The whole world is trying to figure out what’s up with us here in Red Dirt land. Last Tuesday, for good or bad, we certainly took a different tack, and everyone wants to know why.
The great blog Down With Tyranny regularly has insightful posts about Oklahoma politics, with some of the best rants against Inhofe for years now, and was a good source of info about the Andrew Rice campaign. Today, a look at what the hell happened in Oklahoma last Tuesday. Leading in to the piece is a photo from the Dust Bowl which still epitomizes Oklahoma’s seemingly hopeless situation.
But the state least connected to the American mainstream and most politically isolated on Tuesday was poor, sad, reactionary Oklahoma, which gave almost 66% of it’s vote, the most of any state, to McCain. While analysts are working on a post-mortem, or autopsy, on McCain’s no longer twitching campaign, Oklahomans must be wondering what’s wrong with the rest of America.
Daily Kos’s most famous and beloved Okie diaries, droogie6655321, riffed off Thomas Frank’s 2005 examination of Kansas politics, with What’s the Matter with Oklahoma?
What I’m not interested in is sweeping generalities about Oklahomans. If you want to call us all ignorant, misinformed, racist or backward, I suggest you do it an upcoming open thread and not here. As unfathomable as it may seem to us, there is a reason why Oklahomans choose Republicans over Democrats, and I want to know why.
The traditional media weighed in on the anomaly which is Oklahoma. The New York Times:
“Oklahoma Democrats, with very few exceptions, are the old-line white Southern Democrats,” said David Ray, another political scientist at the university. “They don’t like liberals or liberalism.”
Indeed, the state has a political landscape closely resembling that of the old solidly Democratic South, especially in its southeastern corner, known as Little Dixie, where many Southerners settled after the Civil War. When conservatives of the Old South began abandoning the party decades ago, Oklahoma’s Democrats lagged behind the historical trend. Further, the state has relatively small black and Hispanic populations, and so the Democrats did not absorb as many new voters from those groups as in the states of the old Confederacy.
These days Oklahoma Democrats dread running for local office in presidential election years, for fear of being associated with liberal nominees at the top of the ticket.
“Being liberal in Oklahoma, with the exception of a few legislative districts, will not get you elected,” said State Representative Joe Dorman, a conservative Democrat.
But Mr. Gaddie said that perhaps the most important factor in Mr. McCain’s strong showing here was religion. An Edison/Mitofsky exit poll found that more than half of Oklahoma voters identified themselves as evangelical Christians and that a heavy majority of them had voted for Mr. McCain.
Mr. Gaddie, himself a pollster as well as a college professor, said: “A question we always ask in our polls is ‘How often do you attend church services?’ If a Democrat is not going to vote for a Democrat, they are a frequent church attender.”
Another advantage for Mr. McCain was that the state’s economy, based mostly on the oil and gas industry, has been buffered somewhat from the national economic slowdown. Unemployment remains low, the housing market stable.
For all of that, the Democratic Party is far from dead in Oklahoma, especially in the state’s southeastern section, where, despite the social conservatism, many people still talk about the New Deal and revere Franklin D. Roosevelt.
and Washington Post also remarked on the Oklahoma phenom.
Exit polls found that more than half of Oklahoma voters identified themselves as white, evangelical or born-again Christians. Of those, a heavy majority went for McCain.
State Republican Chairman Gary Jones said it was “not so much an issue of race,” but rather of conservative Oklahomans voting against someone known as “the most liberal member of the Senate.”
Jones said the conservative positions of McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, helped motivate Oklahoma voters.
One thing all these analysts seem to agree on is that Oklahoma not being so hard hit by the economic downturn played a part in the election results. We just aren’t hurting as bad as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, et. al.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But in Oklahoma, the pain wasn’t great enough to trump the other ideology (“family values”) and/or misconceptions about Obama as elsewhere in the nation.
If Obama does a good job as president, which I expect him to do, perhaps Oklahomans will at least drop the latter rationale for not voting for him when he runs for re-election in 2012.