Around the nation

January 11, 2013
As Washington debates how to fix the economy, one essential piece of the puzzle, the housing market, remains a drag. At its go-go peak in 2005, the residential housing industry made up about 19% of the national gross domestic product. After the housing crunch and the foreclosures that poured into banks, the industry’s percentage of GDP dropped sharply. In 2010, the industry was down to about 15% of GDP. It has improved since, but is still limping along. This week saw a few more pieces in the housing turnaround effort fall into place, including the billion-dollar settlement of some banks over their housing practices and new rules for mortgage lenders from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But despite the best efforts of policy makers, greasing the skids for a housing recovery presents some unique challenges for Congress and the Obama Administration. And a big part of any turnaround equation may simply involve waiting. The housing collapse wasn’t just a...
January 4, 2013
Call it the cliff twist: Lawmakers representing areas most likely to get hit by the fiscal-cliff bill’s higher taxes were also more likely to vote it. The fiscal cliff bill — which raises income taxes on households making  over $450,000  a year — passed because of support from House members representing some of the wealthiest congressional districts in the country. Viewed the other way, lawmakers from less wealthy districts — the ones less likely to see a big tax hit — were the ones most opposed to the bill. On average, the “aye” votes on the bill came from districts where 4.7% of the households earned $200,000 or more. In the districts that voted “nay,” 3.6% of the households were in that rarified income group. (The U.S. median household income is around $50,000.) And it’s important to note that those divisions held up even when one breaks the vote down by Democratic and Republican districts. In the...
December 19, 2012
The Republican Party’s “Hispanic problem” is common knowledge to anyone who has looked at the presidential election results. It’s become a crucial part of the 2012 narrative. But despite all the ink, airtime and pixels given to the topic since Election Day, you can’t fully appreciate the depths of the problem until you match those results up against Hispanic population growth patterns. The impact of the GOP’s Hispanic gap could be bigger than many realize. The size of the Republicans’ challenge becomes clear when the growth in the nation’s Hispanic population through Patchwork Nation’s 12 county types. The Hispanic population had been growing across the board, but the increases in some county types in particular – the Immigration Nation counties, Monied Burbs and Boom Towns – look to have far-reaching impacts. The Only Places Obama Did Better It was always going to be difficult for President Obama to...
December 18, 2012
The election is behind them and the holidays are here, but Americans are in a dour mood about the future, particularly where the economy is concerned. More than half of them, 53%, think the country is headed in the “wrong direction” and more than a quarter, 28%, say they expect the economy will be worse next year than it is now, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. Those numbers won’t likely bring smiles to the White House, but what they actually mean and represent requires a little digging. Four years of economic ups and (mostly) downs seem to have taken a toll on the traditionally sunny American perspective. And, as one might expect, there is subdued enthusiasm for a year ahead that essentially returns an unpopular status quo to Washington to govern. But there are also deep partisan divides in evidence in this poll. And there is at least some evidence that those attitudes are having an exaggerated effect on how those people perceive the...
December 14, 2012
Friday’s mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut – 27 dead at an elementary school, including 20 children (at this writing) – will almost certainly reignite the debate about gun control in America. It was the second such event in the United States in since this summer and the shootings in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado that left 12 dead. But sudden movement on gun control may not be likely. In the wake of the Colorado tragedy, Patchwork Nation noted that gun control was unlikely to gain traction in the presidential campaign because of the ambivalence toward the issue in the electorate. Even in the influential and heavily-populated Monied Burb counties, the voters were essentially split, slightly favoring “gun freedom,” according to an April Pew Research poll. Here’s an excerpt of that post and the numbers by county type: In April, the Pew Research Center in a poll asked which was more important, "to protect the right of Americans...
December 12, 2012
By Carli Krueger GLENDALE, Ariz. - The buzz from 2012 was about Latino voters fueling the president’s re-election and worries that Republican policies pushing away potential voters, but here in Immigration Nation record numbers of Latino voters in Arizona did little to change the politics of Maricopa County. The Latino vote is on the rise in not only the nation but in Arizona and Maricopa County as well. Exit polls showed 77 percent of Arizona Latino voters voted for the president’s re-election and the LA Times reported that over 34,000 new Latino voters were registered by one group alone in Maricopa County. They also reported a jump from 90,000 to 225,000 Latinos on the early voting list. Latino participation has been growing for the past 20 years but in relation to population, it hasn’t been high. The Pew Research Center estimated that 12.5 million Hispanics would vote but closer to 11 million did. Still, national media breathlessly reported on the “...
December 10, 2012
Washington’s stalemated “fiscal cliff” negotiations may be troubling and frustrating, but no one would say they are unexpected. That’s because the debate is not just about contrasting ideas about size of government or taxes, it is about different Americas discussing what’s next. The red/blue divide that has come to dominate our political discussions has become almost an abstraction at this point. We think about it as two teams of voters going to the polls to push for their side. In reality, the supporters of the two parties increasingly come from very different places not only ideologically, but demographically–particularly at the congressional level. How different? Politics Counts broke down the current Democratic and Republican districts in the 112th U.S. House of Representatives demographically and found two Americas that in many ways look remarkably dissimilar. The breakdown shows clear signs of the racial and ethnic shift...
December 6, 2012
Over the past few decades the Republican Party has been a kind of three-legged stool, supported by three key elements – an abiding belief in cutting government and taxes, a strong advocacy of social conservative issues and a solid commitment to a strong national defense. Those issues helped build a winning coalition that included tax-cut favoring suburbanites, Christian conservatives and defense hawks. But the last few elections suggest some of those legs may be getting a little rickety – particularly the one built on national defense. In Patchwork Nation, the shift has been particularly noticeable in the counties we call Military Bastions.  Those counties tend to be located near military bases and have large numbers of soldiers, veterans and military contractors. And in the last two elections now – elections that might be considered largely post-Iraq War – the GOP has seen its advantage in the Bastions shrink from double digits to low single-digit...
November 29, 2012
As the votes from the 2012 election have trickled in, the size of President Obama’s victory has grown – it’s now more than 4 million votes. That count should signify two things to Republicans who wanted to portray President Obama’s win as a squeaker. One, while this margin is no mandate, it is bigger than either of George W. Bush’s presidential wins in 2000 (in which he actually lost the popular vote) or 2004. Two, despite some GOP critiques that Mr. Obama won by capturing small slices of the electorate, the net result was a pretty broad win. But looked at through Patchwork Nation, there is one larger overriding concern for the Republicans in the 2012 election results: despite all the talk of minority voters and demographic segments, there are signs they are losing the political middle. That shift reveals itself when you look at the 2012 vote counts and margins compared to previous elections, particularly 2004, in the wealthy Monied Burbs, the...
November 27, 2012
In the weeks since the US presidential election, many analysts have tried to explain the results. One meme in particular has taken root: that President Obama won reelection with a campaign of “small” issues that divided America into different groups, while Mitt Romney lost with a broad attempt to unite America on the economy. But the evidence is weak. Exit polls showed Mr. Romney narrowly carried the day on the economy. And while Mr. Obama carried voters who said health care or foreign policy were their top issues, these can hardly be considered “small.” Foreign policy is a big issue by any measure, and health care was considered a huge issue by both sides. And as outgoing Pew Research Center director Andrew Kohut has noted, on several key social issues, Republicans stand on the wrong side of public opinion: 59 percent believe abortion should be legal, and 65 percent support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. In other words,...