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Tallahassee, Florida – A North/South Divide

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Tallahassee is the capital of Florida, although people from out of the state may not know it.  Tallahassee often gets overshadowed by Orlando, Tampa, and Miami.  In comparison, Tallahassee may seem small.  However, Tallahassee has a rich history and a significant population; totally more than 180,000 residents.  The cities mix of college students (supplied by the Florida State University, Florida A&M University, and Tallahassee Community College) give the city a constant influx of liberal and idealistic students.  The town’s southside and frenchtown give the city a black population totally 35%; which mixed with the student populations created a rich history of activism in the area during the civil rights era.  On top of that, the fact that the city is Florida’s capital results in many state employees redisiding in the city as well.

The combination of state employees, African Americans, and college students makes Tallahassee a reliably Democratic town.  The city has voted Democratic in every Presidential race since the 1960s and from every race I have looked at, always voted Democratic in local and lower level races.  In the few instances Leon County has voted Republican, the city still voted Democratic.  Charlie Chris, the former Governor of Florida, who ran for Senate in 2010 as an independent, is one of very few non-Democrats to win Tallahassee; a feet helped by his ties with state employees and liberals voting for the more electable Chris over the 3rd place Democrat.

However, this blog post is not to just discuss how Democratic Tallahassee is.   This blog is designed to show that there is a significant Northern and Southern divide in Tallahassee.  The cities northern suburbs, most of which lie north of I-10, having been growing over many years.  These suburbs are more upper class and Republican leaning than the African American centers, student housing, and liberal suburbs south of I-10.

Here is a basic precinct map of Tallahassee with the red line representing I-10, which separates the northern part of town.  Keep that line in mind as we look at some electoral results of Tallahassee.

Those northern suburbs above I-10 represent the communities of Killearn, Ox Bottom Manor, and Summerbrook.  All these areas are distictingly upper class and much more Republican/conservative.  The southern part of town is the southside, which is largely African American and lower income, and reliably Democratic.   As you move up you hit the FSU area and the student voters, and to the eastern part are the state employees and liberal whites.  Overall most of the precincts below I-10 will vote Democratic on average, while most precincts above will vote Republican on average.  Its a divide that many cities and states in the US have.  The following maps illustrate this divide.

Regional Divides

To get us started, lets take a look at Tallahassee voter precincts based on registration.  Tallahassee’s voter registration is overwhelmingly Democratic: with 58% registered Democrat, 25% registered Republican, and 17% independent or other.  There is not a SIGLE precinct in Tallahassee where Republican registration is above 50%.  Republicans win precincts in Tallahassee by winning right-leaning independents and conservative Democrats.

Lets take a look at the precincts based on registration…
Lets start in the south and move north.  The heavy blue makes it obvious where the African American community is concentrated; which register Democrat at levels above 80%.  The lighter blue in the middle represent the FSU and student area.  To be clear, that area is still reliably Democratic; with low Dem ID attributed to high numbers of independent registration and many students registering Republican based off parents preference but not voting that way.  The blue areas south of I-10 and to the east represent liberal communities of white liberals as well as Democratically-aligned state, county, and city employees.  The large red precinct in the southeast is Southwood, and new upper-income community that tends to vote Republican.

When we get north of I-10, we still see several precincts that have more Democrats than Republicans.  However, these precincts have Democratic percentages below 50%, and voters registered independent as well as conservative Democrats in this area tend to vote more Republican, allowing those precincts to be won by Republicans (similar to Florida in state-wide election, where Dems are the largest party but Republicans often win state-wide).

As we move more toward the northeast, Republican registration tops Democratic registration, with the strongest Republican advantage being in the two precincts in the center north tip, Ox Bottom Manor and Summerbrook.  These upper income areas only vote Democratic in blowout elections.

Based off this registration map, you can see a slight north south divide.  However, the divide becomes MUCH clearer and more apparent when we look at past election results in the city.

Electoral Analysis

Lets start with the big race for the Presidency in 2008.  Obama won around 67% of Tallahassee and won Florida; marking the first time a Democrat won a majority of Florida’s votes in decades (Clinton won a plurality in 1996).  Lets look at the city results

Here the north south divide is much clearer.  With the exception of a blue precinct in the north (that specific precinct tends to vote Democrat), McCain managed to win most of the precincts in the northern suburbs, as well as Southwood to the southeast (southwood is much more politically aligned to the northern suburbs, but is more moderate).  Obama of course won the students and African American communities by large numbers, as well as the public employees.

Lets look at the 2004 race.

Due to some software limitations, I couldn’t separate the 2004 city boundaries from the county, but I highlighted the cities boundaries.  Click the image to enlarge.  You can still see a similar pattern, south is Dem, north is Republican.  The north is actually less Republican that time around, but thats likely because between 2004 and 2008, those Republican precincts have grown as more suburbs where built and more Republican voters moved in.

Ok… so the presidential races show a pattern, what about lower-level races?  Well I took a look at several lower ticket races to see if the pattern held.  I looked at races that where competitive (ignoring blowout races like the 2006 Senate or Allen Boy’s congressional re-election in 2008).  Blowout races against weak Republicans allowed Democrats to win just about every precinct in Tallahassee.  Such a scenario happens from time to time and don’t dictate a pattern; they are outliers.  Instead I focus on competitive races to see if the pattern is maintained.

Lets look at three key races next.  We will look at the 2010 House District 2 race, where Allen Boyd lost his congressional seat in a competitive contest.  We will also look at the 2010 Florida Attorney General Race (a downballot race where party ID is a big player).  Then we will look at the 2006 governor race (we will get back to the 2010 governor race.

