2008 Electorate: Alternate History

by: dreaminonempty

Sun Nov 01, 2009 at 09:45

(A really great look at the diverse roots of our progressive majority, and how it has been constituted by historical struggles over time. - promoted by Paul Rosenberg)

A (now long-ago) comment by fladem (pointing out that Obama won all the states that Lincoln won in 1860) led to this diary.  What if the last election had taken place under the laws and customs that existed in most states in 1860?  In other words, what if only white men could vote in 2008?

Now, that really is an alternate history question, so what we're seeing here on the left is how white men did vote in 2008, an election where everyone voted.  On the right, how all those who gained voting rights after the Civil War voted - that is, non-whites and white women.

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The take home message: expanding voting rights - a progressive position - resulted in the ability to elect more liberal politicians.  Below, more details and what this has to do with unions.

dreaminonempty :: 2008 Electorate: Alternate History
What if?

Looking back at the history of voting rights in this country, it is not a steady progression but rather a generally bumbling path forward.  I ask the question here, what if the election of 2008 had been held under the voting laws of prior times?  Below, I show estimates of the percent of the 2008 electorate that would have been eligible to vote at the end of each era, and how well Obama did among those historically eligible voters (by applying the restrictions shown in italics to the 2008 electorate).  These numbers are estimated from exit polls, using the income cutoff of $50,000 as a substitute for landowners.  Note that the restrictions were not uniform across all states - for example, just before the Civil War, a few states did allow free black men to vote.

Colonial: Adult white protestant landowning males
12% of the current electorate, 31% Obama

To be fair, not all colonies and early states restricted voting this drastically, and laws were not always enforced.  The numbers above therefore represent a minimum value, and as such, are an exaggeration.  

Jeffersonian: Adult white landowning males
21% of the current electorate, 40% Obama

The newly minted constitution did away with religious requirements for voting, but the idea persisted that voters should be limited to white men with a stake in government, as represented by a certain amount of wealth, land, or the payment of taxes.  Again, this was not uniform across states.
For example, between its statehood and 1807 New Jersey required only that a voter possess a small amount of cash or property, with no restrictions based on race, religion, or gender.  

Jacksonian:  Adult white males
32% of the current electorate, 41% Obama

The expansion of the voting universe continued on its rocky course with the elimination of property requirements in almost all states by the Civil War.  

Women's Suffrage:  Adult whites
69% of the current electorate, 43% Obama

Women starting gaining (or re-gaining) the right to vote starting with Wyoming in 1869 and Utah in 1870 and ending with the 19th Amendment in 1920.  Now it starts to get personal: probably a fair number of us knew somebody who could not vote when she turned 21.

Civil Rights: Adults
95% of the current electorate, 52% Obama

Non-whites have been able to vote since the founding of the country in various states at various times, most notably the post-Civil War era, but it took the Voting Rights Act for non-whites to be able to vote nationwide, without massive interference, and, we assume, permanently.  

Youth: Even More Adults
100% of the current electorate, 53% Obama

In 1971 the voting age was lowered, and here we are today.

Back to the Story

Broadly speaking, we see that expanding the electorate has taken place in three steps: 1) Extending citizenship to more people 2) Extending voting rights to more citizens and 3) Making sure they actually get to vote.  

So is there anything left to do?  Certainly.  In a post Chris Bowers wrote about two years ago, there's several things that jump out from the post and the comments:

1) Extending citizenship:  Immigration reform
2) Extending voting rights:  Ending felon disenfranchisement, lowering the voting age, congressional representation for territories
3) Making sure people vote:  Same day registration, secure voting mechanisms, national voting holiday

I might add one more: extending voting rights to non-citizens.  That whole taxation without representation thing, conservatives should love it, right?  Actually, I was surprised to learn that non-citizens voting in this country wasn't all that rare in our history.


Returning to that post Chris wrote, though, it was more broadly about positive feedback loops: progressive policies that would make it easier to enact more progressive policies.  Expanding the universe of voters is one category of positive progressive feedback loops.  The first item on the list, however, was the Employee Free Choice Act.  Just to throw this in at the end, here's how the union vote shaped up in the 2008 presidential election:

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This diary is the second in a series taking a close look at the 2008 electorate and exploring three themes: diversity within demographics, progressive feedback loops, and demographic change.  

Previous diaries:

Looking Back

Tomorrow: Why Republicans Should Be Really Scared - a closer look at demographic change

Cross posted at DailyKos.

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My Only Quibble Here (4.00 / 4)
is that this doesn't really mention the historical counter-trend, the efforts to shrink the electorate, which have played a powerful role in the past, and which have been re-awakened by Republicans with renewed intensity since the 2000 election.  Alexander Keyssar discusses this at length in his book, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States.  He divides American history into four periods, the second of which, stretching from the mid-19th Century to the 1920s, was primarily dominated by a move to restrict the vote, which elites feared had been extended to too many of the "wrong sort".

I've interviewed him several times over the years, and asked repeatedly if the GOP's new efforts may constitute the beginning of a fifth era much like the second, and he's become increasingly concerned that this may be the case.  So the Dems really need to wake up on this.  And who better to start this process than us?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

It's sad (4.00 / 2)
The Republican Party has been engaged in this electorate shrinking project for some time. They do so while justifying their actions on the basis of protecting democracy. Democrats have an obvious interest as a party to combat these efforts, both because more voters generally will mean more Democratic voters and because they need a response to Republican charges that Democrats are the ones that threaten democracy.

