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Welcome to the second installment of my series looking at the political geography of the states. In it, I wanted to get a feel for how local Democrats perform in statewide or local elections and how that varies from Obama's 2012 performance. Given how counties are by far the easiest unit to find election data for in various states, I will be looking at how statewide candidates do on a state by state basis by county.

For every state, I've compiled all of the statewide, partisan D vs. R races since 2006 and averaged the results (excluding presidential) to give you an idea of how a generic local Democrat will do on average, assuming a 50-50 race statewide so that even in heavily Democratic or Republican states you can see which areas are relatively more friendly to each party. Using this average Partisan Voter Index (PVI) where the state as a whole is Even, counties where the vote share is more Dem than the state are D+ and those that are more Republican are R+. Additionally, I've mapped out how Obama's 2012 map looks different than how an average Dem does who won or lost by the same margin. Finally, since the 2012 House of Representatives results are almost always presented by the district map, I've mapped out both the results themselves by county as well as by how much the House candidates ran ahead of or behind Obama in 2012.

All of the partisan percentages were calculated using two-party vote share only so as to have the most direct comparison between races. All of the data was taken directly from the relevant state's board of elections or equivalent office. You can find it for download by state here. (Please let me know if you find any errors)

Using the Census Bureau's division of the United States into four general regions, Part 1 covers the West, Part 2 the Midwest, Part 3 the Northeast, and Part 4 the South. Part 5 will look at the US as a whole, specifically the US House of Representatives election from 2012.

Part 2 includes: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

So follow me over the fold for the partisan average charts, a little analysis, and a whole lot of maps.


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First up is Illinois which is a fairly safe blue state. Democrats really only need to win Cook County to carry the state if the margin is wide enough given how large a proportion of the population lives there. Additionally, Democrats do well downstate in both cities such as East St. Louis as well as some of the more rural counties. Dems also do well in urban western and central Illinois, including cities such as Rock Island/Moline, Springfield, Peoria, and Bloomington. Republican strength lies in the rural areas of the state in general as well as parts of the populous Chicago suburbs, particularly in counties such as DuPage and McHenry, though these suburbs have been trending Democratic for a long time now while the downstate counties have been trending Republican.

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While Illinois is Obama's home state, he by no means sees a native son boost overwhelming the partisan lean of the state as in Hawaii. Obama performs much better than average in particular in northwestern Illinois which has been trending Democratic, as well as cities like Champaign, home to one of the University of Illinois campuses. Furthermore, Obama outperforms the average in the Chicago suburbs. On the other hand, Obama performs dramatically worse than a generic Democrat would in much central Illinois and nearly all of southern Illinois, sometimes by a very large margin.

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Democrats lucked out big time with Pat Quinn's narrow gubernatorial win in 2010 allowing them to gerrymander the state, one of the few in which they could do so. Thus, Dems were able to translate this map's results into winning 12 and nearly 13 of the state's 18 districts. Dems won big in Cook County and put up respectable margins in counties like Rock Island in the northwest and St. Clair in the south. Republicans won every single collar county around Chicago and saw their biggest margins in the heavily rural counties, particularly in central and southern Illinois.

Democrats outperformed Obama significantly downstate, in fact you can pretty clearly see which counties are in the 12th vs. the 15th to its east and that's thanks to an anti-abortion activist winning the nomination there. Republicans ran significantly ahead of Romney in central and northern Illinois outside of Cook County.


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Next up is Indiana which is a relatively red state though not overwhelmingly so. Democrats' base consists of the northwest with (post-)industrial cities like Gary and Michigan City, as well as Indianapolis and counties such as Monroe, home to the University of Indiana. Republicans do best in the populous and dark red suburbs of Indianapolis as well as the rural counties of central Indiana. They also do quite well in the northeast, though Fort Wayne itself is relatively blue. Downstate, once a Democratic stronghold has been trending away from us for some time and is now more of a swing region. The more urban counties stretching from Lafayette to Muncie in the central-north region of the state are also fairly swingy.

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Unlike in 2008 where Obama overperformed significantly to eke out a narrow win in the state, he didn't contest the state and his performance this year was fairly typical statewide. However, similarly to Illinois Obama overperforms significantly in the state's largest urban area, Indianapolis and its suburbs. He underperforms significantly in southern Indiana as well as the more rural areas of the rest of the state.

