Ten Miles Square


November 09, 2012 11:17 AM The G.O.P’s Yankee Problem

By Colin Woodard

A remarkable thing happened last Tuesday. The Republican Party was virtually extinguished from the land of its birth.

I’m speaking of Yankeedom, a great swath of the country from Maine to Minnesota that was effectively colonized by New England Puritans and their descendants. This cultural region - one of eleven that make up our continent — includes upstate New York, the Western Reserve of Ohio, Upper Great Lakes states, the northern tier of Illinois, and part of Iowa. The birthplace of the G.O.P and the center of its support for the first century of its existence, today it is home to 54 million people, few of them genetically related to the early settlers of the Bay Colony, but all of them effected by the cultural DNA they left behind.

It’s a region that since its founding in the early 17th century has embraced the notion of the common good, even to the point of encumbering individual liberty to ensure its achievement. It’s a culture that actually considers self-denial virtuous (how strangely un-American that) and has greater faith in the possibility of improving society through public institutions than its peers. More utopian and communitarian than the other major cultural regions of the country, it has long been a challenge for Dixie conservatives seeking to weaken government, privatize services, and roll back taxes, regulations, and consumer safety protections.

A year ago in the magazine, I showed how the underlying political geography of the U.S. would doom Tea Party conservatism to regional, rather than national, relevance. The policy prescriptions embraced by the movement - a carbon copy of those said Dixie conservatives have been fighting for for a couple of centuries - run contrary to the values of Yankeedom and other regional cultures which together form a formidable block in the Electoral College, U.S. Senate, and Congress. I showed how the Tea Party had had difficulty electing its supporters to federal office in these regions, and how those they had were standing on cultural quicksand.

Tuesday in Yankeedom, most of them fell through, dragging fellow Republicans into the deep on their coat tails.

It was a regional rout of national significance. In New England, Mitt Romney didn’t capture a single Electoral College vote, while Republicans lost every major federal and statewide contest. Scott Brown lost his U.S. Senate seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts. In Maine, two-term Independent Gov. Angus King routed his rivals to capture the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by moderate Republican Olympia Snowe, while Republicans lost control of both houses of the state legislature. In “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire, Republicans lost both U.S. House contests and - in a massive turnaround - the lower chamber of the State House; Democrat Maggie Hassan was elected governor.

New England now doesn’t have a single G.O.P. congressperson. Only one of its six governors and two of twelve U.S. Senators are Republicans.

And it’s not just in the New England core. Romney lost every state dominated by Yankeedom - Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota - and all those with significant Yankee sections, including New York and Ohio. Republican U.S. Senate candidates lost in every Yankee dominated state as well, while Democrat Sherrod Brown owed his Senate victory in Ohio to overwhelming support in the Yankee-founded Western Reserve. Republicans lost 10 of 12 Yankee-controlled House seats in Illinois, 5 of 8 in Minnesota, 4 of 9 in upstate New York, and both in eastern Iowa. They clearly lost the Western Reserve as well, though intense gerrymandering of that Democratic bastion makes a firm count of districts impossible. Only in Michigan and Wisconsin will the G.O.P. house caucus represent a majority.

Back when the national party stood for fiscal responsibility, social progress, and the protection of the environment, Republicans dominated this region. So long as it embraces the Tea Party agenda, expect it to remain a critically endangered species in its native habitat.

Back to Home page

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.


  • locoparentis on November 11, 2012 7:46 AM:

    Nice analogy, except for the fact that the Republican party was founded in Ripon, WI, not New England. There the Republicans have total control of the state thanks to this election in spite of the fact that the state handily went for Barack Obama. That and the election of Tammy Baldwin over Tommy Thompson remains a mystery to all Republicans in Wisconsin.

  • locoparentis on November 11, 2012 7:50 AM:

    The term "Yankee", as the old joke goes, is used by foreigners to indicate Americans, by Southerners to refer to Northerners, by Northerners to discuss New Englanders, by New Englanders Mainers, and by Mainers to talk about the inhabitants of North Maine.

    So you have your choice depending on where you come from.

  • Ebenezer Scrooge on November 11, 2012 8:20 AM:

    The post is mostly right, with one exception. Mormonism is an offspring of Yankeedom.

  • Chris on November 11, 2012 9:51 AM:

    Thanks in large part to the influx of formerly Democratic Dixiecrat refugees over the past generation, the GOP has developed a very serious Southern Problem.

    There is a new rule in national politics. The GOP's national ticket can only hope to be competitive in your state if:

    1) Your state/territory failed to outlaw slavery prior to the Civil War, or

    2) It has no major metropolitan areas.

    That's it. That's the entire scope in which the GOP can now compete at the top of the ticket. That's bad news for everyone and it will not be easy to fix.

    The Republican Dilemma on a Map:

  • Milt on November 11, 2012 10:05 AM:

    locoparentis is amusing. In a fit of self-denial the writer ignores to wider picture and focuses on a narrow view of one state where the sun shines, flowers bloom and birds sing of better days gone by.

  • bluestatedon on November 11, 2012 10:47 AM:

    Chris, I just read your article in the Chronicle, and you were amazingly prescient. Given that you're a Republican of a distinctly moderate persuasion (relative to today's GOP), I'm curious how much—if any—abuse you get from other Republicans and tea partiers in response to your articles at the Chron and on HuffPo.

  • Chris on November 11, 2012 11:12 AM:

    "Abuse" may be too harsh a term. Let's just say that this perspective is not deeply appreciated. At least not yet.

