St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

St. Louis has NOT lost its electoral clout

Back when the Oracle was growing up in the Fifties, Missouri was a solidly Democratic state. The City of St. Louis was a big contributor to that result. In 1956, Missouri was the only state in the Union that had voted for President Dwight D. Eisenhower four years earlier to switch to Democrat Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson’s razor-thin 3,984-vote Missouri margin, won against the grain of Eisenhower’s national landslide, was due largely to the clout of the City, where 332,255 people cast votes, 61% of them for Stevenson.

In 2004, John Kerry lost Missouri, even though he won over 80% of the votes the City, a record high, dwarfing Stevenson’s 61% in 1956 and even topping President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 77% in his aberrant 1964 landslide over Barry Goldwater. But even though the City produced the most votes it had produced since 1992, the total city vote was still less than 145,000, less than half that in the Fifties. Worse yet for Democrats, for the second straight presidential election, more votes were cast in heavily Republican St. Charles County than in the City.

Many pundits blame the City’s loss of votes and punch for Democrats’ recent woes at the polls. They’re wrong. All that has happened is that many St. Louis voters have moved within the St. Louis metropolitan area, usually taking their prior voting patterns with them. Many voters from the Fifties have died off, but most of them have been replaced by descendants who largely replicate their voting patterns. Overall, the St. Louis area continues to exert approximately the same influence over statewide electoral results as it has consistently since the 1960s.

During the first two thirds of the Twentieth Century, the St. Louis area experienced net growth in population and voters, as rural migration to the cities and suburbs continued through the 1960s. The area consisting of St. Louis City and County and the three surrounding “exurban” Missouri counties (St. Charles, Franklin and Jefferson) produced approximately 38% of Missouri’s votes from 1964 through 1992. A 1990s growth spurt in rural Missouri (especially the southwest Missouri Ozarks) reduced the St. Louis area proportion a couple of points to around 36% by 1996. The St. Louis area’s portion has leveled off at around 36% for the past three presidential elections. That’s still as high as it was in 1960, when Missouri was still a solidly Democratic state.

Within the St. Louis area, of course, the voting power has moved outward away from the City. At first, St. Louis County enjoyed growth at the City’s expense, surpassing the City in 1960. The county’s portion of the statewide vote peaked in 1976, and maintained that approximate level of dominance through the 1980s. The surrounding exurban counties began growing in earnest in the 1990s, and their growth, at the expense of both St. Louis city and county, continues through this day.

But even with the voters moving around, the area’s voting behavior has remained relatively constant. While fluctuation continues, with Democrats doing better in years when Democrats win and Republicans doing better in years when Republicans win (Duh!), the St. Louis area continues to track right along with the rest of the state on a pretty consistent basis. Many Republicans who lived and voted in the City in the Fifties (over 130,000 City voters voted for Eisenhower in 1956) cast their votes in the County in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. By the 1990s, many of them (or their like-voting descendants) cast their votes in St. Charles, Franklin or Jefferson Counties. Middle-class African Americans and other Democrats who formerly lived and voted in the City (or their like-voting descendants) now cast their votes in the County, especially north county and the “inner ring” suburbs. Intervening realigning changes (i.e., more African Americans voting more heavily Democratic than before 1964 and a pro-Republican shift among Roman Catholic and fundamentalist Christian voters) have largely canceled each other out.

While St. Charles County’s Republican margin continues to increase with its population growth, that county is actually recording Democratic gains in percentage of the vote as its population becomes more urbanized. Democratic presidential candidates have topped 40% of the St. Charles County vote in each of the past three elections, compared to only once (Jimmy Carter) in the prior seven presidential elections.

The net effect of all the movement and other changes is pretty much the same. In 2004, Kerry won 54.85% of the vote in the entire four-county-plus-city region. This is quite comparable to the 54.13% that Stevenson won in the same region in 1956.

The credit/blame for Missouri’s shift to apparent Republican dominance does not belong at St. Louis’ doorstep. That change (fueled by a possibly permanent realignment in 2000) took place in rural Missouri, where the historic and ironic Democratic dominance in counties that had been loyal to the Confederacy in the Civil War (a common trait in border states like Missouri) has apparently come to an end.


Blogger Eric said...

Going forward, however, the St. Louis region's clout will start to gradually decrease. The metro area growth has slowed to almost zero. The exurban growth is mainly due to rearrangement within metro, not new people moving from in from outside the region. Meanwhile, the KC region is experiencing steady growth and the Springfield and Columbia areas are experiencing rapid growth.

Anyway, here's an interesting link for you... An archive of a recent Up To Date episode on the KC NPR station on the future othe state Democratic Party, with Emanuel Cleaver and Claire McCaskill.

December 14, 2004 at 2:53 PM  
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