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Here you can see just how well our candidates did relative to Obama, especially downstate where they ran considerably ahead. In particular, Dave Crooks' base stands out in the southwest of the state. As should be expected, Dems ran behind Obama in the Indianapolis metro area.


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In Iowa, Democrats' path to victory relies on the state's state's more urban counties and the east in general. Republicans do best in the west, particularly the northwest corner. Still, there is a relatively low degree of polarization among the counties as nearly half were within 5% of the statewide average.

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Compared to the average, Obama does significantly better in the Quad Cities area of southeastern Iowa while doing roughly the same or slightly better in much of the center and northeast of the state. He does considerably worse in the northwest as well as a pocket of the southeast of the state. On the whole though, Obama generally performed similar to how a generic Democrat would

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Since Iowa is one of two states not to split counties in redistricting I've added the congressional district borders here. Of particular note is how poorly Leonard Boswell did in the 3rd despite representing much more of it than Latham; indeed he won just Polk County and ran behind Obama significantly in every single county. In the 4th district, we can see that Steve King had a slight advantage in the parts of the district from the old 5th while running somewhat behind Romney in the new eastern parts. Both of our winning Democratic incumbents generally did the same or ran ahead of Obama.


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Arriving at the Great Plains states, Kansas exhibits a pattern typical of them all. Democrats do better in the east of the state while getting utterly destroyed in the west. Dems' only real strongholds are Kansas City proper and Lawrence while they generally do well in Topeka and smaller cities like Manhattan. Republicans do well in the populous Kansas City suburbs, Witchita outside of the city proper, and the large, sparsely populated rural areas of the state.

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Obama performed somewhat worse than the generic Democrat in pretty much all 4 of the plains states, though he holds up relatively better in Kansas' more urban counties. In addition he does relatively better in the more minority heavy counties that have growing Hispanic and Native American populations. On the other hand Obama performs dramatically worse in the state's rural counties in general, particularly in the west of the state.

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Kansas Democrats unfortunately didn't put up a challenger in the 1st (which is solid red) and the 3rd (which is swingy) so these two maps look a little bit weird. However, in the 2nd and 4th we surprisingly see the Dems' sacrificial lamb doing worse than Obama in the rural counties, most likely illustrating the power of incumbency.


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Michigan is a relatively blue state that is open to voting for Republicans in the right circumstances, such as 2010. Democrats do very well in large and heavily minority areas like Detroit and Flint, as well as cities like Lansing, Battle Creek, and Ann Arbor, home to the university of Michigan. Additionally, Democrats do well in parts of the upper peninsula, though that one time bastion of Dem strength has increasingly swung rightward as of recent cycles. In addition to the UP, the swing areas of the state include the populous Detroit suburbs. Republicans tend to dominate in western Michigan and the state's more rural areas in general. They also do well in "the Thumb" in eastern Michigan.

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Unlike in 2008 when he won Michigan by 16%, Obama performed more in line with how a generic Dem should fare in 2012. However he underperforms dramatically in the Upper Peninsula and the northeastern part of the southern peninsula, as well as the tri-cities area. He overperforms in many parts of Western Michigan such as Grand Rapids, though not by nearly as much as in 2008.

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Looking at the two house maps we can immediately see ticket splitting at work. In particular, Blue Dog labor Dem Gary McDowell and even our token challenger to Dave Camp ran ahead of Obama by a good margin in the Upper Peninsula and north of the state. Democrats generally ran behind Obama everywhere else thanks to a combination of natural ticket splitting, but more importantly the strength of Republican incumbents and the weakness of some of the candidates Democrats put up. This is particularly noticeable in southwestern Michigan, home to popular Rep. Fred Upton and the suburban areas around Detroit where Obama overperformed and where our flawed nominee in the 11th lost to Republicans flawed nominee.

What is probably not immediately evident however, is that Michigan actually gave Democrats more votes for the house than Republicans, but given how concentrated our voters are, it was very easy for Republicans to gerrymander them into a minority of the seats.