But since the Democratic establishment's power within the Democratic coalition would be threatened by a real response, they let the party continue to get battered on this issue. (Not to mention helping it along, by doing things like supporting the Help America Vote Act, which was as aptly named as Healthy Forests and the Patriot Act.)

You are entirely right about this:

So the Dems really need to wake up on this.  And who better to start this process than us?

There are structural reasons why they won't do so unless we make them. Also good to remember - many of the most important changes can be accomplished either at the federal or state levels.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
Fear of the masses, the other (0.00 / 0)
Democracy is always great in theory until people stop voting how they're told to...

It seems to me that the obvious course of action if one thinks that uneducated fools are making a mockery of democracy is to make sure they have access to a decent education; if you're worried that non-citizens are voting illegally, well, make 'em citizens.  Silly me.

There's definitely a coordinated effort to roll back voting rights going on.  Thanks for emphasizing this point.

[ Parent ]
We have (0.00 / 0)
a Democratic majority. There is definitely NOT a Progressive majority because if this is the best Progs can do I'll never vote for the Dem. coalition again.

It's A Progressive VOTER Majority (4.00 / 2)
And making that clear over and over again is part of the battle to close the yawning voter/elected official gap

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Weren't Hispanics of non-African ancestry considered white in 1860? (0.00 / 0)
Not that it would really change the results much.  But I thought that that was the case.

Good Point. It Probably Varied By State (0.00 / 0)
I know I've read about this, but I have no precise recollection.  In California, Hispanics were definitely part of the polity, and even continued holding office for several decades before the growing white majority shut them out.  But elsewhere I believe things were different.  I particularly doubt if Texas made it all that easy for them to vote, and it may well have varied sharply by county there.  But this is really nothing more than speculation.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
The more democratic our voting laws, (4.00 / 3)
the more progressive our country.  Excellent post.  I think the theme of "progressive feedback loops" is an important one.  That's why I really hope that after the current health care battle we can get back to talking about the Employee Free Choice Act.  

It's not just that union members are much more likely to vote for Democrats, it's that the labor movement itself is a force for progressive change that is not dependent upon politicians.  Direct action gets the goods.

Illustrative to compare with slave/free state map... (0.00 / 0)
It's ok though... (0.00 / 0)
because white folks tell me how "it isn't about race" and how "it's not race, it's class". They say it so much, it MUST be true.

[ Parent ]
it's always been about both (4.00 / 2)
as well as gender, among other things.  you should take a look at david roediger's wages of whiteness for a historical look at the intersection of class and race and lisa duggan's twilight of equality for understanding how the 'culture wars' were also about class.

it's also pretty obvious when you think about the implications of things - if abortions are banned in some states but not others, people with the most economic resources are going to have access to safe, legal abortions, making it a class issue too.

if workers and the working class is to be kept divided, then divisions besides class have to be articulated by the ruling elite - this entails using gender, race, citizenship, etc - using cultural politics to elevante some people SLIGHTLY while keeping other people below them, thereby ensuring everyone's eyes from from the ball.  

so you can't talk about class without talking abotu race or other markers and you can't talk about those other markers without eventually also coming to think about class.

[ Parent ]
how about non-citizen voting? (4.00 / 1)
this is a net plus for all, but particularly for the labor movement, people opposed to the criminal justice industry (detentions and deportations), people opposed to racism, and people who think it's wrong taht citizenship is taking its place alongside race as one of THE metrics that's used to deny or grant people rights.

also some very conservative arguments can be made for this (no taxation without representation and all taht).

Border vs. Deep South (0.00 / 0)
One thing I saw in your great maps is that Obama did much better among white males (and I'm sure white females as well) in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and even Oklahoma, than he did in the deep South.  I think this is often missed in post-election analysis that focused on Obama's "Appalachia problem."  The confusion arises because Obama sometimes ran better overall in the Deep South, but only because it has a much larger African American population -- the whites there are apparently more racist/right-wing or something than those in the border South, which has pretty much always been the case.  The same confusion arises when looking at change in vote vs. Kerry.  I basically knew this, but have kept falling into the trap myself.  Thanks.

One minor quibble -- if EV represents how many electoral votes Obama would have won if only the group(s) in question voted, he would have done much better than 51 with white males, if only because he won them in California, albeit narrowly.

Yes (4.00 / 1)
This is a point I will come back to in a whole separate diary.  Appalachia is far more supportive of Democrats than one might expect based on some variables.  The Appalachian problem is real in that it is hard for a Democrat to win there on the presidential ticket, but it is important to understand the reason is a combination of moderately low (not abysmal) support among whites and few minorties.

As far as California, I only used states where Obama had 51% or more in counting EVs.  California Obama only had 50% of white males. (In other words, I had three categories, Obama, McCain, and Tie.  California counted as a tie.)  I should have mentioned this, but didn't.  I did in my next diary.

[ Parent ]
Thanks for clarification n/t (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
early Jersey voters (0.00 / 0)
needed a small amount of cash..... The more things change...


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