the county map shows you that Obama country stops around Lynchburg and Roanoke. Buchanan County, which borders both West Virginia and Kentucky, voted 90 percent to 9 percent for Clinton.
Wisconsin, voting February 19, is another state where Obama did well across the board—65 percent and 69 percent in the congressional districts that include Madison and Milwaukee, between 52 percent and 56 percent in the six others. The few counties that Clinton carried tended to be at the edge of the state and get out-of-state TV; they may have missed Obama’s big ad buys.
Then came March 4, when Clinton won three of four primaries. Two are unremarkable, in small New England states that are enclaves unto themselves. Clinton won 59 percent to 39 percent in Vermont, which voted much like Nantucket (59 percent to 38 percent) and Martha’s Vineyard (58 percent to 40 percent). Rhode Island voted 58 percent to 40 percent for Clinton, much like Worcester County, Mass. (61 percent to 36 percent).
Clinton won her crucial victory in Texas, 51 percent to 47 percent.
Obama carried 24 counties, Clinton 226; one was tied, and three small counties in the northern panhandle cast no Democratic primary votes at all. Obama carried four counties with more than 60 percent of the vote—Travis (Austin: state capital, University of Texas), Dallas (blacks and upscale whites), and Fort Bend and Grimes (western suburbs of Houston, with rapidly growing black populations). Obama counties were concentrated in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, metro Houston, and a ring of counties around Austin, whose denizens seem to be spreading across the countryside (the hill country west of Austin is beautiful). He carried Jefferson County (Beaumont, with the highest black percentage in Texas) and Smith and Tyler counties (East Texas, Tyler, and Longview, where most whites are Republicans and most Democratic primary voters were very likely black). Obama got an impressive 44 percent of whites’ votes, probably mostly upscale, and 85 percent of blacks’ votes. But he got only 35 percent among Latinos, according to the exit polls, and ran far, far behind Clinton in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where she got 73 percent of the vote in Hidalgo County (McAllen), 77 percent in Webb County (Laredo), and 69 percent in El Paso County. You also see Clinton getting more than 70 percent in some east Texas and central Texas rural counties with low black populations: Jacksonians.
In Ohio, Clinton won 54 percent to 44 percent. Obama carried only five of 88 counties: Cuyahoga (Cleveland), Franklin (Columbus: state capital, Ohio State University), Delaware (upscale Columbus suburbs), Montgomery (Dayton), and Hamilton (Cincinnati). He carried only four congressional districts, 1 (Cincinnati), 3 (Dayton), 10 (east side of Cleveland), and 12 (Columbus), and came very close in 15 (the other side of Columbus). Clinton won between 61 percent and 70 percent in four districts: 6 (Ohio River from Portsmouth up toward Youngstown), 10 (west side of Cleveland), 17 (Youngstown-Akron), and 18 (east central Ohio). Here we see our Jacksonians again, very negative toward Obama. On Fox News on election night, I emphasized the strong Clinton (or weak Obama) showings in southern Ohio, and I think rightly so. I was stunned by the size of the Clinton margins, and I have thought ever since that this bodes ill for Obama’s chances of winning votes in western and central Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, and perhaps (though it’s a small part of the state) western North Carolina.
Finally, Mississippi, where voting ran almost entirely along racial lines and Obama won March 11 by 60 percent to 37 percent. The colors on the map reflect the racial proportions of the population or of the Democratic primary electorate. Obama carried Hinds County (Jackson: state capital, black majority) 81 percent to 18 percent. Clinton gets her biggest percentages in northeast Mississippi, quintessential Jacksonian country, and in the far southern part of the state, just inland from the Gulf Coast, in counties with low black percentages.
Relying on exit polls, analysts have been seeing the battle for the Democratic nomination as tribal warfare, between blacks and Latinos (and Jews), between young and old, between upscale and downscale. These analyses support that view and show another sharp division in Democratic ranks. Barack Obama, who started off with an appeal transcending race, has been able to win impressive percentages from white voters but seldom majorities. He gets majorities from whites only in his home state (Illinois), in states where the white Democratic primary electorate is unusually upscale and non-Jewish (Virginia, Vermont), and in mountain states where the cultural divide is not black-white: in New Mexico, where it is Anglo-Hispanic, in Utah, where it is Mormon-gentile. He gets in the mid-40s among white voters in states where most of them are from fast-growing metro areas (Georgia, Texas, California, Maryland).
