Beyond red and blue (again)
GEORGE W. BUSH can now claim a clear victory in the popular vote for president, thanks in part to people in and around the city of New York. But the president got no reelection mandate from the citizens of Savannah, Ga.
Wait a minute! Doesn't the familiar red-and-blue map prove that the Northeast is indefatigably Democratic and the South irrevocably Republican? Well, when you go beyond red and blue, things in the electorate get more complicated.
Last year, under the auspices of CommonWealth magazine, I devised a map that divided the United States into 10 distinct political regions, based on returns from national and state elections, demographic data from the US Census, and certain geographical features. These regions -- which each cast about 10.5 million votes in 2000 -- cut across state lines and even leapfrog them entirely (as with Upper Coasts, which includes most of New England as well as the coastal West from San Francisco up to the Canadian border). In many cases, they divide battleground states into two or three different regions, which explains why those states "swing."Last year, I predicted that if Bush or the Democratic nominee carried a sixth region, while holding on to the five that he or his party's nominee won in 2000, he would have a clear (i.e., litigation-free) win. Bush accomplished this feat, but not by much, winning the Big River region with a margin of 50.1 percent to 49.0 percent. Big River, which follows the Mississippi from northern Minnesota to Memphis, includes most of three states (Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) that were showered with television ads and candidate appearances this fall. Bush and John Kerry were separated by less than one percentage point in only about 65 of the 3,140 counties nationwide, and the greatest number were in Big River.
When Bush spoke after the election of having "the will of the people at my back," he was more likely referring to the 3.5 million-vote advantage he won in the popular tally than to his narrow victory in the Electoral College. Across the country, voter turnout was so high that Bush and Kerry each increased his party's raw vote in every region. The higher turnout benefited Bush in eight of them, including Northeast Corridor -- the most Democratic region in the country four years ago. The Democratic margin in this region, which includes such major cities as New York and Philadelphia, shrank from 2.9 million in the last presidential election to 2.2 million votes this time.
Kerry won the battle for new votes in only two regions, Upper Coasts (his home base, where he won 60.3 percent) and Great Lakes (which includes Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit, and which he won with 56.7 percent). But it's worth repeating that Kerry still beat Bush in two other regions -- and that he didn't actually lose votes in any region. Compared with 2000, Bush's win was decisive, but this map shows that the Republican Party can hardly rest easy in 2008.