Governor Rick Perry of Texas continues to make veiled threats to secede today. The only thing that is really unusual about these threats is that they are coming from a Governor, rather than the guy sitting next to you in the local bar. After a political power shift, empty threats about emigration and / or secession are fairly common. It is a safe bet that everyone in America has either a family member or a close friend who has made such a threat at some point over the past decade. In the days immediately following the 2004 election, in my West Philly neighborhood, talk of secession and emigration was rampant to the point of becoming standard ambient noise. Eventually, as time passes, both the tempers, and the empty threats accompanying them, begin to recede.
But, now that the Governor of the second largest state in the country has brought secession talk into the mainstream, it is worth investigating national support for secessionist. The only poll I could find on the subject was from Zogby (a telephone poll) from July of last year. The results indicated surprisingly high support for secessionist movements in America, and that support was significantly higher among Democratic-leaning demographics than among Republican-leaning demographics. From the poll
One in five American adults - 22% - believe that any state or region has the right to "peaceably secede from the United States and become an independent republic,"(...)
The level of support for the right of secession was consistent in every region in the country, though the percentage was slightly higher in the South (26%) and the East (24%). The figures were also consistent for every age group, but backing was strongest among younger adults, as 40% among those age 18 to 24 and 24% among those age 25 to 34 agreed states and regions have secession rights.
Broken down by race, the highest percentage agreeing with the right to secede was among Hispanics (43%) and African-Americans (40%). Among white respondents, 17% said states or regions should have the right to peaceably secede.
Politically, liberal thinkers were much more likely to favor the right to secession for states and regions, as 32% of mainline liberals agreed with the concept. Among the very liberal the support was only slightly less enthusiastic - 28% said they favored such a right. Meanwhile, just 17% of mainline conservatives thought it should exist as an option for states or regions of the nation.
Asked whether they would support a secessionist movement in their own state, 18% said they would, with those in the South most likely to say they would back such an effort. In the South, 24% said they would support such an effort, while 15% in the West and Midwest said the same. Here, too, younger adults were more likely than older adults to be supportive - 35% of those under age 30 would support secession in their state, compared to just 17% of those over age 65. Among African Americans, 33% said they would support secession, compared to just 15% of white adults. The more education a respondent had, the less likely they were to support secession - as 38% of those with less than a high school diploma would support it, compared to just 10% of those with a college degree.
While not very high in an absolute sense, support for secession is only just below where approval for Bush was during his final few months in office.
Just as interesting is who supports secession. Liberals, African-Americans, Latinos, young voters and the less educated are the most supportive of secession. These groups tend to skew Democratic, showing that support for secession is not just limited to conservatives like Rick Perry and the teabaggers.
Marginalization within broader society is a clear connection that runs through most of the demographics that favor secession: Minorities, the less educated and young people--over one third of whom appear to favor secession--are simply given smaller shareholdings within the country at large. As such, it isn't surprising they favor secession more than other groups. The better adjusted, and better connected, and better off you are within a given society, the more likely you will want to stay a part of that society.
By contrast, for the guy who runs the second largest state in the country to blather on about feeling ignored is a mind-bending level of egocentric pouting (although he might feel better if he finally came out of the closet). Much the same goes for the upper middle class white folk who were cheering for secession when Perry talked both yesterday and today. Exactly why they feel so marginalized is not entirely clear, but the conservative movement's persecution complex knows few limits.
Personally, I believe the better approach for progressives is to try and connect the United States more with other countries and international organizations, rather than fragmenting into smaller countries. More connection, not more division, is the answer. Also, it also would be worth polling this question again in 2009, to see if the demographics most supportive of secession have changed at all with President Obama's election. My bet is that yes, there has been.