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Newton Leroy Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and failed 2012 presidential candidate, pretended to be "shocked" at the outcome of last week's presidential election. He shouldn't be, and he's certainly smart enough to know that the outcome of this year's titanic head-on collision on the train tracks of American elections wasn't exactly hard to forecast. On one side, a lumbering steam locomotive hauling an ever-shrinking proportion of angry whites, and on the other side a bullet train of demographic change.

One of the best examples of this clash is right in Newt's backyard: Gwinnett County, Georgia, which may in 2016 be the next Republican bastion to fall. Gwinnett, portions of which were in Newt's Congressional District as he designed the 1994 Republican Revolution, was a viciously conservative white-flight suburb that voted for Ronald Reagan over Georgia's own Jimmy Carter in 1980 and hasn't voted for a Democrat since. In 1984, when Reagan was re-elected over Walter Mondale by 18 points nationwide, Gwinnett voted for Reagan by an astonishing 60 points.

But this year? As the vast majority of counties in the United States shifted more Republican compared to 2008, Gwinnett County went the opposite way. McCain carried Gwinnett in 2008 by 10 points, and Mitt Romney? Only 9. When compared to the national average, the slow collapse of the Republican margin in Gwinnett County is stunning:


A county that in the 1980s gave Republicans a margin over 40 points more than the national average is now only 12 points more Republican than average. So why the tortured train metaphor at the top of this post? To understand how astonishing this transformation in Gwinnett is, one must first understand MARTA.

MARTA, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, is Atlanta's subway system: a valuable asset in a city so choked with traffic it is compared to the legendary congestion misery of Los Angeles and Washington, DC. MARTA is not nearly as effective as it could be, though, because it stops right at the Gwinnett County line. Why?


In 1971, Gwinnett County voters voted in a referendum to reject Gwinnett's participation in MARTA. Car-owning suburbanites who had just left Atlanta itself feared trainloads of blacks pouring into their neighborhoods. The racially-charged nature of MARTA is still evident today: Urban Dictionary defines MARTA as "Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta." It has been called the "Mother of All Mistakes" by frustrated Atlanta residents of today stuck in traffic. As this Atlanta Magazine piece explains:
The 1965 and 1971 votes against MARTA by residents of Cobb, Clayton, and Gwinnett weren’t votes about transportation. They were referendums on race. Specifically, they were believed to be about keeping the races apart. Consider the suburbanites voting back then. The formerly rural, outlying counties had exploded with an astonishing exodus of white people fleeing the city as the black population swelled during the civil rights era. This mass migration came at a time when Atlanta was known through its public relations bluster as “The City Too Busy to Hate.”
Unfortunately for the angry whites, stopping MARTA didn't keep the minorities out at all. A county that rejected rapid transit because it would have given blacks easy access to the suburbs is now, after the 2010 Census, majority-minority. In the last 10 years, the white-flight that gave rise to Gwinnett has come to Gwinnett: the white voting-age population actually fell. All of the population growth in Gwinnett County in the last 10 years? People of color.


In this year's 2012 presidential election, there simply were't enough angry whites to toss President Barack Obama out of office. The flood of Hispanics and Asians swelling the ranks of suburban counties in Virginia and North Carolina delivered huge margins for President Obama. These votes, joined with an immovable black base, went head-to-head with the white voters of the Old Confederacy. In Virginia, exit polls showed Obama won while carrying only 39% of the white vote. In North Carolina, Obama carried only 31% of the white vote, and came just short of winning: but as the share of minorities increases, underperformance among whites becomes less and less damaging.

In Gwinnett, the stagnant and shrinking white population is evident in the raw number of votes cast for Republican candidates. After decades of explosive growth, the Republicans have reached a ceiling of 160,000 votes. The explosive growth of the minority population paid big dividends for Democrats in 2008, and held steady in 2012.


