Thursday, February 14, 2013

Presidential Results by 1952 Districts: An Overview.

The 83rd Congress is interesting for a few reasons. It was one of just two Republican Congresses of the post-FDR, pre-1994 period. It's also the first Congress that I have Presidential results for, thanks to demographicarmageddon telling me about Congressional District Data Book for the 87th Congress, and to David Nir for sending me a copy. I had to copy them manually, so I can't promise there aren't any typos on my part, although I did double-check.

Update: As it turns out, there are typos, but on the part of the district data book itself, which disagrees with statewide totals. I'll publish a new version of this when I can verify from other sources.

Let's look at the basics of what knowing how the Democratic Presidential candidate did in each Congressional district can tell us about both today and then.

You can see a spreadsheet with the Presidential results, and with the representative and party for the 83rd Congress, here. If you want to double-check my typing, you can download the data book itself here.

Below, I have a scatterplot of the 83rd House of Representatives. The x- and y- axes give Adlai Stevenson's two-party vote share in each district. The districts are colored by party in the usual way. (You probably can't see it, but there was one independent--Henry Reams of OH-09. That's colored green.)

Let's zoom in to the range roughly corresponding to Stevenson getting within 10 points of his national percentage:

To compare: below is a scatterplot of the current (113th) House of Representatives, although I've only included those districts where DKE had 2012 Presidential results at the time I was writing this post. The x- and y- axes give Barack Obama's two-party vote share in each district, and again, the districts are colored by party.

And here's a similar zoom-in (now on the other axis--for the 83rd Congress, the 1956 elections were in the future; for the 113th Congress, the 2008 elections are in the past):

Broadly, the charts tell similar stories. In 1952 or in 2012, Democratic-leaning districts (districts on the right/top) mostly elected Democrats. Republican-leaning districts mostly elected Republicans. And in both 1952 and in 2012, this is still true if you only consider (relatively) marginal districts and ignore the most strongly partisan seats.

But the 2012/2008 scatterplots are simpler than the 1956/1952 scatterplots in (at least) two ways: the successive Presidential election results are far more highly correlated now, and there is now a far stronger relationship between a district's Presidential lean and a district's House representation.

In other words: In 1952, there were many more Democratically-leaning seats electing Republicans, and Republican-leaning seats electing Democrats, than there are today. We don't have all of the current Presidential results, but there are around 25 such seats now, compared to about 64 seats then. I'll give more details on this in a little bit.

Relatively marginal districts in 1952 (that is, districts where Stevenson got close to his national percentage) include NY-12 (part of Brooklyn), AZ-02 (Arizona outside of Maricopa County), NY-07 (western Queens, including Astoria), NJ-12 (outer Essex County), and at-large districts in Connecticut, New Mexico, and Washington. Those descriptions, by the way, are from Kenneth Martis' wonderful Historical Atlas.

A follower of current politics, looking at the 1952 scatterplots, might argue that it shows a Democratic party in flux. In 1952, Stevenson's best districts were a mix of areas where Democrats still do very well today (NY-16's Harlem, NY-23's Bronx, PA-01's Philadelphia) and "solid South" districts that have turned strongly against the Democratic party.

To see this summed up in a single district: note that Stevenson's highest 1952 percentage was in GA-04, then held by Democrat Albert Camp. The guy who succeeded Camp, John Flynt, would himself be succeeded by none other than Newt Gingrich.

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but despite this eventual shift, as I think demographicarmageddon pointed out, Stevenson did better in many Southern districts in 1956 than he did in 1952, and especially if you define "better" relative to Stevenson's overall national percentages. Of course, there were a lot of oddities with the electoral system of the time--I think some Southern states voted for "slates of electors", rather than voting directly for Presidential candidates. Note Stevenson's dramatic drop in NY-16 from 1952 to 1956. This was Adam Clayton Powell's Harlem district, and, according to Wiki, Ike was winning "the support of nearly 40% of black voters" thanks to Brown. (And, presumably, also thanks to whatever it was that made everyone else vote for him.)

