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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Who lives in this flipping county?

Brown County flipped out in 2012.  Out of being one of the most reliable Democratic counties in South Dakota. 

According to Daily Yonder, it was one of 208 rural counties in the U.S. that changed the way it voted in 2012 from the way it voted in 2008.  It was one of 128 counties that changed from Democratic to Republican in the presidential election.

In 2008, Obama received 9,041 votes in Brown County to McCain's 8,067.  In 2012,Obama received  7,250 votes in the county to Romney's 8,321.

In 2008, a total of 17,426 votes were cast for president.  In 2012, the total dropped to 16,068,  a decline of more than 1,300 votes. Total voter turnout in 2008 reported in the Secretary of State's office for Brown County is listed at 17, 676.  For 2012, it is listed at 16,276, a drop of 1,400 voters. (I assume that some people who showed up to vote did not cast a ballot for president.) 

What is significant in the numbers was that the Republican candidate in 2012 received only 254 more votes than the Republican candidate did in 2008.  However, Obama received 1,791 fewer votes than he did in 2008.  What can be concluded  from those numbers is that the election of 2012 did not have the interest of the 2008 election and support for Obama declined.  While Romney received more votes than McCain did, those vote totals would not have flipped the county to Romney if Obama had retained the numbers he had in 2008.

The flipping of Brown County into the Republican presidential column has prompted some political observers to assert that the political makeup of Brown County has changed.  However, that is not indicated by the voter registrations.

This table compares the registrations between 2008 and 2012:

                    Total            Republican    Democratic   Independent Libertarian
2008             24.089          9,800            10.928          3,260            40
2012             23,379          9,757            10,218          3,454            50
Change            -710              -225               -710            +194         +10

 The two major parties, Republican and Democratic, lost a total of 935 voters, and the Republicans gained a percentage point in 2012 with 41 percent of the country registrations.  The Democrats slipped a point and a half, but still claimed 43.7 percent of the registrations.  The Independents increased their registration 5 percentage points to claim 14.7 percent of the total registration.

There has not been a drastic shift in political affiliations, although the Independents are showing significant growth.  For those who work in political organizing, the significant shift is demographic and cultural.  The clue is in the the declining voter registration, which does not have a correlative decline in the population itself. 

Brown County Census















For the past 12 years or so,  I have maintained lists of registered Democrats who are most active in support of the party.  I have often commented on the attrition I have noted month by month of that group of people.  Many have died.  Others move away.  But what has been most concerning has been a segment that has simply lost trust and interest in the political process.  The disgust and disapproval of Congress with its bottom-dwelling approval rating of 8 percent are expressed in poll numbers, but those numbers do not reveal the depth of Congress' effects on voters and what the voters actually do about it..  To some Democratic voters, the gridlock in Congress is a sign of the end of the republic.  They point out that when an  opposing party obstructs the functions of government and refuses to govern in order to get its way,  democracy has failed.  In Brown County, many prominent  Democrats see the failure of democracy as a feature of state government.  The one-party domination with its devotion to  corporate interests is a factor in the decisions of families to center their lives in other places.  On long-time, active Democrat points to the distorted redistricting that divides Brown County into three legislative districts as evidence of the single party tyranny in the state.  He confessed to me that he didn't bother to vote because he has decided that he and his family need to concentrate on other options.  He said, just because I live in Brown County doesn't mean I think in Brown County.  That is an attitude I have seen in many of my retired contemporaries as they move away and work to center their families in other areas of the country. 

The flipping of Brown County has obvious political implications regarding political affiliations, but they are cultural more than political.  One of the Democratic activists who recently moved was a person who donated generously with money, time, and effort to the party.  One evening during the 2008 campaign, he and his spouse dropped by to help out with a mailing.  Some of the people coordinating the effort got more than a bit presumptuous about their authority and were treating some of the volunteers with disrespect and discourtesy.  I saw the man and his wife get up and walk out, but before going through the door, he looked at me, raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders.  The next day we exchanged e-mails, and I asked him if he had been offended.  He said his wife had not been feeling well of late and the attitude displayed toward the couple was more than she wanted to put up with.  The man said, you know,  South Dakotans put on a show of neighborliness and good will, but down deep many of them are not really very nice people.  He said,  we could get treated as well if we walked into the Republican campaign office.  This was a professional man who worked hard to make Brown County a working community.  In our discussion, he brought up the problems with small towns in the Dakotas, their attempts to attract people, and the many failures reported in the press.  We both recalled one which received much coverage in which a town excitedly welcomed some people from the East who purchased a home in their community and were said to signal a renaissance.  They left within months, when the factions in the town showed their true habits of vicious bickering and back-biting. Years later the man was interviewed and said he had learned something about the small-minded meanness in small towns that he would have preferred not to experience or know.  

Brown County seems to be turning Republican, but that may well be because many Brown County residents are turning away, if not physically, at least mentally.  Many of our party members have children who have moved to other communities, and I have asked them if they would consider moving back to their home country.  The usual answer is, to do what?  And they make clear that they pursued educations to qualify them to make a living and a life elsewhere.

The politics of small communities are reflected by a single-party state government and a national Congress rendered incompetent and dysfunctional by that kind of nasty disregard that drove my friend out of the campaign office that night, and eventually into another community.

Those people who are trying to attract companies, workers, and residents to the community need to look past the pretense of  bonhomie  and examine how the people actually think and treat each other.  A beginning point is a literary record of well over a hundred years that portrays what makes rural communities wither and disappear.  The flipping of Brown County may well be the latest example.  

[Williston, North Dakota, shades of India.]

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