Landslide Geography Splits Obama and Clinton
Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama are attracting support from those who live separately and vote separately.
In the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, nearly six out of ten voters lived in communities where the contest between Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama wasn’t close at all. Most voters in that hotly contested primary lived in counties where either Obama or Clinton won by more than 20 percentage points — an electoral blowout.
Clinton won 49 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties by 20 percentage points or more; most of these counties were smaller and populated by white voters. Thirty-nine of these landslide Clinton counties were in rural or exurban Pennsylvania. Obama won only two counties by a landslide, but one was Philadelphia, the most inner-city county of a massive metro region.
Pennsylvania wasn’t a special case in the long-running contest between Clinton and Obama. Supporters of the two candidates not only vote separately, they live separately.
The stark geographic and racial division between Clinton and Obama “is unnerving core constituencies — African Americans and wealthy liberals — who are becoming convinced that the party could suffer irreversible harm if Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton maintains her sharp line of attack against Sen. Barack Obama,” the Washington Post reported in late April. The “quandry for the party,” according to the Post, was that Clinton might be the better candidate to win the white, working-class (and rural?) vote, but her nomination may irreparably divide the party.
This geographic and racial rift didn’t happen suddenly, a division caused by Obama’s discussion of small town bitterness or the sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Supporters of Obama and Clinton have come from entirely different communities at least since the Super Tuesday contests on February 5th, according to a Daily Yonder analysis.
Sen. Barack Obama has been playing a lot of roundball in Indiana and North Carolina. Here he plays “P-I-G” with the 14-year-old son of Indiana farmers Andy and Melissa Evers of Union Mills. Aaron lost.
Photo: Rich Evers
The geographic division between Obama and Clinton has often been greater than the geographic segregation of Republicans and Democrats, a divide that has been growing since the 1976 presidential election. In the Virginia primary, for example, 72 percent of the voters in this year’s Democratic primary lived in a landslide county, a community where either Obama or Clinton won by more than 20 percentage points. In the 2004 election between George Bush and John Kerry, 43 percent of Virginia voters lived in a landslide county.
In Ohio, 43 percent of the Democratic voters lived in communities where either Obama or Clinton had a whopping majority. In Maryland, it was 33 percent; in Louisiana, 70 percent; in Texas 47 percent; in Maryland, 33 percent; in Wisconsin, 39 percent. Huge numbers of Democratic voters lived in places that voted overwhelmingly for one candidate or the other.
Super Tuesday’s vote was equally divided. The election results in two-thirds of the 900 counties in Super Tueday’s election had margins of greater than 20 percentage points. Although the overall results on February 5 were a near dead-heat, the two candidates received 46.5 percent of their votes in Super Tuesday’s primaries from landslide counties.
The geographic split between Obama and Clinton in both the number of landslide counties and the percent of voters in these counties was nearly identical with the landslide divide between John Kerry and George W. Bush in 2004.
The landslide counties on Super Tuesday 2008 seemed to be significantly aligned with race. Excluding the home states of both candidates (New York, Illinois and Arkansas), Sen. Clinton won 258 landslide counties on Super Tuesday. Of those communities where Clinton won by more than 20 percentage points, 243 had a lower percentage of African American population than the national average — and 196 of those counties had less than half the national average of black population.
In Clinton’s landslide counties, African Americans averaged 5 percent of the population and the average voting-age population of the county just over 68,000.
Sen. Obama had 105 landslide counties on Super Tuesday. (Remember, home states are excluded.) Only three of Sen. Obama’s landslide counties had a black population below the national average. Seven out of ten of Obama’s landslide counties had black populations more than twice the national average.
In Obama’s landslide counties on Super Tuesday, African Americans averaged 35 percent of the population and the average voting-age population of the county was 90,000.
Sen. Clinton and husband Bill spent a lot of time speaking from the back of pickups. This is the senator in Gastonia, North Carolina.
Photo: Barbara Kinney
The Democratic vote has been sharply divided in a number of ways, according to political reporter Ron Brownstein. Obama and his supporters have insisted that the Illinois senator had carried white, working-class citizens in many states before Pennsylvania and was actually improving his standing among these voters.
Brownstein finds “these assertions are debatable and some are flat-out wrong. Together, the arguments from Obama and his aides raise questions about whether his campaign is honestly confronting the challenge he is facing with working-class whites — or whether he is in some measure of denial.” According to Brownstein, Clinton has outpolled Obama among whites without a college degree in 26 of 29 states.
Voters in Indiana and North Carolina vote Tuesday in states with relatively large rural populations.