Two years ago, I wrote an article about how Electoral Maps on TV Shows Make No Sense. VEEP featured a map with Democrat Selina Meyer winning Florida but losing Delaware. The West Wing, meanwhile, had Democrat Jed Bartlet winning the Dakotas and Indiana while Democrat Matt Santos is winning South Carolina but losing Florida. I called out for a political show that would produce an electoral map that made some degree of sense. Two years later, I finally got one from House of Cards.
On May 26th, 1845, two months after being admitted statehood, Florida held its first Gubernatorial Election. Florida’s road to statehood was not simple. The panic of 1837 had hurt the state’s finances and divided its population over the issue of banks and lending. Sectional splits between the panhandle and the east had become so severe there was open talks among the territorial legislature of splitting Florida in two. One of the largest pushers for statehood was the state’s At-Large delegate to Congress, Democrat David Levy. The push for statehood had been years-long, with delays occurring for a multitude of reasons both from DC and the state. Levy pushed for statehood of Florida as a balance for Iowa’s soon-admittance to preserve the North/South balance in the Senate. Statehood was finally approved in 1845. May 26th was set as the date for the Florida to elect its Governor, state legislature, and member of Congress.
Election night was a resounding win for the Democratic Party over their rivals, the Whigs. Democrats nominated William Moseley, a senator for the state’s territorial legislature at their convention. The Whig Party, much less organized, finally chose Richard Keith Call, a former territorial Governor, at a last minute meeting in Tallahassee after previous efforts to pick a nominee failed. The Democrat’s superior party organization won them the election. The Democrats dominated eastern Florida as well as low-populated counties in the west while the Whigs won some of the largest counties in the state.
Note there is some debate on the proper totals for this race. Totals by county give us 3,391 for Moseley and 2,561 for Call. However, other documents say 3,292 for Moseley and 2,679 for Call, around a 108 vote difference. As of this writing the real answer is yet to be determined (a visit to the state archives is in my future).
Call’s loss can be a bit shocking considering his ties to the state’s history. He was a two-time territorial Governor and major player in state politics. However, the dynamics of Florida made a Whig victory in 1845 very tough. Florida’s battering during the Panic of 1837 left a long-lasting impact on the states politics. The western and middle panhandle (say, everything west of the Suwanee River) long held sway over territorial Florida. The panhandle had a larger population and a notable upper slave-owning class. The area was home to many of the power-players of early Florida, many who would become Whigs. The name often given to these panhandle power players was “The Nucleus.” The major issue that separated Whigs and Democrats was the role of banks. Whigs where generally more pro-bank, similar to the national Whigs, and dating back to Federalist/Hamilton ideals. Following the Panic, and subsequent efforts of banks to get bond money back from the state, Democrats in the east saw the banks as a more villainous entity. Democrats also pushed back against an aristocratic panhandle that was ruling the territory. “The Nucleus” quickly became a term of derision. Florida Democrats, like Jackson, cast themselves as a common-man party. This summary is a drastic over-simplification, as plenty Democrats were wealthy and many FL Whigs had been Jackson backers. The two parties traded control of the territorial legislature and Democrats held control of the at-large delegate seat leading up to the vote. The clear split between the east and panhandle existed and manifested itself in the Gubernatorial Election. The east was slowly growing and it’s solid margins ensured a Democratic Victory.
While the Democrat won the most land-mass, the eastern and southern counties were far less populated. The map below shows how each county voted with a pie-chart adjusted for the total votes cast.
The votes were clustered in the panhandle. While the Whigs won most of the largest counties, it was often by respectable but not landslide margins. The Democrats, however, crushed the Whigs in small counties like Dade, but also in large counties like Duval and Columbia.
While the Democrats won the Gubernatorial race with a solid margin, the Congressional race fared even better for the party. Levy was elected as the Congressman At-Large with 60% of the vote. He would go on to be appointed to the US Senate by the new Florida legislature, which was in the firm control of the Democrats. The legislative margins where even more lopsided for Democrats, with them taking 54% of the state senate and 75% of the state house.
The Whigs where not to be counted out, however. In October of 1845, a special election was held for Levy’s Congressional seat upon his appointment to the US Senate. The election saw the Whigs win with 50.8% of the vote.
In 1848, the Whig’s would win the Governorship with with Thomas Brown. That same year the Whig Congressman, Edward Cabell, would win re-election with 53% of the vote and Whig Presidential candidate Zachary Taylor would win the state with 57% of the vote. Of course, four years later, Florida was right back in the Democratic column with a Democratic Governor. Florida has the reputation of swing state today, something it had some history with back in the 1840s.
