The Main Sequence: Cross-tabbing Religion and Obama
A Gallup poll which ran over the weekend notes that Vermont identifies itself as the least religious state. As usual with such things I cross-tabbed it against Obama's share of the vote.
I found some of what I expected: the more self-identified "religious" states leaned redder and vice versa. But there were a couple of interesting clusters and as I mulled it over I was reminded of nothing so much as... astronomy?
Astronomers describe stars with what they call the Main Sequence. This chard is what's called a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram (universally abbreviated to "H-R") which plots luminosity against mass. In general, the more massive the star, the hotter it burns. Most stars fall somewhere on the Main Sequence, which runs from blue giants through ordinary Sun-like stars to red dwarves.
And much like the stars, the states graph out diagonally. Even the colors match: bluer on the upper, less religious left, and the heavily Republican red religious states on the lower right.
But the H-R Diagram has a couple of odd clusters, in the corners opposite the ends of the Main Sequence: white dwarves and red giants.
There are no red giants, massive yet cool, on the upper right of the political chart. Though Texas would qualify as a huge red political Antares or Betelgeuse, no states are at once highly religious and strongly Democratic. (If North Carolina gets a little more Democratic, it might edge up that way.)
But there is a cluster in the lower left where the white dwarves hang out, less religious yet more Republican. They are Ronald Reagan's Sagebrush Rebellion states: Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Arizona, and Alaska. The last two may have been more GOP than average in 2008 because they were represented on the ticket. Remember for a couple weeks, just before the Palin pick, when Alaska was at the fringes of in-play? Montana was a possibility till the end, and Arizona went for Bill Clinton in `96 and would likely have been in play if not for McCain being the nominee.
These white-dwarf, libertarian states had smiliar voting performance to the "red dwarf" states at the lover right, highly religious and weak for Obama. It's a predictable cluster: South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi.
There's an odd, two-state bridge of sorts between the Sagebrush west and the fundamentalist South: Utah and Oklahoma. They're moving in opposite directions. Utah trended a little Democratic this time; still very Republican but Obama actually carried Salt Lake County. Oklahoma, more Southern than Western, trended Republican and McCain won every county (the only state where he can make that claim).
Republicans have a choice here, and Democrats have an opportunity with the white dwarves. If the GOP retreats to the religious base, they risk alienating places like Arizona, and similar spots like Colorado and Nevada that they held until this year. For the Democrats, moving down the main sequence, the Dakotas and Nebraska are a better bet for the future, at least for the Obama era, than the Appalachia belt of West Virginia and Kentucky.
Other than that, some of the neighboring pairs are interesting. Some are obvious: the Dakotas, Washington-Oregon. I can see where Iowa and Minnesota are similar, right in the middle like the Sun, but matched with Pennsylvania? Wisconsin-New Jersey? The two closest pairs that voted differently were Indiana-Missouri and North Carolina-Georgia. Good signs for 2012.