Where the political earth moved in 1976



In our journey through recent presidential elections, we come to 1976, the high-water mark for the Democratic Party over the past 40 years and the last time that party won the South. (Go here for explanations of our 10 regions and links to data from other election years.) Georgia’s Jimmy Carter won six of our 10 political regions and ran about 18 points ahead of Hubert Humphrey’s showing in 1968 — when Dixiecrat George Wallace ran strongly in the former Confederate states.


The one region where Carter ran worse than Humphrey did was the Upper Coasts, which may have been cool toward a religious Southerner with a rural sensibility. He made improvements in the less populated counties of the region but lost ground in the vote troves of Boston, Hartford, Portland (both Maine and Oregon), San Francisco, and Seattle, and he lost the Humphrey states of Connecticut, Maine, and Washington. As the Republican Party gained strength in the South, the Democrats would grow increasingly reliant on the Upper Coasts, but it would take a while for the party to become dominant there.



Carter’s gain was less impressive when compared with 1960, the last competitive race with only two major candidates. He did much better than John F. Kennedy in most of the South, and especially in border states such as Kentucky and Tennessee, but he fell behind in most of the North.


The biggest drop for the Democrats between 1960 and 1976 was in Mega-Chicago, which switched from Kennedy to Republican Gerald Ford. Again, Carter made some gains in rural areas but was weaker than Kennedy in such major cities as Chicago and Detroit. Despite unimpressive showings in Milwaukee and St. Louis, however, he was able to carry Wisconsin and Missouri by doing well in the Southern Inland and Chippewa parts of those states.


Overall, Carter got just over 50 percent of the vote against Ford, thanks to heavy support in the South.


In particular, Carter got 58 percent in the Southern Inland region; no Democrat has one a majority there since Carter headed the party.


Carter racked up his biggest margins against Ford in large cities, following the pattern of all Democrats, but there were more red splotches on the raw-vote map than is usual in a Democratic year. It was Carter’s rural popularity that allowed him to narrowly overcome his lack of appeal in major suburban counties.


In Connecticut, New Jersey, Michigan, and Illinois, the heavy Republican vote in the suburbs kept Carter from winning the electoral votes of those states. But he narrowly carried Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, where secondary urban areas (such as Youngstown, Pittsburgh, and Madison) compensated for large Republican counties.