The Mack-Mack Line: South Florida Father vs. North Florida Son

The Chinese often say that “富不过三代” – wealth is not passed down for more than three generations. My parents had a Chinese proverb for everything, and the fortunes of the fourth generation of the Mack family are no exception.

2012 was not a good year for the descendants of Cornelius McGillicuddy, Senior (1862-1952), better known as Connie Mack. The ghost of the longest-serving manager in Major League Baseball saw his beloved Athletics, in their adopted city of Oakland, lose the ALDS to Detroit in Game 5. What a tragedy!

Of course, that’s not why you’re reading this, there was also an election. Connie Mack’s grandson (the third generation), Republican politician Connie Mack III, was elected Florida’s Class I Senator in 1988 in a 50-50 squeaker, but did not seek a third term in 2000. That year, the seat was taken over by Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, who this year in 2012 gave wayward scion Connie Mack IV a 55%-42% beatdown. Oh, and Connie Mack IV’s wife, Mary Bono Mack, lost her Congressional seat in California.

In the 24 years since Connie Mack III was first elected Senator, and Connie Mack IV lost his bid to win the seat back, the regional party landscape in Florida has changed dramatically. Here, I present to you the Mack-Mack Line that divides North and South Florida. North of the line, Connie Mack IV in 2012 outperformed Connie Mack III in 1988. South of the line, the opposite occurred.


mackmack

Notice how in 1988, both regions performed nearly identically, giving Connie Mack III an small lead. Fast forward to 2012, and the two regions have diverged wildly. Connie Mack IV improved on his father’s standing in North Florida, but got walloped south of the line where 4 out of 5 Floridians live. Even more amusing is that Nelson, a North Florida native, mopped the floor with former Fort Lauderdale Congressman Mack IV in South Florida.


Gwinnett County, Georgia: The Next Stop on the Demographics Express

Newton Leroy Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and failed 2012 presidential candidate, pretended to be “shocked” at the outcome of last week’s presidential election. He shouldn’t be, and he’s certainly smart enough to know that the outcome of this year’s titanic head-on collision on the train tracks of American elections wasn’t exactly hard to forecast. On one side, a lumbering steam locomotive hauling an ever-shrinking proportion of angry whites, and on the other side a bullet train of demographic change.

One of the best examples of this clash is right in Newt’s backyard: Gwinnett County, Georgia, which may in 2016 be the next Republican bastion to fall. Gwinnett, portions of which were in Newt’s Congressional District as he designed the 1994 Republican Revolution, was a viciously conservative white-flight suburb that voted for Ronald Reagan over Georgia’s own Jimmy Carter in 1980 and hasn’t voted for a Democrat since. In 1984, when Reagan was re-elected over Walter Mondale by 18 points nationwide, Gwinnett voted for Reagan by an astonishing 60 points.

But this year? As the vast majority of counties in the United States shifted more Republican compared to 2008, Gwinnett County went the opposite way. McCain carried Gwinnett in 2008 by 10 points, and Mitt Romney? Only 9. When compared to the national average, the slow collapse of the Republican margin in Gwinnett County is stunning:


gwinett1

A county that in the 1980s gave Republicans a margin over 40 points more than the national average is now only 12 points more Republican than average. So why the tortured train metaphor at the top of this post? To understand how astonishing this transformation in Gwinnett is, one must first understand MARTA.

MARTA, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, is Atlanta’s subway system: a valuable asset in a city so choked with traffic it is compared to the legendary congestion misery of Los Angeles and Washington, DC. MARTA is not nearly as effective as it could be, though, because it stops right at the Gwinnett County line. Why?


MARTARailMap2010

In 1971, Gwinnett County voters voted in a referendum to reject Gwinnett’s participation in MARTA. Car-owning suburbanites who had just left Atlanta itself feared trainloads of blacks pouring into their neighborhoods. The racially-charged nature of MARTA is still evident today: Urban Dictionary defines MARTA as “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.” It has been called the “Mother of All Mistakes” by frustrated Atlanta residents of today stuck in traffic. As this Atlanta Magazine piece explains:

The 1965 and 1971 votes against MARTA by residents of Cobb, Clayton, and Gwinnett weren’t votes about transportation. They were referendums on race. Specifically, they were believed to be about keeping the races apart. Consider the suburbanites voting back then. The formerly rural, outlying counties had exploded with an astonishing exodus of white people fleeing the city as the black population swelled during the civil rights era. This mass migration came at a time when Atlanta was known through its public relations bluster as “The City Too Busy to Hate.”

