The Rural/Urban Divide in Catalonia’s 2015 Election

According to most media sources, the Catalan independence movement scored a major victory in the September 28 regional election, taking 72 out of 135 seats in Catalonia’s parliament (Parlament de Catalunya). More careful reporting, however, noted that the results were actually mixed. In terms of the popular vote, candidates advocating independence gained the support of less than half of the electorate. Had the vote been an actual plebiscite on soverienty, skeptics argue, the motion would have been defeated. But Artur Mas, the leader of the independence movement, offered a different interpretation, claiming that “the Catalan people have spoken”—and have spoken for independence. As he put it, writing in The Guardian:

On 27 September Catalonia’s voters went to the polls and with a record 77.4% turnout gave a win in every single electoral district to the political forces whose campaign promise was, if elected, that they would follow a “roadmap” towards Catalan independence from Spain. Pro-independence lists obtained 48% of the votes and 72 seats out of 135, whereas unionist lists got 39% of the votes and 52 seats. These plebiscitary elections were the only way possible to give the Catalan people the vote on the political future they have long called for, after the Spanish government’s longstanding refusal to allow an independence referendum.

The fact that the pro-independence vote and the Spanish-unionist vote together fall well short of 100 percent indicates the presence of a third option, that of enhanced regional autonomy without actual sovereignty. But this third “regionalist” option, which rests on a mixed sense of Catalan and Spanish identity, was favored by relatively few voters. According to a recent Politico article, this “middle ground” lost support in part “because the campaign was not based on a rational debate on whether it makes economic sense to have full fiscal autonomy or leave the EU, the eurozone or NATO. Rather, it pandered to nationalistic feelings and prejudices…”


Catalonia 2015 Election MapAs mentioned in an Economist article, the pro-independence parties were able to gain control of the regional parliament without winning an outright majority due to “Catalonia’s unequal voting system, which favours less-populated rural areas.” The uneven electoral geography of the contest is clearly evident in a series of maps, posted on the website Saint Brendan’s Island, that show the percentage of the vote taken by the top six parties in each comarca (administrative division). I have amended these maps slightly by providing a crude characterization of the political philosophy of each of these groups (in red), along with their percentage of the vote across Catalonia. The leading contingent, an electoral coalition called “Together for Yes” (Junts pel Sí), is marked as “big tent” on the map because its constituent parties span a fairly wide range of political positions, falling both to the right and the left of center. The much less popular Popular Unity Candidacy party also favors Catalan independence but is situated too far to the left to have joined the “Together for Yes” coalition.


Catalonia Population Density Election MapThe second illustration, which juxtaposes a population density map with an expanded map of the “Together for Yes” vote, clearly shows the urban/rural electoral divide in Catalonia. The region’s most densely populated areas in general gave relatively little support to the independence movement, favoring instead the unionist and regionalist parties. One factor here is the presence of many migrants from other parts of Spain, who not surprisingly tend to support the unionist cause. In Barcelona, Spanish (or Castilian, as most Catalan nationalists insist) is the main language, and although three-quarters of the city’s inhabitants can speak Catalan, fewer than half are able to write in the language. Similar situations are found in the other major urban areas of Catalonia. As noted in the Wikipedia article on the historic city of Lleida: “After some decades without any kind of population growth, it met a massive migration of Andalusians who helped the town undergo a relative demographic growth.”


Poland’s Stark Electoral Divide

Poland 2015 Election MapSome observers were surprised by the triumph of conservative candidate Andrzej Duda over incumbent Bronisław Komorowski in Poland’s May 2015 presidential election. Duda’s margin of victory, however, was thin: 51.5 percent of the vote against Komorowski’s 48.5 percent. As is typical of Polish elections, the results were geographically patterned in a stark manner. Duda, like most conservative candidates, won almost every country in southeastern Poland, many by a substantial margin, whereas the centrist candidate Komorowski triumphed almost everywhere in the west and north. The few areas that Duda lost in the “greater southeast” are almost all major cites, such as Łódź, Warsaw, and Kraków, as would be expected, given the general left-voting tendency of urban dwellers (I have added the names of several cities to the Wikipedia electoral map to make this pattern clear.) The northwest/southeast divide, however, is still reflected in the urban sector, as the Duda did much better in such southeastern cities as Kraków and Lublin than in such northwestern cities as Poznań and Gdańsk.

This geographical division in Polish elections should not, however, be exaggerated. Few areas, for example, saw an overwhelming victory of one candidate or the other, unlike the situation found in most elections in neighboring Ukraine. Over large areas of Poland, Duda and Komorowski split the vote relatively evenly, just as they did in the country as a whole. I begin to have doubts about the national integrity of any country when one political faction routinely gains over 80 or 90 percent of the vote over large areas, but that is not the case in Poland.

Poland GDP Per Capita MapPoland’s northwest/southeast electoral divide does not fit very well with the country’s socio-economic and demographic divisions. To be sure, western Poland is more prosperous than eastern Poland, a pattern that is masked on the per capita GDP map by the relatively wealth of greater Warsaw, which makes the voivodeship (province) of Mazovia appear richer than it would otherwise register. But note that Warmia-Masuria in the far north supported Poland Population Density MapKomorowski despite being a relatively poor region, just as Małopolska in the far south supported Duda despite being a relatively well-off region. Population density plays even less of a role. As the map posted here indicates, low-density regions are found in Poland’s center-voting western and northern peripheries as well as its right-voting eastern periphery.

Poland Voting Pre-War Germany Map1Instead, as has often been noted, Poland’s electoral divide is rooted in historical and cultural factors. The regions that generally vote for centrist or left-center candidates had all been part of Germany (and more specifically, Prussia) before World War I, whereas those that vote for center-right candidates had all been part of either the Russian or the Austro-Hungarian empire in the same period. (I have posted two maps obtained from other websites (here and here) that illustrate this pattern from earlier Polish elections.) It is intriguing that this divide persisted after the massive population dislocations that occurred at the end of World War II, when millions of ethnic Germans were expelled from what is now western and northern Poland and replaced by Poland Voting Pre-War Germany Map 2million of Poles transferred from the east. Perhaps political attitudes that had been established among the ethnic Poles who had lived under German rule spread among those who moved into the region after the war. Such a conclusion, however, is little better than a guess; the issue surely calls for more investigation — or clarifying comments from informed readers!


Belarussian Language in Poland MapOne largely rural area of eastern Poland, Hajnówka County, stands out for having strongly supported Komorowski. Hajnówka town is noted as the gateway to Biełaviežskaja Pušča, widely regarded as Europe’s largest “primeval forest.” Its distinctive voting pattern, however, is probably related to its large Belarussian population, which may be put off by the Polish nationalism and Euro-skepticism of Duda’s party. Whatever the cause, this region has voted in the same manner as Poland’s west and north since the transition to democratic rule at the end of the Cold War.

German Minority in Upper Silesia MapIn the south center-west, Opole Voivodeship stands out for its especially strong support for the defeated incumbent Komorowski. This region is also ethnically distinctive, as it is one of the few places in western and northern Poland to have retained a sizable ethnic German population. The reason behind the survival of a German-speaking community here is interesting. As noted in the Wikipedia:

Alongside German and Polish, many citizens of Opole-Oppeln before 1945 used a strongly German-influenced Silesian dialect (sometimes called wasserpolnisch or wasserpolak). Because of this, the post-war Polish state administration after the annexation of Silesia in 1945 did not initiate a general expulsion of all former inhabitants of Opole, as was done in Lower Silesia, for instance, where the population almost exclusively spoke the German language. Because they were considered “autochthonous” (Polish), the Wasserpolak-speakers instead received the right to remain in their homeland after declaring themselves as Poles. Some German speakers took advantage of this decision, allowing them to remain in their Oppeln, even when they considered themselves to be of German nationality.

Poland Kukiz Vote 2015 MapAnother possible factor in Opole’s distinctive voting pattern was the strong showing on the “protest” candidate Paweł Kukiz in the election’s first round. Nationwide, Kukiz received over 20 percent of the vote, and in some parts of Opole he won a plurality of the votes. Not surprisingly, Kukiz is a native son of Opole, having been born in the town of Paczków, deemed the “Polish Carcassonne” for its well-preserved medieval buildings. Kukiz is best known not as a politician but rather as a musician and actor. According to the Wikipedia, he performs in the genres of rock, pop, pop rock, and punk rock. (I would be tempted to classify the few songs that I listened to as “folk punk rock,” but I have little knowledge of such matters.)