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Next is Minnesota, which while similarly a shade of light blue has proved more resilient than Michigan at resisting Republican advances. Locally known as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, Dems had their history as the party of, you guessed it, farmers and (mining/manufacturing) laborers. As such, Democrats do very well in the Iron Range in the state's northeast and see some last vestiges of the farmer-element of the party in the west of the state, though this region has been trending Republican for a while. Finally, Dems do well in the twin cities proper as well as some inner suburbs. Republicans rely on the rural areas in the center of the state and also do very well in the exurbs and outer suburbs of the twin-cities metro area, though these suburbs have begin to vote increasingly Democratic.

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Given how I've generally found that Obama underperforms generic D in rural areas it should come as no shock that he does worse than average in the rural northern, central, and western parts of the state. Also typical of regions with a large extraction industry based economy, Obama underperforms significantly in the Iron Range as well. Counter-balancing that is his overperformance in the Democratic trending southeastern rural counties as well as the populous metro area suburbs.

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The House maps together give us an awesome look at the power of incumbency, particularly with the nice shade of dark blue that is Collin Peterson's 7th district. Tim Walz in the south is also getting well entrenched and ran well ahead, while surprisingly Rick Nolan ran behind Obama in the most populous part of the Iron Range, St. Louis County, though given how he was possibly viewed as a carpetbagger there this starts to make sense. Republicans ran ahead of Romney unsurprisingly in the more suburban/exurban counties, though bucking this trend of course was Michele Bachmann who nearly lost while Romney won her district by 15%


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Once a Democratic bastion, at least downballot, Missouri has been trending red for a while though Dems still have a healthy advantage in the number of statewide offices we hold. Democrats dominate the state's largest cities thanks to their large minority populations and are increasingly doing better in the suburban parts of Kansas City and St. Louis, at least relative to their statewide margin. A relic of the old Democratic coalition but now more of a swing region are the band of counties stretching from the St. Louis metro area southwest towards to the Arkansas border, the Missouri Bootheel, and many of the counties along the Missouri river. Republicans absolutely dominate in the southwest of the state, which unlike most of the old south/slave states has been Republican for several generations, similar to norwestern Arkansas. Republicans increasingly do well in the rural areas of the north, central, and southeast of the state.

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Obama underperforms pretty significantly in the state for a candidate who won nationwide. However, he does about as well or better in the St. Louis and Kansas City metro areas thanks to his strength with minorities and appeal to suburbanites. He also holds up better in the dark red southwest. Obama did significantly worse in some of the traditionally Democratic areas along the Missouri river in the north-central part of the state as well as in the southeast.

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Looking at the house map we can see fairly clearly the areas in which Obama underperforms the average and our house candidates, but only in the districts without long term incumbents, particularly along the Missouri river. In the 6th in the north and 8th in the southeast, two districts where Obama underperformed the average, we instead see the clear impact of incumbency as Republicans ran ahead of Romney by significant margins. It will be very interesting to see how these southeastern counties look in the upcoming special election now that popular Rep. Jo Ann Emerson has resigned.


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Once a beacon of prairie populism, though always fairly Republican leaning, Nebraska is now a solidly conservative state. The seemingly perfect analogue to Kansas, Nebraska sees the east be generally a good deal more friendly to Democrats than the west. Dems do very well in the state's urban centers, Lincoln and Omaha, as well as Native American heavy counties such as Thurston. Republicans absolutely dominate the sparsely populated west as well as the relatively populous suburbs of Omaha.

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Similarly to Kansas, Obama underperforms very dramatically in many of the heavily white, rural, and sparsely populated western counties while doing about as well if not better in the more urban ones.

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Looking at the two house maps we get a fairly good picture of incumbency, particularly in the 1st district where popular Rep. Jeff Fortenberry ran ahead of Romney in every one of his counties. Surprising to me was that Democratic 2nd district challenger John Ewing not only ran ahead of Obama, which is atypical on average, but that he nearly won, leaving Democrats with just 1 island of blue by winning Douglas County.

North Dakota

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North Dakota is somewhat different from Kansas and Nebraska, though it sees the same general patter of Democrats doing better in the east and Republicans better in the west. Part of this is that the east is more urban and the west has been undergoing an extraction industry boom with oil and natural gas. Democrats predictably rack up huge percentages (though small vote margins) in the heavily Native American counties.