The special election for Montana’s At-Large seat is upon us. The election was triggered by Donald Trump appointing Congressman Zinke as Interior Secretary, leaving a seat up for grabs that Democrats have not held since 1996. The seat has attracted money and interest, but Republicans, aiming to avoid a shock result, have been the largest spenders in the race. Republicans are running Greg Gianforte, a businessman who narrowly lost a Gubernatorial bid last year. Democrats are running Rob Quist, a folk singer who falls into the Bernie Sander’s wing of the party. Quist has run an aggressive campaign while Gianforte has relied more on money and paid advertising. Polling has put Gianforte in first, with wide variations from small to modest. Montana was solid for Trump in 2016, but its history of voting Democrat for Governor and Senator, coupled with Trump’s falling approvals, mean nothing can be taken for granted.
Montana is sparsely populated, but does host some key population centers. Only seven cities have a populations over 20,000 people. Much of Montana’s population is in the western part of the state while the east remains much more rural.
A super-simple summary of these cities/areas is as follows
- Missoula — home to University of Missoula, solid democratic area
- Butte — old mining and union town
- Bozeman — growing city, tourism site, white-collar, high educated
- Billings — site of large growth by rich people moving in out of state
- Helena — Capital, more Republican/swing area, home to lots of outdoor recreation
- Great Falls — rust-belt style city that has seen declining economy
- Kalispell — trading port city
Montana is also one of the whitest states in the nation. The largest non-white group is Native Americans, which are clustered in assorted reservations in the state.
Montana was solid for Trump in 2016, giving him an over 20% margin. Clinton’s wins where clustered in the west and along the Indian Reservations. Clinton won in Bozeman, a booming city with a growing white-collar and a major tourist destination (close to Big Sky), and Missoula, home to the University of Missoula. Clinton won in Butte, an older union, mining-town region but by a narrow margin.
While Clinton was losing Montana by 20 points, Democratic Governor Steve Bullock was winning by four. Bullock won the counties hosting Great Falls and Helena and only narrowly lost in Yellowstone, home to Billings. Bullock racked up much stronger wins in Butte and did better out west.
Bullock’s win was just by winning more counties, he outperformed Clinton across the state. Bullock did over 15% better in many counties in the western part of the state, with a very rural counties in the east staying stead-fast GOP.
Obama’s 2012 run in Montana was not strong, though he did win more counties than Clinton. His 15 point loss was much weaker than his 2008 run, where he came very close to taking the state.
In 2008, Obama won more counties than he did in 2012, but he also had narrower margins in counties he lost. Like any state, its not just about winning key population centers, but also keeping margins as low as possible in the rural regions.
Below is each county and how they voted in key recent elections, sorted by total votes cast in 2016. Just a handful of counties control a majority of the vote in Montana.
Montana’s East-West Split
People who study Montana’s politics and culture note a distinct east-west divide in the state. Eastern Montana is much more rural and like the great plains, losing population every census. Western Montana, dominated by the Rocky Mountains, is home to most of the states tourist hot-spots. The region is growing, the site of retirees and young workers, with a growing population. Population projects show the east continuing to lose population and the west on track to keep gaining people.
The western portion of the state is also much more educated than the east, with more and more residents holding bachelors degrees.
Compare the education map to a map showing how the partisan margin for President between 2012 and 2016 shifted.
As was seen in the rest of the nation, there was a clear correlation between how the Presidential votes shifted and the education/economy of an area.
The Democratic margin improved in one county, the one with the highest Bachelor’s degree %. The GOP margin, meanwhile, improved in many counties with lower-education, often sites of mines that do or did dot the west (Map from Montana Mining Association).
Democrat’s weakening in the mining and working class areas are part of a nationwide trend. While Clinton performed weak in these areas, Bullock managed to do better, aiding his re-election.
The combination of old union, mining towns and a growing educated population have continued a long trend of Western Montana being more Democratic than the east.
Until 1992, Montana had two congressional districts, with the western 1st district held by a Democrat, and the eastern 2nd held by a Republican. When Montana lost a seat in 1992, the two congressmen went against each-other for that At-Large seat. Democrat Williams won by a 3% while winning his old district and losing the 2nd.
Looking at several recent election in Montana broken down by the old 1st and 2nd district, the political split in the state is clear. The old 2nd district is solidly Republican while the first leans Democratic.
Clinton under-performed in the West, but tanked by record levels in the east. Clinton’s drop in mining, working-class areas gave her one of the weakest showing in the west for any high-profile race. Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Jon Tester only narrowly lost in the east in his 2012 re-election. The east and west often produce large splits in how they vote, but Tester’s 2012 win saw the lowest split thanks to his strength in the east. Democrats may under-perform in the east, but they still can keep things close, as Tester demonstrates.