I initially assumed that Kukiz voters would have gravitated to the centrist Komorowski rather than the right-leaning Duda in the second election round, but that is not necessarily the case. As it turns out, the political stance of Kukiz is difficult to classify, and many of his supporters probably sat out the second vote. As Aleks Szczerbiak writes in a fascinating post in The Polish Politics Blog:

Mr Kukiz stood as an independent ‘anti-system’ candidate. His background is as a rebellious rock singer who performed in a band called ‘The Breasts’, best known for their 1992 anti-clerical song ‘The ZChN (Christian-National Union) is coming’. The now-defunct Christian-National Union was a clerical-nationalist party which, as a member of Polish governments in the 1990s, promoted the Catholic Church’s social and political agenda. However, Mr Kukiz also professes a strong commitment to the Catholic faith, arguing that his best known composition was motivated by a desire to protect the Church from abuse by exploitative clerics.

Indeed, in recent years he has been better-known as an advocate of social conservative and patriotic causes. In 2010 Mr Kukiz opposed a ‘EuroPride’ homosexual march in Warsaw and was dismissive of the election in 2011 of Anna Grodzka, Poland’s first transsexual parliamentary deputy, as the product of identity politics rather than ability. His musical recordings have also increasingly emphasised national-patriotic themes and he was at one time involved in supporting the annual ‘Independence March’ held on November 11th, the day that Poles celebrate national independence, which has come to be associated with nationalist groupings. However, describing himself ‘a right-winger with a left-wing heart’, Mr Kukiz also has a very eclectic approach towards socio-economic policy: supporting low taxes while positing an active role for the state in tackling poverty, and enjoying close links with a number of prominent trade union activists and leaders.


The Rightwing Nationalist Vote in the Turkish 2015 Election

Turkey 2015 election MHP Vote MapAs noted in previous posts, the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) of Turkey did relatively well in the 2015 election, ending up in third place with 16 percent of the vote. It gained 80 parliamentary seats (the same number as the leftwing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), an increase of 28 seats from the previous election. Describing the political stance of the MHP is not easy. Previously a far right party, it has moved somewhat to the center in recent years. Some observers, however, are skeptical of this change. As noted in the Wikipedia:

The MHP used to be described as a neo-fascist party linked to extremist and violent militias. Since the 1990s it has, under the leadership of Devlet Bahçeli, gradually moderated its programme, turning from ethnic to cultural nationalism and conservatism and stressing the unitary nature of the Turkish state. Notably, it has moved from strict, Kemalist-style secularism to a more pro-Islamic stance, and has – at least in public statements – accepted the rules of parliamentary democracy. Some scholars doubt the sincerity and credibility of this turn and suspect the party of still pursuing a fascist agenda behind a more moderate and pro-democratic façade. Nevertheless, MHP’s mainstream overture has strongly increased its appeal to voters and it has grown to the country’s third-strongest party, continuously represented in the National Assembly since 2007 with voter shares well above the 10% threshold.

Despite taking only 16 percent of the vote, the MHP gained a relatively strong position owing to the divided nature of the election and hence of the Turkish parliament. Steven A. Cook recently described Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the MHP, as the “the strongest man in Turkish politics today,” based on the idea that Erdogan’s AKP would have to reach out to him to form a coalition government. That will not be easy, however. According to a recent article in Today’s Zaman:

The preconditions set by Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), to form a coalition with the AK Party included the reopening of the corruption claims against four former ministers and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan, moving the presidential palace back to its original place in Çankaya and dropping the “settlement process,” also known as the “Kurdish opening.”

As a highly nationalistic party, the MHP is deeply opposed to any accommodation with Turkey’s Kurds. Erdogan’s government has made some openings here, upsetting the MHP, yet it is increasingly hostile to Kurdish interests in northern Syria, and has even threatened to invade if the Syrian Kurds try to form their own state.

The geographical contours of the MHP vote are not particularly clear-cut, as can be seen in the map posted here. The party did quite well in many provinces in central and northeastern Anatolia, and it took more than 10 percent of the vote across most of the country. It received fewer votes in the metropolitan areas of Istanbul and Izmir, but only in the Kurdish southeast was its support negligible. Its particularly strong showing in south-central Osmaniye is easily explained, as this is the home of the party’s leader, Devlet Bahçeli.

In general, provinces that supported the left-wing, pro-Kurdish HDP gave extremely few votes to the right-wing, Turkish nationalist MHP, and vice versa. There is, however, one major exceptions to this rule, Iğdır Province located in the far east. Iğdır gave 27 percent of its vote to the MHP and 56 to the HDP. Considering the fact that Iğdır is split relatively evenly between Azeris and Kurds, with few ethnic Turks, I find these returns quite surprising. Evidently, large numbers of the provinces Shia Azeris voted for the hard-core Turkish-nationalist MHP.

Turkey 2015 election Conservative voteOverall, the Turkish electorate remains quite conservative, as can be seen in the final map in this series, one that shows the combined vote of the country’s two rightwing parties, the moderately Islamist AKP and the strongly nationalistic MHP. Over most of central Turkey, the conservative parties retain overwhelming levels of support.



Turkey’s Leftwing Peoples’ Democratic Party and the Kurdish Question

Turkey 2015 Election HDP mapThe new, leftwing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) did relatively well in the 2015 Turkish election, taking 13 percent of the vote nationwide and sending 80 representatives to the Turkish Parliament. As noted in the previous post, the HDP’s main area of support is the Kurdish-speaking southeast, where it was the clear majority party. Its overwhelming victory in such provinces as Hakkâri and Şırnak, where is gained over 80 percent of the vote, is probably linked more to its embrace of Kurdish aspirations than to its insistently leftist orientation. As explained in the Wikipedia article on the party:

As a democratic socialist and anti-capitalist party, the HDP aspires to fundamentally challenge the existing Turkish-Kurdish divide and other existing parameters in Turkish politics. The party’s programme places a strong emphasis on environmentalism, minority rights and egalitarianism. When fielding candidates, the party employs a 10% quota for the LGBT community and a 50% quota for women. Despite the HDP’s claims that it represents the whole of Turkey, critics have accused the party of mainly representing the interests of the Kurdish minority in south-eastern Turkey, where the party polls the highest.

As the first map posted here shows, the HDP did extremely poorly over most of Turkey, gaining less than five percent of the vote in most provinces in central and northern Anatolia, areas generally noted for their conservative and nationalistic attitudes. But it did little better in the northwest (outside of greater Istanbul and Bursa), which is in general a secular-leaning region where the center-left Republican People’s Party drew a plurality of the vote. In Edirne, in the extreme northwest, the HDP took barely more than three percent of the vote. The HDP did better in the large cities of western Turkey, gaining between 10 and 15 percent of the vote in Istanbul Province and in Izmir. It is unclear how much of the support for the HDP in Istanbul came from leftwing ethnic Turks and how much came from ethnic Kurds, who number up to three million in a city of some 14 million (giving Istanbul a larger number of Kurds than any other city).

Turkey Language Map 1In eastern Turkey, electoral support for the HDP is correlated with Kurdish-majority areas. But how close this correlation actually is difficult to assesses, due largely to the fact that province-level ethnic data in Turkey is difficult to obtain. Even basic language maps of the country vary widely in their depiction of the Kurdish-speaking zone, due in part to the prevalence of linguistic mixing in many areas. Some maps, for example, show large pockets of Kurdish across much of central and south-central Turkey (see, for example, the Muturzikin map posted here). Such partially Kurdish regions, however, Kurds and Turkish Election Map 1are not apparent on the electoral map. To illustrate this fact, I have overlaid the main Kurdish areas from the Muturzikin map on the 2015 electoral map. As can be seen, a number of provinces, such as Yozgat, that supposedly have a substantial Kurdish population gave very few votes to the HDP. To the extent that the Muturzikin mapping is accurate, we would have to conclude that support for Kurdish-oriented politics is to some extent limited to Kurds who live in the core zone of the ethnic group in southeastern Turkey.