But looking at these electoral data suggests to me that there’s another tribal divide going on here, one that separates voters more profoundly than even race (well, maybe not more profoundly than race in Mississippi but in other states). That’s the divide between academics and Jacksonians. In state after state, we have seen Obama do extraordinarily well in academic and state capital enclaves. In state after state, we have seen Clinton do extraordinarily well in enclaves dominated by Jacksonians.
Academics and public employees (and of course many, perhaps most, academics in the United States are public employees) love the arts of peace and hate the demands of war. Economically, defense spending competes for the public-sector dollars that academics and public employees think are rightfully their own. More important, I think, warriors are competitors for the honor that academics and public employees think rightfully belongs to them. Jacksonians, in contrast, place a high value on the virtues of the warrior and little value on the work of academics and public employees. They have, in historian David Hackett Fischer’s phrase, a notion of natural liberty: People should be allowed to do what they want, subject to the demands of honor. If someone infringes on that liberty, beware: The Jacksonian attitude is, “If you attack my family or my country, I’ll kill you.” And he (or she) means it. If you want to hear an eloquent version, listen to
Sen. Zell Miller’s speech endorsing George W. Bush at the 2004 Republican National Convention. The academic who hears the Rev. Jeremiah Wright declaiming, “God damn America,” is not unnerved. He hears this sort of thing on campus all the time. The Jacksonian who watches the tape sees an enemy of everything he holds dear.
But the Reverend Wright doesn’t account for the positive reaction to Obama from academics and the negative reaction from Jacksonians. The last primary, in Mississippi, was held on March 11, and the Wright tapes were given notoriety by ABC News on March 13. Academics’ adulation of Obama and Jacksonians’ disdain for him comes out vividly from the election data starting back in January. Why do academics love Obama while Jacksonians reject him? Probably for the same reasons. Because Obama is not at all a warrior and is something of an academic. He is all college campus and not at all boot camp. Indeed, his campaign has claimed he was a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, while he was actually just an adjunct lecturer; but all the evidence is that he was very much at home there and indeed was offered a tenure-track professorship. He grew up in a state—Hawaii—with a large military presence, but like most men with his academic aptitude, he seems never to have seriously considered military service. He has campaigned consistently as an opponent of military action in Iraq (though, as Peter Wehner has shown, his record is rather more complicated than that). His standard campaign statements on Iraq seem to suggest that all honor should go to the opponents of the war and none to the brave men and women who have waged it. His latest statements about leaving a “strike force” in Iraq suggest a certain insouciance or even indifference about what happens in a theater in which 4,000 Americans have died. He clearly lacks the military expertise of John McCain or Hillary Clinton, both diligent members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Like another eloquent little-known Illinois politician who emerged suddenly as an attractive presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson, he seems more comfortable with the language of diplomacy and negotiation than with the words of war.
Like Stevenson, he speaks fluently and often eloquently but does not exude a sense of command. He is an interlocutor, not a fighter. His habit of stating his opponents’ arguments fairly and sometimes more persuasively than they do themselves has been a political asset among his peers and in the press but not among Jacksonians, who are more interested in defeating than in understanding their enemies. He has the body of a younger man—he is slim like a man of 31 rather than 46—and moves gracefully but without exuding the sense that you get from every movement of Colin Powell, that he is in charge. Ronald Reagan also had the gift of graceful maneuver, from the movies discipline of knowing the camera was always on him, but he also had the sense of command and an understanding that he must always be in charge: hence the moment, after he was shot and then walked out of the ambulance into George Washington University hospital, when he got out of the car, stood up and (for me, the greatest gesture) buttoned his suit coat, and walked into the building and then, when out of camera range, collapsed on the floor. Would Obama be capable of doing that, while in great pain and in mortal danger? Maybe. The academic doesn’t think about it. The Jacksonian thinks it’s very unlikely.
