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Leaning Republican, Missouri's presidential bellwether status fades

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:16 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 24, 2012
A truck sits outside the Columbia Knights of Columbus during the Boone County Republicans Fall BBQ on Sept. 28.

COLUMBIA — Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter. Ronald Reagan. George H.W. Bush. Bill Clinton. George W. Bush.

Those are the presidents who have won both the Missouri and the national electoral votes in the past 10 elections. In fact, Republican John McCain in 2008 and Democrat Adlai Stevenson in 1956 were the only nominees since 1904 who won Missouri but failed to win the presidency.

Because it so often has sided with the winning candidate — whether Democrat or Republican — Missouri has long been considered both a swing state and a bellwether state. McCain's victory in 2008, however, signaled a shift toward a more consistently conservative electorate, so much so that neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama has seen fit to pour significant energy or resources into a 2012 Missouri campaign for the state's 10 electoral votes. 

An Electoral College scoreboard compiled by Rasmussen Reports on Tuesday showed Romney leading Missouri 54 percent to 43 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent. The survey was conducted the day after the second presidential debate. Rasmussen Reports doesn't include Missouri in its list of 11 key swing states in this election.

John Petrocik, chairman of the MU Political Science department, said Missouri no longer fits the definition of "swing state."

“The political preferences of the state have been measurably more Republican recently, which explains why neither Democratic nor Republican presidential candidates campaign here very much,” Petrocik said. “Both parties tend to see Missouri as part of the GOP's Electoral College coalition.”

Petrocik believes the change in Missouri mirrors that of other states that once were solidly Democratic and are now more reliably Republican.

“Missouri has a plurality, maybe a majority, of its population represented by groups that are tilted in a conservative direction," Petrocik said. "They were once conservative Democrats, and they are now conservative and Republican. The party that can better represent their conservatism has changed; the conservatism has been constant."

Marvin Overby, another political science professor at MU, agreed that Missouri's status in presidential elections has changed.

"Missouri doesn’t lead the pack anymore," Overby said. "It’s more of where the rest of the country is."

Overby said Missouri has become more of a tea party state due in part to a population shift from the eastern part of the state toward the southwest.

“This has meant not only that the state has become more GOP, but among Republicans that the power has shifted away from the more moderate wing, with the Danforths in St. Louis, toward the more conservative and evangelical wing, with the Blunts in Springfield,” Overby said.

Ellis Cross, local coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots in St. Joseph, believes the state has basically just "gone conservative."

“Missouri is more rural in nature, and rural areas tend to lean more Republican,” Cross said.

The makeup of the General Assembly would seem to support that. As it stands, the Missouri House of Representatives has 103 Republicans and 56 Democrats, while the Senate has 26 Republicans and eight Democrats.

The Tea Party of Missouri strongly supported Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who won the Republican caucuses in the state. Santorum's caucus victory caused Romney to chalk up Missouri as a probable win and a state to which he probably did not need to reach out, Cross said.

Rex Campbell, retired professor of rural sociology at MU, said that until recently, the rural voters of Missouri leaned Democratic.

“The tea party increase and fear of government getting too big has shifted the area to Republican lately,” Campbell said. “For example, you don’t have city planning and zoning in these rural areas.”

Southeast Missouri, Campbell said, used to be Democratic. “Now, you have to take a conservative stance to get elected,” he said.

The relatively low Hispanic population in Missouri is another factor in the trend toward Republican voting, Overby said. The Hispanic population in the state hasn't kept pace with much of the country, where it has been growing steadily.

The 2010 U.S. Census found that roughly 212,000 Hispanics call Missouri home; that's just 3.5 percent of the population. That means Hispanics have far less influence over election results here than they do in California or Florida, for example, where the 2010 Census showed Hispanic populations of 14 million and 4.2 million, respectively.

Hispanics generally favor Democratic tickets. In 2008, for example, Obama captured 67 percent of the Hispanic vote, according to the Pew Research Center.

The agricultural vote also is important to Missouri, where the 2011 State Agriculture Overview reported there are nearly 107,000 farms.

The Missouri Farm Bureau, which represents farmers and agricultural interests, endorses candidates for the U.S. House and Senate, for governor and for state Senate. It also gives "friend awards" to House members. This year, it has endorsed Republican Todd Akin for U.S. Senate and Republican Dave Spence for governor.

“Since being organized in 1976, nearly 90 percent of FARM-PAC-endorsed candidates have won election,” the Farm Bureau’s website says.

Missouri Farm Bureau spokesman Estil Fretwell said the group has a lengthy endorsement process that includes reviewing incumbents' voting records, having candidates answer questionnaires and conducting interviews.

Fretwell said most Farm Bureau members are conservative, and that's reflected in the group's policies and goals. “We are heavily influenced by the conservative values that our members have,” he said.

Money also plays into Republicans' hopes for winning Missouri. So far, Romney has outraised Obama in Missouri by more than $2 million, according to OpenSecrets.org. In 2008, Obama outraised McCain in the state by more than $1 million. Overall, however, total money raised so far in 2012 is less than in 2010, which lends credence to the idea that Missouri isn't a battleground this time around.

Five days before the 2008 election, Obama was on MU’s Mel Carnahan Quadrangle giving a speech to almost 40,000 people. The president hasn’t been to Missouri yet this election cycle, though. Romney, meanwhile, has made only one appearance in Missouri.

Obama’s website lists two Missouri outreach offices – one each in Kansas City and St. Louis, two cities that are known for voting more for Democrats. The majority of voters in both those metropolitan areas went with Obama in 2008.

By comparison, Romney has eight campaign offices around the state — in St. Peters, Fenton, Cape Girardeau, Jefferson City, Springfield, Joplin, Lee’s Summit and Liberty.

Overby said it's simply illogical for candidates to make many personal appearances in Missouri. Campbell called Missouri a "flyover state," meaning the candidates have been continually flying over Missouri but not stopping.

Eli Yokley, editor-in-chief of PoliticMo.com, said the differences in campaigning and outreach by Democrats and Republicans are a huge factor not only in this year's presidential election but also in other hotly contested races.

“Claire McCaskill, for example, runs a very outstate campaign,” Yokley said. “This means she will be in smaller towns as opposed to large cities. This type of campaigning leads to her success around the state compared to Obama, and without Obama doing that type of outreach here, he is unlikely to win the state.”

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.


 

In the past 10 presidential elections, except for 2008, Missourians have voted for the winning candidate. Missouri has traditionally been a swing state, but political indicators are pointing to it becoming a more Republican state. However, Boone County is defying Missouri’s overall trend by voting Democratic in the last election, and the Columbia metro area has been giving more financial support to the Democratic presidential candidate in the current and last election season. (Graphic: Anna Burkart/Missourian)


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