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Morning Jay: Electoral Review Part 1, The South

6:30 AM, Nov 10, 2010 • By JAY COST
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Today's post is the first entry in a four-part series analyzing the 2010 midterm election. My plan is to break it down by region, and I begin today with the South – or more specifically, the 11 states that made up the old Confederacy.

To start, let’s sketch out a broad overview of the Southern states, based on the available exit polling data. Exit polls were conducted in 5 of the 11 states we are evaluating, and here are some notable results.

Using Obama’s 2008 statewide vote as a baseline, we can see that there have been relatively few shifts in opinion on the president in many of the Southern states. Only two stand out – Florida and Texas – and much of these shifts might be due to the fact that the percentages of white voters in the 2010 electorate were higher than the percentages in 2008.

Let's juxtapose this overall stasis with the change we saw last week in Southern House districts, which was quite dramatic. This is the map of Southern congressional districts after the 2008 election.

Now, here is the map after last week.

This is quite a change, a historic one in fact. The Republicans control 94 of the 131 congressional districts in the South, or about 71 percent of all districts. The GOP has not held such a large share of Southern districts since 1868, during Reconstruction

How do we square only modest movements in public opinion of the president with the big shifts in the congressional map? It has something to do with the point I made in the latest issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD: The 2010 midterm represents the re-emergence of the Bush coalition, at least on a congressional level. Throughout most of the South, the Bush coalition was largely in place to vote for McCain in 2008. The trick was that many districts that backed Bush and McCain for president split their ballots to elect Democrats to Congress. They stopped doing that this time. Sean Trende made a similar point in an insightful piece last week, writing:

Much as 2008 was the year that Democratic-leaning districts determined that they could no longer afford to send Republicans to Congress, no matter how moderate, 2010 is the year that the Republican-leaning districts made the inverse decision. It didn't matter whether the challenger had experience, or if he raised a lot of money. Neither of those variables is statistically significant.

To frame it another way, recall retiring Democrat Marion Berry’s account of a conversation with President Obama in early 2010:

Berry recounted meetings with White House officials, reminiscent of some during the Clinton days, where he and others urged them not to force Blue Dogs “off into that swamp” of supporting bills that would be unpopular with voters back home.

“I’ve been doing that with this White House, and they just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all,” Berry said. “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’ We’re going to see how much difference that makes now.”

Well, I guess now we know: It made one hell of a difference!

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