East Coast Bias

by Brian on August 22, 2008

Obama’s VP Candidate will be, presumably, announced today. On political grounds I’d prefer the candidate to be Kathleen Sebelius, but on historical grounds I sort of hope it will be Brian Schweitzer. Since Obama is finishing his pre-convention tour in Montana, it might be too. Here’s why I’d prefer it on historical grounds.

In the lower 48 states of the US, there are four time zones, dividing the country up into roughly equal areas from east to west. In the early years of the country pretty much all of its population lived in the two easternmost time zones, the Eastern and the Central. (Actually in the very early years there probably weren’t such things as time zones, but the people lived in what are now the Eastern and Central time zones.) Even today, if this information is correct, about 77% of the population live in those two time zones. So you might expect that the Democratic Party would have taken a fair time to have someone run on its Presidential ticket who was either born outside those time zones, or lived outside those time zones.

The first Democratic candidate (for either President or Vice-President) to be born outside the two easternmost time zones was Adlai Stevenson (1952, 1956), who was born in Los Angeles. Barring a major surprise, Barack Obama will be the second.

The first Democratic candidate (for either President or Vice-President) to be living outside those two time zones when they are nominated is, I believe, yet to be determined, because there haven’t been any yet. (If I’m wrong about this, I’ll be embarrassed, and a lot of what follows will be mistaken. But I don’t see any Westerners on this list apart from Lane, who shouldn’t really count as a Democrat[1].)

Since the two easternmost time zones extend as far as Mitchell, South Dakota, (home of George McGovern) and Mission, Texas (hometown of Lloyd Bentsen), I perhaps shouldn’t call this an east coast bias, but it is shocking just how eastern the party’s Presidential tickets have been.

In contrast, there has been someone from the Mountain or Pacific time zone on the Republican ticket in 15 of the last 21 elections, covering 9 separate candidates. So it’s not like there hasn’t been any chance to run western candidates on a national ticket.[2]

Now the Democratic party does look a lot more western nowadays than it did a while ago. Currently the speaker of the House is from the west, as was the last Democratic speaker, and as is the Senate majority leader. And the Democratic national convention this year will be in Colorado.

And obviously this geographic fact (if it is indeed a fact) about previous nominees isn’t the most interesting demographic generalisation one can make about all previous Democratic candidates for President or Vice-President. And if it is broken this year, it won’t be the most interesting generalisation to topple. But it would (ceteris paribus) be nice to see a party that has for over two centuries exclusively run whites from the eastern half of the country, not do so this time around.

Of course, in all but one case the party has exclusively run white men from the eastern half of the country. So the best candidates for breaking down demographic barriers might be Janet Napolitano or Patty Murray. But it’s hard to believe that either of them will be the candidate at this stage, with no pre-announcement hype at all. (Not that either would be bad picks, either as candidates or as Vice-Presidents.) So that leaves us with Schweitzer as the great western hope.

[1] In 1860 the ticket of Stephen Douglas (IL) and Herschel Johnson (GA) was nominated by the Democratic National Convention. But this was only after several Southern delegates had walked out of the convention. Those Southern delegates reconvened and nominated John Breckinridge and, crucially for our purposes, Joseph Lane (OR) to run. And that ticket carried several southern states, ending up second in the electoral vote. But it is hard to count that as the Democratic ticket, when there was a properly nominated Democratic ticket. More details here.

[2] The candidates are Hoover (CA-1932, 1936), McNary (OR-1940), Warren (CA-1948), Nixon (CA-1952, 1956, 1960, 1968, 1972), Goldwater (AZ-1964), Reagan (CA-1980, 1984), Cheney (WY-2000, 2004), McCain (AZ-2008). Hoover and Cheney are somewhat borderline cases, because they were each born back east, and when they ran were associated with DC as much as anywhere. But I believe in each case they can be properly identified with the state I’ve marked here. Note that Jack Kemp (1996) was born in California, but was a New York congressman, and clearly ran as a New Yorker, so he’s not on the list.



David Carlton 08.22.08 at 2:53 pm

(Actually in the very early years there probably weren’t such things as time zones, but the people lived in what are now the Eastern and Central time zones.) In fact, there weren’t. The time zones were adopted by the railroads in 1883, but coexisted along local time for some years thereafter. The zones received federal sanction during World War I.


Bloix 08.22.08 at 3:23 pm

What you’re seeing is not anti- West Coast bias. You’re seeing pro-southern bias. In the 19 elections since FDR’s first campaign, out of 38 Democratic nominees for Pres and VP, 16 have been Southerners – counting Texas as southern. (You can also count it as western – the one thing you can’t do is call it eastern, and to hell with the time zone line.) Dems have generally wanted one member of the ticket to appeal to the northern states and one to southern.