In contrast to Obama, Clinton has given herself the image of a fighter. And it’s not entirely inauthentic. Against very unfavorable odds, she is continuing to campaign and to insist—and for Jacksonians, this is among the most admirable of qualities—that she is not a quitter. She is fighting fair and foul—think about her lies about being under fire in Bosnia—but she is still fighting, and Jacksonians may not hold her lies heavily against her. We have seen her rebound from humiliations professional (healthcare) and personal (Monica Lewinsky) and keep fighting. This is off-putting to academics but admirable, or something close to that, to Jacksonians.
When I first noticed Obama’s weak showings among Appalachians, I chalked them up, as many in the press will be inclined to do, to an antipathy to blacks. But that simply doesn’t hold up. Go back to 1995, and look at the polls that showed that most Americans would support Colin Powell for president. I don’t think you’ll find any evidence of resistance by Jacksonian voters to the Powell candidacy. Rather the contrary, I suspect. He was a warrior, after all, and always exudes a sense of command. Or go back and look at the election returns in 1989 in which Douglas Wilder became the first black governor in our history, in Virginia. Jacksonians in southwest Virginia showed no aversion to Wilder; rather the contrary. Take Buchanan County, which runs along both West Virginia and Kentucky, and which voted 90 percent to 9 percent for Clinton over Obama on February 12. In 1989, it voted 59 percent to 41 percent for Wilder over Republican Marshall Coleman. Overall, Wilder lost what is now the Ninth Congressional District (long known as the Fighting Ninth) by a 53 percent-to-47 percent margin. But that is far less than the 59 percent-to-39 percent margin by which George W. Bush beat John Kerry in the district in November 2004 or the 65 percent-to-33 percent margin by which Clinton beat Obama there in February 2008. Jacksonians may reject certain kinds of candidates, but not because they’re black. A black candidate who will join them in fighting against attacks on their family or their country is all right with them.
Of course, the real Jacksonian in this race is John McCain. He is descended from Scots-Irish fighters who settled in Carroll County, Miss. Former Sen. Trent Lott, who once worked as a fundraiser for the University of Mississippi and therefore knew the folkways of elite types in his state very well, once told me that he had relatives who had known McCain’s relatives in Mississippi. “They were fighters,” he said, as best I can remember his words. “They would never stop fighting you. Those people would never stop fighting.” Obama gives the impression, through his demeanor and through his statements on Iraq, that he would never start fighting. That appeals enormously to voters in the academia and public-employee enclaves of America, who want to deny honor to our warriors and arrogate it to themselves (think of those bumper stickers that call for spending Pentagon dollars on teachers). Clinton and, more convincingly, McCain give the impression that they will never stop fighting until they have achieved victory (Clinton in Denver, McCain in Iraq). I don’t know which side of this argument you like, but as someone who is an academic by experience (degrees from Harvard and Yale) and a Jacksonian by inheritance (my paternal grandmother, whose West Virginian great-grandfather voted Republican as late as 1944 because the Confederates had burned his family’s barn), I think I have some understanding of both sides.
Clinton’s support from Jacksonians gives her, as I have argued, a chance to overtake Obama in the popular vote and an opportunity to argue to the superdelegates that she should be the Democratic nominee. They’re a significant bloc of voters in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Kentucky (although I should note that this week’s polls in Pennsylvania show her running behind my projections). The Democratic Party has seldom won a presidential election without their support: Jimmy Carter carried Jacksonian voters in 1976, and so did Bill Clinton in 1992 and, by a lesser margin, in 1996. If Al Gore had carried just West Virginia or Kentucky or Tennessee or Georgia or Arkansas—all states carried by Carter in 1976 and Clinton in 1992, all heavy with Jacksonians—he would have been elected president in 2000, and we wouldn’t have spent 37 days arguing how to count the vote in Florida. This Democratic primary contest has become a bitter fight between blacks and Latinos, young and old, upscale and downscale—and academics and Jacksonians.