Patchwork nation blogs

March 30, 2012
No one likes paying more for anything, but there's something special about gasoline. It's a price increase that's very hard to avoid, and it's directly tied to one of the nation’s central tenets: the ability to move freely across the city or across the country. Lately, as pump prices have climbed — and climbed — voters have begun to express their frustration even if they aren’t exactly sure where to aim their anger. And, of course, politicians have stepped forward with ideas about whom to blame. But aside from the psychological damage from rising gas prices, what are the real economic impacts? You can look at national figures, as The New York Times did recently in a smart story in which it found the impact was ultimately fairly small — or at least not nearly as big as consumers make it out to be. Gas and motor oil expenditures work out to 4.4 percent of all spending done by the average American annually — less than...
March 23, 2012
The Republican race for the nomination this week began to look like plodding jog to the finish line for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Another win in Illinois on Tuesday, and the delegates that went with it, indicated that Mr. Romney is on an all-but-inevitable path to become the 2012 GOP presidential nominee. Now the path gets trickier. The game isn’t over yet, of course. Gaffes and changing primary terrain will likely drag things out for more weeks, maybe months. But now that Mr. Romney seems to have a good grip on his prize, we can begin to assess the impact of the longer-than-anticipated nomination battle. What effect did three months of campaigning and carping against his fellow Republican hopefuls have on Mr. Romney? It’s left him with some challenges as the conversation turns to the general election as several polls have noted, but he’s made some gains as well. A look at Wall Street Journal/NBC polls taken during the primary process –...
March 21, 2012
Mitt Romney won big in Illinois -- double digits. He claimed the breakout victory many analysts thought he needed and he urged Republican voters to come on board for his nomination. "Each day we move closer not just to victory but to a better America," the former Massachusetts governor told the crowd. "Join us!" A 12-point win is always nice, and the delegates Romney collected Tuesday night add to his already impressive margin, but as impressive as the numbers looked, in reality his Illinois triumph was something of an "ehh" moment. As we noted Tuesday, Illinois may look diverse on a map (10 of Patchwork Nation's 12 county types are present in the state), but when you look at the population counts, the state was made for Romney. Some 81 percent of the state's population lives in the four county types that have been the best for Romney in the nominating contests: the Industrial Metropolises, Monied Burbs, Boom Towns, and Campus and Careers...
March 20, 2012
With a big lead in delegates and a solid lead in national polls, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is seemingly past the "must-win" primaries and caucuses that seemed to line up in front of him in February and early March. Tuesday's Illinois primary marks a different territory for the former Massachusetts governor: should win. Yes, there is the well-known upstate/downstate, liberal/conservative split that people say could yield a tight race. And there was that one poll a few weeks back that showed a slim four-point gap between Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. But when you take a step back and look at Illinois, it would appear to be Romney's to win, as more recent polls suggest. Viewing the state through Patchwork Nation's demographic/geographic breakdown of county types, there simply are a lot more voters in the areas that should be good for Romney. Most of them are based around Cook County and Chicago. Illinois is indeed...
March 16, 2012
The results from Tuesday’s Mississippi and Alabama primaries were not even fully tabulated when attention turned to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The results, second-place in both states, were a blow to Mr. Gingrich, who had argued his path to the nomination led through the South. But in his concession speech, the candidate quickly tamped down any speculation about his exiting the race and pledged, again, to fight on to the Republican convention in Tampa. Still, vows to fight on aside, Mr. Gingrich’s struggles raise questions about his role in the race going forward and about what would happen if he dropped out – or simply fell into irrelevance. Many assume that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum would gain the most, by giving conservative voters one only option at the ballot box, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would face a stiff new challenge. Mr. Santorum clearly feels that way and this week said he’s earned the right to a...
March 14, 2012
Like a political Energizer Bunny, the Republican nominating campaign keeps going and going and going. Big wins on Tuesday for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in Alabama and Mississippi again raised questions about support for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney among GOP rank-and-file voters. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, did not get the win his campaign wanted, but he refused to leave the race. On Wednesday analysts were left shrugging their shoulders at a contest that had changed, and yet stayed the same. Patchwork Nation Project Director Dante Chinni appeared on the PBS NewsHour Wednesday to discuss the results Despite Tuesday's losses, Romney's campaign was still picking up delegates and adding to an already large lead. Santorum had the momentum going into a much slower part of the primary calendar. And Gingrich was, well, promising to carry on to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. But outside the campaign's main...
March 13, 2012
At first glance, the polls leading into the next set of Republican primaries -- a less "super" set of four primaries and caucuses on Tuesday -- look a bit baffling, and that's particularly true for Mississippi and Alabama. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is challenging in both states and that seems difficult for some to believe. After all, Romney has struggled with lower-income voters and more evangelicals. The answer lies in those states' makeup. While it may be tempting to simply think of Mississippi and Alabama as two states in the Deep South, that misses a lot of the subtle -- and not-so-subtle -- differences in them. Those differences are magnified by this GOP presidential field and they can be better understood using Patchwork Nation's] geographic/demographic breakdown of county types. ALABAMA'S MORE COMPLICATED MAP Of the two neighboring Southern states, Alabama has a more diverse and balanced map than Mississippi. Look at the map below...
March 9, 2012
Among the many bits of conventional wisdom in presidential politics is the abiding belief that there are two stages in running for the country’s top job. There is the primary stage, where a candidate appeals to the party base to build enthusiasm with core voters. And there is the general election stage, where one pivots to capture moderate centrist voters. Not so this year, at least for one candidate. A few months and several contests into the 2012 primary calendar former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney seems to be challenging that idea. When you look at Mr. Romney’s votes and support, he is largely bypassing that first stage – or at least trying to bypass it – and appealing to general election voters during the nomination fight. With the Republican Party more divided than usual, some clear fault lines have emerged in the GOP electorate around the current field of candidates. Social conservatives and less-wealthy voters have tended to side...
March 7, 2012
Coming out of Super Tuesday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has a bigger lead in delegates, a nice push of momentum and, in some quarters, a growing sense that the GOP presidential nomination is slowly falling into his hands. Romney won six out of the 10 states on the calendar and he won Ohio -- the state largely thought to be the most crucial. But looking at the results through Patchwork Nation's demographic and geographic breakdown of counties, nagging problems remain. Even though he scratched out a victory in the Buckeye State over former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Romney still had trouble with the same lower-income communities that have troubled him through the primary process thus far -- the Emptying Nests and Service Worker Centers. The culturally conservative Evangelical Epicenters also still are very bad territory for him. (Mouse over the icons to see how each candidate performed in each type on the map.) And those trends reach beyond Ohio to the...
March 6, 2012
This Tuesday is "super" in the Republican nominating battle because of sheer volume. There are 11 states holding votes and more than 400 delegates at stake. But even with all those numbers in play, most eyes will be Ohio. Ohio is not the biggest prize on Tuesday; Georgia has more delegates, but one can certainly make the case that it is the most significant. Many analysts believe the future of the Republican nomination fight hinges on how the two lead candidates -- former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum -- do there. When you look at Patchwork Nation's demographic/geographic county breakdown you see why. The complex electoral landscape in Ohio will indicate a lot about the futures of Romney and Santorum, but the lessons will be less about the candidates and more about the electorate. It centers on one question, are rank-and-file Republican voters prepared to settle on Romney as their front-runner? ONE STATE, LOTS OF...