What's even more amazing is that it didn't have to be this way for the Republicans at all. Even if the black base is impenetrable, the growth in the Asian and Latino populations should not have been so devastating for them. The Asian and Latino populations were enticed by the Republican policies on social issues and taxation, and for some groups Cold War era resentments of being soft on Communism sent them into Republican arms. I would know. As a Chinese-American, I spent a few years of my childhood living in Norcoss in Gwinnett. At the time in the late 90s, the Asian population was starting to explode, and the Chinese filled the pews at the Chinese Bible Church of Greater Atlanta, and filled the farmer's market every weekend. Nationwide, Asians voted for Bob Dole in 1996. No Republican has carried the Asian vote since, and Barack Obama won Asians with a crushing 73% of the vote.

As the white population of Gwinnett shrinks, and as the Black, Latino, and Asian population grows, the self-inflicted wounds that Republicans gave themselves have turned Democratic-trending minorities into a Democratic base. The simple black and white racial politics that delivered Newt Gingrich-style Southern Whites victories have been scrambled by yellow and brown. It won't be long now before the county that rejected a train because whites drove cars becomes a diverse, Democratic bastion. The states of the Old South are falling one by one, roughly in order of the growth of their minority populations: first Florida, then Virginia, then North Carolina. It would warm my heart to see Georgia next.

Election data from the indispensable US Elections Atlas. Crossposted from

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Comment Preferences

  •  A Fifty State Strategy... (15+ / 0-) we come!

    “I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting point--race. Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything.” ― Molly Ivins

    by RoIn on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 03:34:00 PM PST

  •  I live in downtown Atlanta (12+ / 0-)

    Cabbagetown to be exact.

    Gwinnett is looking more multinational every day. Atlanta is getting bigger and more diverse every day. A couple of smaller cities (e.g., Columbus,  Augusta, Macon) are a long way behind, but they are moving too.

    As it grows, it will eventually overshadow the redneck rural counties and that will be that.

    Two things to watch:

    1. The degree to which white Georgians start to migrate back into the downtown Atlanta area. It has a bunch of "historic" (history in Atlanta started in 1866) districts that have wonderful quality of life. As they do, the progressives will add to the Dem vote (most folks around me are very progressive). The less progressive will be pretty thoroughly diluted.

    2. The impact of teleworking on commuting patterns. A lot of big corporation types are working more and more from home. That means they can buy McMansions in the sticks. They will count for statewide elections and they may augment some of the surrounding rural counties.

    Times they are a changin.

    Maturity: Doing what you know is right - even though you were told to do it

    by grapes on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 03:47:36 PM PST

  •  The way I see this, GOP overcompensated... (14+ / 0-)

    and has stretched the rubber band of extremism so severely as to make it almost impossible to fold back into shape, and lure in minority groups. They overcompensated after 2008 to charge up the base, but alienating more fluid voters (say, Latinos and Asians.) In so doing, I think it could end up hardening the political views of first and second generation Americans, associating the GOP with very negative connotations.

    Georgia is an interesting case. As will Texas, Tennessee, and South Carolina: all of which have seen explosive growth in their Latino populations.

    Even Mississippi (yeah!) had larger margins going to Obama this year compared to 2008. Of Mississippi's 82 counties, 64 shifted towards Obama. In that state, white population has virtually stopped growth, allowing minority immigration to the flow to narrow the gap ("diversify.")

    Good diary. It seems like Georgia is following the trend of North Carolina, which is following the trend of Virginia. The GOP is losing ground even as its based continues to get more animated. The fire is giving off heat only to those near the action. Everywhere else, it's still cold.

    "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." ~Edward Abbey ////\\\\ "To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships." ~W.E.B. DuBois

    by rovertheoctopus on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 03:55:36 PM PST

  •  Ah...the good old 85 corridor! (4+ / 0-)

    I lived in Peachtree Corners with a Norcross address but technically in Fulton County from 2002-2004. The Great White Flight to Suwannee & north was happening then because folks from East Atlanta & Dekalb County were moving into the southern part of Gwinnett County then.

    I always hated having to drive to the Doraville MARTA station to catch the train for Thrashers games.

    Note that the blue line barely crosses 285. Can't have MARTA going into Rockdale County, now, can we? /snark

  •  This should give the GOP nightmares (11+ / 0-)

    The only reason the Repubs are even in the game is because Georgia and Texas still tilt their way.  It's going to take some time, but when the Atlanta suburbs go purple, Georgia is going to be as much of a dogfight as North Carolina is now.

