Monday, 29 February 2016

Separated by a border (2): electoral divisions

In my first Separated by a border blog (that was three years ago, but it garnered significant attention apparently) I drew institutional implications of how some countries on the same geographical area differ so much with respect to their institutional environments, living standards, income etc. Inspired by Nogales, the infamous US-Mexican example from Acemoglu and Robinson's Why Nations Fail, I drew similar cross-country comparisons between the two Koreas, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and between Rwanda and DR Congo. The common thing with all these examples is the same geography, same culture, same (similar) history, same diseases, but different outcomes. Why? Institutions, stupid!

Today we will look at the major differences within countries, starting with voting patterns. This time it's not so much the institutions that make the difference (at least not directly), but historical patterns of development. 

We start with the two most famous political science examples of electoral divisions: the Two Polands and the Two Ukraines.
Poland's electoral results in 2007 and the superimposed border of
Imperial Germany in 1914
The results of the 2007 Polish parliamentary elections exhibit a clear non-random pattern across an imaginative line of where the former Imperial Germany used to stand (the patterns are the same for the later presidential elections). The North-West part of the country is usually dominated by the PO party (Civil Platform), which is pro-European and pro-market (liberal conservatives), while the South-East part of the country (except for the capital Warsaw) tends to be dominated by the PIS party (Law and Justice; anti-communist, anti-EU, but social conservative, more politically right-wing but also more economically left-wing and protectionist). So the pro-EU, liberal party tends to win in areas that were once controlled by Germany, while the anti-EU, social conservative party tends to win in areas once controlled by Russia. Split between two large empires - that was Poland's destiny for a very long time. It shows even today. There is obviously no German or Russian influence in Polish votes, but it is very interesting to notice how events that ended 100 years ago still yield stark electoral differences. These electoral divisions are surely embedded in today's Poland, and have a very low chance of ever receding and changing. 

Ukraine is a similar story, even though it doesn't have a superimposed imaginative line of a historical division between two empires, but it does exhibit stark differences in cultural influence (e.g. the language division; the percentage of Russian speakers in the Eastern parts of Ukraine). There are also theories linking the electoral division to the 16th and 17th century rule of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth over the Western parts of Ukraine. 
The results of the 2010 Ukrainian Presidential elections. Very similar
voting patterns were obvious in the 2004 Presidential elections. 
Again the difference is between the pro-EU (Western-orineted) part of the country, and the anti-EU (Russian-oriented part of the country). Much is today known about Ukraine's separation; the war and political deadlock that started in the beginning of 2014 are still no closer to being resolved. This is an example how stark electoral differences can even dissolve an entire country. 

An obvious example here is also Germany. However, since I've already discussed the electoral divisions in 2013 along the Berlin Wall, as well as the stark demographic and economic differences between the former East and West Germany, I'll leave Germany out in these sets of examples, and focus instead on a country with a long democratic tradition, but one that still exhibits stark electoral divisions, many of which can be attributed to history.

In the United States, the main electoral division is North vs South (sort of), with the underlying historical division primarily attributed to slavery and the 1861-1865 Civil War. Most of the seceding states from that time (except for Florida and Virginia), favored Republicans in recent elections (ever since Bush vs Gore), up to the point of becoming Republican strongholds (e.g. South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas). However little do most people know that this electoral division is actually not that old, and more importantly, these states weren't Republican strongholds for at least a hundred years after the Civil war and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Until the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s these Southern states were actually Democratic strongholds. The reason? Many landowners who before the Civil War owned a lot of slave labor hardly favored the abolition of slavery. Ideology had nothing to do with it. It was always a monetary issue. Slave labor meant free labor, so being required to pay money to former slaves and give them a decent living standard was unacceptable for the landowners. However after losing the Civil War and accepting the Union, they still refused to treat African Americans, their former slaves, as equal citizens with equal rights. In fact black labor was still very cheap in the South, while the people were still living in extreme inequality, not to mention being subject to segregation and racist conduct, which was, at least in the South, completely legal!

Source: Allen Gathman
It is not therefore surprising to notice the pattern shown on the map above. The electoral results of the 2008 Obama vs McCain elections by county (blue for Obama, red for McCain), compared with cotton production in 1860, where dots represent the size of production (each dot 2000 bales). The pattern implies that African Americans, who were the crucial part of the cotton economy in the 19th century, even after a lot of them emigrated after the Civil War, still held the same residential patterns in the South, and carried the main votes in these areas for the nation's "first Black President". 

However the South remained dominantly Republican in those elections. But as I've said earlier, it wasn't always like this (for contemporary audiences which don't like to read history very much, I recommend the movie 'Lincoln' staring Oscar-winner Daniel Day Lewis - in the movie you can see how the Democratic party of Lincoln's time was extremely racist, and how it was the Republican party that was progressive). 

It was not until after Kennedy that there was a complete reversal of electoral patterns in the South (and the rest of the country). Consider the following set of maps, each featuring a national US election from 1952 to 1968: 

1952 Presidential election. Eisenhower (Rep) won. 

1956 Presidential election. Eisenhower (Rep) reelected. 
In these two elections you can clearly see how the Southern states that are today Republican strongholds voted for Democrats back in the 1950s. The pattern continued with Kennedy (map below; notice California and New England voting Republican all this time), even though he had "opposition" in the South from Harry Byrd, a Virginia Democrat and racial segregationist who wasn't even a candidate at these elections but still received electoral delegates in Alabama and Mississippi. So some voters in the South already started disliking Kennedy and what his administration would later bring.
1960 Presidential election. Kennedy (Dem) won. 
During the Kennedy administration is when the tides have completely changed (as you can see from the map of the 1964 elections below). Kennedy was strongly opposed to racial segregation in schools and how some Southern states have ignored the Supreme Court ruling from 1954 that segregation was unconstitutional. He promoted legislation that supported the Civil Rights Movement (the March on Washington happened while he was in office), the key domestic issue of his term in office, and, along with his brother, the Attorney General, was involved in preventing some major racist outbursts in Mississippi and Alabama (one of which included the 1968 third party candidate, segregationist George Wallace who won five Southern states in those elections). All this started the turn of the Southern states against the Democrats for good (there was an exception in the 1976 elections when they went to Carter, and in Clinton's elections in states adjacent to his home state of Arkansas). Democrats were still holding majorities in state legislatures in the South until the 1990s (some schools in Alabama remained segregationist until the 90s actually), but it was the events of the Civil Rights Movement during the Kennedy administration that started turning Democrats more liberal, and Republicans more conservative.
1964 Presidential election. Johnson (Dem) won. It is here
where we first notice the reversal of the traditional
Democratic and Republican states. The South turned
1968 Presidential election. Nixon (Rep) won. 


  1. Check Portuguese elections, same happened, north vs south.

    1. Interesting! Is there an underlying historical reason for this?