And other than the South, the main source of candidates for Dems has been the prairie: Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois. Given the large population of the Northeastern states, there have been relatively few genuine northeastern nominees: Roosevelt, Kennedy, Muskie, Shriver, Ferraro, Dukakis, Lieberman, Kerry.

’32: Roosevelt (N.Y.) and Garner (Tex.)
’36: Roosevelt and Garner
’40: Roosevelt and Wallace (Iowa)
’44: Roosevelt and Truman (Mo.)
’48 :Truman (Mo.) and Barkley (Ky.)
’52: Stevenson (Ill.) and Sparkman (Ala.)
’56: Stevenson and Kefauver (Tenn.)
’60: Kennedy (Mass.) and Johnson (Tex.)
’64: Johnson (Tex.) and Humphrey (Minn.)
’68: Humphrey (Minn.) and Muskie (Me.)
’72: McGovern (S.D.) and Shriver (Md.)
’76: Carter (Ga.) and Mondale (Minn.)
’80: Carter and Mondale
’84: Mondale and Ferraro (N.Y.)
’88: Dukakis (Mass.) and Bentsen (Tex.)
’92: Clinton (Ark.) and Gore (Tenn.)
’96: Clinton (Ark.) and Gore (Tenn.)
’00: Gore (Tenn.) and Lieberman (Conn.)
’04: Kerry (Mass.) and Edwards (N.C.)


CJColucci 08.22.08 at 3:57 pm

So will VP ScHweitzer be two hours late for meetings?


monkey.dave 08.22.08 at 5:11 pm

Sure, that’s a lot of handwaving about time zones, but it tragically overlooks Jimmy Carter’s western connection. At the time of his nomination, Carter was living in Atlanta and as everyone knows, the Atlanta Braves were at the time part of the National League West. That is to say, Atlanta was just as West as San Diego and you’re not going to convince me that San Diego isn’t a western city.


Brian 08.22.08 at 5:14 pm

Bloix, I agree this is more pro-southern than pro-east. But I think it is surprising how strong the prairie states are on that list, and that none of those prairie slots was taken by a westerner.

For a perhaps more graphical representation of how weak the Democrats used to be in the west, see “this map of the 1976 election”:http://matthewyglesias.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/05/times_change_4.php. Apart from Texas, the Democrats didn’t win a single state in any part of the western or mountain time zones. And that was an election they won. Obviously times have changed, but I was shocked to see how weak the Democrats historically have been out west.


Brian 08.22.08 at 5:15 pm

And, of course, for a long time the Atlanta Falcons played in the NFC West. I can’t remember now (and am too lazy to look up) whether the Carolina Panthers still played in the NFC West when Edwards ran in 2004.


Rich B. 08.22.08 at 6:44 pm

The Atlanta Braves were also in the NL West until 1993 (but so were the Reds).


christian h. 08.22.08 at 7:30 pm

The fact is, the best candidates come from the heartland. Oops, wrong blog.


Gene O'Grady 08.22.08 at 8:19 pm

Not that I’m proud of associating him with my home town, but Hoover’s residence when nominated and serving was Palo Alto (actually the Stanford Campus). I think I even went to look at his house once.

Made part of his fortune slant drilling in Bodie, and you can’t get much more Western (or more crooked) than that. Unless you count the other parts of his fortune that he made in China.


Jeff Rubard 08.22.08 at 8:38 pm

Although I imagine some such thought has already occurred to many people reading this post, I invite people to consider these time zone population statistics, then extrapolate back in time, then consider the question of proportional vs. regional representation a la House/Senate.


Ben Alpers 08.22.08 at 8:41 pm

This is implicit in some of what’s been said already, but the four time zones do not really divide the country into equal geographical slices. First, the Eastern Time Zone extends further to the east than it otherwise would, so that Maine does not end up in the Atlantic Time Zone. And, due to the orientation of the Eastern seabord, much of what would be the south eastern corner of that time zone is in the Atlantic

Similarly, the Pacific time zone starts in the Pacific Ocean.

I’m not sure what the actual U.S. land areas of the time zones are in square miles (someone must have calculated this), but glancing at this map makes it clear that the two middle time zones contain more land in the US than the Eastern and Pacific time zones, with Central Time taking up the greatest space.


Jeff Rubard 08.22.08 at 8:54 pm

An additional comment: although there is a conclusion you could draw from the fact that 1/5 of the US population lives in the Western US and the numbers used to be lower, in fact the Western population overwhelmingly lives in cities.


