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March 07, 2012 11:36 AM Super Tuesday and the American Nations

By Colin Woodard

For those Washington Monthly readers who don’t believe America’s regional cultures, properly identified, have predictive value in contemporary politics, I offer a two-part warning. First, I’m about to deploy the American Nations paradigm for this purpose once again. Secondly, the facts once again support the thesis, so stop reading now if this will put you to sleep or drive you to distraction.

Ok, for those of you who remain: get a load of the results from the ten Republican presidential contests on Super Tuesday. (And if you’re new to my American Nations thesis, consider this synopsis from the magazine, which provides a thumbnail sketch of each regional culture.)

Mitt Romney, born, bred, and elected to statewide office in Yankeedom, swept Yankee-settled areas, including every single county in Massachusetts and Vermont as well as the Western Reserve of Ohio, to which he owes his narrow statewide victory. As I’ve previously discussed, Romney’s Yankee conservatism and (Yankee-influenced) Mormon background also give him a leg up in the Far West; yesterday he won Alaska and crushed his rivals in Wyoming and Idaho. (He’s also won Yankee Maine, New Hampshire, and Michigan, and the Far Western portions of Nevada (that is, all of it), Arizona (the northern two-thirds), and Washington State (the eastern two-thirds, which he won handily in aggregate.)

(Thanks, by the way, to the New York Times for this most excellent and user-friendly map; I’m renewing my subscription.)

Rick Santorum was born, bred, and elected to statewide office in Pennsylvania, a state bitterly contested between its Appalachian and Midlander divided between its Appalachian sections. True to this heritage, he has appealed to G.O.P. voters from those two regions. Yesterday he took Appalachian dominated Tennessee and Oklahoma, and won nearly every Midlander county in Ohio, plus most of the Appalachian ones. (Romney routed him in Cincinnatti.) He also took North Dakota, a state split between the Midlands, Far West, and Yankeedom and which, sadly, did not provide county-by-county results; I’d expect he was helped there by second place Ron Paul, the one candidate who lacks clear regional affinities, and whose strength also helped Santorum beat Romney in Yankee Minnesota, one result which, I will concede, contradicts my argument. His earlier, hair’s breadth victory in Iowa, received little help from that state’s handful of Yankee counties.

Newt Gingrich was born in Pennsylvania, but moved to the Deep South for high school and college, and has stayed for his entire academic and political career. Yesterday he demonstrated, once again, that he has little traction outside the Deep South, and has patchy support even there. He won all but three counties in Georgia (Greater Atlanta and Savannah), but lost every Deep Southern county in Tennessee to Santorum. Previously he won Deep Southern South Carolina and northern Florida, but lost (more cosmopolitan) Central Florida to Romney. Republicans haven’t seen fit to give him victory in a single county in Yankeedom, the Midlands, or the Left Coast. In fact, the only counties he has won outside his home region are in Appalachia - almost all of them in Georgia - save for rural Bent County, Colorado, in the Far West.

For the record, one has to exclude Virginia from the analysis, as Santorum and Gingrich weren’t on the ballot. Tidewater Republicans’ preferences remain untested this primary season. El Norte’s appear to lean to Romney, and we can expect the Left Coast and New Netherland primary voters to rally to him in force. If regional preferences hold, the race will continue for some time, but Romney’s delegate lead will continue to grow.

As I argue in the book, regional cultures have a powerful influence on political behavior, even within a given party’s base. They don’t trump everything, to be sure - Santorum won (Far Western) Colorado and (Yankee) Minnesota and is polled handily to beat Romney in Wisconsin as well - but prognosticators ignore them at their peril.

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Colin Woodard is State and National Affairs Writer at the Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram and author of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.
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Comments

  • Don. Gray on March 08, 2012 1:11 PM:

    Thanks,enjoyed the article. Great to see
    The political system at work. Some times
    Wish we Canadians had a similar system.
    But then ,I think again.our old British system
    Of party politics seems to work ok. Having an
    Elected P M that can be replaced easily should
    They mess up big time is an asset. However
    We too have regional voting issues as well.
    Cheers. Don