Are Democrats Washed Up?

Check this map. Do you see what Democrats should fear? Yes, it is global warming! If ocean levels rise as much as some fear in the coming decades, the most highly populated blue regions will be inundated or washed away. And there are scant few blue districts as it is.

As this graphic illustrates, the losses will be from the most progressive areas. I am not implying that this in itself means fewer progressive voters, but we have seen from the last election how much household adversity impacts voting trends. Heretofore reliable Democratic voters abandon their allegiances when vital interests are at stake. Talking about free college and receptive borders won’t hack it with those pushed away from their homes and jobs.

Of course there is the possibility that dispersion of progressives into the red interior might change the region’s political character, so take heart those of you on the left! Hippies in Kansas?

Ok, I assume you realize that the preceding is satire. However the basis is real and I can’t resist taking this opportunity to comment seriously on this looming threat.

I wouldn’t want to leave the impression that I believe Democrats are expressing alarm about global warming because of simple self-interest. All thinking citizens worldwide are justifiably concerned. This threat is real and the scientific consensus is incontrovertible. As a scientist who has actually worked professionally in the fields of meteorology and geophysics, I feel safe in making this assertion.

Many conservative doubters, however, have suspicious motives and a weak grasp of and little respect for science. They simply don’t like the consequences of having to face this threat head on. Oh sure, they can no doubt find a few reputable scientists who quibble about the role human activity is playing in global warming. I’ll bet I could find credentialed scientists who think the world began about 6000 years ago and that the Moon landing by Armstrong and Aldrin was a gigantic hoax. Scientists can be as ditzy as anyone else, but consensus rules the day, thank God.

Regardless, it really doesn’t matter what is causing this calamity or whether human activity is crucial, unless of course you believe that we can significantly prevent the worst from happening. Personally I doubt that our feeble efforts to mitigate human impacts will make much difference and are likely a waste of time and resources. Rather, we must strive urgently to live with the inevitable impacts and to protect ourselves where possible. It is simply a matter of where we get the best bang for the buck.

A good test case is in progress as we attempt to recover from the recent weather disasters in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean. If we simply rebuild and re-establish communities as they were before, we will have failed the test.


Trump Administration Snapshot

I have been following President-elect Trump’s choices to lead his administration with great interest. When the list is reasonably complete, I plan to write a summary assessment of his picks and what they may mean for our future. In the meantime, I thought it amusing to summarize the demographics of this unusual and diverse group. At this writing, there have been 28 selections. So far, Trump has not ordered a group portrait, so I thought I would toss in a substitute for now. These are winners of Trump’s famous TV show, The Apprentice.


  • 4 Ayn Rand fans: Trump, Tillerson, Puzder, Pompeo
  • 3 Goldman Sachs alumni: Mnuchin, Bannon, Cohn
  • 4 Retired Generals: Flynn, Mattis, Kelly, Kellogg (no West Point graduates)
  • 8 Lawyers: Pompeo, Sessions, Priebus, Puzder, Pruitt, McGahn, Friedman, Mulvaney
  • 6 Holders of MBA degrees: Trump, Chao, Ross, Flynn, Bannon, Zinke
  • 4 Harvard alumni: Chao, Ross, Pompeo, Bannon
  • 4 Other Ivy League alumni: Mnuchin, Carson, Crowley, Friedman
  • 2 Surgeons: Price, Carson
  • 4 Billionaires: Trump, DeVos, Ross, McMahon
  • 2 Governors: Haley (currently serving), Perry
  • 6 Women: Chao, DeVos, Haley, McMahon, Crowley, McFarland
  • 3 Non-Caucasian: Chao, Haley, Carson
  • 8 Top business executives: Trump, DeVos, Pompeo, Puzder, McMahon, Bannon, Tillerson, Cohn
  • 1 Foreign born: Chao
  • 4 Congressmen: Price, Pompeo, Zinke, Mulvaney (all currently serving)
  • 1 Senator: Sessions (currently serving)
  • 2 Ran against Trump: Carson, Perry

Republicans and the Hispanic Vote

It is widely believed that Republicans need to start getting on the right side of Hispanic issues, primarily immigration, or else they will be forever doomed at the Presidential level. They can consolidate and even prosper at the state level and in the House of Representatives, so the theory goes, but the U.S. Senate will be iffy and the Presidency permanently beyond their grasp. Demographics tell the tale.


