Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

US Election: The mysterious blue curve

2012 US presidential election results by county (blue for Democrat, red for Republican) 2012 US presidential election results by county (blue for Democrat, red for Republican) Kelvinsong
04 Nov
2016
A quirk of geology has produced a strange pattern on the American voting map. What is this blue curve, and where does it come from?

Arguably, the first takeaway from studying a county map of the 2012 US presidential election is the significant influence of the USA’s dense urban cities. Over a purely geographical spread, the above map looks more like a landslide for Mitt Romney’s Republican party (red), not a comprehensive 332 – 206 electoral vote victory for the incumbent, President Barack Obama and the Democrats (blue). The high populations and therefore large number of votes from such states as California, Florida, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania carried the 44th president back to the White House, despite the large swatches of red across such central states as Oklahoma, Utah, and West Virginia.

However, there is another curiosity on the map. In the middle of a sea of red in the southeast of the country, a thin blue line of Democrat voters can be seen curving through such states as Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. It’s a trend seen not only in 2012, but also 2008, 2004, 2000 and into the last millennium. Why is this narrow band of voters consistently voting Democrat when their surrounding neighbours opt for the Republicans?

2012 lineThe mysterious blue line in the 2012 election counties map (Image: Kelvinsong)

The answer lies in a mix of geology and demographics. Visitors to this region one hundred million years ago (give or take a few million years) would have observed the fractured continental ‘North America’ of the Cretaceous era, divided, as it was then, into the western Laramidia landmass, and the eastern Appalachia landmass. Coastlines sat in very different locations to where they are today, and – crucially – included a large region of coral reefs off the southern edge of Appalachia, around what is now the southern foot of the Appalachian mountains, in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina. As time passed, the shallow seas in the region dissipated, the landmasses fused into one and the coral reefs crumbled into soil.

appalachiaLate Cretaceous North America showing the landmasses of Laramidia and Appalachia (Image: Ron Blakey)

Early settlers to the US may not have fully understood this geological history, but they knew fertile land when they found it. The vast organic matter left in the soil from these ancient reefs made for excellent agriculture and, over the course of 19th century, a vast and profitable cotton business grew along this ridge marking the old Appalachian coastline.

Prior to Abraham Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, abolishing slavery across the United States, such an industry would have been heavily dependent on African slaves with around four million individuals still enslaved at the passing of the Act. In the century-and-a-half that followed, despite the significant changes in society through time, this same part of the country became the spot with the highest concentrations of African-Americans – descendants and family members of former slaves – situated along the location of the old Appalachian coastline.

censusProportion of American population self-describing as ‘black’ in the 2010 census (Image: United States Census Bureau)

Thanks to the policies of 36th president, Lyndon B. Johnson – such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act – the Democratic party has, especially since the 1960s, been the party most closely aligned with African-Americans. Barack Obama collected 93 per cent of all African-American support in the 2012 presidential race, a figure which hasn't fallen below 80 per cent for decades.

Hence, despite their fellow Georgians, Mississippians and Alabamians deciding that Mitt Romney was the best man for the job, the residents of the mysterious blue curve continue to put a cross in the box of the Democrat candidate, an action traceable back to a one hundred million year old coral reef.

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

LATEST HEADLINES

Subscribe to Geographical!

Adventure Canada

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    When the wind blows
    With 1,200 wind turbines due to be built in the UK this year, Mark Rowe explores the continuing controversy surrounding wind power and discusses the e...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...

Mountains

In this extract from his new book, Tides, mountain climber…

Cities

New data from the World Health Organization reveals that nine…

Water

In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan,…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig maps out the global production and distribution levels…

Water

Millions of Americans are living in areas at high-risk of…

Mapping

New interactive maps combine precipitation and temperature to show climate…

Cities

Public transport in India could be on the verge of…

Water

To retrace the route of the fur voyageurs on the waterways…

Cities

IPCC Cities and Climate Change Conference: Alberta host dresses non-renewable…

Water

Increased carbon dioxide is affecting freshwater ecosystems

Forests

The latest laser scanning technology reveals new insights into the…

Forests

Deforestation is having an unexpected effect in the Amazon: fewer…

Forests

The iconic Douglas fir tree, familiar to fans of the…

Forests

Rocky Mountain forests are not regenerating after wildfires

Cities

Cape Town is edging closer to ‘Day Zero’, the long-feared…

Water

Ongoing restoration projects are breathing new life into Florida’s Everglades

Cities

Despite protests, an experimental pedestrianisation system is proving to be…

Mapping

National Archives map historian, Rose Mitchell, highlights some of the…

Water

An expedition into the Jordanian desert is helping teachers and…

Mountains

Trivia fans take note, Mount Hope in the British Antarctic…