Turkey Language Map 2Other language maps, however, show a much more limited extent of the Kurdish population in central Turkey, as can be seen in the figure posted to the left. Again, I have overlaid the main Kurdish zones from this map on the electoral map. The fit here is much closer, although it might seem odd that the HDP gained only 38 percent of the vote in Şanlıurfa Province, which is depicted as mostly Kurdish. In actuality, however, the province has a mixed population of ethnic Kurds, Turks, and Arabs, and is estimated to be only around 47 percent Kurdish. Kars Province in the northeast, on the other hand, Kurds and Turksih election 2is estimated to be only around 20 percent Kurdish, yet it gave just under half of its votes to the HDP. This province, however, also has a large Azerbaijani population, many members of which might be attracted by the HDP’s more general support for minority rights.


Zazaki and Turkish Election 1Tunceli Province in east-central Turkey fits the same patters as Kars, although in a more extreme manner; more than 60 percent of its voters supported the HDP even though the province lies outside of the Kurdish-speaking zone. But just because the people of Tunceli do not speak Kurdish does not mean that they are not ethnic Kurds. Actually, there is no single “Kurdish language,” as the two main dialects, Kurmanji and Sorani, are easily as different from each other as are French and Spanish. Most of the people of Tunceli speak Zazaki (or Zaza), which is more closely related to the languages of Caspian Iran (Gilaki and Mazandarani) than it is to “Kurdish.” But such linguistic Zazaki and Turkish Election 2separation does not prevent the Zaza people from identifying as Kurds; according to the Wikipedia, most of them do. As a result, it should not be surprising that a clear majority of the people of Tunceli voted for the HDP. Yet in neighboring Elazığ Province, which is either predominately Zazaki-speaking or mixed Zazaki-Kurdish, the HDP received barely more than 15 percent of the vote. Elazığ, it turns, has long been noted for its conservatism and Turkish nationalism, despite its apparent ethnic background. As noted in the Wikipedia:

Elazığ is known for being conservative and patriotic. Not a single leftist party has managed to get a candidate elected in the past 34 years. Moreover, the BDP, an ethnic nationalist Kurdish party, has never managed to get an official elected to the Turkish Grand National Assembly in contrary to its neighbouring provinces Tunceli and Diyarbakır. Elazığ is also the most developed city (and province) in the region according to a report that was carried out by the Ministry of Development, making it the most developed region of Eastern Anatolia Region

Turkey Alevi Population MapTo understand the political disparities between neighboring Tunceli and Elazığ provinces, we must also look to religion. Importantly, Tunceli is the center of Alevism, a highly heterodox and generally quite liberal offshoot of Shia Islam. Alevis, who number up to 15 million, are scattered across much of Turkey, but only in Tunceli do they constitute the majority. But oddly, in Sivas Province in central Anatolia, which also has a large Alevi population, the HDP received a minuscule 1.8 percent of the vote. Obviously, neither religion nor ethnicity determines voting patterns, as many locally specific matters must be taken into account as well. In Tunceli Province, additional factors include its high levels of tertiary education coupled with the fact that an earlier Turkish administration shut down its university. As reported in the Wikipedia article on the province: “In 1979/1980 Tunceli had the highest number of students attending universities as well as the top entry points until the only higher education school [was] shut down and was converted to a military base. Tunceli University [,however,] was established on May 22, 2008.”

Another unusual feature of Tunceli is its concentration of Crypto-Armenians. As again noted in the Wikipedia:

Through the 20th century, an unknown number of Armenians living in the mountainous region of Tunceli had converted to Alevism. During the Armenian Genocide, many of the Armenians in the region were saved by their Kurdish neighbors. According to Mihran Prgiç Gültekin, the head of the Union of Dersim Armenians, around 75% of the population of Dersim are “converted Armenians.” … In April 2013, Aram Ateşyan, the acting Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, stated that 90% of Tunceli’s population is of Armenian origin.

Obviously, many questions here remained unanswered. As always, I welcome feedback from informed readers.


The 2015 Turkish Election: The Unclear Economic Dimension

Turkey 2015 Vote Parties MapThe 2015 Turkish General Election struck many observers as highly significant, due mainly to the drop in support for the previously dominant Justice and Development Party (AKP), closely associated with president and former prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Although the AKP remains the largest party in the Turkish parliament, it gained only 41 percent of the total vote, thwarting Erdoğan’s plans for strengthening the presidency. To some extent, the election can be seen as a referendum on Erdoğan himself. Highly popular a decade ago, when Turkey’s economy was growing strongly and the country enjoyed peaceful relations with most of its neighbors, Erdoğan has seen his support drop as the economy has faltered, as regional tensions have intensified, and as Turkish democratic institutions have been partially undermined.

As the first map, from the invaluable website Electoral Geography 2.0, shows, the moderately Islamist, “center-right to right-wing” (according to the Wikipedia) AKP triumphed across most of Anatolia, while the “center-left,” moderately nationalistic, “Kemalist” Republican People’s Party (CHP) came in first in most of European Turkey and along most of the greater Aegean coastal region. The new, left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), closely associated with Kurdish nationalism, did relatively well, taking a majority of the votes in the Kurdish-speaking southeast. It received fewer votes overall, however, than the extremely nationalistic Nationalist Movement Party (MHP): 13 percent for the HDP vs. 16 percent for the MHP. But the MHP triumphed only in a few districts concentrated in the south-central part of the country, as its electoral support is much more spatially dispersed than that of the HDP.

Turkey Income by Province MapEthnic and religious factors obviously played a large role in this election, as will be examined more closely in subsequent posts. For now, however, I will concentrate on economic factors. Can we find any geographical correlations between voting patterns and economic conditions? To address this question, we must first find a map that shows some measure of the economic ranking of the provinces of Turkey. Doing so, however, is not easy. A commonly reproduced Wikipedia map that purports to show “per capita income by province in 2011” is not adequate. This map is incomplete, lacking a key, but more problematic is the patterns that it depicts, which seem to be inaccurate. It places Mardin Province in the southeast, for example, in the highest economic category, yet the Wikipedia itself describes this province as suffering from serious poverty, unemployment, and out-migration.

Turkey Socio-Economic Development MapThe best map of economic differentiation in Turkey that I have located come from an article entitled “Regional Disparities and Territorial Indicators in Turkey: Socio-Economic Development Index (SEDI)” by Metin ÖZASLAN, Bülent DINCER, and Hüseyin ÖZGÜR. This map shows generalized levels of socio-economic development; note that I have remapped the original data with a different color scheme in order to emphasis disparities. The main pattern here is quite clear: western Turkey is much more prosperous than eastern and especially southeastern Turkey. Coastal areas also tend to be more developed that interior regions, although here the differences are not pronounced. More striking is the fact that the provinces containing Turkey’s largest cities, Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and Bursa, are all in the top category of socio-economic development.

Turkey 2015 AKP Vote MapIn comparing the map of the electoral showing of the AKP (Erdoğan’s party) with that of socio-economic development, only one pattern stands out: the impoverished southeast voted heavily for the left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). In some respects there is noting unusual here, as poor areas often vote for economically leftist parties. But the Turkish HDP is also noted for its culturally left positions, positions that might not be expected to gain widespread support in a mostly rural, peripheral portion of a developing country. Here, I think, one must look to the political aspirations of the Tuerkey Development Vote MapKurdish people, as will be explored in a subsequent post. Otherwise, the 2015 Turkish voting patterns do not correlate strongly with those of socio-economic conditions. Some very poor provinces voted strongly for the AKP, such as Bayburt, while some wealthy provinces, such as Kocaeli, gave a plurality of their votes to the AKP. Intriguingly, the party’s highest level of support came from provinces in the middle of the socio-economic spectrum: Konya and Rize.

One problem with generalized socio-economic rankings is the fact that they do not capture recent changes and general developmental tendencies. Turkey, for example, has over the past 15 years seen the rise of several so-called Anatolian Tiger cities, which have surged ahead in economic production and productivity. These cities have been widely associated with Islamic values, which differentiate them from the older and Anatolian Tigers Maphistorically more secular Turkish industrial cities, such as Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir. According to the Wikipedia article on the “Anatolian Tigers”:

Beyond their shared characteristics in an economical perspective, references have also been made, especially in international media, to different political connotations within the term, including by associating this capital with Islamic values or extending its whole under such definitions as “Islamic capital” or “green capital”. … A 2005 study by the European Stability Initiative that was focused on Kayseri uses the term “Islamic Calvinists” to define the entrepreneurs and their values.