Roger 08.22.08 at 10:36 pm

You called it! I think you and I are the only ones who think so, but I think Brian Schweitzer is a great choice…however whenever I mention his name I get blank stares.


andrew 08.22.08 at 11:45 pm

Pelosi is western now, but she’s from Maryland.

Unrelated to the post, I wonder how many Congressional officials represent areas they did not grow up in and how many have either not left or returned to their “home” areas. (There are some definitional problems: allowance would have to be made for redistricting, and there’s some question of whether running in a nearby district should be counted as staying in the same general area. Plus I’m sure there are those who moved a lot and don’t really have “home” districts at all.)


Brian 08.23.08 at 2:01 am

Jeff and Ben, it is clearly true that the western ‘half’ of the country contains less than half the people. My guess in the post was that it was less than 1/4 in fact. That’s still a lot of people to have never had either a Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate.

Or put another way, the western ‘half’ isn’t exactly a gerrymandered group, and when a non-gerrymandered group produces 15 candidates for one party, and 0 for the other, I think that’s kind of interesting.

Andrew, that’s a good point about Pelosi, but I think for current purposes she pretty clearly counts as western. On entirely unscientific grounds, I think of the U.S. as much more migratory than most countries. Obviously in academia things are a little skewed, but even among non-academics, it seems normal for people to have families scattered over the country. (I suspect this is related to the common American practice of moving to go to college.) If that’s right, it would be surprising if there weren’t a lot of people whose high school (say) was a long way from their current home, and, if they are in the House of Representatives, their current district.


Jeff Rubard 08.23.08 at 2:30 am

I’m sorry, I didn’t really read the post (generally, I don’t find your work that compelling). The point is that the low population is something someone reading Crooked Timber might very well not know, and the reasons for it are that the West is not all that habitable for the most part, and the part that is habitable doesn’t really have especial “draws”.

However, your argument is indeed not compelling because you’ve ignored the historical dimension: most of that population is actually quite new — the population of California in 1940 was 7 million, whereas New York’s population was 14 million — 7 million in New York City alone. (That is “gerrymandered” because there was a lot of population growth, particularly African-American, associated with war industries.) Similar trends exist in miniature for other Western states, and it would have been very strange indeed for candidates to be being chosen from such a demographically marginal area.

(BTW, there was a little bit of a joke about people who moved to the West early on in there, but I guess American humor doesn’t translate well.)


Gene O'Grady 08.23.08 at 3:50 pm

I think more than the low population (and remember that in presidential elections it isn’t population per se that counts, it’s electoral votes and what are now called swing states) the operative factor may be that the opposition to the Republican/plutocratic/business party has not historically always been the democrats, it’s been socialists, greenbackers, populists, free silvers, and perhaps most importantly (in California) progressive Republicans of the Earl Warren/Hiram Johnson variety. Plus the democrats have tended to be fringe figures like Bryan, fringe at least in the sense of outside of the Southern-urban Catholic-sound money alliance that typically produced national democratic candidates.


Gene O'Grady 08.23.08 at 3:58 pm

I believe that rather than population per se (and remember that the emphasis in national elections is on electoral votes and what are now called swing states) the operative factor has been that historically in the west the opposition to the Republican/plutocratic/big business party has not been so much the Democrats as the socialists, populists, free silvers, greenbackers, progressives, and probably a couple of others I’m leaving out. In California effective opposition, until the rise of Pat Brown, was the Johnson-Warren Republicans. In addition, Western Democrats (Bryan being the best known) tended to be marginal to the Southern-urban-sound money alliance that produced most of the Democratic national tickets.


Matthew Shugart 08.24.08 at 5:41 pm

Andrew, at #14, in his parenthetical statements, encapsulates why I decided not to try to figure out how many members of US congress represent areas they originate from.

This sort of question is a lot easier to answer for countries that use proportional representation in districts that coincide with states/provinces. (The answer in such cases turns out to be most, and more when districts are on the smaller side, or lists are open.)


a very public sociologist 08.25.08 at 11:04 am

Well we all know now his pick was Joe Biden. What do you guys think about that? Help or hindrance?


Western Dave 08.25.08 at 4:44 pm

Hoover was 28 and 32 not 32 and 36. But more importantly, time zones are a whacky way to define what is Western. Minnesota self-identifies as western as much as mid-western with it’s important role as a train and plane distribution point for Western commerce. Minneapolis-Seattle defines one of three important Western axes the other two being San Francisco-Chicago and Los Angeles -Phoneix-Dallas -Atlanta. The Democrats have typically thought in terms of Sunbelt hence the overrepresentation of Texas on Democratic tickets and the under-representation of California.


Western Dave 08.25.08 at 4:46 pm

Not sure why there are cross-outs in my last posts. There should not be. It should be Phoenix-Dallas-Atlanta. etc.

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