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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

What Happened in the South in Bush’s 2004 Election Victory?

On the most straightforward level, of course, what happened in the south (defined as the 11 states of the Old Confederacy plus Kentucky and Oklahoma) was that it provided Bush with rock-solid support, as he carried all 13 southern states, including the most contested state, Florida. That was central to his election victory.
Digging deeper into the data, though, a number of interesting patterns emerge that go far beyond that undeniable fact.
1. While the south did move in Bush’s direction in the ’04 election, it moved about the same, in terms of percentage points, as the rest of the country.
2. In the 2000 election, however, the south did move more in Bush’s direction (12 points) than the rest of the country (7 points). In 1996, Clinton actually split the southern vote with Dole, 46-46.
3. In the 2004 election, despite the fact that Bush did not disproportionately increase his percentage point margin in the south, 58 percent of his gains in vote margin came from the south, reflecting disproportionately high turnout increases in a number of those states.
4. Bush’s biggest gains in percentage point margin in the south in 2004 were in micropolitan and rural areas, not metro areas. And, since 1996, the Republican presidential margin in the south has increased by 29 points in rural areas, by 26 points in micropolitan areas and by only 12 points in metro areas.
5. Since 1980, the south’s share of the national popular vote has increased by 5 points. That has been entirely within southern metro areas; the vote share of southern micropolitan and rural areas remains unchanged.
Since it appears that these rapidly growing metro areas in the south have been significantly less susceptible to Bush’s appeal than the micropolitan and rural areas of the south, it is undoubtedly these metro areas that hold the key to a southern comeback for the Democrats.