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.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

'Dukakis counties' illustrate Democrats' decline in rural Missouri

Donald Trump's upset win in the 2016  presidential race was based in rural counties in "flyover country," places that the "deplorables" call home. The national red-blue county map looked much the same as prior 21st Century presidential elections, but Trump's rural margin was dramatically higher.  Most of the under-educated blue-collar whites who powered Trump's win lived in rural and exurban areas, while similar voters in urban and suburban areas mostly stayed with Democrat Hillary Clinton. Secretary Clinton won big in St. Louis City and County and in Kansas City. But she lost every rural or exurban county except Boone, home to the large (and progressive) academic community at the University of Missouri.

What happened? Democrats formerly held their own quite well in rural Missouri. The state re-fought the Civil War at the ballot box every four years, with counties that had wanted to join the Confederacy (especially in the southeast Missouri bootheel and the Little Dixie region in northeast and central Missouri) voting Democrat and Union-loyal counties in southwest Missouri and the German counties along the eastern Missouri River voting Republican. This pattern mostly lasted through the end of the 20th Century.

Republican gains and setbacks in rural Missouri alternated throughout the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations. The foundation for a permanent shift was laid in 1968, when Richard Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace by winning the suburbs and some traditionally Democratic rural counties, with one bootheel county (Stoddard) defecting to Nixon and another (Pemiscot) going full rogue for Wallace. In Nixon's 1972 landslide reelection over anti-war Democrat George McGovern (who first picked then dumped Missouri Sen. Tom Eagleton as his running mate), Nixon won every rural country except Monroe. Those fortunes reversed abruptly but temporarily in 1976, when Watergate reaction and the candidacy of born-again Christian Democrat Jimmy Carter brought Democrat numbers in rural counties to their modern-day high. Carter's perceived betrayal of conservative Christians sent them fleeing to Ronald Reagan in 1980, giving them a new political home that has persisted to this day. That brings us to 1988, when George H.W. Bush won most rural counties, leaving the 33 rural Missouri counties who voted for the inept Michael Dukakis as the last hard-core "blue dog" Democrat holdouts that I examine in this post.

I chose 1988 as my base line because in the next two elections, populist billionaire independent (later Reform Party) candidate Ross Perot put a major dent in both parties' vote totals, murking the two-party trend lines. Democrat Bill Clinton won Missouri both times, including several rural Missouri counties, but mostly by mere pluralities, as Perot's votes came more from erstwhile Republicans than Democrats. During those eight years of presidential statistical noise, many fundamental pro-Republican changes occurred. Just two years in, Republicans won control of Congress for the first time in a generation. Later, Clinton sex scandals and the partisan divide over his impeachment would make rural Christian voters even more Republican. While Perot had effectively throttled the elder Bush's re-election and handed the White House to Bill Clinton, Perot also served as the bridge to Republican dominance thereafter. In 2000, when Perot declined to run again, most of his Republican supporters returned to the GOP fold, but many of his Democrat supporters either stopped voting or crossed over to the Republicans. That year, GOP presidential candidates began a rural-based winning streak in Missouri that persists to this day.

Returning to 1988 as my baseline, I compared the 33 rural counties Dukakis carried in 1988 with their numbers this year, and the comparison is jaw dropping. Dukakis won Mercer County on the Iowa border, but by 2016, Hillary Clinton won only 12.38% of that county's vote. And the 37-point drop there wasn't even the state's largest. About 400 miles south in the lead belt, Reynolds County dropped nearly 44 points, giving Dukakis 61.42% but only 17.81% to Secretary Clinton. In Monroe County in northeast Missouri's "Little Dixie," the sole rural Democratic holdout in 1972, Democratic presidential performance declined steadily from 1988 to 2016. Dukakis' solid 61.31% there dwindled nearly 41 points over the next 28 years to Hillary Clinton's 20.53%. Neighboring Ralls County dropped just as much.

The median 1988-to-2016 decline among the rural "Dukakis counties" was 29.4%. Here are the ten largest declines in Democrat fortunes among those counties:
County Dukakis 1988
Clinton 2016
Democrat decline
Reynolds 61.42%
Monroe 61.31%
Ralls 62.38%
Mercer 50.00%
Lewis 57.57%
Oregon 54.22%
Shelby 53.35%
Dunklin 54.53%
Clark 56.11%
DeKalb 51.26%

Republican rural counties got even more Republican over that period, but the change was less dramatic. In Wright and Douglas Counties in southwest Missouri, Secretary Clinton's declines from 1988 were only about 20 points. In Jasper (Joplin) and Gasconade (Hermann) Counties, her declines were even smaller.

A major counter trend in urban and suburban areas has kept Democrats competitive in Missouri. Hillary Clinton carried St. Louis County this year, 55% to 39%, a margin of over 81,000 votes. In 1988, Bush had carried St. Louis County by nearly 10 points, a margin of over 46,000 votes. Bush's big suburban win then wasn't unusual, as the Republican presidential nominee had won St. Louis County every prior election since Lyndon Johnson's 1964 drubbing of Barry Goldwater. But no Republican presidential nominee has carried St. Louis County since Bush's win in 1988.

The core cities of St. Louis and Kansas City have also moved even more Democratic, but their impact is blunted by their shrinking populations. While Secretary Clinton's 79% in the City of St. Louis was six points better than Dukakis, that only improved her victory margin over 1988 by 12,000 votes. With nearly 2.8 million votes being cast in 2016, her improved St. Louis performance improved her statewide share by less than half a percent.

The widening gap between rural voters and urban and suburban voters in Missouri has been in process since 1976, but it accelerated in 2012 and 2016. I will have a more thorough analysis, hopefully with a graph, in a later post. Stay tuned.


Blogger Dan Hogan said...

Those anti-intellectual ( degreed ), in the process of brainwashing ( student ) and economic slaves ( federal transfer payments beneficiaries ) that are still residing on the democrat plantation might benefit from a church based re-education program.

December 5, 2016 at 8:23 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home