Turkey AKP Vote Decline MapI have crudely mapped the most important of these “Anatolian Tigers” by highlighting the provinces in which they are located. Note that these provinces vary fairly widely in terms of their levels of socio-economic development. They also vary quite a bit in regard to their level of support for the AKP, although in general they did gave a higher percentage of their votes to Erdoğan’s party than did the “average” Turkish province. What I find most intriguing, however, is the fact that two of these “Tiger” provinces, Gaziantep and Kayseri, showed a major drop in support for the AKP between 2011 and 2015. Perhaps Turkey’s recent economic problems have played a role here. The AKP’s most precipitous drop in support, however, was found in the southeast, a phenomenon most closely linked to the emergence of the Kurdish-oriented Peoples’ Democratic Party.


Echoes of Biafra: Geographical Patterns in Nigeria’s 2015 Election

(Note to Readers: GeoCurrents is now on its summer schedule, which should entail 3 posts per week.)

Nigeria 2015 election mapNigeria’s 2015 election has been widely regarded as marking a milestone in the country’s democratic transition. For the first time, an incumbent president lost a bid for reelection. Goodluck Jonathan, the outgoing leader, conceded defeat readily, graciously passing power to his challenger Muhammadu Buhari, who he had trounced in the 2011 election. Buhari had been a repressive military ruler of Nigeria in the early 1980s, but he now regards himself as a “converted democrat.” Many observers credit Buhari’s victory to the belief among many Nigerians that a northern Muslim with a military background can deal more effectively with the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency than a southern Christian with a civilian background, such as the militarily ineffectual Jonathan. Many also think that Buhari’s somewhat abstemious personal habits will give him an edge in tackling the country’s massive corruption problems.

Nigeria 2011 election mapAs the first two maps posted here show, Nigeria’s 2015 election saw a significant reduction in county’s north/south regional/religious electoral divide. In 2011, every northern, Muslim-dominated state voted for Buhari, many by an overwhelming majority, whereas almost every southern, Christian-dominated state voted for Jonathan, many by an overwhelming majority. In the 2015 election, however, a number of southern states favored Buhari, including the country’s economic core of Lagos. Such a “mixed” electoral map is a hopeful sign for Nigerian national unity. Nigeria’s regional political division has been so pronounced that a special election rule was created to ensure some measure of trans-regional support: a successful presidential candidate must gain at least 25 percent of the vote in at least two-thirds of the country’s 36 states.

Nigeria 2015 election Jonathan Vote MapBut the 2015 electoral map also shows the persistence of regional division. Although Buhari did quite well in many southern states, he failed miserably in the southeast. Over most of this densely populated and economically significant area, Buhari received less then 10 percent of the vote, as the electorate remained overwhelmingly committed to Jonathan. Intriguingly, the area that voted heavily for Jonathan in 2015 almost exactly matches the Nigeria 2015 Election Biafra Mapregion that rebelled against Nigeria and declared itself to be the independent country of Biafra in the late 1960s, as can be seen in the next map. This area, demographically dominated by the heavily Christian Igbo people, thus remains politically distinctive from the rest of the country. Among some groups in the southeast, the desire for independence remains strong.

In the coastal belt of the southeast, another factor may have contributed to Buhari’s poor showing. Prior to the election, it was rumored that Buhari was planning to suspend job-training programs and payments to former militants that had greatly reduced political violence in this strife-plagued region. As Voice of America reported on June 2, 2015:

Former militants in Nigeria’s Niger Delta say unrest may resume if the country’s new president ends the amnesty program and monthly payments that brought peace to the oil-producing region.

Each month, former militants who used to spend their time bombing pipelines and kidnapping foreign oil workers in the Niger Delta get the equivalent of about $330 to convince them to occupy their time in other ways. They also get access to training programs intended to help them find other work.

This arrangement started in 2009, but it was never supposed to last forever. New Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said so in his inauguration speech last week, announcing the program would end in December.

Two days later, however, a senior Nigerian official announced that the new Nigerian government “is committed to continuing with a militant amnesty program in the Niger Delta in a bid to improve the security situation in the oil-producing region…” The country can ill-afford renewed fighting in this region, despite the expense of the program.

Nigeria 2015 Election Yoruba MapThe real change in Nigeria’s electoral geography from the 2011 to the 2015 election is found in the southwest, another densely populated, economically significant region. In 2011, this area had supported Jonathan, but in 2015 it gave the majority of its votes to Buhari. But in neither election was the margin of victory pronounced. As a result, the southwest has apparently come to function as the vital “swing region” in Nigerian elections.

Most of the southwest is demographically dominated by members of the Yoruba ethnic group. Although Yorubaland is mostly Christian, it also contains quite a few Yoruba-speaking Muslims, as well as many practitioners of the indigenous Yoruba religion, a faith that has seen something of a revival in recent decades. (Unfortunately, data on the actual religious make-up of the region is not easy to find.) Although the Yoruba are mixed when it comes to religion, they do tend to have a strong sense of regional and ethnic identity – as well as a degree of suspicion of both the Igbo-dominated southeast and the Hausa-Fulani-Kanuri dominated north.

Nigeria Econony Igbo People MapAnother “swing” area in recent Nigerian elections is the Edo-speaking state of Edo in the south-center. Here Jonathan triumphed in the 2015 election, but did so narrowly. Edo is one of the most economically productive states of Nigeria. It is also the heir of the once-powerful kingdom of Benin, noted for its magnificent artistic output of bronze-work during the medieval and early modern periods. The Kingdom of Benin is not to be confused with the modern country of Benin located to the west of Nigeria, which was formerly called Dahomey. Dahomey changed its name to “Benin” not in reference to the kingdom of that name, but rather to the adjacent portion of the sea known as the “Bight of Benin.”

Wednesday’s post will examine Nigeria’s regional divisions more carefully, looking specifically at those who would like to divide the country into several new sovereign states.


Attempts to Map Latin America’s Political Spectrum

Latin America Pink Tide MapsThis’s week’s lecture for my class on the history and geography of current global events focused on the crisis in Venezuela, the slides from which are available at the link posted below. I framed this situation in terms of Latin America’s “democratic revolution” of the late 20th century followed by its electoral turn to the left (the so-called pink tide) in the early 21st century. In order to illustrate the latter phenomenon, I searched for maps showing the geographical extent of the “turn to the left” and quickly found a few. Most of these maps depict countries with “left” governments in red and “right” governments in blue; they do so for specific years, as with each national election the distribution of governing parties can easily change. Some of these maps also show the degree of leftward (or rightward) orientation of particular governments by using different shades of color, employing pink, for example, for center-left governments and darker hues of red for farther-left regimes.

Daily Kos Pink Tide MapSuch maps evidently prove confusing for some readers in the United States, who are accustomed to seeing electoral support for the center-left Democratic Party mapped in blue and that for the center-right Republican Party mapped in red. This usage, however, only goes back to 2000, and is generally limited to the U.S. The long-established international convention is to associate the political left with the color red. To translate the mapping of Latin America’s “pink tide” into the idiom of the United States, the website Daily Kos provided two maps in which the color scheme was reversed, proclaiming that the “Pink Tide = Blue Latin America.” The resulting maps are crude and not particularly accurate, but I have posted them here nonetheless.

My main problem with these maps, however, is not their crudity or inaccuracy, but rather that they seem to imply that a country with a far-left government, such as Venezuela, should be conceptualized like a “deep-blu”e U.S. state that generally votes for candidates from the Democratic Party, such as Massachusetts. As a result, I devoted part of my lecture to outlining criticisms of the standard one-dimensional political spectrum based on the left-right distinction. In the slides linked to below, one can find images of the competing “horseshoe” and “matrix” models, the former maintaining that the “ends” of the political spectrum converge, and the latter insisting on a two-dimensional political arena that differentiates social from economic beliefs. Another slides indicates that the manner in which such matters are conceptualized varies significantly from country to country and from region to region.

