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Small Blue Dots and Big Red Splotches

Our humble hometown of Wichita is perfectly situated here in the middle of the country, we often boast, because if it were any farther from New York City it would just be that much closer to Los Angeles. This old jest came to mind as we were perusing a state-by-state rundown of the president’s approval ratings, which suggest that his low numbers are being propped up by a few densely populated spots far away from our discontented heartland.
The data was brought to our attention by the smart fellows over at the Powerline web site, who rightly conclude that the president’s unpopularity is even more widespread than the headline numbers would suggest, and it seemed full of interesting implications. Having some familiarity with all of the 48 contiguous states, and with a stereotype in mind for each, we were most interested to see where the president retains some following.
The president is most popular in Maryland, which is mostly Baltimore and the suburbs of the District of Columbia, both of which have a vested interest in federal largesse, yet only 56 percent of the state registers approval. Next up is the president’s native Hawaii, where 53 percent are still on board, a slight majority we attribute to the famously potent marijuana of the state. Coming in third is Vermont, which is basically a vast hippie commune with maple syrup, at 52 percent. The only other states where the president wasn’t below 50 percent were New York and Massachusetts, which requires no explanation, and even in those liberal redoubts he was right at the halfway mark. The combined populations of these states skews the overall results so, and that vexing 40 percent approval we keep seeing is mostly buoyed by a few other crowded states where the president’s standing hasn’t yet caved.
California remains the most populous state in the union, despite its best efforts to drive people away, and the president has only now dipped to 49 percent approval there, although we suspect the numbers drop drastically once your start polling outside of Los Angeles and San Francisco and a few of their more well-heeled suburbs. New York remains the second most populous state, despite its best efforts, and we further suspect that the president finds less approval the farther one gets away from the epicenter of New York City. In his adopted home state of Illinois, which also has a sizable population, the president is above the national average with an otherwise discouraging 45 percent, and we’d wager that number is far lower outside Chicago. A few other populous states are dragging the president’s approval ratings between below 50 percent but keeping it above 40, with the utan centers probably accounting for the crucial difference, and elsewhere the numbers are downright dismal.
Even in formerly supportive states such as Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida the president’s disapproval ratings are in the high 50s. In those deep red states that never did fall for the president’s promises of hope and change, the disapproval rates range from the high 60s to mid-70s. These numbers are unusual in American politics, where any Democrat’s 52 percent is routinely described as a landslide, and do much to explain some of the recent mid-term election stories.
Watch almost any Republican’s campaign commercials and you’ll see a scary-looking photograph of the president juxtaposed against a picture of the Democratic opponent, and listen to almost any Democrat’s campaign speeches and you’ll hear mention that the president isn’t the ballot. Both pitches are perfectly explained by the polling data. The president himself has declared that although he’s not on the ballot all of his policies are, which can only be explained by his characteristic belief that everything is about him, but the numbers are probably the reason he’s hitting the fund-raising circuit in those last remaining true-blue urban enclaves rather than hitting the campaign trail for the Democratic candidates he’ll need to get his policies enacted as law.
As encouraging as the numbers might to be to those of hoping for Republican victories in the coming mid-term elections, they’re discouraging to anyone with a vested interest in the continued union of these states. When small majorities of voters in a few densely populated urban areas can impose their political preferences on large but sparsely populated swaths of the nation where those policies are overwhelmingly hated it cannot help but fray the national unity. In the past such regional differences were ameliorated by federalism, an ingenious concept that allows California to be California and West Virginia to be West Virginia, but that’s one of the policies that urban enclaves seem intent on eliminating. The polling data suggest that the Republican party will have some greater degree of influence in the government following the elections, and if this proves true they would do well to make that old-fashioned notion a fighting principle.

— Bud Norman

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