    And that will only be good news for us.  Forcing the GOP to burn away money in Atlanta, Charlotte, and the Triangle?  That could mean the difference between either North Carolina or Georgia--or both--going blue.

    Romney-Ryan: America's Rollback Team

    by Christian Dem in NC on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 04:29:49 PM PST

  •  Even Cobb isn't that white any more. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Larsstephens, TheUnknown285, ArkDem14
    •  Rockdale, Douglas, (0+ / 0-)

      Newton and McHenry all have fast-growing minority populations as well.

      "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

      by ArkDem14 on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 10:39:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The state party has to continue to work. (5+ / 0-)

    The idea of not fielding a candidate for every office has got to stop.

    I grew up in Atlanta and I still find the changes in Gwinnett to be astounding. Then again, the changes in other counties such as Clayton have been just as profound.

    "There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.".. Buddha

    by sebastianguy99 on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 05:12:43 PM PST

    •  They didn't even (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TheUnknown285, bumiputera

      file candidates for several suburban State House districts that voted for Obama in 2008. You just can't get by doing that.

      "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

      by ArkDem14 on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 10:39:50 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Gwinett yes, but Henry comes first (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GoUBears, TheUnknown285, Larsstephens

    Ok, so I read the polls.

    by andgarden on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 05:17:52 PM PST

    •  Mostly agree. (0+ / 0-)

      Henry is definitely next.  I'm actually thinking Cobb may flip before Gwinnett (despite Cobb actually reverting a bit this time) due to the fact that we're probably getting a higher proportion of white votes in Cobb than in Gwinnett because Cobb has a major university (Kennesaw State, my alma mater) and is an older suburb in that Gwinnett grew into a suburb later and no doubt has many who are still in a rural mentality both culturally and policy-wise.

      After that, I'm thinking Fayette, then Paulding, then Cherokee, then Forsyth.  

  •  I'm actually kind of depressed by Gwinnett County. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Larsstephens, dufffbeer

    It's 44% white yet still 12% more Republican than the nation as a whole.

    That's a worrying sign for those people hoping demographic change alone will drive places like Texas and Georgia Democratic.

    by Inoljt on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 06:42:45 PM PST

  •  Rec'd in light of the recent legislative elections (5+ / 0-)

    While the results weren't great, Dems did decently in Gwinnett County, holding both their vulnerable seats (including one, held by Pedro Marin, that was considered vulnerable despite being 29% white VAP) and nearly picking up the two Lawrenceville House seats. Gwinnett and Cobb are the reason that the Georgia GOP will make whatever deal with Rusty Kidd it has to, amend the Constitution to consolidate their power, and then focus on staving off their decline. The way it looks, they'll have to learn to attract minorities, or they will themselves become a minority.

    Male, 22, -4.75/-6.92, born and raised TN-05, now WI-02. "You're damn right we're making a difference!" - Senator-Elect Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison)

    by fearlessfred14 on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 09:14:08 PM PST

  •  Suburban whites (4+ / 0-)

    Part of the puzzle leading to a blue Georgia does involve suburban whites.  Many of the hypothesized reasons for suburbs in general becoming more Democratic involve whites.  

    First, it is thought that some suburban whites who were thought to be more Republican in decades due to economic issues (and less on social issues) past have become more and more divorced from the Republican Party due to the culture wars and have become more supportive of Democrats due to social issues.  Second, I personally believe some the increasing urbanness of suburbs has made them more cosmopolitan and therefore more liberal on social issues due to increasing education, decreasing importance of religious institutions.

    The second point is the one to work on.  It's important to remember that much of Atlanta's suburbs and especially exurbs were rural areas not too long ago.  For example, I'm from Bartow County, an exurban county 50 miles NW of Atlanta.  My grandfather used to drive me to school when I was like 7.  We would pass numerous places where he picked cotton as a boy that are now subdivisions and stores and parks and schools.  Hell, I can go through and point out places that used to be open fields and cow pastures that are now subdivisions and strip malls.  So, part of the puzzle is getting white Metro Atlantans to shake off the conservative, rural mentality.

