Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On Romney, Dixie, the Electoral College, and the American Nations

There's been a lot of talk in political circles about what it would mean if Mitt Romney won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College contest while carrying only the South. Would Barack Obama be said to have more of a mandate than he would if his popular vote loss wasn't confined to Dixie? Will such a development shore up support for retaining the Electoral College?

As the author of a book on North American regionalism, I've found the discussion intriguing. This evening I joined in, offering some thoughts at Washington Monthly's Ten Miles Square. Let me know what you think.


  1. Awfully interesting. I recall from somewhere that the Republicans had been preparing a campaign to discredit the Electoral College if that had happened in 2000. If that happened this time, I expect them to do that, and I'll enjoy watching those self-styled Constitutional fundamentalists denounce it.

    I checked on National Popular Vote -- Electoral college reform by direct election of the President and correlated progress on NPV efforts with votes for Obama in 2008 - more pro-Democratic states were farther along in it than the more pro-Republican states. The 2012 Republican Party platform rejects NPV, though plenty of individual Republican politicians support it.

    Also, it's interesting that Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada have been turning blue, and North Carolina and Florida approaching that state. Could it be immigrants from blue states? I've seen south Florida called the 6th borough of NYC; that city has 5 of them.

    1. A long answer regarding Virginia and North Carolina. I've argued that the Tidewater is, in historical terms, decomposing for two reasons. First, it wasn't able to effectively expand its influence Westward, as it was blocked by Appalachian settlers. Second, in the past 50 years the expanding federal halos around D.C. and Norfolk have allowed millions of outlanders to move in and conduct their lives without economic or social reference to Tidewater norms.

      As for the Far West, consider this post:

    2. That's very interesting about Utah. It's interesting that Utah is relatively low on indices of social pathology and dysfunction by the standards of "red states". PERRspectives: Health Care the Latest Red State Failure, The Social Dysfunction of Red States – Dispatches from the Creation Wars, Red State/Blue State Distinctions – Dispatches from the Creation Wars

      But how do Colorado and Nevada fit in? Nevada likely gets lots of Californians, but what might be happening in Colorado? Its population getting big enough so that it is less of a "resource colony"?

    3. In historical terms, it may be that the Far West is only now starting to really become properly "settled" and, thus, we may start seeing the formation of separate cultures within it. (The book identifies it as the one region where -- thus far -- environment has trumped ethnography.)

  2. As to estimating the preferences of the various cultural nations, one way to do that might be to estimate how many people in each state belong to each cultural nation, and then treat each cultural nation as having its own preferences. One can then go from state figures to cultural-nation figures by doing a least-squares fit.

    That aside, Duverger's law states that structural features of electoral systems determine what parties there are. First past the post gives two parties, because of fear of wasting one's vote, and proportional representation gives several parties.

    That the wasted-vote effect is real is evident from the 2000 Presidential election, in which Ralph Nader got more Democratic than Republican votes, enough to make Florida go Republican.

    Something like that may now happen on the right, because of Vote For Jesus 2012:

    It is time for Christians, true followers of Jesus Christ, to rise up and say NO to satan this November! As I prophetically shared last November, if God allowed the upcoming election for President to be between President Obama and Mitt Romney, it would truly be satan flipping a two-headed coin with his head on both sides!

    1. One simply needs to count population by county and then group by nation and compare with state totals.

      (I've shared a coded spreadsheet with several academics who promised to send me data on this via GIS (in exchange for my time spent coding) but so far none have honored their agreements!)

    2. I've found county population data at the US Census Bureau's site: Current Estimates Data - U.S Census Bureau

      If you are talking about adding up the nations' county populations for each state, I'm willing to do that task. I'm sure that I can succeed where the others have failed.

      I once wrote some code for redividing the contiguous US into equal-population compact regions, so I'm sure that I can do it. I've even made some pictures of the results.

    3. I've rather painstakingly found which county is in which nation from your map, and I've calculated the population of each nation using 2011 census estimates:

      Yankeedom 57,646,633
      New Netherland 18,161,857
      The Midlands 34,377,147
      Tidewater 12,628,160
      Deep South 41,216,012
      Greater Appalachia 56,652,334
      Far West 27,229,964
      Left Coast 16,908,802
      El Norte 31,520,111
      New France 2,927,468
      Spanish Caribbean 7,350,629
      Alaska 710,231
      Hawaii 1,360,301
      I've listed Alaska and Hawaii separately, though Alaska might make a good fit for the Far West and Hawaii for the Left Coast.

      I've also calculated populations of the coalitions:

      Northern Alliance
      Yankeedom, New Netherland, Left Coast

      Dixie Bloc
      Tidewater, Deep South, Greater Appalachia

      The Midlands, Far West, El Norte, New France, Spanish Caribbean

    4. Loren -

      That's fantastic! Thanks much.

      A couple small notes on the data that may alter the figures slightly. Cook County, IL's population should be split evenly between Yankeedom and the Midlands, while the city of New Orleans should be split between New France and the Deep South.

      I have a spreadsheet with the county-by-county "nation" assignments for Alaska if you're interested (though it won't throw the population stats off by much!) Drop me an email at if interested.

  3. @Colin, I think you made the best case possible for the Electoral College and the reason why the United States government isn't chosen in a strictly democratic manner. What interested me more was your post when read in combination with your review of Chuck Thompson's book (also in the Monthly). You pointed out that secession was a bad idea. But, in reading your review, I couldn't help but think that maybe state boundaries should be drawn along the natural boundaries of the "nations." I have to wonder if the states of Indiana, Illinois and Ohio should be redrawn as three long east-west states much like Tennessee and Kentucky to have their borders conform to uniformly to national characters. Similarly, I wonder if it would be better if the Deep South States were redrawn into majority African-American and majority White states. Finally, maybe Texas should be broken up into three states. I have to wonder if people with the same national character would be happier living in contiguous states.

    1. Thanks much.

      In principle, the redrawing of those lower Great Lakes States on East-West lines would make a great deal of sense, and might well have the support of many people there. But creating states based on racial composition seems fraught with danger, and that would be the case with Texas as well as the Deep South. (But remember I started my career in Eastern Europe and the Balkans in the early 1990s, so I'm rather a pessimist on these matters.)