Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mixed Signals - Deep South Overview

Another day, another bunch of polls. For some reason, today's polls, taken as a whole, contain more noise than usual. As the volume of polling increases and the number of organizations taking polls expands as election day nears, the amount of noise contained in the polls overall should increase.

Barack Obama has gone up another tick in the overall popular vote over the past 24 hours:

But there has been no change, once again, in the electoral vote breakdown:

The current national electoral map remains frozen as well:

Among the swing states, Obama's lead in Florida has narrowed a bit, while he has extended his lead in Nevada a touch; North Carolina is more or less unchanged:

The race in the three nominally Republican states under threat by Obama are more or less unchanged except in South Dakota where John McCain has extended his lead:

Our regional series continues with an overview of the Deep South. This region (which includes the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina running west to east) is shown in the map below:

This region was the heart of King Cotton, the heart of slavery and the heart of the Confederacy. Not surprisingly, it's presidential politics is deeply wrapped up in this historical past. The end of the civil war brought the occupation of the North's armies and, with it, freedom for the slaves. As part of this freedom, the former slaves were able to vote and vote they did - for Republican presidential candidates. This ended, ironically, with the election of the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in the 1876 election. Hayes' election was hotly contested and was consummated through a deal with southern Democrats by which the north's occupying armies would leave and the south would be returned to its own devices. The result was a repression of Blacks that would not be undone for nearly a century (and in some ways is not complete). As an example of the supression of the right to vote in the region, a total of 845,671 votes were cast in the region in the 1876 election, a figure that would not be exceeded there until 1928. The denial of suffrage to Blacks (and to poor Whites as well) transformed the region into the single most reliable Democratic regional bastion between 1880 and 1944. In this period every single state in this region cast its electoral votes Democratic in every election without exception.

This changed when the conscience of the Democratic party was, after too many decades, finally tweaked and the then young mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota rose to address the 1948 Democratic convention in Philadelphia. The mayor was Hubert H. Humphrey destined to become a US senator and vice president of the US but who fell just short of the presidency in the 1968 election. It was a speech of courage and conviction, a speech that demanded civil rights for everyone in America and a speech that ranks as one of the great political speeches in American history.

Humphrey's demand was too much for the Deep South. Then Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina (who would serve as US senator from the state from 1956 to 2003 before finally retiring at the age of 100) ran for president in 1948 on a segregationist platform in response to the Democratic party's acceptance of a civil rights plank in its party platform. Although receiving only 2.4% of the vote nationally, he received 53.1% of all Deep South votes cast as well as 39 electoral votes carrying every state in the region (with the exception of Georgia). Although the region would support Democratic candidates between 1952 and 1960 (with the exception of Louisiana in 1956, which supported the Republican candidate, and Mississippi in 1960, which elected an unpledged slate of electors), the undercurrents of change in the region were evident.

This change was manifested in the pivotal election of 1964 when the Republican candidate Barry Goldwater, running on a state's rights platform, would capture every state of the Deep South. Unfortunately for Goldwater, he would carry not a single other state in the Union, save for his home state of Arizona. Fortunately for future Republican presidents such as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush I and II, the region would in general become a bedrock of support for Republican presidential candidates.

And so it is in this election. In spite of a clear trend towards Barack Obama nationally, the Deep South region appears likely to cast all of its electoral votes for the Republican candidate John McCain:

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