Tennessee, Arkansas, West Virginia Move to the Right in Presidential Politics; Alaska Veers Left

(Source: Alexrk2 (CC))

In 2008, Barack Obama defeated John McCain by 6.27%. Not all the results are official yet, but Obama’s victory margin shrank to 3.12% in 2012. In most states, Obama’s victory margin also changed. There are a handful of states where Obama’s margin increased. There are also some where the margin increased towards the Republican side. However, the more interesting and long-term trends come from comparing the states in the last two presidential elections with the 2000 and 2004 elections. Those results show that four states are on a course towards a new political alignment.

Three states have moved from being borderline swing states in 2000 — West Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee — to Republican strongholds in 2012. One state has done the opposite. It has moved from being a Republican stronghold to a potentially competitive state. Surprisingly, that state is Alaska and Sarah Palin has nothing to do with it.

West Virginia





Bush 6.33%

Bush 12.86%

McCain 13.09%

Romney 26.86%


Keep in mind that Bill Clinton carried West Virginia in 1992 and 1996. Even Michael Dukakis and Jimmy Carter carried the state in 1988 and 1980, respectively. West Virginia used to be solidly Democratic. Only Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1984 with their massive electoral landslides got West Virginia to abandon the Democrats. That has changed in this century. It now appears that West Virginia has moved into the column as one of the nation’s most conservative states. Only Oklahoma, Wyoming, Idaho and Utah were more solidly Republican in 2012.






Bush 5.47%

Bush 9.76%

McCain 19.86%

Romney 23.69%


Of course, Bill Clinton carried Arkansas in 1992 and 1996. Arkansas was Clinton’s home state. Prior to that, only Carter carried Arkansas for the Democrats. Looking at the totals now, Arkansas has moved from moderately Republican to solidly Republican.






Bush 3.87%

Bush 14.27%

McCain 15.06%

Romney 20.41%


Tennessee was Al Gore’s home state. That explains the relative closeness of the 2000 election in Tennessee, at least compared to the following three elections that show a clear shift towards the GOP.

Many analyses have noted that Obama did better in Alaska in 2012 than 2008. The reason given is that Alaskan Sarah Palin was on the ballot in 2008 so the turnout for the Republican ticket was heavier than it normally would be. That sounds logical until the results of 2000 and 2004 are included.






Bush 30.95%

Bush 25.55%

McCain 21.53%

Romney 13.95%


The favorite daughter theory for the heavy Alaskan vote for the Republican ticket in 2008 doesn’t hold water. Without an Alaskan on the ticket, Al Gore and John Kerry did worse than either of Obama’s races. With Palin on the ticket, the Democratic performance improved in 2008 to Obama taking 37.9% of the vote. That may not sound like much but it was the best performance by a Democrat since Hubert Humphrey’s 42.65% in 1968. In fact, no Democrat since Humphrey has broken the 40% barrier, except for Obama in 2012. Romney only beat Obama there 54.8% to 40.8%.

Romney carried 24 states, but only in eight did he perform better than Alaska — Arizona, Montana, Missouri, Indiana, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Alaska is almost at the point of being considered like Montana, a Republican state that has had occasional competitive races. Bill Clinton in 1992 was the last Democrat to take it, but Michael Dukakis and Jimmy Carter also ran credible races there, and Obama nearly carried it in 2008. Alaska isn’t going blue anytime soon, but if the trend of the last 12 years continues, it will no longer be a sure bet for the GOP.

What is the reason for this? It is hard to figure. Alaska has one of the youngest populations in the country, and that demographic is Democratic. Since 1960, the white population has dropped from 77% to 67%, with a quarter of that change coming in the last decade, suggesting a spurt in the minority population. The change has been in the Hispanic and Asian populations, two groups that went over 70% for Obama. Yet neither of those factors fully explain why Romney did 12% less than George Bush in 2004. In a two-person race (Alaska is notorious for strong third party candidacies), Romney performed worse than any Republican did since Barry Goldwater.

The demographics are certainly important, but ideology appears just as important. Ralph Nader grabbed 10% of the vote in 2000. That would have been unheard of in the days of the 1970s and 80s when it was the Libertarians who could run up totals of 12%. Alaska is growing a liberal streak.

Alaska will never be a major player in presidential politics, but its slow shift from the GOP is one of the more surprising changes in the last few years. If the 2016 election continues the trend of an increasing Democratic vote, it will be undeniable that Alaska is undergoing a major political realignment.

This entry was posted in Alaska, Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>