Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: More on Schaller’s Supreme Confidence That Dems Can’t Win the South


From the perspective of citizenship, one indisputable good that came of the Democratic primary season was how wonderfully it engaged the electorate. To any pundit or pollster who dares tell me that the ultimate outcome was exactly as they predicted, my reply is that the first right and responsibility of citizenship is the vote. Had the Founding Fathers intended a democracy based on polling, surely they could have (far more easily) set that up!

Tom Schaller’s column in the NYTimes yesterday covered his familiar territory (he did, after all, write the book on the topic!) and it was warmly received in the blogosphere. Pottenhoff at The Electoral Map was one of the rare places I found pushback:

How can you explain the recent election in Mississippi’s First, where Democrat Travis Childers won in a district that is 26 percent black?

A lot of that election had to do with the poor state of the GOP brand, but the value of a candidate walking into a hostile community and asking for votes should also not be underestimated.

One of the most vocal proponents of Democrats fighting to scramble the unfriendly data in the South is Mudcat Saunders, who regularly gives reporters choice quotes about how the party elites — “the Harvards” — have left rural Dems up the creek.

I generally think Mudcat’s rhetoric is a little overzealous, but I do think he has two solid arguments. The first is that when a Democrat takes one vote from a Republican in a red area, it’s really a “two-fer” — One fer the Dems and one less fer the GOP.  So the ROI is double.

The second point is that Democratic candidates attempts to win over Southern, white voters often pay real dividends. When Mark Warner ran for governor in 2001, he hired Mudcat as a rural strategist and Sherry Crumley, a legendary outdoorswoman from southwest Virginia, to chair “Sportsman for Warner.”

In an interview with Sherry in 2006 when I was still at National Journal, she told me that she would often be driving through the hills with the candidate and see a gun or fishing store. Warner would ask to stop, and would walk in and quickly tell everyone, “I’m Mark Warner; I’m running for governor. Some people are going to say I’m going to take you’re guns and just want to tell you that it’s not true.”

Warner ended up winning southwest Virginia on his way to the Executive Mansion, even though the numbers there were daunting.

Last month Schaller participated on a panel with Ruy Teixeira and Sean Wilentz at Salon asking what role did race play with white Democrats in the primary contest? What I found striking was that two of the three expressed honest doubts about the limits of what the numbers could tell us.

Teixeira — “We do know it was a factor, but we just don’t know how much of one because… It’s essentially impossible to disentangle… we have to be careful in inferring too much.” — and Wilentz — “At some level, this all becomes sheer speculation… it’s all aggregates, and you have to try to put it together.” Not a peep from Schaller. He is completely — supremely — confident in his numbers.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives Democrats have gained two seats in Texas, two in Florida, one in North Carolina, and one in Kentucky, while also defending redistricted Democratic seats in Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, and Louisiana. And there have been two additional gains in special elections in Louisiana and Mississippi:

With these seats alone in GOP hands, Democrats would only have a ten-seat majority in the House, instead of the 37-seat majority that they now enjoy. But there is more: of the 236 current Democratic members of the House, about 72 of them are from below the Mason-Dixon line (give or take whichever states you count as “Southern.”)

This means that roughly one-third of the Democratic caucus is from the South.

And we’ve yet to see what the impact of The Millennial Generation will be.

Me, I am not a political scientist. I am a citizen. A voter. And an observer. I see my neighbors excited about an election in a way they have not been in the five years I’ve lived here. I’ll keep reading the numbers, keep watching the pundits, but when it comes to how this election is going to turn out I just have to wonder if this one won’t be one of those that changes the paradigm.

  • superdestroyer

    As the Republican Party becomes irrelevant, I hope that this type of hyper partisan tea leaf reading stops.

    The Democratic candidates have a huge advantage is that they do not seem to effect each other the way Republican candidates do. If a Republican Controlled School Board wants to teach evolution, then all Republicans are tarred as anti-science idiots. Yet, if Democratic politicians in Chicago want to sue gun makers, pay racial reparations, or sue corporations because they profited from slavery 150 years ago, it does not affect moderate Democrats.

    As the Democratic party become more dominate, it is going to easy for it to look more moderate while actually implementing more liberal policies. Someone like Jim Webb will be able to vote against gun control, reparations, racial quotas while knowing that there are at least 50 Democrats in the Senate capable of safely voting for the liberal policy.

  • Neocon

    Okay SD Ill Bite.

    Whats wrong with living in a socialist country run by Hispanics and Blacks where we have all our needs taken care of and we can reduce our military to the size of Canada’s and ask someone else in the world to take care of us and protect us?

    Why is that so bad. I’m kinda looking forward to your idea of the future. Free everything for everyone.

  • Silhouette


    Of course the democrats can win the South with Clinton! That’s a no brainer…

    Ooops…wait a minute…oh, that’s right…”we” picked the sure-loser….

    I got a phone call from the democrat fundraisers yesterday. I told them to walk, that I was giving no money to my political party until they nominate the uniting candidate Clinton. Period. They listen when you talk $$. I say that each and every democrat utterly disgusted that our leaders hand-selected a losing, dividing candidate tell them to fund their own damn political party…

    Because it no longer belongs to us anyway…why should we foot the bills?

  • Mike_P

    Silhouette, I kinda’ like the idea of the “Democrat” (sic) Party leaders (in this case, the majority of Democratic Party primary voters) selecting our nominee.

    As a mostly life-long Southerner, I’m under no illusion that Democratic candidates will sweep the South this year. But that doesn’t mean the Party shouldn’t invest and campaign heavily in the South. It wasn’t that long ago that the South was as solidly Democratic as it is now Republican. The Party, and Obama in particular, are engaged in a so-called “50 state strategy,” building organization and Party ID for the long term. There are significant signs that it is having an effect. While a lot of the Republicans’ recent losses are due to their own failures, as were the Democratic southern losses over the previous 3 decades, having organizations in place increases the party’s ability to recruit good candidates, helps increase Democratic Party identification among voters and importantly, get out the vote efforts on election day.

    It’s a long-term strategy that has shown enough signs of early success that this Southerner hopes Democrats continue to work hard to earn votes here.

  • superdestroyer

    Mike_P, as the U.S. become a one party state, doe it really matter that Georgia or Alabama elect more Democrats? All it does is allow the most senior members of the Democratic Party from other states to reap the benefits of the coming one party state while states like Alabama get little in return.

    Do you really believe that a part whose intellectual center is in NYC, SF, and LA really care about blue collar whites in poor counties in the deep south?

  • runasim

    You carry on about the one party system IN EVERY SINGLE COMMENT so much that you’ve convinced me at alst.

    It’ll be great, and I can’t wait.
    Thanks for making me see the light.