My own preference is actually that of a complex, multi-dimensional political space that acknowledges the fact that an individual can hold logically consistent beliefs on a great number of particular issues that that fail to mesh with either a one-dimensional spectrum or a two-dimensional matrix. Such a multi-dimensional scheme, however, would be too complicated for general use and too difficult to represent graphically. As a result, we must fall back on simplistic schemes, such as the left-right continuum, while recognizing their limitations.

Latin America Political Spectrum MapWith such considerations in mind, I tried to map the current governments of Latin America along the left-right spectrum. Doing so, however, is anything but easy, as it requires the making of subjective judgments about the political complexions of particular governments. How far to the right, for example, is the government of Paraguay as compared to that of Panama? Both the Panameñista Party that currently governs Panama and the Colorado Party that current governs Paraguay are members of the Union of Latin American Parties, which proclaims its political position to be center-right. Historically, however, the Colorado Party seems to be more conservative in many ways that the Panameñista Party, and hence I have mapped it accordingly. But I am not at all certain about this choice, and I am far from pleased with the map. Please feel free to criticize as you see fit.

Next week’s lecture will examine the current situation in Ukraine and Russia.

Venezuela Slides

The Uncertain Role of Religion in Indonesia’s 2014 Presidential Election

Indonesia 2014 Election Wikipedia mapThe on-line maps that I have found of Indonesia’s 2014 presidential election are not very helpful. That of the Wikipedia is particularly poor. To begin with, it merely shows which candidate received a majority of votes in each province, with no information provided on the margin of victory. But the returns actually varied quite significantly across the country, with the winning candidate Joko Widodo receiving more than 73 percent of the votes cast in Papua and fewer than 24 percent of those cast in West Sumatra. The color scheme used in the Wikipedia map is also poorly conceived. Crimson?Provincial victories for both candidates are marked in shades of red, although, as the caption notes, a more standard red is used for Joko Widodo, whereas “crimson” is used for Prabowo Subianto. But according to the Wikipedia’s own article on “crimson,” the shade used on the map is actually something different. To be sure, the Wikipedia does differentiate a number of shades of crimson, many of which are associated with college sports teams, but none approximates the color used on the map.

Indonesia 2014 Presidential Election MapDue to such quibbles, I have made my own map of Indonesia’s 2014 presidential election, posted here. The map shows relatively weak regional patterning overall, with both candidates taking provinces in most parts of the country. But it also shows reasonable strong voting differentiation by province, as noted above. I have tried, although perhaps not hard enough*, to find explanations for such electoral behavior, albeit without much luck. The patterns on the election map certainly do not Indonesia 2014 Election GDP Mapscorrelate well with those found on the map of GDP per capita, as can be seen in the paired maps (compare, for example, the showings of East Kalimantan and East Nusa Tenggara on the two maps.)

Indonesia 2014 election religion mapsA better, although far from perfect, correlation is found in regard to religion. As can be seen in the second set of juxtaposed maps, Muslim-minority provinces all supported Joko Widodo (Jokowi), several of them quite strongly. But then again, a number of strongly Muslim provinces also cast a high proportion of their votes for Jokowi. It is also noteworthy that Aceh in far northern Sumatra, which is the most resolutely Islamic part of Indonesia, supported the losing candidate Prabowo Subianto by a relatively thin margin.

Unfortunately, the map of religion does not indicate either degrees of religiosity or the prevalence of orthodox interpretations, both of which may also play a role. This issue is particularly significant in regard to Java, the demographic core of the country (of Indonesia’s 252 million inhabitants, 143 million live on Java). Central and Western Java have long been noted for their heterodox interpretations of the faith; until recently, a majority of people here have adhered to a form of worship sometimes called Kebatinan, which is defined by the Wikipedia as a “Javanese religious tradition, consisting of an amalgam of animistic, Buddhist, and Islamic, especially Sufi, beliefs and practices … [that is] rooted in the Javanese history and religiosity, syncretizing aspects of different Java Language Mapreligions.” Although mainstream Islam is spreading in eastern and central Java—the Javanese-speaking portions of the island—this area still remains much less conventionally devout than the Sundanese-speaking area of western Java. In the 2014 election, perhaps not coincidentally, western Java supported Prabowo, whereas the east and especially the center opted instead for Jokowi.

The best report what I have found on the role of religion in the 2014 Indonesian presidential election is found in an Al Jazeera article entitled “Religion the Dark Horse in Indonesia Election.” Published before the election was held, it argued that:

[P]rior to Jokowi’s emergence as a political figure in 2012, when he was elected governor of Jakarta, members of religious minorities tended to support a Prabowo presidency – viewing him as a forceful figure able to crack down on impunity, and noting that his brother and mother are both Christian. Now, he says, Jokowi is the favourite among religious minorities.

“In general, Prabowo has been pandering to Islamist sentiment and Jokowi has been more pluralist in his outlook,” said Gregory Fealy, an Indonesia expert at Australian National University. Accordingly, three of the four Islamist parties that won seats in parliament have joined Prabowo’s coalition; the fourth, the moderate PKB, supports Jokowi.

Prabowo has also been endorsed by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a hardline group whose members have been involved in attacks against religious minorities, bars and nightclubs.

Minangkabau MapThis explanation, however, leaves me with two perplexities. First, why would hyper-devout Aceh have given Prabowo such lukewarm support? Could it be that many Acehnese people are chafing under the region’s harsh imposition of Sharia law? More surprising still is the extremely high level of support for Prabowo in West Sumatra. West Sumatra is certainly a Muslim-dominated province, but, like central and eastern Java, it has long been characterized by a rather lax form of their faith, one that historically prioritized customary law (adat) over Sharia. Indeed, the dominant ethno-linguistic group in the province, the Minangkabau, are noted for their matrilineal system of reckoning decent and familial property, a system so engrained that the Minangkabau have been characterized (incorrectly, in my view**) as forming a “modern matriarchy.” As a result, the extremely strong showing of Prabowo in the province seems odd. If any readers have any insights into this issue, I would love to hear them.

*It is currently exam- and paper-grading season, which is taking up most of my time.

** The Wikipedia describes Minangkabau culture as “matrilineal and patriarchal, with property and land passing down from mother to daughter, while religious and political affairs are the responsibility of men.” I do not, however, think that either “matriarchy” or “patriarchy” are appropriate terms in this context.

Indonesia’s 2014 Presidential Election and the Geography of Heavy Metal Music

Jokowi Napalm DeathWhen lecturing in my course on the History and Geography of Current Global Events, I always begin by showing an enigmatic map or other image and asking if anyone can make sense of it. This week the topic was Indonesia, focusing on the country’s 2014 presidential election (which is admittedly rather old news). I began the class with the image posted to the left, as I wanted to see if anyone could draw a connection between the heavy-metal band Napalm Death and His Excellency Joko Jokowi Napalm Death 2Widodo, the seventh president of Indonesia. No one supplied the answer, which is provided in the next image: Jokowi (as he in called in Indonesia) is a huge fan. He also follows other Metalhead Presidentmetal bands, and he has helped promote metal concerts in his native city, Surakarta (also known as Solo).

Heavy metal music comes in a variety of sub-genres, as I learned in preparing the lecture. That of Napalm Death (“grindcore”) is particularly harsh, at least to my untutored ear, and I must admit to feeling rather astonished that its appeal would extend much beyond angst-ridden teenagers, and especially that it would reach a powerful middle-aged politician such as Joko Widodo. But Jokowi is no ordinary political figure, as he is very much a “man of the people.” More important, metal bands have played a significant role in recent Indonesian history. As Madeleine King explains in a blog post entitled “Live for Satan,” “It may surprise some to learn that heavy metal—a sub-genre of rock music that emerged largely from America and England in the 1970s—was at the heart of Indonesia’s late 1990s pro-democracy movement.” Jokowi was, of course, a much younger man at that time, and it is thus perhaps not so surprising that he would still favor a musical genre associated with the downfall of Indonesia’s authoritarian government.

With all of that in mind, I tried to listen to Napalm Death with a more open mind, but hearing their songs still seemed more like an assault on my ears than a genuine musical experience. (Here I am perhaps merely showing my age, but my 15-year-old daughter agreed.) The growled and grunted vocals were especially off-putting. But the actual lyrics (see the end of the post for one example) are not unintelligent, and here I can begin to see the attraction.