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Obama underperformed what a generic Democrat should do in an open seat by a pretty substantial margin, particularly in the west of the state, though he held up somewhat better in the more urban east and ran better than average in the Native American counties.

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Looking at the House maps we can see this trend pretty clearly as our losing candidate ran significantly ahead in the west, did about the same in the east, and thanks to undervoting saw a fairly large drop off among the Native American reservations.


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Ohio is probably the quintessential swing state and in a bit of coincidence sees Obama's 2012 performance match the partisan average almost exactly, though of course that is over multiple cycles. In Ohio, the Democratic coalition relies heavily among urban voters as well as rural labor Dems in the north and east of the state. Republicans do well in the historically Republican western rural areas as well as the populous suburbs of one-time bastions such as Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton. The swing region of the state tends to be the inner parts of these same suburbs as well as increasingly the eastern Appalachian region of the state.

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Reflecting these changes in a fairly striking manner is Obama's map. In every single rural eastern county save one, Obama underperforms and in some cases quite significantly. He also underperforms in a few of the rural counties in the west of the state. To make up for this, Obama performs significantly better in the big city suburbs as well as heavily minority parts of cities such as eastern Cleveland.

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Looking at the two house maps we see a few things. One is the power of incumbency where Republican incumbents generally ran ahead of Romney, but also the places where they didn't, such as the eastern 6th district. Democratic incumbents all ran ahead of Obama, sometimes by significant margins. What is also very striking about the first map is that Republicans were able to use gerrymandering to translate it into winning 75% of the state's seats when Ohio was pretty much 50-50.

South Dakota

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South Dakota's political make up is very similar to its neighbor to the north, though it is the relatively more Democratic of the two. Democrats again do relatively better in the east and win the Native American reservations by huge percentages. Republicans do better in the west and relatively less urban parts of the state.

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Obama's performance is again pretty similar here to how it is in North Dakota, with his vote share holding up relatively all right in the east while lagging significantly in the central and western parts of the state. South Dakota Native Americans make up higher proportion of the population than in North Dakota and Shannon County in the southwest was Obama's best county both last year and in 2008, giving him a higher percentage of the vote than even Washington, D.C.

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Yet again, looking at the House maps we can see just where Obama underperformed the average and the house candidate. Though they both lost by relatively similar margins, Matt Varilek ran ahead of Obama in the non-Native American reservation parts of pretty much the entire state while running significantly behind on the reservations, again thanks to Obama's unique appeal and the subsequent undervoting it produced.


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Finally, we get to Wisconsin which like neighboring Michigan and Minnesota is a fairly stable shade of light blue. Democrats unsurprisingly do best in the one Native American heavy county, but more traditionally see their base in the state capital of Madison and the state's largest city Milwaukee, long a bastion of left-wing politics. Republicans do best in the suburban/exurban counties around Milwaukee as well as the northeast of the state. Historically a Republican stronghold, the Fox River valley in the northeast of the state has been trending Democratic, while the Driftless Area in the southwest has done so to a more appreciable degree; however both are now the main swing areas of the state.

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Like with Michigan, Obama saw his margin shrink by a substantial amount in Wisconsin though not evenly everywhere. He does about the same in the heavily populated southeast and northeast while doing significantly worse in the historically Democratic northwest and significantly better in the Dem trending southwest.

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Looking at the House map you can immediately see the value of incumbency, particularly where Rep. Ron Kind ran significantly ahead of Obama in the southwest and where popular long-time Rep. Tom Petri ran significantly ahead of Romney in the east. Even Paul Ryan ran ahead of the Romney ticket helped out in part by his massive cash advantage. Still, Wisconsin was just one of four states to give Democratic candidates more votes than Republicans, but thanks to gerrymandering elected a Republican majority delegation.

This concludes part two of the series, I hope you enjoyed reading and next week will see us look at the Northeast.

Originally posted to Stephen Wolf on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 08:04 AM PST.

Also republished by Democracy Addicts, Badger State Progressive, and Community Spotlight.

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