Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Perot in 1992 and the coalition nature of American politics

I am sitting here wondering what is wrong with me, and why people don't like me.
But there is no answer to a question like that, so I will ignore it.

Instead, I will talk about what is on your mind: Ross Perot, and where exactly his support came from. As discussed in the last post, the evidence that Perot gained votes predominantly from one party or the other is, from the evidence I have, not apparent.

One thing about the diagram yesterday is it looked suspiciously like a much earlier plot I had done: Obama's margin versus high school graduation rates. States that went for McCain tended to have either low or high graduation rates.

(I hope you are following my intuition, because I am actually not, so connect the dots for me. After all, connecting dots is what this blog is all about).

I decided to plot Perot's total vote (not his margin, obviously) against high school graduation rates. (Using data from the 1990 census)

If any of you have been paying attention to my futile quest to link together demographic data with election margins, this data should really stick out, because...there is actually a pretty strong correlation here. I actually ran Perot vs. college, and then the same diagrams for Bush and Clinton, and none of them were very conclusive. But this diagram shows that states with high High School graduation rates had a pretty meaningful tilt towards Ross Perot. In fact, there is something about the way I made this diagram that conceals this: the cluster of states just inside the upper right hand corner is mostly New England states, which have two things in common with prairie/mountain states: lots of high school graduates, and a liking for Ross Perot. Notice that there is not much else they have in common though: Massachusetts and Idaho are stereotypically the polar opposites of national politics.
Notice down in the lower left, low High School and low Perot support states. Now, if you can remember back 18 years, the Southern states were divided between Bush and Clinton. Arkansas, Tennessee and West Virginia were Clinton states. Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina were Bush states. But all of them have low High School rates, and low Perot rates.

One of the ways that I look at the American "two party system" is as a "two coalition system". The coalitions are made of many different regional groups, with both official power structures and differing demographies. Perot carved up a big part of that coalition for himself in some parts, but not so in others.

This is still relevant, because the current coalition that makes up the Republican Party has two major geographic bases of support: the Prairie/Mountain states and the South/Appalachia. But these two groups have very different demographies, and different cultures and politics.

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