Shared by: lev17755
Lewis, Verlan From William Jennings Bryan to George Walker Bush: The Development of Political Ideology and Party Membership in the Mountain West Faculty Mentor: Brian Cannon, History The Mountain West is the fastest-growing region in the country, and it is becoming increasingly important to national politics. For only the third time in history of the U.S. Congress, the Senate Majority Leader is currently from the Mountain West. In the 2004 presidential election, George W. Bush was only able to win the election because of the unanimous support of the Mountain West states. (Between the other 42 states of the Union, John Kerry won the election). The Mountain West is becoming increasingly important in determining the shape of the U.S. Congress and Presidency, and as such is becoming increasingly important in determining national policy. As a result, it is important to understand the political thought of the Mountain West and how it has developed over the century of its history as a political region. There has been little research done in analyzing the development of political thought in the Mountain West, but my research has helped to fill that void in scholarly research. 1 In studying the development of political ideology and party alignment in the Mountain West region, the most startling fact is the region’s party realignment over the course of the 20th century. My research has asked how the Mountain West region went from extraordinary support for William Jennings Bryan and the Democratic Party at the turn of the 20th century to extraordinary support for George Walker Bush and the Republican Party at the turn of the 21st century. Although Bryan’s candidacy in 1896 was unsuccessful nationally, he was the most popular presidential candidate in the history of the Mountain West region. Bryan received 85% of the vote in Colorado, 83% in Utah, and 81% in Nevada. While not as extreme as in 1896, the Mountain West supported George Walker Bush and the Republican Party in the 2004 election with remarkably high numbers. Not only did Bush win all of the Mountain West states, he received his largest margin of victory in the Mountain West state of Utah with 72% of votes cast. He also won with similarly high numbers in Idaho and Wyoming at 68% and 69%, respectively. The Mountain West region’s affinity with the Republican Party in recent years has been explored in my research. In my research, I hypothesized that the rural populist tradition in American political history helps to explain the development of political ideology and party alignment in the Mountain West region over the past century. I came into my research believing that the rural nature of the Mountain West region is what has given the region its unique political ideological history. The data I gathered did not support this hypothesis in every way, but it did reinforce this hypothesis in many ways. I gathered data on the election results and population density statistics for Mountain West counties and states over the course of the 20th century. For the 281 counties and 8 states of the 1 Thomas, Clive S, editor. Politics and Public Policy in the Contemporary American West. Albuqueque: University of New Mexico Press. 1991. Page xi. Mountain West region I examined every presidential election return from 1864 onward and every census population figure after the 1890 U.S. census, which was lost to fire damage. After compiling these thousands of different data points, I compared them with broader historical election results and population figures of the United States. I calculated the number of percentage points by which each Mountain West state differed with the nation as a whole in its voting behavior, and the number of percentage points by which each county differed with the state as a whole. This method allowed me to control for instances in which a presidential candidate had broad appeal across regional and socioeconomic differences (e.g., Franklin Roosevelt’s dominating victories in the 1930s and Ronald Reagan’s dominating victories in the 1980s). Furthermore, it allowed me to isolate where each county differed with the rest of the counties in its state, and in which direction. Combining this data with population statistics allowed me to correlate voting behavior with population density. Initially, before I began my research, I hypothesized that population density would be directly correlated with voting behavior: both support for the Democratic Party at the turn of the 20th century and support for the Republican Party at the turn of the 21st century. My research showed that these two variables are not so easily correlated. However, the historical data does show that there is a certain pattern that can be seen in analyzing the political history of the past century for many Mountain West states and counties. On the state and county level, the historical data showed a common pattern of rural areas supporting the Democratic Party in the first half of the 20th century (as well as the Progressive Party in 1924) and switching to the Republican Party in the second half of the 20th century. Interestingly, those counties that were most extremely Democratic during the New Deal were commonly the most extremely Republican in support of George W. Bush at the turn of the 21st century. The exceptions to this rule were rural Mountain West counties with popular ski resorts (which became increasingly Democratic at the end of the century), a heavy mining industry (which have become slightly less Democratic in recent years), or a high Native American population. In most cases, the polarization between these unique counties and other surrounding rural counties is extreme. As a result of these many factors, a very rural county today may be more Democratic than a slightly rural county. Furthermore, because some counties (like Maricopa) take in both an urban area and many suburban areas, a highly populous county may not be significantly more Democratic than another county with less population (e.g., a county with a college town as its largest city). Because of these many scenarios, it is difficult to establish an exact correlation between county population density and county voting behavior over a century. However, there is a narrative pattern that develops in many of these counties that is persistent and noticeable in viewing the unique political history of the Mountain West states. It is this narrative that I am describing in the analysis and write-up of my research results.2 2 Special thanks go to Professor Brian Cannon, my faculty advisor, for his help and advice during the research process and for his continued help as I write about the results of my research. Special thanks also go to the BYU Office of Research and Creative Activities, and the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, for their generous funding that has made this project possible.