20 October 2006

Red States and Blue States

This is a subject I've been reading and thinking a lot about lately. The key to understanding US politics, especially Presidential elections, is the division of the country into two halves: the Republican (red) and the Democrat (blue). Pages upon pages can be written analysing this phenomenon. Here I will confine myself to some basic numbers. (Most of them are approximate)

First, out of the 50 states, the Blue: Red division is 20:30. Population wise, the division is less skewed - 48%:50%, with the Reds having a slight edge. These translate into an electoral-votes ratio of 250:275. [The exact figures are: out of the 51 states (including District of Columbia) the blue: red ratio is 19:29. Three are 'purple' states - Iowa, New Hampshire and New Mexico. These 3 changed their colours in the 2004 polls and account for the missing 2% population you are wondering about]

A small note here - I was under the impression that America was majority Blue, but due to the screwed-up electoral college system, the Reds end up winning. I was wrong. While it's true that many Red states are sparsely populated, there are also some very small Blue states (in the north east). So, ladies and gentlemen, the rednecks are not a minority. They represent mainstream America. It's the liberals who are the minorty. They are confined to 3 pockets: the North East (12 states), the West Coast (3 states) and the Great Lakes (4 states).

On with our analysis. So the question arises: what decides if a state is Blue or Red? There are many factors, but one that almost everybody mentions is the urban/rural divide. The Blue states are supposed to be largely urban/industrial, and the Red states are supposed to be largely rural/agricultural. I decided to put this theory to the test. I tried to see if a state's Blueness/Redness is linked to its degree of urbanisation. I got the data for the states' urbanisation from the 1990 US census and voila!

[A caveat here: 'rural' does not mean the state is less than 50% urban. That way we'll get nowhere. We must remember that the US is a developed country with 75% of its people living in urban areas. Once we define an urban state as a state whose urbanisation is 70% or more, we can make some progress]

1. About half of America's states are urban (urbanisation is 70% or more). Among these the Blue: Red split is 16:7. So an urban state is twice more likely to be Blue than Red. If we look at the top 20 most urbanised states, the split is 12:7. Yes, the Blues' advantage has gone down. But the 12 states left are comfortably Blue with an average victory margin of 15% (The margin for each state will be the average of the margins in the 2000 and 2004 polls). Whereas out of the 7 Red states, 3 look shaky - with margins of less than 4%. Two of these are large states: Florida and Ohio. So in the 20 most urbanised states, only 4 are comfortably Red. Two of these deserve special mention: Utah and Texas - they have urbanisation rates of 87% and 80%, and Red victory margins of 42% and 22% respectively! How could such highly urbanised states be so heavily Red? The simplistic answers are Mormonism and George W Bush, respectively.

2. Now let's look at the rural states (urbanisation is less than 70%). These are 27 in number, and the Blue: Red split is 3:22! No contest there. And the 22 states are comfortably Red, with an average victory margin of 19.5%.

That ends our little investigation. The hope is that as urbanisation increases, more states will turn Blue. Till then, the strategy for the Democrats remains the same: attack Florida and Ohio, and hold Pennsylvania and Michigan! :-)

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