The Political Geography of the United States
(data used here does not include the results of the 2000 election)
The United States is often divided into 4 regions: East, South, Midwest,
and West, each of very roughly similar population. There are other ways
to divide the country more finely, but these are the most elemental geographical
divisions and the most politically significant. The West in the map below
has a much greater territory, but most of those states are lightly populated
mountain or plains states, so actually the West has the smallest population
of the 4 regions.
Both the Democrats and Republicans have regional bases of support. However
the regional bases of the parties has shifted dramatically over time. Map
2 shows the historical pattern from the birth of the Democrats at the beginning
of the 19th century and of the Republicans in the middle of
the 19th century up until the middle of the 20th
century using results of presidential elections.
Basically, the Democrats were strongest in the South, the Republicans were strongest in the Midwest and East, and the West was the most competitive region.
However, since 1960 there has been dramatic change in the regional bases
of the parties. Map 3 shows the presidential election results since 1960.
In the second half of the 20th century the Republicans were
strongest in the West while the Democrats did best in the Northeast and
The same pattern can be seen in the results of races for the House of Representatives. Map 4 shows the results of the 1944 congressional election, a fairly typical election under the New Deal party system.
As with presidential results before 1960, the Democrats are strongest in the South, the Republicans are strongest in the East and Midwest, and the West is most competitive.
The shift in the regional bases of the parties in Congress came more
gradually than the shift in presidential voting. As recently as the 1980s
the Democrats were still strongest in the South. But in the 1990s House
voting patterns caught up to presidential patterns, particularly with the
election of 1994 that gave the Republicans their first majority in Congress
since 1954. Map 5 shows the results of the 1996 congressional elections.
Now in the House as well as presidential races the Republicans are strongest in the West, the Democrats are strongest in the East and Midwest, and the South is the most competitive region.
The pace of this change in the House can be seen in Figure 1.
However, at the state and local level the old pattern still can be seen. Map 6 shows the current pattern of partisan control of state government. Here the Democrats still retain their old base in the South, while the Republicans do best in the West, and the Northeast and Midwest are most competitive.
FOR A MORE DETAILED AND ADVANCED TREATMENT OF POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY GO TO MY ARTICLE ON THE HISTORIC SHIFT IN THE REGIONAL BASES OF AMERICAN POLITICAL PARTIES
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