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Delanceyplace: American Elections

The presidential election contest between Barack Obama of
Illinois and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts represents a departure from the long-term shift in power from "snowbelt" states to "sunbelt" states. From the outset of World War II, snowbelt states have declined from 57 percent of the U.S. population to only 40 percent, and sunbelt states have risen from 30 percent to 46 percent. From 1900 to the 1964 election, snowbelt states provided every U.S. president but one, and from the 1964 election until Barack Obama's election in 2008, sunbelt states provided every one, writes Jeffrey Sachs.

For a century after the Civil War, American national power was centered in the
North, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. Almost all American presidents
hailed from the North. Industry, too, was concentrated in the North, as was great
wealth. The South lagged for many complex reasons beyond the obvious one of defeat
in the Civil War: an agrarČian rather than industrial economy, low technological
skills, poor public education, and the burdens of tropical diseases such as yellow
fever, malaria, and hookworm. All those factors meant that economic power remained
concentrated in the North.

Then came the great political change. Between 1900 and 1960, the Snowbelt states
provided every U.S. president but one. But between 1964 and Obama's election in
2008, the Sunbelt states provided every one. The civil rights movement created a
stark dividing line between the Snowbelt and Sunbelt presidential eras. Starting
with Nixon, Republican candidates garnered the bulk of the South's electoral votes.
Until Obama, only two Democratic candidates (Carter and Clinton), both from the
Sunbelt, were able to shake loose even a few electoral votes in the now strongly
Republican region. Northern Democrats tended to face a wall of southern white
middle-class opposition, making them nearly unelectable. (Lower-income white voters
tended to remain in the Democratic Party column.)

The rise of the Sunbelt to presidential power in the 1960s and afterward was far
more than merely a civil rights backlash, however. It ... reflected the gradual
rise in economic power of the South after World War II, especially as electrification,
air-conditioning, public investments in infrastructure (such as western dams and
large-scale water projects), and greatly improved health care and education all
made possible the migration of industries such as textiles and apparel from the
high-cost, highly unionized Northeast to the low-cost, nonunionized Sunbelt. The
shift of industries from the Snowbelt to the Sunbelt was, in many ways, a dry run
of the later transfer of industry from the high-wage United States to the low-wage
Asia. As the Sunbelt economy boomed and the U.S. population (includČing both native-born
Americans and Hispanic immigrants) increasČingly settled in the Sunbelt, political
power necessarily gravitated to the South.

"[Author's note] 1: I have categorized the Sunbelt and Snowbelt as follows: The
Sunbelt: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi,
New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. The Snowbelt:
Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota,
Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New-York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania,
Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin."

Author: Jeffrey Sachs
Title: The Price of Civilization
Publisher: Random House
Date: Copyright 2011 by Jeffrey Sachs
Pages: 73-74, 283

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