How blue is Rhode Island, by town

Originally posted on Rhode Island Future. They have lots of great stuff, so head over and check it out!

In the sensationally titled “Revenge of the Swamp Yankee: Democratic Disaster in South County,” Will Collette argued emotionally that despite statewide wins for Democrats in Rhode Island two weeks ago, South County was a sad place for the party. He makes a strong case that local South County races, through low turnout and Republican money, had a night more like the rest of the country than the rest of Rhode Island.

Will focuses on General Assembly and Town Council races, but his post made me wonder how different towns around Rhode Island voted compared to the state averages. So I dug into the numbers for statewide races. Here’s what I came up with:

Democratic Lean by Town Population


Democratic Lean by Town Density


statewide election results_small

This is a little confusing; here’s what I did:

  1. I looked up what percentage of the votes in each town the Democrats and Republicans for each statewide office received.
  2. I subtracted the GOP candidate’s percentage from the Democrat’s for each town, giving the percentage margin the Democrats won (or didn’t) by.
  3. I then averaged together the margins for each statewide race, roughly giving each town’s Democratic lean.
  4. I then subtracted the average statewide Democratic lean from each of those town leans, giving us an idea of how each town compares to Rhode Island as a whole.

Those are the numbers you see above. Here’s my spreadsheet. A few observations:

  • Hardly anyone lives in New Shoreham. But we already knew Block Island isn’t a population hub. (These population numbers are from Wikipedia and could be wrong.)
  • There’s a clear trend of the denser and more populous cities voting more for Democrats than less populous towns. I ran the correlations and it’s 0.55 for population and 0.82 for density. Both are reasonably strong.
  • Imagine the vaguely logarithmic trendline that would best fit these points. For the density graph the formula for that trendline would be y = 0.084*ln(x) - 0.6147. It’s in relation to that trendline that I’ve made the map at right. Gray towns are those that voted about how you’d expect based on their density, blue towns voted more Democratic than density would suggest while red towns voted less Democratic.
  • Remember this is one point in time, November 4, 2014. It can’t tell us a lot about how things are changing or how all those people who didn’t turn out would vote if they did.

So at the end of the day, what does this tell us? Municipalities with higher population & density tend to vote for Democrats more than towns with lower populations. This isn’t just true in Rhode Island, it’s true across the country. But what is interesting here is how different areas of the state deviate from that implied trendline.

Elorza won throughout Providence

It was a bad night for Democrats nationally, but a good night in Rhode Island. I was working most closely on the mayoral campaign, doing data analysis and managing the website for the Jorge Elorza campaign.

I was a little disappointed by the media narrative about Elorza’s victory, though, which focused more on the election as a referendum on Cianci, and the East Side as kingmaker. While those factors were certainly a piece of what happened, Jorge Elorza was a great candidate, and many parts of Providence contributed to his victory.

Campaign status

We can see in this map based on precinct-level results from the RI Secretary of State’s website that while the East Side went strongly for Elorza and was crucial to his victory, so did a wide swath of the rest of Providence. Big pieces of the West End, Elmwood, and Reservoir went for Elorza by 10-20 percentage points. And Federal Hill, formerly a bastion of the Italian-American community that gave Cianci a lot of his power, went to Elorza, as did parts of Smith Hill, Valley, Olneyville, and Hartford.

Outside of his strongest areas of support in the northern and eastern neighborhoods of the city, Cianci really didn’t have very much support. He won Upper South Providence by a healthy margin, and Washington Park. But the real narrative of this race should be, as with the topline numbers, it was a close race, and both candidates won about half the city, splitting areas outside their bases rather evenly.

I hope to have more analysis at a later time, but now I need to get ready for the Providence Symposium, which I’ve been working on for the Providence Preservation Society for several months and begins tomorrow night. You should go!

Update Nov 10 @ 5:00pm

Thanks to Dan McGowan at WPRI, I got the post-mail-ballot precinct totals. Also, Andy Grover reminded me that there are some precincts that just don’t have many people in them, so they shouldn’t necessarily be shown on the same scale as densely populated places. Finally, Frymaster was uncertain about these neighborhood boundaries, so you might be interested to know that these are the official neighborhood boundaries that the city uses.

Mayoral results

Senate GOP Crosses Its Arms and Pouts

According to Politico, Senate Republicans won’t be engaging in too much badmouthing of Obama’s Supreme Court pick:

GOP officials say they realize the party needs to improve its standing among Hispanic voters in order to have any hope of winning a national election, and they admit that trashing the first Latina nominee to the court could cement stereotypes or further alienate minorities.