Unfortunately for the angry whites, stopping MARTA didn’t keep the minorities out at all. A county that rejected rapid transit because it would have given blacks easy access to the suburbs is now, after the 2010 Census, majority-minority. In the last 10 years, the white-flight that gave rise to Gwinnett has come to Gwinnett: the white voting-age population actually fell. All of the population growth in Gwinnett County in the last 10 years? People of color.


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In this year’s 2012 presidential election, there simply were’t enough angry whites to toss President Barack Obama out of office. The flood of Hispanics and Asians swelling the ranks of suburban counties in Virginia and North Carolina delivered huge margins for President Obama. These votes, joined with an immovable black base, went head-to-head with the white voters of the Old Confederacy. In Virginia, exit polls showed Obama won while carrying only 39% of the white vote. In North Carolina, Obama carried only 31% of the white vote, and came just short of winning: but as the share of minorities increases, underperformance among whites becomes less and less damaging.

In Gwinnett, the stagnant and shrinking white population is evident in the raw number of votes cast for Republican candidates. After decades of explosive growth, the Republicans have reached a ceiling of 160,000 votes. The explosive growth of the minority population paid big dividends for Democrats in 2008, and held steady in 2012.


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What’s even more amazing is that it didn’t have to be this way for the Republicans at all. Even if the black base is impenetrable, the growth in the Asian and Latino populations should not have been so devastating for them. The Asian and Latino populations were enticed by the Republican policies on social issues and taxation, and for some groups Cold War era resentments of being soft on Communism sent them into Republican arms. I would know. As a Chinese-American, I spent a few years of my childhood living in Norcoss in Gwinnett. At the time in the late 90s, the Asian population was starting to explode, and the Chinese filled the pews at the Chinese Bible Church of Greater Atlanta, and filled the farmer’s market every weekend. Nationwide, Asians voted for Bob Dole in 1996. No Republican has carried the Asian vote since, and Barack Obama won Asians with a crushing 73% of the vote.

As the white population of Gwinnett shrinks, and as the Black, Latino, and Asian population grows, the self-inflicted wounds that Republicans gave themselves have turned Democratic-trending minorities into a Democratic base. The simple black and white racial politics that delivered Newt Gingrich-style Southern Whites victories have been scrambled by yellow and brown. It won’t be long now before the county that rejected a train because whites drove cars becomes a diverse, Democratic bastion. The states of the Old South are falling one by one, roughly in order of the growth of their minority populations: first Florida, then Virginia, then North Carolina. It would warm my heart to see Georgia next.

Election data from the indispensable US Elections Atlas.


The Racial Anatomy of a Split Precinct

Gone are the days when redistricting consisted of markers and paper: now we know down to each and every block exactly how many white people over the age of 18 live there. In state like Virginia where white voters and minority voters are in total opposition, this matters.

I do still check on political blogs from the Commonwealth of Virginia, where I grew up. The eagle-eyed Not Larry Sabato blog was watching one particular precinct in Prince William County, Penn, which was split by Republican-controlled House of Delegates and Congressional redistrict, but left intact in the Democratic-controlled State Senate redistricting in 2011. What did this level of attention get them?

The bigger chunk of Penn, about 79% of it, was placed in the 1st Congressional (Rob Wittman) and 51st House of Delegates district (Rich Anderson), while the smaller chunk, about 21% of the precinct went with the 11th Congressional District (Gerry Connolly) 31st Delegate seat (Scott Lingamfelter). In the Congressional map, it was drawn to help all incumbents, so I knew the Connolly chunk was supposed to be more Democratic, while the Wittman area was supposed to be more Republican. In the House of Delegates districts, Republicans were trying to solidify Anderson who narrowly won his seat in 2009, so he got the more Republican area, while the Democratic area went into the much safer GOP seat of Lingamfelter that runs into other strongly GOP areas.