Take a look at these three maps

Just at a quick glance there is a key pattern, most precincts vote either red or blue all three times.  Boyd, in the first map, does the best largely because of his familiarity in the area as an incumbent, while the other two races are open seats.  We see a strong pattern developing, south is blue (except southwood), north is red.

Now, to address a few of the 2010 races left off; the outliers.  There where two other cabinet level races as well in 2010, for Agriculture Commissioner and for Chief Financial Officer.  These races have a bias, however.  The Democratic nominees for those two seats both had ties to Tallahassee.  Scott Maddox (AC) was the former mayor of Tallahassee and Laurane Ausley (CFO) was a state representative for a good portion of the northern city.  They did well in Tallahassee because of their strong name ID (although Maddox still lost several northern precincts).

Finally, I did not include the 2010 Governor’s race because Republican nominee Rick Scott did especially bad in Leon County for a variety of reasons.  Scott’s plans to slash public employees made every voter in Tallahassee know his governorship would hurt the city and county’s economy, not to mention dislike over Scott’s corporate corruption past; resulted in Scott having the worst county-wide performance in the state.  Leon gave 68% of its vote to Alex Sink (the 2nd highest in the state, behind majority-black Gadsden County).  Only 5 precincts in all of Leon voted for Rick Scott, an NONE within Tallahassee.

Lets look at the map just for fun.

This map shows that patterns can be broken in unique cases.

Lets even take a look at the 2010 Senate three-way race between Democrat Kendrick Meek, Republican Marco Rubio, and Independent Charlie Chris.  As I explained earlier, Crist won the city thanks to ties to state employees, strengths with moderate voters, and strategic voting from many Democrats.

The map still shows a north/south divide; with Meek winning the African-American southside and Frenchtown, and Rubio winning most of the Republican suburbs.  Chris  won several democratic precincts and some Republican suburbs.  His green swath serves as a bugger between the red and blue areas.

Lets get back to some other examples of this north/south divide.  Lets look at the 2010 Mayoral Race, where Democrat John Marks beat back a tough challenge from Republican Steve Stewart.  Below that will be the map of the open seat for city commission seat 3, which saw Democrat Nancy Miller beat former-Republican Steven Hogge.  Finally, we look at the 2008 County commission race, where Democrat Akin Akinyem defeated Republican commissioner Ed Depuy.

To be clear, local races in Leon County are non-partisan on the ballot (party label left off).  However, party ID is sometimes advertised by candidates or the local party.

Check the maps out…

In these local races we continue to see the north/south pattern.  Republicans actually make better inroads south of I-10 (probably thanks to an R not being next to their name on the ticket), but the overall pattern remains.

Lets take this one step further

I came up with two maps that reflect the overall party loyality of the Tallahasse Precincts.  I started with a list of competitive races and looked to see how many precincts ALWAYS voted for a the same party.

The races are as follows…

  • 2008 Presidential Election
  • 2006 Gubernatorial Election
  • 2010 Attorney General
  • 2006 Attorney General
  • 2006 Agriculture Commissioner
  • 2010 House district 2
  • 2010 Mayor
  • 2010 City Commission 3
  • 2008 County Commission At-Large
—-Precincts that voted the same for ALL those races where classified as SAFE precincts for either party.
—-Then I removed the 2006 Attorney General Race and Agriculture commission race.  I removed these because the 2006 races has slight biases (with AG, the Dem was boosted by a strong Democratic year, and with AC, it was a popular Republican incumbent running).  With those removed, any precincts that voted for all the remaining races are LIKELY precincts.
—-Following this, I removed all the local races since they have no party label, and thus sometimes have slightly different results.  The remaning are LEAN seats.
—-Lastly, I removed the 2010 House district race, which as I explained beforem was slightly biased by Boyd being a long-time incumbent.  These where also LEAN seats.
The map below is the result.
The map reflects several of the races we have already looked at, with Republican loyalty largely concentrated in the north, and Democratic loyalty in the south.
—-
If I make a map just to test the loyalty in the three local races we looked at earlier, we see a similar pattern as well.
Ok, I think its safe to say there is a clear north/south divide any way you look at it.  Even in the simply local races, where party ID is left off the ballot, we have consistent Democratic allegiance in the south, and Republican allegiance in the north.

Analysis

So I’ve already given some anequdotal arguments for why the divide exists, but lets take a more statistical approach.  First off, African-Americans are concentrated in the southern areas of the city.

Additionally, there are economy factors in play.  By looking at some ESRI maps using census data, we can see an clear economy divide in the city as well.

Lets look at income in Tallahassee.

The map clearly shows the northern suburbs are much more economically well-off than the southern portion; such a status than can play into views of tax policy and politics; making them more conservative.

Next we look at age.

We see a similar pattern when it comes to age.  The northern suburbs are older than the southern portion of the town; with older people often voting more conservative (depending on the race).

Finally we look at job rates in the city.

For the most part the northern suburbs have less unemployment, a statistic that doesn’t likely change over time.   With jobs plentiful in the area, the voters are not in need of government services, and thus less likely to see the need for Democratic government.

Summary

Thanks to economic, racial, and age divides between northern and southern Tallahassee, the city maintains a significant north/south divide.  It is a divide that can be overcome in blowout races, but a divide that is clear in most instances.   Like many other cities, states, and even counties, Tallahassee is an area with a clear north/south divide.

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