This reality limits Republicans’ options dramatically and virtually guarantees they would be called racists if they said anything that smacks of being out of bounds about such a qualified nominee.

The problem is, they (or at least the conservative pundits who fuel their fire) have already said things that “smack of being out of bounds”. Ridiculous and offensive assertions abound in the Right’s treatment of this pick, not just since it was announced, but since Souter announced his retirement. They need to do more than surrender a few fights if they want to repair their image with demographic groups they’ve been disrespecting for years.

Race to the Bottom: Conservative Republicans vs. Conservative Democrats

I’m sure that I’m not alone among progressives in wringing my hands over the seemingly unshakable power of conservatives in the Senate to block progress. Republicans have been and continue to be pummeled into the ground by public opinion; surely we should be able to get good legislation passed. Yet Democratic gains never seem to be enough; we’re always just a few votes short.

The problem, of course, is those members of the Senate Democratic caucus who are themselves conservative, or “centrist” or “moderate”. I like Markos’ take on this issue:

All this desire for everyone to agree is creepy, and more indicative of the Broderites who want everyone to agree with them, rather than any desire for real consensus that might exclude their own ideas.

I feel like idealogically middle-of-the-road Senators like Pryor, Nelson, and Lincoln simply perceive that they’ll have more power disagreeing with progressives and the President than if they were more amenable to good legislation. The talk about a Senate Blue Dog coalition is just more demonstrative for these senators’ passion for power.

I think a multi-party system, necessitating coalition governments, would be a better form of democracy than the two-party system we currently have. The formation of oppositional groups within the same party is a similar step, but still. It’s nice believing that the majority of members of congress are on your side. Being reminded that large chunks of your party disagree with you for largely overcautious and political reasons is no fun.

White House blog

I’ve been meaning for a while to write a post about how impressive the new White House blog is. Their RSS feed is stylish, their content is neither too long or too short, their tone is very appropriate to the blog medium, and they even post about 6 times every day.

However, their liveblog today of the President’s trip to Canada was an absolute disgrace to the best practices they’ve been demonstrating. It reappeared on my RSS reader every time they made an update, and the updates were widely spaced out. It was just plain annoying. I hope they don’t continue the “live”blogging any more. I have faith. Their jump from inception to sterling blogging practices was nearly instantaneous, leading me to believe the White House bloggers have no problem with a steep learning curve.

While we’re on the subject of blog quality, I am sorely disappointed in Progressive Future’s blog. Progressive Future is the partisan offshoot of U.S. PIRG, which sounds great. Their blog is presented horrifically. The text is all in a block when it reaches my RSS reader, the articles are too long and in too large chunks, they post extremely infrequently, and the blog title comes in all in capital letters. I wish it were better. Maybe when I’m done with this segment of my life I’ll offer my services to whip them into shape if they haven’t been already.

Coal and Politics

Update: now cross-posted at It’s Getting Hot in Here.

At Grist Magazine, they like to refer to coal as the Enemy of the Human Race. And, while that’s a bit of a rhetorical flourish, it’s true that coal is unavoidably one of the dirtiest ways possible to produce energy. If you’re interested in finding out more about the entire process of using coal for energy, I encourage you to read Big Coal, by Jeff Goodell.

But what I want to write about today is inspired by a Huffington Post article by Jesse Jenkins, of The Breakthrough Institute and It’s Getting Hot in Here. I’m generally pretty skeptical of Shellenberger & Nordhaus’ thinktank, but I met Jesse at Powershift, and this article is pretty good. Its overall message is the same as everything out of their thinktank; in order to be successful, environmental messages need to be framed around things that people care about more, like jobs and the economy. Specifically, the article runs down what it dubs the “Technology Fifteen”, i.e. fifteen “moderate” senators from the interior of the country who have banded together to have a voice on climate issues.

So, I thought I’d look a little further into specifically the geography of coal as it relates to politics. I put up a Google Docs spreadsheet with my data. All my data’s from the Energy Information Administration, the government office whose job it is to make public this sort of stuff.