    •  While I understand what you're getting at (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      1.  I think you're wrong, mostly.  The bluing of suburbs around the country is mostly due to the diversifying of suburbs.  Witness how minorities moved into the Philly suburbs, which became swingy, but didn't move into the Milwaukee suburbs, which remain stubbornly Republican.  At least in the north, suburbs were never overwhelmingly Republican (usually somewhere in the 55%-60% range) so it didn't take much to tilt them to the Democrats.

      2.  I don't think what I outlined above applies in the south.  There's a much stronger association in southern states with income level and partisan affiliation.  In Connecticut, rich people are barely more likely to be Republican than Democrat, whereas the correlation is high in Alabama.  Obviously race plays a role here, but you just don't see large swathes of lily-white liberal suburbs even in large parts of the north like you do in New England and the West Coast.  

      3.  To the degree that the Atlanta suburbs blue, it will be because certain areas are so swamped with Yankee transplants that they shift cultural affiliations.  AFIAK, this isn't happening in Georgia - outside of the core gentrifying neighborhoods in Atlanta, not many northern transplants are being drawn in.  Maybe I'm wrong, and Atlanta has its own version of Cary though.  

      •  Atlanta is "black mecca" & draws other minorities (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        The Atlanta area is a huge draw for Latinos, Asians, African-Americans, and northerners, but not just northerners.  Look up Buford Highway for the internationalization of Atlanta, and look up the New York Times stories about blacks moving back to the South, especially Atlanta ... Net migration to the Atlanta area has been positive for a long time now, and continues to be positive.

  •  When is Forsyth County coming our way? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    That racist county that Oprah profiled about 20 years ago? Is it a little too exurban yet?

    Farm boy, 20, who hit the city to go to college, WI-03 (home, voting), WI-02 (college), -6.75, -3.18, "Everyone's better when everyone's better"- Paul Wellstone

    by WisJohn on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 07:38:20 AM PST

    •  Too white, because black people won't move there (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and also yes, too exurban. Whether it will come our way at all depends on how effectively they scare away minorities. That said, Forsyth does have a substantial Asian population now.

      Male, 22, -4.75/-6.92, born and raised TN-05, now WI-02. "You're damn right we're making a difference!" - Senator-Elect Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison)

      by fearlessfred14 on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 07:56:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  It won't light up blue for a long, long time. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ArkDem14, WisJohn

      This is a county where Obama, Kerry, and Gore only did marginally better than George McGovern and McGovern got effectively nuked in Forsyth (15% and change).  

      In general, the Northern Atlanta suburbs in general have been behind the curve.  The counties that used to be Republican strongholds but have now flipped are all within an arc that runs clockwise from Northeast to Northwest: DeKalb (east) in the 1980s, Clayton (south) in the 1990s and Douglas (west), and Rockdale and Newton (southeast).  Even the counties that are moving our way but aren't there yet are within this arc: Cobb (northwest), Gwinnett (northeast), and Henry (south).

      Places like Cherokee, Forsyth, East Cobb and even the northern parts of Fulton and DeKalb remain heavily, heavily Republican without exhibiting the clear bluing trends we've seen elsewhere.

      A large part of it can probably be drawn from the racial, political, and economic geography of Atlanta itself.  The blacker parts of Atlanta are concentrated in the southern, eastern, and western parts of the city.  It stands to reason that any bleed over into the suburbs would be in the suburbs closer to those areas of Atlanta.  By contrast, the white parts of Atlanta are in the northern part of the city.  In particular, the white, wealthy, and Republican parts are right on the northern edge of the city.

      So, until we start to see a far more diverse Forsyth and/or socio-political change among suburban Atlanta whites, we won't be seeing Forsyth go blue for a while.

  •  MARTA needs expanding... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It's a shame Georgia voters voted down an expansion this year. In any case, I would like to thank you for a wonderful diary. The South is getting based by the left these days...people in California and New York need to remember those progressive bastions in the South.

    We cannot abandon the 50 state strategy!!

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