August 23, 2009
One of the truisms of politics seems to be that what is “Republican” or “conservative” in one region of the country may differ from what it might mean in another region. This explains Mitt Romney’s transformation from a liberal Republican, at least on the national spectrum, to a moderately conservative one once he was in the race for the presidential nomination. Conversely, John Edwards morphed from a “New Democrat” as Senator from North Carolina to a liberal lion as a national figure. As it happens, I suspect in both of these cases their earlier incarnations were matters of political expedience, while their later ones likely reflect their sincerely held values. By some measures Olympia Snowe is more liberal than Ben Nelson, a case where regional configurations come to the fore and override the strong effect of partisan orientation when it comes to determining ideology.
I was curious as to how this bubbled up from the regional level. So I decided to look at the General Social Survey. I limited the sample to the years 1998-2008 for contemporary relevance, as well as only whites to remove ethnic confounds. The regions are broken down by the Census divisions. I looked at “hot button” social issues or religious values since these exhibit stark differences between the parties, and highlighted Republicans/conservatives in New England and Democrats/liberals in the most traditionalist region of the country, the “East South Central,” Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.
At least when it comes to social issues, New England Republicans and conservatives resemble Democrats and liberals in the South. No surprise.
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