Metal Hand SignsBut the fact that a major fan of Napalm Death could win a presidential election, and do so in predominantly Muslim country, still strikes me as remarkable. I doubt very much that such a candidate could triumph in the United States, as accusations of “Satanism” would fly thick and would likely stick. And indeed, satanic imagery is common across much of the metal world. Some would even say that the hand gesture made by Jokowi in the image posted above indicates the horns of Satan, although here I remain skeptical – and I find the satirical poster of “satanic hand signs” posted here to be quite amusing.

Certainly many Muslim critics, both in Indonesia and elsewhere, have accused metal music of encouraging Satanism. As the abstract to Mark Levine’s “Doing the Devil’s Work: Heavy Metal and the Threat to Public Order in the Muslim World” puts it, his article shows “the largely negative reaction to the music by Muslim governments and societies, and how, in a certain sense, today’s Muslim metalheads are fulfilling a historic function of Satan in Islamic theology.” But as Levine also shows in his book Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam, the genre is highly popular among certain youth segments in many Muslim countries, and it often incorporates pro-Islamic overtones. As the author of a recent blog-post frames it, “Today, metal and Islam play a more synergistic role.” The same post also notes that the Israeli metal band Orphaned Land is one of the few institutions in the region able to bridge the gap between Jews and Muslims.

In Indonesia, it would seem that hardline Sunni Muslim stalwarts are currently more interested in countering Shia and Ahmadiyya Islam than they are in taking on heavy metal music, although I would have to do more research here to make any conclusive statements.

Metal Bands MapAlthough heavy metal music may be widespread in the Muslim realm, it is even more popular elsewhere. As the map posted to the left indicates, metal bands are far more numerous in Europe and the Americas. In regard to Muslim-majority countries, Indonesia does occupy a prominent position, although it is surpassed by neighboring Malaysia. According to this somewhat dated map, sub-Saharan Africa is the only major region of the world to have been largely bypassed by the metal phenomenon. It would be interesting to see an updated version, as I would be especially curious to find out if the genre has reached Afghanistan.

Per capita Metal Nands MapIn per capita terms, a different map emerges. Here we can see that the Nordic countries form the core region of metal music, with Finland occupying the top spot. A 2013 BuzzFeed post attempts to explain this intriguing fact through climatic determinism—“The dark winter surely plays a major role in this attachment to suicidal lyrics, double bass drum, and the color black”—but such an explanation does not work for sunnier metal-loving countries, such as Greece. The same BuzzFeed post notes that Finland leads the world in a number of additional categories, most of which seem quite distant from the realm of heavy metal, including education, lack of corruption, and the borrowing of books from libraries. Finland is also the world’s top coffee-consuming country. Perhaps if I had enough caffeine in my system I would be able to appreciate the music of Napalm Death.


Judicial Slime

(by Napalm Death)


Taste me,

You made me what I am,

Mind polluting worthless fuck.


Am I the mental feast,

Bruised and scarred,

The underdog.


A pawn within a losers game,

My strength will grow upon your fear.



In time you’ll face your end line.

Judge me not before yourself.


Take my pride – that’s all you can.

Hatred surges burning me.



For what atonement do you seek,

Your dying grasp of loyalty breaks like brittle bones.


Forgotten past,

I stand condemned,

For I am more powerful than you’d imagine.

Do Swedish-Americans Vote for Democrats? National Origins and Voting Behavior in the United States

Percent Scandinavian US MapIn responding to a recent GeoCurrents post comparing electoral geography in Minnesota and northern California, commentator Barzai makes some important points about ethnicity and national background. As he notes, people of Scandinavian and German descent are a much more significant factor in Minnesota than in California. More importantly, he argues that the concept of a monolithic “White” population is challenged by such differences in national origin.

These are significant points, but the actual patterns of voting behavior and national origin in the U.S. are more complicated than one might think. It is certainly true that people of Scandinavian background are disproportionally concentrated in Democratic-voting Minnesota, as the first map indicates. Some other areas of Scandinavian settlement are also relatively liberal, such as Western Washington. Utah forms an intriguing exception, as it is a highly conservative state with a substantial Scandinavian population, but in this case conversion into the politically conservative Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints) has been a more influential factor. But more serious problems in the linkage between Scandinavian Voting Minnesota MapScandinavian heritage and Democratic-Party-voting are also encountered, First, even in Minnesota the percentage of the population that claims Scandinavian background is not all that high. Second, some of the most Democratic-Party-voting counties in Minnesota and neighboring states do not seem to be heavily Scandinavian. To show this, I have outlined several mostly rural counties in western Minnesota and eastern North and South Dakota that voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and that generally swing left in national elections. Yet neither here nor in the generally Democratic-voting areas of southwestern Wisconsin, northeastern Iowa, and northwestern Illinois does one find—according to this map—Scandinavian concentrations.

All of this follows, however, only if this map of “Scandinavian-Americans” is reasonably accurate. But it may not be; so much intermarriage has occurred since the wave of northern European migration washed over the Midwest that such numbers are difficult to establish. Individual maps Nordic Americans Mapshowing the concentrations of Swedish-, Norwegian-, and Danish-Americans, derived from 1990 census data show substantially different patterns. (I have also included a map of Finnish-Americans; although Finland is not technically a Scandinavian country, it is a fellow Nordic country.) Here the Swedish map and especially the map showing Norwegian-Americans do show major settlement in many of the more left-voting rural counties of the upper Midwest. But they also show concentrations in more conservative areas, such as North Dakota, western Iowa, and Nebraska, the latter being an especially Republican-oriented place. Danish-Americans actually tend to be concentrated in conservative areas, although again much of this is linked to heavy Danish recruitment by the Mormon Church. Northeastern Minnesota—the most reliably Democratic-voting White, non-metropolitan part of the country—is in contrast heavily Swedish and especially Finnish. But the same ethnic mix is found in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which has many habitually Republican-voting counties.

German Americans MapGerman ancestry is much more widespread in the United States than Scandinavian ancestry, as can be seen by comparing the key to the map posted to the left with the keys of the maps posted above. German settlement was pronounced across most areas of the Midwest, but there seem to be few if any correlations between the strength of German settlement and modern voting behavior.

Dutch Americans mapProbably the best example of a linkage between contemporary voting and national background among White Americans pertains to people of Dutch ancestry. Several counties that were heavily settled by the Dutch are still noted for the their strongly conservative political orientations. This is true both in northwestern Iowa and in Western Michigan, two areas that stand out on the map of Dutch ancestry. The more specific factor here, however, is again religion, as these areas are also bulwarks of Dutch Reformed churches, which have in general retained their conservative orientations much more in parts of the United States than in the Netherlands. As the Wikipedia describes Ottawa County, Michigan (the largest city in which is Holland):

The Christian Reformed Church in North America was the biggest Christian denomination in the county with 67 churches and 33, 700 members, followed by the Reformed Church in America with 37 congregations and 33,300 members. …

Ottawa County is a stronghold of the Republican Party. The last Democratic Party candidate to carry the county was George B. McClellan in 1864.

1964 US Presidential Election MapBoth Ottawa County and a cluster of counties in northwestern Iowa clearly stand out on the 1964 U.S. presidential election map. In this pivotal contest, these counties supported the staunchly conservative candidate Barry Goldwater, unlike most other parts of Iowa and Michigan. What I find especially interesting in this map, however, is the fact that a number of counties in northeastern Illinois—which is now a generally Democratic-voting area—also supported Goldwater.

Such patterns obviously call for more research, but I must now move on to other issues.

The Geography of Iowa’s Republican Shift

2012 US Exception Election MapAs mentioned in the previous post, one of the few parts of the United States in which White-majority rural (or small-city-focused) counties regularly vote for Democrats in national elections is the “greater Upper Mississippi Valley,” as outlined on the map posted here. Across the country more generally, non-metropolitan White-majority “blue” countries are found on the Pacific Cost and in the Northeast; elsewhere they can usually be linked to specific occupational or demographic characteristics, such as the presence of major universities (Athens County, Ohio), a historical legacy of unionized mining (Silver Bow County, Montana), or the presence of major outdoor amenities, such as ski resorts (Blaine County, Idaho). But only in a few parts of the Upper Midwest can one find Democratic-voting, White-majority, non-metropolitan countries that do not have these specific characteristics. A major question now is whether the Upper Mississippi Valley will retain its distinctive voting pattern. If the 2014 U.S. senate election in Iowa is any indication, the answer may well be “no.”