Essentially, I ranked all the states by 1. Percentage of energy supply that comes from coal, 2. Number of people in the state employed by the coal industry, and 3. Coal production. Theoretically, members of congress from these states would be less inclined to support legislation aimed to breaking America’s coal addiction. This metric is likely even a more significant factor than their ideology. Anyways, here is the list of states:

  1. West Virginia
  2. Wyoming
  3. Kentucky
  4. Pennsylvania
  5. Virginia
  6. Illinois
  7. Texas
  8. Indiana
  9. North Dakota
  10. Montana
  11. Utah
  12. Colorado
  13. Alabama
  14. New Mexico
  15. Ohio

So which senators represent these states who might be of interest? Well, a few of the states are represented by very conservative senators, and we can be pretty sure how they’ll vote on energy legislation already. Some others have a League of Conservation score of 100% for 2008, so we can be fairly sure that they will vote well. And what do you know, taking out those two bunches leaves us with just fifteen senators. Here they are, starting with those from the coal-iest state, West Virginia:

  1. Byrd (D)
  2. Rockefeller (D)
  3. Dorgan (D)
  4. Conrad (D)
  5. Specter (R)
  6. Webb (D)
  7. Warner (D)
  8. Burris (D)
  9. Lugar (R)
  10. Bayh (D)
  11. Udall (D)
  12. Bennet (D)
  13. Udall (D)
  14. Voinovich (R)
  15. Brown (D)

Burris and Bennet have not heald a seat in congress before, so LCV has no rankings for them. Otherwise, these senators are ranked by coal-iness and then by LCV ranking.

So what does this mean? Well, Obama and Senate Democrats are looking for moderate Republicans to vote with them in order to break filibusters. Voinovich, Lugar, and Specter are identified by Nate Silver as in the top five prospects for this, along with the two Maine senators. I would suggest that the three of them might be less likely to flip on anti-coal legislation than they might be otherwise.

On the other side, Nate recognizes Dorgan, Conrad, Baucus, Tester, Byrd, and Webb as potential problems for Obama, but not as big problems as four conservative Democrats from non-coal states.

So, we’ll see. Keep an eye on these senators when energy bills come to the senate.

Conventional Wisdom and Obama

Inspired by this post by Paul Krugman about the economic platitudes in Obama’s inaugural address, I had a thought about conventional wisdom.

Krugman suggests that waiting for conventional wisdom (it’s assumed by wonky types that that refers specifically to the DC political establishment & the media) to arrive at the truth is a recipe for ineffective government. I agree. Instead, what should be done is to mold the conventional wisdom toward where one wants it to be. I think the political right has been working toward this goal for years now, training young conservatives to be “pundits”, appearing on talk shows all over the media spectrum in order to forward their worldview more than anyone else, and thus have the largest influence on conventional wisdom.

I think the Obama administration can counter this by utilizing the ideal of transparency to send lots of White House spokespeople out to make efforts. The problem with that, though, is the seeming independence of conservative pundits, compared to the obvious and unavoidable spokesmanship of the White House representatives. Hmm.

Regardless, the main point still stands. Obama cannot hope to succeed in his grand necessities while following conventional wisdom. He must lead the conventional wisdom.

Barack Obama’s inauguration

Barack Obama’s inauguration as our next president is a cause for great celebration. Three decades of conservative dominance, not to mention eight years of corruption and abuse of power, have finally been voted out by the American people. Our first black president will be the most popular president to enter office in the history of our country.

But, as Obama reminds us, there is a vast amount of work to do, an enormous weight of problems to solve. He will get panicked advice from all quarters about economic, energy, and foreign policy issues. Even though I believe Obama himself is a genuinely pragmatic progressive, we have to raise our own voices to make sure that the most repeated, loudest advice he receives points him toward effective, progressive solutions to our country’s problems, rather than the same overcautious corporate payoffs the political establishment is so fond of.

This is no time for relinquishing our political agency. Tuesday, January 20th is a day for celebration. Wednesday, January 21st, is the beginning of a new era, one in which we must help our beloved new president guide this teetering country toward stability. In the words of Barack Obama himself: we know the battle ahead will be long, but remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can withstand the power of millions of voices calling for change.

Missouri Senate 2010

In case you don’t pay as close attention to political prognostication as I do, Kit Bond, the Republican senator from Missouri, has announced that he won’t run for reelection in 2010. I don’t know much about Bond’s reputation, but an open seat in one of the purplest states in the nation will certainly make this race front-and-center during this cycle.

Anyway, word is, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (yes, that Carnahan family) is the leading contender on the Democratic side. There are, however, numerous Republicans in the field and no clear favorite at this point. However, on to the point of this post: today Roll Call reports that one of those Republicans has announced that she’s not running. My thought on reading this was, I wonder if there’s backroom communication going on among Missouri Republicans about who should and shouldn’t run? I suppose it’s pretty certain that’s the case. Sigh. Not that interesting a point, I suppose.

Best quote of this issue, so far, though, is this one regarding Kit Bond from Daily Kos’s Devilstower:

Podiums everywhere will feel safer, knowing that they’re not going to be subject to Bond’s red-faced pounding.