The east/west split is worth keeping an eye on for the future. Montana has narrowly missed out on a 2nd district in the last two censuses and still stands in the running for 2020. A split in Montana could produce a western district more favorable to Democrats. The line’s would be different from 1992 (the west is too over-populated now) — but any western variation (absent an aggressive gerrymander) would be in play for Democrats.
Montana is often written off in the political conversation most of the time, lumped in with deep red states like Idaho or Wyoming. However, Montana’s politics are much more complex than other parts of the region. The state’s east-west divide is real and the state’s history of electing Democrats mean nothing can be written off.
On Thursday, May 18th 2017, Florida’s Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision striking down slot machines in Gadsden County. Gadsden had approved slot machines for the racing track in the city of Gretna, approving the proposal in a 2012 local referendum. The argument from the court was simple, Florida’s constitution only allowed slot machines in the counties of Broward and Miami-Dade. The ruling effectively voided slot referendums in seven other FL counties as well. The whole debate goes back to a 2004 ballot measure in Florida.
History of Slots in Florida
Florida has gambling, anyone who has visits the state can tell you that. Race tracks dot the state and card games and slots are plentiful at casinos owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The state had been part of a compact with the tribe to allow card games (and restrict their use outside of tribe-owned casinos) in exchange for millions of dollars from the Seminoles. The current state of this agreement is up in the air and debate rages over a new proposal.
Way back in 2004, a measure was put on the November ballot asking voters if Broward and Miami-Dade counties should be allowed to have slot machines at existing parimutuel (betting) facilities if citizens voted to approve their addition. The measure was funded by ‘Floridians for a Level Playing Field’ – which spent $15 million to get the signatures and fund the campaign. Opposition groups spent less than $1 million. The measure narrowly passed, fueled by the South Florida counties and being rejected in the North.
Once the measure passed, Broward voted in March of 2015 to allow slots by a 57-43% margin.
Miami-Dade rejected allowing slots in a 2005 referendum by a 48-52% margin. However, in January 2008 they approved slots by a 63-37% margin.
Pushing for Expansion
2012 saw a slew of local ordinances in assorted counties to authorize slots at existing parimutuel facilities. The prospect of extra income, just a few years after the financial crisis, was appealing to counties of all sizes.
Gadsden, the source of the lawsuit, approved slots for the race track in Gretna by a 62-38% margin during the 2012 Presidential Preference Primary. Gadsden, the only majority African-American county in the state, consistently votes Democratic and the slot referendum saw 5x as many ballots cast than where cast for the GOP Presidential Primary. The measure saw broad support, with its weakest showing in Quincy and losing one rural county south of Havana.
The same day as Gadsden was voting, Washington, a deeply conservative county, also approved slots. The local measure approved slots at the parimutuel facility for Ebro, on the southern end of the county. The measure has strong support except in the area of Chipley in the north end of the county.
In April of 2012, Hamilton passed a measure approving slots for a racing track that was being built in Jennings, right by the Georgia border. The measure saw strong support, losing two rural precincts but winning in the largest population centers of the rural, conservative county.
In November of 2012, Lee county approved slots for its racing track in Bonita Springs. Lee county is a solid Republican, suburban county. While one precinct right in the city was narrower in support, the surrounding area showed strong support. The measure only failed in the communities along the islands of western Lee.
November 2012 also saw Democratic Palm Beach county approve a slots for parimutuel facilities in their borders. The measure had modest support across the county, losing some rural areas in the west and suburban and coastal pockets in the east. However, few areas saw huge margins of support or opposition.
The final slot measure of 2012 was in Brevard, a solid Republican county, where voters approved slots for the racing track in Melbourne. The measure saw modest support across the county with scattered rejection. Cape Canaveral was notably supportive.
After SIX counties approved slots in 2012, nothing happened in 2014. Then, in November of 2016, two more counties approved slots.
St Lucie, a working-class Democratic county that voted for Trump but Murphy for Senate, passed slots handily.
And last, Duval County, the city of Jacksonville, passed slots by a 8 point margin. The measure was heavily supported in the African-American community and more GOP-favorable areas. It lost in parts of the beaches, the rural/religious Westside, and the artsy-Hispter Riverside.
With the Supreme Court decision, slots in these counties are on hold. Florida continues to debate over a gambling compact, which would likely require voter approval. In addition, anti-casino forces want to ensure no expansion of gambling in the state. The issue is far from over. However, it is clear the growing drumbeat from counties of different demographics and partisan makeup is pro-slots and hence pro-revenue.