Iowa is regarded as a particularly important state in U.S. politics for two reasons. First, it holds the earliest party caucuses, and thus plays an outsized role in selecting the presidential candidates of both parties. Second, it has been something of a “swing state” in recent elections, with relatively close contests between Republican and Democratic candidates. In general, western Iowa tends to the Republican side while eastern Iowa usually support Democrats, a pattern clearly evident on the 2012 presidential election map.

Iowa Politcal Change GraphIn 2014, however, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Iowa, Joni Ernst, shocked political pollsters with her commanding victory over her Democratic opponent, Bruce Braley. As Harry Enten, writing in FiveThirtyEightPolitics, notes:

Republican Sen.-elect Joni Ernst easily won her race in Iowa last Tuesday, beating Democrat Bruce Braley by 8.5 percentage points. Her victory wasn’t shocking, but its size was (to everyone except pollster Ann Selzer, that is). The final FiveThirtyEight projection had Ernst winning by just 1.5 percentage points.

What the heck happened?

Enten attributes this unexpected margin of victory to the fact that Barack Obama’s popularity has dropped more sharply in Iowa than in the rest of the country, which in turn has made Iowa a more Republican-leaning state. His careful statistical analysis shows that one group in particular has been abandoning the Democrats in Iowa. As he explains:

Here’s one explanation: White voters in Iowa without a college degree have shifted away from the Democratic Party. And if that shift persists, it could have a big effect on the presidential race in 2016, altering the White House math by eliminating the Democratic edge in the electoral college.Iowa 2012 2014 ElectionsThe movement of non-college-educated White voters away from the Democrats is a national phenomenon, but it has been more pronounced in Iowa than elsewhere.

Although Enten does not mention it, gaffes by the Democratic senatorial candidate Braley probably played a significant role. Braley’s comments at an out-of-state fundraising event attended mostly by lawyers attracted considerable attention in the state:

[I]f you help me win this race you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice, someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for thirty years, in a visible or public way, on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Or, you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Because, if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

As conservative blogger Erick Erickson noted, such comments were “colossally stupid,” especially when one considers how important agriculture is to the state of Iowa. Insulting the state’s farmers is not a good ploy.

Iowa 2014 Election Population MapAs it turns out, only a handful of truly rural counties in Iowa supported Bruce Braley in the 2014 election. As the map that I have annotated indicates, most of the counties that he won are dominated by small or mid-sized cities. To be sure, counties with such demographic characteristics elsewhere in the Midwest generally vote Republican, showing that there is still something of an “Upper Mississippi Valley Exception.” But when it comes to the more purely agricultural counties, Braley had little success. It would be interesting to examine the remaining exceptions, such as “still-blue” Howard County in the northeast, which saw its population peak at 13,705 in 1920 and which is 99.06 percent White. (Howard County happens to be the birthplace and childhood-home of Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug, often deemed the founder of the Green Revolution.) Note as well that the more urban counties of western Iowa remain in the Republican camp. More surprising was the Republican win in Scott County (centered on Davenport), as it is the Iowa’s third-most populous county and is located in the extreme east along the Mississippi River.

Iowa 2008 2014 Senate ElectionsIt is instructive to contrast the 2014 Iowa senatorial election with that of 2008. In the earlier election, Tom Harkin, one of the more left-leaning members of the U.S. senate, won an overwhelming victory, taking all but five counties. Harkin was helped by the fact that 2008 was a highly favorable year for Democrats and was further boosted by the gaffes of his opponent. As noted in the Wikipedia:

On October 23, [Republican candidate Christopher] Reed and Senator Harkin met for a debate on Iowa Public Television. During the debate, Reed made personal attacks on Harkin, accusing him of being the “Tokyo Rose of Al-Qaeda and Middle East terrorism” and calling him “anti-American” and alleging that he provided “aid and comfort to the enemy” in a speech calling for the closure of the United States military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After the debate, both Harkin and moderator David Yepsen chastised Reed for the attacks. Yepsen said that he had “never heard a candidate make that kind of serious charge about his opponent.”

In the 2014 Campaign, Republican candidate Joni Ernst made several comments that the Democrats hoped would cost her votes. These included, as noted in the Washington Post, her claims that “we have created ‘a generation of people that rely on the government to provide absolutely everything for them,’ and that wrenching them away from their dependence ‘is going to be very painful.’” Evidently such statements had little effect. On the other hand, Ernst might have gained votes by her most widely quoted comment: “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.”


Minnesota and Northern California: Political Twins or Political Opposites?

CA and MN elections compared mapTwo U.S. states that largely bucked the Republican trend in the 2014 election were Minnesota and California, which count among the “bluest” states in the union. Since 1976, only Minnesota has supported the Democratic candidate in every presidential election. California has more recently entered the Democratic fold, having voted for a Republican presidential candidate as recently as 1988, but in recent years it has been a reliably blue state. In the 2014 election, California gave a higher percentage of its vote (59) to the Democratic gubernatorial candidate than any other state. In Minnesota, by contrast, the winning Democrat received only 50 percent of the vote, as opposed to the 44.5 percent received by his Republican opponent. Minnesota also elected a primarily Republican delegation to its state House of Representatives (72 Republicans to 62 Democrats) in 2014, whereas the incoming lower house of California’s state legislature has a 52 to 28 Democratic edge. California thus currently stands as the “bluer” or these two blue states, a standing also reflected in the 2012 Presidential election, in which Barack Obama took 60 percent of California’s vote as opposed to 53 percent of Minnesota’s.

Minnesota Voting and Popuation Density MapBut if California and Minnesota are both Democratic bastions, their actual patterns of electoral geography are quite distinctive. To illustrate these differences, I have prepared several maps contrasting the 2014 election results in Minnesota with those in northern California. I have focused on northern California rather than the state as a whole for three reasons. First, northern California (as I have defined it here) and Minnesota are of roughly equal size, making cartographic comparison relatively simple. Second, several southern Californian counties are so large, in both area and population, that they undermine simple comparisons using county-level maps. Third, the geographical contrast with Minnesota that I want to emphasize is more pronounced in regard to northern California than to southern California.

Northern California Voting and Population Density MapThe major difference in voting behavior between Minnesota and northern California centers on population density and proximity to major metropolitan areas. In both places, counties containing large cities strongly supported candidates from the Democratic Party. That, however, is where the similarity ends. In northern California, the suburban counties that ring San Francisco Bay also voted for democratic candidates, and many of them did so quite heavily. Northern California’s inner suburbs tend to be deep blue, while the outer suburbs and exurban fringe are at least light blue. Contrastingly, in Minnesota the outer suburban belt that surrounds the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul tends to vote for Republican candidates, often quite strongly. Indeed, one of the most conservative members of Congress, Michelle Bachmann, represents the northern suburbs of “the cities.” Bachmann did not run in 2014, but her Republican successor easily coasted to victory.

The contrast between the Minnesota and northern California also extends to rural counties. In northern California, largely rural counties tend to vote for Republican candidates. The main exception is the north coast, where lightly populated Mendocino and Humboldt counties are noted for their strong counter-cultural elements (they form the bulk of the so-called Emerald Triangle of widespread Cannabis cultivation). In contrast, many rural Minnesota counties still generally vote for Democrats, as is clearly evident on the map of the 2014 U.S. Senate election. This pattern holds both for agricultural counties in the west and south and for the mining/logging region of the northeast (which also includes the minor industrial/port city of Duluth). On the map of U.S. House of Representative delegations, California thus exhibits something of a classical “core/periphery” pattern (with a blue “core” and a red periphery), whereas in Minnesota one finds instead a core/semi-periphery/periphery pattern (with blue yielding to red and then to blue again as one leaves the metropolitan center).