Back to 1952: You can also see that both scatterplots have most of the red districts to the left of most of the blue districts. The concept of PVI--which says that the Presidential vote of a district relative to the national Presidential vote should predict how it does in other elections--worked pretty well in 1952, although not nearly as well as it works today. While there was quite a bit of split-ticket voting, we aren't at the point, yet, where Southern states were voting en masse for Republican Presidential candidates and for Democratic House candidates.

Stevenson got about 44.5% of the national vote. Of the 204 districts where Stevenson did at least that well, Republicans only elected Representatives to 27 of them. (Democrats and independent Henry Reams won the rest.) And, as the scatterplot suggests, they mostly won the districts with the smallest Democratic lean.

Taking an idea from David Nir, let's just look at Republican-held seats.

The 12 (why not?) most Democratic districts to elect a Republican Representative were:

  1. NY-21, Jacob Javits, 62.3% Stevenson.
  2. PA-22, John Saylor, 50.9%.
  3. NJ-01, Charles Wolverton, 50.9%.
  4. CA-12, Allan Hunter, 50.4%.
  5. OH-14, William Ayres, 49.5%.
  6. WA-06, Thor Tollefson, 49.0%.
  7. PA-25, Louis Graham, 48.2%.
  8. PA-06, Hugh Scott Jr., 48.1%.
  9. DE-AL, Herbert Warburton, 48.1%.
  10. NE-04, Arthur Miller, 47.8%.
  11. VA-09, William Wampler, 46.9%.
  12. WA-01, Thomas Pelly, 46.9%.

(Side note: NE-04 is almost certainly a typo from when the book was written. No way Stevenson almost won a district in rural Nebraska.)

Then as now, Republicans seemed to mostly win rather marginally Democratic districts, except in extreme circumstances. Jacob Javits was perhaps "the most liberal Republican to serve in either chamber of Congress between 1937 and 2002". Incidentally, while Javits' district is sometimes described as an "Upper West Side" district (in his Wiki, for example), Martis gives Javits' NY-21 as running from north of 110th Street all the way to the Harlem river, both in 1947 (when Javits was initially elected) and into the 83rd Congress. In other words, he was elected from Morningside Heights, Harlem, and Inwood, not the Upper West Side as we know it today. (Of course, those neighborhoods probably weren't as we think of them today, either.)

Anyway, of the 231 districts where Stevenson did worse than he did nationally, Democrats only simultaneously elected Representatives to 37. (That's counting the two Democrats from New Mexico's at-large district.)

Democrats also picked up two more "red" seats in special elections during the 83rd Congress: NJ-06, after Republican incumbent Clifford Case resigned during his Senate campaign, and WI-09, after Republican incumbent Merlin Hull died in office.

The 12 most Republican districts to elect a Democratic Representative were:

  1. KS-01, Howard Miller, 28.7% Stevenson.
  2. MA-03, Philip Philbin, 32.2%.
  3. FL-06, Dwight Rogers, 34.5%.
  4. VA-07, Burr Harrison, 35.6%.
  5. CO-04, Wayne Aspinall, 36.0%.
  6. SC-01, Lucius Rivers, 36.3%.
  7. TX-05, Joseph Wilson, 37.0%.
  8. FL-05, Albert Herlong Jr., 37.0%.
  9. OH-15, Robert Secrest, 37.7%.
  10. FL-01, Courtney Campbell, 38.1%.
  11. MN-06, Fred Marshall, 38.2%.
  12. TX-21, Ovie Fisher, 38.4%.

Note that these aren't all Southern seats. Interestingly (and this is something else demographicarmageddon pointed out), some of the most conservative areas of the South were urban districts that are, today, some of the most liberal areas of the South. For example, FL-01 was the Tampa area at the time, while TX-05 was coterminous with Dallas County. The Richmond-area VA-03 only gave Stevenson about 40% of the vote, even while it elected a Democrat, J. Vaughan Gary. (Incidentally, if you follow the people who succeeded Gary, you eventually come to Eric Cantor, the current Republican Majority leader.)

One question is: what was the relationship between how Adlai Stevenson did in a district and how the district's Representative voted? That will probably be the subject of my next post.

Note: Aside from the Data Book, I got the names and parties of the Representatives from GovTrack and OurCampaigns. I also used the ggplot2 package in R, and benefited from various pieces of advice about R, such as on Stack Overflow.

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