Thursday, November 6, 2008

Who are Red Staters in 2008?

To say the least, I'm thrilled with the Obama victory and the big gains for the Democrats in Congress. To them I say, "Well do something!"

Meanwhile, after seeing the tide of blue wash over so many states on election eve, I got to thinking...who inhabit those states that still went to McCain? After the last eight years of getting the royal screw job from Bush and the Republicans in DC, what would possess them to vote for more of the same? It's just a fascinating issue to consider I think.

To state the obvious, these states contain majorities of people who consider themselves "conservative." But what does that mean? And, what about that would compel these people to vote again for the R's?

While I do not hold myself out as a political or demographic expert, I think there may be several reasons for "red" voting in 2008. Here are a few I've been pondering...

Issue voting
One possible conclusion is that in 2008 red states, for the conservative majorities, individual issue voting trumped the greater good of the nation. Sure, red staters know that the economy is in the dumper, we're about to enter year seven in two wars, good paying jobs are leaving the country, working wages have stagnated, etc. They get that. It's just that majorities in red states feel that certain individual issues are more important. Or, that if they elect candidates that represent their views on one or two issues, that for sure those same candidates will address other problems to their satisfaction.

Rich, poor or middle class, here are a few issues identified with conservatives that may have motivated votes for McCain in 2008:
  • Guns - don't take 'em, in fact give them out, include machine guns in that...and if you don't like it you must be a communist
  • Abortion - against it for moral/religious reasons, and therefore so should everybody else in the country
  • Anti-gay rights - don't understand it, don't like it, thinks it's against "God," and therefore the entire nation should be subject to those value judgements
  • Small government - AKA, get government off my back. Contrary to all evidence, red staters feel that the Republicans will run smaller, less intrusive, less expensive government.
  • Taxes - like most Americans, they don't like taxes. They like what they hear from Republicans about lowering taxes and buy the line that all Democrats will always raise all taxes all the time.
  • War - they backed the team that got us the Iraq war and who mismanaged it, but they're not going to admit defeat and vote for the other team because to do so would be seen as "weak." Also, there are a lot of military families in red states and many cannot bring themselves to vote against a military man such as McCain (which I can understand to a point).
  • Immigration - don't want illegals here (unless one of them can mow their lawn for cheap) and have little tolerance for immigrant issues.

The two big ironies about voting along these individual issue lines of course are:

  1. It is the exact opposite of the "country first" concept McCain ran on in 2008. You want to talk about putting country first, fine. But, don't then go out and vote based on one or two issues. Look at the whole picture and what's best for the whole nation...not just where you live or what your pastor says.
  2. What have these red staters received in terms of satisfaction on these issues over the last eight years...or even the last 20 years? Not much. Vote for anti-abortion, get tax cuts for the wealthy. Vote for prayer in schools, get a reduction in your health coverage. Vote for small government, get the biggest US government in the nation's history.

But, these ironies are a topic for another day.

Economies not as affected by economic downturn
Think about it. Are Oklahoma, Utah, Alabama and Kentucky - for example - as hard hit by the housing crisis, low dollar value, stock market crash and outsourcing of jobs as, say, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana?

No, they're not.

I'm not saying they don't have economic issues in red states...they do. But they always have. For the most part hard core red states (save maybe Texas) are poorer by comparison to blue states, and not much changes year in and year out. It's relatively static. And because of this, the individual issues discussed above come more to the fore when conservative majorities consider who to vote for - not to mention moderates in those same states.

Closed Minds
Call it religion, call it tradition, call it "rugged individualism," or whatever you want, but there has to be some element of walling off...of closing the mind to what's going on in the world and in the nation as a whole for people in red states to do the voting the equivalent sticking their fingers in their ears, closing their eyes and stamping their feet while saying "I-AM-NOT-LIST-EN-ING-TO-YOU...I-AM-NOT-LIST-EN-ING."

How else can you explain it? I think there might be something in...

The Rich/Religion Dynamic
In red states, the rich have their money and they vote to support the candidates who they feel will help keep them rich. Simple as that. No need to think any further. Many blue state rich do the same, but there tends to be a) more rich people in blue states, and b) more of them vote Democratic.

Meanwhile, the middle class and poor in red states tend to have more concentrated religious devotion than in other parts of the country. And, the brand that seems to prevail in those states is a much more exclusionary, literal and strict brand of God fearing than in blue states. These influences come to the fore in red state America to motivate and justify voting conservative regardless of what's really going on in their state, nation and world. So again, very simple from their perspective. No need to question or think. Just vote on narrow "moral" grounds.

All and all, I've probably laid out a far too rudimentary set of ideas to explain why certain states continue to vote conservative year after year no matter what. But, my conclusion is that it's a combination of issue-first voting motivated by simplistic thinking that is amplified by the relatively static nature of these states' economies.

Hey, there will always be conservatives and liberals. However, if we are to operate in a bipartisan way as president-elect Obama has called for to really rise up and solve our problems, I think it's best to try and understand where people who do not agree with us are coming from. That way, we have a better chance of working with the opposite set in constructive ways.

Anyway, an attempt.

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