1060 Minnesota N. California election mapMinnesota’s electoral pattern is the older of the two. Consider, for example, the 1960 presidential election, in which the Democrat, Jack Kennedy, narrowly beat the Republican, Richard Nixon. In the 1960 presidential contest in California, Kennedy won San Francisco as well as the (at the time) industrial East Bay counties of Alameda and Contra Costa, yet lost the suburban West Bay counties (Marin, San Mateo). Kennedy also took a majority of northern California’s rural counties, especially those in the sparsely populated far north. But by the end of the 20th century, northern California’s electoral geography had shifted, with the rural counties trending strongly Republican and the suburban counties trending clearly Democratic. The same transformation occurred in the northeastern U.S. states. In the south and much of the Midwest, however, suburban countries have stayed Republican, while White-majority rural areas have either remained or switched into the Republican camp. Minnesota is unusual in that many of its White-dominated rural counties continue to vote for Democrats. The 1960 presidential and the 2014 gubernatorial maps of Minnesota show remarkably similar patterns. One difference between them is a shift to more Democratic voting in the mostly rural southeastern corner of the state. Hennepin County, which contains Minneapolis, has also, much less surprisingly, moved in the same direction. Contrastingly, Republican voting has intensified in the countries that encircle the Twin Cities.

Minnesota 1960 2014 Election MapMinnesota’s distinctive voting behavior might be linked in part to its distinctive left-leaning political party: its state-level affiliate of the United States Democratic Party is actually the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party (DFL), which was created in 1944 by a merger of the populist, democratic-socialist Farmer-Labor Party with the Democratic Party. This legacy may be responsible for some of the DFL’s continuing clout in rural areas. Additional factors, however, are no doubt also in play.

Minnesota 2014 State House MapAcross the United States, White-dominated rural counties have been gradually moving into the Republican category. This process has played out at different times in different places. Much of Appalachia has only recently made this transition, which has turned West Virginia from a solidly blue to a solidly red state over the past 20 years. The one part of the country in which many White-dominated rural counties still tend to support Democrats is the Upper Mississippi region, anchored by Minnesota but also including parts of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Will these areas as well turn red in coming elections? Even in Minnesota, the Republican Party is gaining ground in such places, as can be seen in the map of Minnesota’s State House of Representatives 2014 election. And in the 2014 senatorial election in neighboring Iowa, this pattern was much more pronounced, as will be examined in the next GeoCurrents post.


U.S. Political Party Strength Index Map

US Political Party Strength Index MapAs yesterday’s post noted, the United States moved decidedly in the direction of the Republican Party in the November 2014 election. To illustrate the relative strength of the Republican Party at the state level, I have created a “US Party Strength Index Map,” posted here. The methodology is simple. Taking into account the recent election, I awarded one point for each party in each state for each of the following categories: 2012 Presidential Election, Senior Senator, Junior Senator, House Delegation, Governor, State Senate, and State House. Thus New Hampshire counts as “evenly divided” because the Democratic candidate (Obama) won the state in the 2012 Presidential election, the state’s governor is a Democrat, the state’s senior US Senator is a Democrat, and the Democrats control half (one of two) of the state’s delegation to the House of Representatives. Adding these figures together gives New Hampshire a “Democratic score” of 3.5, which is identical to the state’s “Republican Score,” which is derived from the Republican control of the state’s upper legislative body, the Republican control of the state’s lower legislative body, the state’s Republican junior Senator, and the one-half control of the state’s House delegation by the Republican Party. As noted on the map, some difficulties are encountered, such as the unicameral, non-partisan Nebraska State legislature. This feature makes Nebraska appear less Republican than it would in other measurement schemes.

The information used to make this map is found in a table in a Wikipedia article on “Political Party Strength in U.S. States.” This table includes another category, labeled “demographic,” that is based largely on party affiliation. I have ignored this information because it does not necessarily represent current conditions. In West Virginia, for example, the Democratic Party has a substantial advantage over the Republican Party in terms of voter registration, and a generation ago West Virginia was among the most reliable states for the Democratic Party. But despite formal party affiliation, West Virginians now favor Republican candidates, a tendency that has been strengthening over the past several election cycles.

The map indicates that the Democratic Party was two regional strongholds: the Pacific Coast and zone centered on southwestern New England, New York, and the coastal mid-Atlantic belt. The Great Lakes region, often regarded as part of “blue America,” appear here as a mixed zone with a slight Republican edge.


Does the Red-State/Blue-State Model of U.S. Electoral Politics Still Work?

Red States Blue StatesSince the 2000 election, it has been common to divide the United States into a “Red America” of reliably Republican-voting states and a “Blue America” of reliably Democratic-voting states, a maneuver that highlights the relative scarcity of “purple” or swing states. As can be seen in the Wikipedia map posted to the left, “blue” states are concentrated in the Northeast, the upper Midwest, and the Pacific Coast, with New Mexico forming something of a blue outlier.

This red-state/blue-state model has been subjected to much criticism. To begin with, it reverses the color scheme used more widely across the world, in which red signifies the left and blue the right. This system is still used in Dave Leip’s excellent on-line Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections, but it now proves highly confusing for most Americans. But deeper problems are also encountered. Perhaps most significant is the fact that there are many “red” areas in most “blue” states, just as there are quite a few “blue” zones in most “red” states, as can be seen in maps based on county-level data. Such maps, however, exaggerate the extent of “Red America,” as Democratic-voting areas tend to be more densely populated than Republican-voting ones. Equally problematic is the fact that many areas are roughly split between the two major parties, and should thus be mapped as purple.

2012 US Election CartogramSuch problems are surmounted to some degree in red-purple-blue cartograms, such as the one posted here of the 2012 presidential election. This map, however, has caused a minor controversy in my own household, as I find it gorgeous and informative while my wife considers it hideous and confusing. Some experts in color perception also object to red-purple-blue maps, contending that we Larry Weru's 2012 Election Mapperceive purple differently if it is surrounded with blue than if it is surrounded by red. Larry Weru thus adds green to the mixture, and ends up with a blue-gray-red map that more clearly shows counties in which presidential elections are competitive.

114th Senate mapBut regardless of such consideration, the maps of the 2014 U.S. election clearly reveal a major “red-shift” in voting behavior. Intriguingly, this shift is least evident on the map of the incoming U.S. Senate. Despite the fact that the Republicans picked up several seats and now command a clear majority in the Senate, the basic red-blue regional pattern still holds on this map, albeit with an expanded “purple” zone of mixed representation. But on the map of the incoming 114th House MapHouse of Representatives, much of the supposedly “blue” mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions appear rather as a sea of red, with only major cities voting for Democrats. Outside of New England the Pacific Coast, few non-metropolitan districts without Hispanic or African-American majorities supported Democratic candidates. Most of those that did are located in the Upper Mississippi region, centered on Minnesota, as will be examined in a subsequent post.

2015 US Governors MapIn the gubernatorial and state legislative election of 2014, somewhat different patterns are encountered. Overall, the “red shift” was pronounced here as well, with the Republicans picking up several state governors and legislative 2014 Governors Election maphouses. (In Illinois, generally regarded as a solidly “blue” state, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate won only a single county, although it [Cook] is the second most heavily populated county in the country.) But when it comes to such non-national elections, US States Legislatures Election MapRepublicans can be more competitive in “blue” states just as Democrats can be more competitive in “red” states, as they can run on platforms to the left and right, respectively, of their national parties. Thus a Republican champion of gay marriage can win the gubernatorial race in deep-blue Massachusetts, while such Republican states as Missouri and Kentucky still have Democratic governors (who, admittedly, were not up for reelection in 2014).

With the rightward swing of the 2014 election, very few U.S. states are now dominated by the Democratic Party at both the national and local levels. Only four small states—Connecticut, Democrats Vote 2014 Governors MapDelaware, Rhode Island, and Hawaii—remain “fully blue,” meaning that all their senators and members of the House of Representatives, as well as their governors, are Democrats, and that the Democratic Party also controls both of their state legislative chambers. (Vermont also fits into this category in an informal sense, as its independent senator Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist.) California and Oregon almost fit the pattern as well, but in both cases their conservative eastern areas have voted for Republicans for the House of Representatives. And as the final map indicates, even in some of these reliably blue states (Oregon, Connecticut, Rhode Island), the Democratic gubernatorial candidates won with thin margins.

Although the 2016 election could produce very different patterns, the United States must be currently viewed as a mostly “red and purple” land.