Blue vs. Red—Or Blue vs. Gray?

A few weeks ago, I did an analysis of all the final 2012 election results broken down by region. I wanted to see how the results came out if we compared the South against the rest of the country, and also to see what kind of majority President Obama compiled outside the South.

While the results were by no means a surprise, they did demonstrate, as expected, a stark political difference between the South and the rest of the country.

I broke the country into four regions: Northeast, Midwest, West and South, each containing either 12 or 13 states in order to make the comparisons as apples-to-apples as possible. As a result, West Virginia ended up as the only red (Republican) state in the Northeast, even though I think most people would rightly consider West Virginia a Southern state, culturally and politically. But it also has historical ties to the Northeast as well, so one can make a case either way.

And I included Oklahoma in the South, which—based upon virtually every interaction I’ve ever had with Oklahomans—seems to me to be a fair and correct designation. I know many Oklahomans consider themselves Midwesterners, but as a native Midwesterner myself, I see Oklahoma having far more in common—culturally, politically and geographically—with the South than the Midwest.

I also designated Kentucky as a Southern state, and I can’t imagine I’d get much disagreement from anyone on that one. I challenge anyone to find a Midwesterner, or even very many Kentuckians, who’d consider Kentucky a Midwestern state.

Feel free to disagree with any of those designations, but let’s say, for instance, that we shifted Oklahoma into the Midwest and West Virginia out of the Northeast and into the South; neither move would have changed the results for any of those regions by very much. For example, the Midwest would have gone from favoring President Obama by about 51%-48% to about 50%-49%.

The results were clear: the South is not just a political outlier, as compared to the rest of the country, but it is out of touch with the rest of the country by an extremely large margin. Using the breakdown I employed, I found that President Obama won the Northeast 58.6%-39.8%; the West 54.2%-43.2%; and the Midwest 50.7%-47.6%. His victories in the Northeast and West were by double-digit, landslide margins; his victory in the Midwest was close, but clear.

Taking all the non-Southern states as a unit, President Obama walked away with a double-digit landslide: 54.3%-43.7% For purposes of comparison, this margin of victory in the Northeast, Midwest and West would be roughly on a par with the national victories won by Presidents Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956; George H.W. Bush in 1988; Clinton in 1996; and even Franklin Roosevelt in 1940 and 1944. President Obama’s reelection victory was a landslide—if we exclude the South.

But in the South, it was an entirely different story. In this part of the country, even taking into account President Obama’s victories in the two most non-Southern states in this region (Florida and Virginia), Mitt Romney came away with a landslide victory of his own: 54.3%-44.5%. This is almost a mirror image of what happened in the rest of the country.

So when you’re thinking about how close the national popular vote was in the 2012 election (51.1%-47.2%) and thinking that we have a closely divided nation, you’re partly right and you’re partly wrong. The bottom line is that most of the country reelected the President by a large margin. But the dominance of cultural and political conservatism in the South is what created this artificial closeness in the overall electorate. When conservatives talk about “Heartland values,” they are really talking about Southern values. Don’t be fooled by this hooey; the Midwestern “Heartland” voted for the president.

Most of the country backed the president and his program by decisive margins. It is the South, the conservative outlier, that continues to pull the rest of country’s politics away from its natural, more moderate orbit. And it has been this way from the dawn of American independence. The tail, to a large degree, is wagging the dog.

So the next time you hear about “blue states” vs. “red states,” remember that it’s really more about the Blue vs. the Gray—just as it always has been and probably always will be.