After reading all this, you must be wondering- how effective was this map? Here it is:

Rob Wittman/Rich Anderson portion of Penn precinct
Mitt Romney 1,028 (59.1%)
Barack Obama 710 (40.9%)

Gerry Connolly/Scott Lingamfelter portion of Penn precinct
Mitt Romney 107 (26.4%)
Barack Obama 298 (73.6%)

18.2% Romney margin of victory vs. a 47.2% Obama margin of victory

While political data is available down to the precinct level, the Census Bureau does count every single person by race block by block. In Penn, and other split precincts I saw in the 2011 redistricting cycle, the precincts were mostly split along obvious racial lines. All across Northern Virginia, whiter single-family homes were cleaved from less white townhouses and condos. While it’s certainly possible to link individual modeling scores block by block to attempt to calculate a precinct fragment’s lean, in a state as racially divided as Virginia it almost isn’t useful. Using this map of Penn precinct, I calculated the race population of each precinct fragment. Unsurprisingly, the variance in each fragment’s political performance matched up with race quite closely. This was one of many examples of redistricting deftly taking out minority blocks, not just precincts, and packing them together in super-blue districts.


In the north portion given to the 1st Congressional District that gave Romney 59%, the voting age population is an astonishing 78% white. In the south portion given to the 11th Congressional District that gave Obama 74%, the voting age population is only 38%! You may notice that the block lines don’t match up quite exactly with the precinct lines–precincts are not required to follow Census geography–but the data is close enough to conclude that at least in Penn, Republicans knew block by block what they were doing.


GIF GIS: Animating the Change in Virginia Absentee Ballots

Using data from the Virginia State Board of Elections, I have created this timeseries animation for the county-level change in mail and in-person absentee voting from 2008 and 2012. It is important to note in any analysis of Virginia early vote that it is not a no-excuse state, you must still give a reason even if interpretation of those reasons is fairly lenient: the most common are commuting and working more than 11 hours total on Election Day, travel outside the locality of residence, and going to school away from the locality. Thus, high-commute and high-income communities that have long commutes and many children in college have a higher early vote ceiling than other counties.

Now that animated GIFs are back in vogue, I have pondered uses for them besides amusing cat actions. I can see future uses for them in election GIS. Time-series data especially can be plotted in this relatively lightweight fashion when interactivity isn’t necessary. It also doesn’t require the programming chops a d3.js visualization.


The Art of Cracker Cooking

In the recesses of everyone’s memory (or at least of mine), there is a hallowed space for moments of satiated gluttony so outrageous that they remain as totems to a meal. Tinged with the context of who was there, the symbolic value of why I had traveled so far, they are most importantly memories of food. Seafood, especially, sticks in my memory more than any other sort of food. Fried clam strips in Kittery, Maine at Bob’s Clam Hut after a day pounding sand at the beaches of York, or family dinner at Boston’s Jumbo Seafood Restaurant after a long trek in from the suburbs. Vast, dizzying spreads of fish, lobster, and crab in Hong Kong’s legendary Lei Yue Mun district, or lunch out on the waterfront with fishing boats puttering around at Lamma Island. These are but a few of the meals I have eaten that I can recount in excruciating detail because I am not well in the head, but quite well in the stomach.

So when a co-worker (Twitter: @akinsdem for relevant news) tipped me off to a restaurant called The Art of Cracker Cooking, with an unlimited seafood and barbecue buffet, I had to see what was there. I was most certainly not disappointed.

This is Art. Here he is on the table.


The Art of Cracker Cooking

Here he is in real life.

The Art of Cracker Cooking

Authenticity is a slippery word, but this place has it in spades. No pretension (the salt shakers were plastic cups with notches cut into them!), just amazing food. Shrimp, fished out of nearby waters, prepared three ways. Crabcakes with more crab than cake. And a surprising hit: a scallop and mashed potato casserole topped with cheese. All finished with a cookie. For $18, you can eat as much of it as you want, and pile a huge box to take home. My only regret was not taking more of the fried shrimp, thinking that fried foods would not reheat well. This was false.

The Art of Cracker Cooking

I never put much stock in decor, and not too much in service when I eat, but I will give extra points for entertainment. You can always trust a chef who rings the dinner bell with a knife. This is what a man who loves his job looks like.

The Art of Cracker Cooking

Really. You should go. I know I’ll be back soon.


The Art of Cracker Cooking


Jumbo Shad Plank – The Nassau County Sign-Raising

Last week I received a call from Jay-Paul Thibault, chair of the Nassau County Democratic Executive Committee. They needed volunteers to raise a 20-foot Obama sign.

Wait, 20 feet?

I come from Virginia, home of the Shad Planking, the annual sign war in a clearing in Wakefield to end all sign wars. This is a typical example from my last visit in 2009. It would take a lot to impress me.