  • bluestatedon on November 11, 2012 12:12 PM:

    "Let's just say that this perspective is not deeply appreciated."

    Heh... nice diplomatic phrasology. I suspect that you, along with David Frum and a tiny handful of others, will remain tiny voices trying to be heard above the oily, hurricane-like din emanating from Limbaugh, Beck, Savage, Coulter, Malkin, and most especially that wondrous 24/7/365 propaganda machine operated by Roger Ailes.

  • Colin Woodard on November 11, 2012 12:12 PM:

    @locoparentis - I didn't say that New England was the region of the party's birth, but rather Greater New England, or "Yankeedom," of which Ripon, Wisconsin is a part. Here's the master map: http://colinwoodard.blogspot.com/2012/04/presenting-slighty-revised-american.html

  • Colin Woodard on November 11, 2012 12:39 PM:

  • TCinLA on November 11, 2012 1:02 PM:

    Chris is entirely right with his analysis. The problem comes from the "Southern Strategy" of Nixon (as do all other Republican problems stem from that Prince of Darkness).

    Traditionally, there are three "parties" in the US. The national progressive party, the national conservative party, and the southernist party (I call it "southernist" because it is now not strictly found in the one region, but it is still regional). The two major parties are basically divided fairly evently, so the "southernist" party can ally with one or the other and provide a margin of victory, with the deal being that the national party leaves the southernists alone with their "peculiar" institutions: their crony capitalism, their crazy religion, and their medieval society.

    The Democrats mostly were that party. The South even allowed the New Deal so long as the social reforms didn't penetrate their region, though they were quite happy to have the TVA and such. 1940 was the first harvest in the south to equal that of 1860, a measure of the good done by the New Deal for the region.

    But when the national Democrats committed "treason" over Civil Rights, the southernists determined that with their next move they would prevent any future "treason" by taking over. Unfortunately, when a parasite attempts to take over the host, the result is what we see politically since the mid-90s with the GOP.

    And for the Wisconsin moron above, the party may have been founded in Ripon, but if you take a look at where the majority of delegates were indeed from the mid-Atlantic states and New England. And the Ripon Republicans of 1854 would think you wingnut assholes were indeed The Enemy, which you now are.

    Go google "Andrew Stevens Cornerstone Speech", given by the VP of the Confederacy, and once you get through all the pro-slavery white supremacy that proves the Civil War was indeed "about slavery" and not about "states rights freedom," and you read his discussion of "Southernomics," you will see that indeed this worldview still exists, and is the majority opinion in today's Republican Party.

  • locoparentis on November 11, 2012 1:36 PM:


    Thank you for the civil discourse. I'm sure that your attitude will persuade those who disagree with you to rethink their positions.

    The 1854 Republican platform was anti-slavery and anti-Mormon (it was very exercised about polygamy) and there is no doubt that those calling themselves Republicans today have repudiated both positions.

    You are inferring way too much from my note, all I was doing was to point out the geographic origins of the Republican party which were not mentioned because the meme didn't quite hold up in WI.

    If you looked at the elections of that time, you would see that the Republican's principle rivals in the early elections were not the Democrats but the No-Nothings then known as the American Party which tried to limit immigration (especially my Irish Catholic ancestors)and was pro-slavery.

    The Republican "Southern Strategy" was to end slavery and do something about the godless Mormons. War eventually broke out on the slavery issue and Lincoln promulgated laws and actions that threatened and harassed the LDS including occupying Salt Lake City for a while.

    As Colin Woodward points out the party is the antithesis of the 1854 Republicans in almost every aspect. Somehow they have managed to take on the worst aspects of all their opponents and shed the issues that made them successful in the past.

    As for me, I have not changed my ideas, I signed the petition to oust our governor, voted for Obama and Baldwin and live in fear that the Republicans will make government so small that it will fit in my bedroom.

  • anon on November 11, 2012 2:34 PM:

    I'm kind of curious.

    Are you calling for the end of history?

  • Anonymous on November 12, 2012 9:28 AM:

    why not call a spade a spade.
    This country is still divided between the "English" and the unhuman "Others"
    Most of the Yankees region described by the authors had a majority of non english.

  • Kirk Robertson on November 13, 2012 9:17 AM:

    Colin What about the notion that Mormonism is a Yankee religion. I thought I read somebody make that admittedly debatable observation but can't remember wherre.I think it may have been something Michael Lind wrote or perhaps David Hackett Fischer. By extension Utah would have a definite Yankee influence. Under your scheme you absorb it into the Far West.

  • ButAmIYankeeIfILiveInVermontButGrewUpInNewMexicoWhatIfIAmAlsoABlackJew on November 14, 2012 10:40 PM:

    It seems to me this sort of "ethnicity of the original settlers" argument is useful only if one can demonstrate that this matters MORE THAN other factors. Economy, industry, race, education, etc. Sure the fact that MA was originally settled by Puritans and VA was settled by tobacco planters matters, but it seems like a pretty vague and glossy way to explain an actual election.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on November 27, 2012 12:24 PM:

    Well, it's about time somebody other than those paying attention from their bunkers took the idiotic MSM to task for their cowardly, incompetent position for the last 20+ years. It's the primary reason the country (and the world) is in the awful mess it's in.

  • Colin Woodard on December 12, 2012 10:21 AM:

    @Kirk - That argument regarding Mormonism's Yankee roots is my own, actually. You likely read it here: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/ten-miles-square/2011/11/can_the_dems_flip_utah033695.php