Or does it? Some researchers decided to look more closely at the data and found that this conclusion is premature. As is often the case, conventional wisdom is flawed.

They analyzed the 2012 Hispanic vote that split 71/27 for Obama according to the Pew Hispanic Center. And they discovered that Romney would have needed a complete reversal to about 70/30 in his favor to have made a difference. That is because Hispanics congregate in primarily blue congressional districts. The researchers conclude that such a reversal is currently unachievable without losing substantial support from the Republican base and is thus counterproductive as a policy goal. A second significant factor is how important immigration policy ranks amongst voting Hispanics. It comes in a distant fourth behind issues just as important to other voters, like jobs and the economy. Thus going all wobbly on immigration to troll for Hispanic support is not a very likely winner.

It is true that eventually Republicans will need to gain substantial Hispanic support, but not for 2016. And if they win that election, they might be able to solidify a right-leaning Supreme Court for decades to come. On balance that is currently a more achievable target than prematurely beginning their rapprochement dance with the burgeoning Hispanic population. That will be a marvel to watch as they try to eat words and cross the Rio Grande at the same time.

A Changing Political Landscape

There is a lot of talk about demographic shift in the U.S. and the ways that it will influence the election in 2016 and those to come. Such characteristics as youth and ethnicity are indeed changing, but demographic impacts are far more complex than is often assumed. Many of the political claims about coming advantages for one side or the other are largely ill-informed and speculative. Let’s see why.

Although our presidential election is based upon the states, a finer sieve by counties gives more information and is particularly relevant to the House of Representatives elections. Here’s how the 2012 election turned out.



Note the many darkly colored counties, i.e. those that went heavily Democratic or Republican. Demographic shifts in those counties will take many years and perhaps decades to occur, if at all. Don’t expect near-term change in the great plains states or Texas. Also note how the colors seem to cluster. Nearby counties affect one another through assimilation and immigration. It is difficult for the opposite party to penetrate these clusters unless very special conditions arise, such as a home-town candidate of that party.

What about the next generation? Our youth are not uniformly distributed, as the following county-level map clearly shows.



The south-western and southern states, with the important exception of Florida, have proportionately greater populations under the age of 18 than the north-eastern, mid-Atlantic and northern tier states. There is dispute about the political tendencies of the next generation but little doubt that they hold many different views from their elders, particularly on social issues. It is obvious that the impact of youth, one way or the other, should hit hardest in Republican-leaning areas. Of course mobility is higher among the young, so the finer detail on this map may change quite a bit in the years to come.

Yet another perspective is ethnic ancestry. I can’t recall reading any analysis of how this important population characteristic correlates with political views. The following map is fascinating. Note the distribution of British ancestry. The northeast concentration is unsurprising, but the major enclaves in Florida, the north-west, and particularly Mormon country is not exactly what I expected. Comparing this to the election map indicates little correlation to political viewpoint.


On the other hand, the swath of those claiming American ancestry across West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, down into central Texas clearly leans Republican. I am assuming that these people trace their forebears back at least before the Civil War and perhaps to Revolutionary times. The segment with German ancestry is much larger than I had expected, larger even than those with Mexican or Spanish heritage. With the notable exception of Wisconsin, these seem to lean Republican, and increasingly so as you move west.

Yet another sociological slice is the distribution of our poor. They tend to vote far less often than the more affluent, so their political impact relates more to their congregation than to their voting predilections. The presence of many poor individuals affects how their neighbors vote, whether to offer them a helping hand or to try to minimize their impact on the community. To the first approximation, those two alternatives fairly well capture the Democratic and Republican attitudes towards the poor.


The concentrations in the mid-south and along our southern border are what we might expect, however the relative sparsity in major urban areas is surprising.

These are but a few of the alternative ways of looking at our population. Demography provides a confusing perspective but it is one that politicians will ignore at their peril in the coming years.