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Yes, it was suitably impressive. There is now a ridiculously-sized Obama sign facing State Road 200. I held on to these photos for a couple days out of mild superstition that the sign would come down…it’s stayed up. Watch the sign-raising (the modern-day equivalent to the barn-raising, I suppose) in the photos below!


Nassau County Democrats Raise Obama Sign

Nassau County Democrats Raise Obama Sign

Nassau County Democrats Raise Obama Sign

Nassau County Democrats Raise Obama Sign

Nassau County Democrats Raise Obama Sign

Nassau County Democrats Raise Obama Sign

Nassau County Democrats Raise Obama Sign

Nassau County Democrats Raise Obama Sign


Boxscores, Maps, and the Curse of Kenton

I am certain that the Washington Nationals will do fabulously in this year’s playoffs. How do I know? I moved from the DC area to Florida in January. Curses evaporate when I leave.

There’s precedent for this. After I moved to DC from Boston in 2001, the Red Sox built themselves into curse-destroyers in 2004. I suffered along with all of Boston up until then, and I didn’t even get to be there for the payoff! Now, several years later, Washington has its first playoff victory in baseball for the first time since trilobites swam the Potomac. I pondered this while faithfully keeping  a scorecard for tonight’s Orioles-Yankees game. Latent dislike for the Yankees contributed to me pulling for the Orioles, even though their owner deprived Washington of baseball for so long.

Constructing a box score is one of my less marketable skills. Before politics consumed my life after I moved to DC, I was a suburban child in Boston who was a relentless baseball stats nut. I didn’t know it at the time, but spending my elementary school years poring over ways to compare pitchers to Pedro Martinez in Microsoft Excel seems to have foreshadowed my current job at a polling firm, trading left fielders for legislators.

I learned the arcane runes of the baseball scorecard because we didn’t have cable in our basement apartment in Needham and later townhouse in Norwood, Massachusetts, and even fanatical baseball towns like Boston don’t air every game over the air. I clung to a staticky radio that was almost certainly older than I was, the dial carefully tuned to WEEI 850 AM (where Red Sox fans have surely returned to an endless parade of misery and rending of clothing, now that the Sox have sunk into the cellar). If you could watch the game on television, you never needed to draw up a scorecard: the game was right in front of you, and chyrons did all the work of keeping you appraised of previous at-bats…but listening to even the most skilled radio announcer required a bit of imagination and visualization.


Pedro Martinez in 2000. Mark Wilson/Boston Globe

I remember the 1999 Boston Red Sox vividly. Just like how your first loves are seared forever in your memory whether you like it or not, you remember your formative baseball years when you first started obsessively tracking strikeout to walk ratios. I remember them vividly because I was eight, and had by then become well versed in the Curse of the Bambino, and the mythology of suffering it brought to flinty New Englanders. I followed them all season with my radio as if I was a child of 1949 and not 1999, and right as they came back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS, including a record 23-7 romp so ridiculous they started running out of numbers for the Fenway Park scoreboard, they lost the pennant to the hated Yankees.

This was one of the first tastes I had of the vengeful wrath of destiny.

2000 came along, and another peculiar habit of flinty New Englanders aside from self-flagellating about the Red Sox captured my attention: the New Hampshire Primary (which triggers more use of “flinty” than any other event). I watched in awe as the primaries gave way to recounts Bush v. Gore and chaos, and I swore that every election going forward would be just this damn exciting. I took some colored pencils to an Electoral College map for the first time. Then in 2001, I moved to Washington, a city that didn’t have baseball at the time, and no cable package to keep up with the Red Sox, and even worse I was way too far to pick up even the faintest hint of WEEI. The internet simply could not do, and I devoted my obsessive energies to elections up and down the ticket and lost track of America’s pastime.

Even when the Nationals came to town I didn’t become obsessive again. I had known them, after all, as the hapless Montreal Expos. Eventually I realized after a rootless childhood that Washington, DC would be my hometown, but by then my interest in baseball had become part of my past. Times had changed, and I had new hobbies to eat up my time, but now that the Nationals bandwagon has picked up even the most jaded Washingtonians, I’ve started watching again. (Sure, heap scorn on me and my bandwagon clinginess, I won’t lie!)

The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. Now that I’ve moved from DC, it must be the Nationals’ turn. And who knows: if I managed to turn one of my childhood pastimes of coloring in primitive election maps into part of the paying job I hold today, maybe I can figure out a similar arrangement for baseball.