Political Realignment on Steroids ?

(Cross-posted on Daily Kos and the Swing State Project)

Beginning in the 1960’s the Republican Party won many elections using their “Southern Strategy”.  The strategy worked pretty well for them for over three decades, but beginning maybe a dozen years ago, it began to have a counter-effect whereby areas outside the South began to increasingly vote Democratic (in part as a reaction to the “Southernization” of the GOP).   This trend accelerated rather rapidly over the last few election cycles, culminating in the 2008 election where the “Southern Strategy” literally blew up in the face of the Republican Party.  The latest polling from Research 2000  –summarized here in a diary from earlier today: http://www.dailykos.com/weekly… — indicates that this realigning trend has perhaps reached new and unprecedented levels.

Looking at simply support for President Obama and support for the Republican Party will give you an idea of what I’m talking about …


Northeast – 81% favorable; 13% unfavorable

Midwest – 62% favorable; 33% unfavorable

West – 60% favorable; 36% unfavorable

“non-South” – 67% favorable; 28% unfavorable (for the “non-South” I combined the data for the three regions above, adjusting for population proportions)

South – 27% favorable; 68% unfavorable

As you can see, the numbers for the South vs. the “non-South” are almost exactly the reverse of each other !  If you look at this as a net plus/minus aggregate, the difference between the South and the non-South is an astounding 80 points !

It appears that, despite the fact that President Obama’s overall numbers have gone down over the last several polls, he is still VERY popular in the “non-Southern” area of the country which encompasses 70% of our population.

The Research 2000 polling also included data based on race/ethnicity.  I played with the numbers here a bit to try to extrapolate (an educated “guesstimate”) what the proportion of “Southern whites” thinks about the President.  For this purpose I assumed that blacks and Hispanics, regardless of whether they live in the South or not, would generally have a similar opinion of President Obama (blacks: 86% favorable, 5% unfavorable; Hispanics: 63% favorable, 30% unfavorable).  My extrapolated numbers for Southern Hispanics may be off a bit as the largest concentrations include both the relatively more Democratic population in Texas, as well as the relatively more Republican population in Florida; nevertheless, the Hispanic numbers here don’t play as large of a role as the numbers for the black population, so I feel my final extrapolated numbers are quite accurate.  After crunching all the numbers I “guesstimated” the following:

“Southern Whites” (approx. 21% of the U.S. population):

Obama – 5% favorable; 91% unfavorable

“everyone else” (non-Southerners of all races and Southern blacks and Hispanics; approx. 79% of the U.S. population):

Obama – 68% favorable; 26% unfavorable

The net difference between the two groups above is an amazing 128 points !

I repeated the entire process to analyze support for the Republican Party:


Northeast – 6% favorable; 91% unfavorable

Midwest – 10% favorable; 81% unfavorable

West – 11% favorable; 77% unfavorable

“non-South” – 9% favorable; 83% unfavorable

South – 46% favorable; 40% unfavorable

“Southern Whites” – 64% favorable; 18% unfavorable

“everyone else” – 9% favorable; 84% unfavorable

The favorable number above for “everyone else” is really only a bit over 8.5% (which I rounded to 9%), so among the 4/5 of the U.S. population that isn’t “Southern white” the opinion of the Republican Party is, in effect, a 10 to 1 unfavorable to favorable ratio !  These numbers clearly support the assertion made by many over the last number of months that the Republican Party is becoming a rump, regional entity.

The purpose of this diary is not to bash Southern whites.  I simply find it very interesting how disparate the numbers are when comparing that particular population with the rest of the nation.  Much of this may already seem like “common knowledge” but the numbers from the Research 2000 polling are still mind-boggling to me.  

Perhaps the point to all this is that when looking at aggregate national poll numbers that measure the “popularity” of President Obama, the Republican Party, or health care for that matter, we should always keep in mind that they are just an average, and the overall “toplines” should not necessarily be used to measure the country as a whole.  Instead, greater consideration should be given to how the numbers play out regionally.  A good example of this includes when we’re trying to figure out how the 2010 Congressional elections will play out.  The GOP may indeed capture seats from us next year — but where will those seats be ?  With 46-40 favorable/unfavorable numbers in the South, it seems quite conceivable that a number of Southern seats may be lost; on the other hand, with a 6-91 numbers in the Northeast, it’s a much steeper hill to climb for the GOP in that region (btw, this poll also provides Generic Congressional Ballot preference numbers, though with decidedly larger numbers of undecideds; for ex. the generic GOP candidate in the South beats the generic Democrat by a 2 to 1 ratio, while in the Northeast the generic Democrat wins by a ratio of 5 to 1).  All politics is local, ofcourse, but understanding the current state of regional political differentiation in this country at this point in our history will go a long way towards planning strategy, whether the battle is winning Congressional elections or the health care debate.

One thing does seem certain here, though.  The GOP’s Southern Strategy is dead, and it appears to have taken the party down with it.  Whether the GOP can rise from the ashes is another question.  But if it rises, it will not be through the resurrection of the Southern Strategy.


Reader KTinOhio (from the Daily Kos version of this diary) makes a really good observation re. the realignment process.  I am adding KTin’s comment below as I think it’s very relevant to this discussion:

First, the most recent polling – especially the Gallup tracker that gives Obama a +7 favorability rating – matches the election results closely.  Gallup had Obama up 50-43.  Last fall’s vote was 53-46, and very few of those 46% will support the president now.

Second, in comparing the Research 2000 regional favorability ratings as posted on Kos to the election results, it is odd that Obama is doing better now than he did in the election in three out of four regions.  Any guesses as to which one is the exception?


Popular Vote:  Obama 16,955,765 (59.44%), McCain 11,163,386 (39.14%), Total 28,524,587.  Electoral Vote:  Obama 117, McCain 5.

Research 2000:  81% Favorable, 13% Unfavorable.


Popular Vote:  Obama 17,790,208 (52.98%), McCain 15,253,735 (45.43%), Total 33,576,392.  Electoral Vote:  Obama 97, McCain 34.

Research 2000:  62% Favorable, 33% Unfavorable.


Popular Vote:  Obama 15,720,655 (55.94%), McCain 11,765,120 (41.86%), Total 28,104,554.  Electoral Vote:  Obama 96, McCain 28.

Research 2000:  60% Favorable, 36% Unfavorable.


Popular Vote:  Obama 19,032,324 (46.14%), 21,767,161 (52.77%), Total 41,251,078.  Electoral Vote:  Obama 55, McCain 106.

Research 2000:  27% Favorable, 68% Unfavorable.


Popular Vote:  Obama 69,498,952 (52.87%), 59,949,402 (45.60%), Total 131,456,611.  Electoral Vote:  Obama 365, McCain 173.

Research 2000:  55% Favorable, 40% Unfavorable.

So, if we compare the election results to the current favorability polls, which are obviously not the same thing, but the election was a much a referendum on Obama as anything else, Obama has gone from +7 to +15 nationally, +20 to +68 in the Northeast, +8 to +29 in the Midwest, +14 to +24 in the West, and – 7 to -41 in the South.  Somehow, a lot of McCain voters in the Northeast now give Obama a favorable grade, as do a smaller number of McCain voters in the Midwest and West.  But in the South, the opposite is true; large numbers of Obama voters seem to have turned against him.

Thank you KTinOhio for crunching the numbers and for your very relevant and insightful analysis.