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Election Data: Military Communities Shift Democratic in 2008

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For the past week, people have been coming to me asking if I had any data on the 2008 military vote. The questions were typical: Did the myth of overwhelming military support for Republicans bear out? Did Obama change that? Just who, exactly, do military communities support? And to what extent?

Unfortunately, I hadn't really come up with much until today. But now, using general election data provided by the New York Times, I was able to determine that the military communities most affected by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan shifted significantly toward Barack Obama and the Democratic Party in 2008 when compared to the numbers from 2004.

Here's how I did it: The New York Times put together a set of graphics that showed every county in the United States. Each county was color-coded to reveal the shift in that county's vote--whether it went more Republican or more Democratic--from 2004 to 2008. They were done according to percentage changes, and shades of red symbolized movement toward McCain and the Republicans, while shades of blue represented a shift toward Obama and the Democrats.

2008-11-13-map2Copy.jpg

After examining the New York Times data, I consulted the Los Angeles Times graphic that shows for whom each county in America voted--Obama or McCain.

With that information, I identified the county's across the country that contain military bases housing America's primary Army and Marine Corps ground combat forces--the very forces responsible for most of the fighting.

What I found was striking, though not all that surprising: Of the 15 military communities I looked at, 11 shifted toward the Democrats and Barack Obama, two had insufficient data to make a determination, and only two shifted toward John McCain and the Republicans.

That said, despite the overwhelming gains made by Obama and the Democrats, the Republican Party in some of these communities still enjoyed enough support to put McCain over the top in eight of the 15 communities. Six of the 15 military communities ultimately voted for Obama, and one community split its two counties between McCain and Obama. Here are the results:

Military Base: Camp Pendleton

Service: Marine Corps

County: San Diego

State: California

Major Combat Unit: 1st Marine Division



Shift from 2004: 10-20%

Shift in Favor of: Democrats/Obama 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphic.jpg



Elected: Barack Obama 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphic.jpg

Military Base: Camp LeJeune

Service: Marine Corps

County: Onslow

State: North Carolina

Major Combat Unit: 2nd Marine Division



Shift from 2004: 10-20%

Shift in Favor of: Democrats/Obama 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphic.jpg



Elected: John McCain 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphicCopy.jpg

Military Base: Fort Benning

Service: Army

County: Muscogee

State: Georgia

Major Combat Units: 3rd Infantry Division, 3rd Ranger Battalion



Shift from 2004: 10-20%

Shift in Favor of: Democrats/Obama 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphic.jpg



Elected: Barack Obama 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphic.jpg

Military Base: Fort Bragg

Service: Army

County: Cumberland

State: North Carolina

Major Combat Units: 82nd Airborne Division, 3rd Special Forces Group, 7th Special Forces Group



Shift from 2004: 20%+

Shift in Favor of: Democrats/Obama 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphic.jpg



Elected: Barack Obama 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphic.jpg

Military Base: Fort Campbell

Service: Army

Counties: Christian and Montgomery

State: Kentucky and Tennessee

Major Combat Units: 101st Airborne Division, 5th Special Forces Group



Shift from 2004: 5-10% (KY) 10-20% (TN)

Shift in Favor of: Democrats/Obama 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphic.jpg



Elected: John McCain 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphicCopy.jpg

Military Base: Fort Carson

Service: Army

County: El Paso

State: Colorado

Major Combat Units: 4th Infantry Division, 10th Special Forces Group



Shift from 2004: 10-20%

Shift in Favor of: Democrats/Obama 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphic.jpg



Elected: John McCain 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphicCopy.jpg

Military Base: Fort Drum

Service: Army

County: Jefferson

State: New York

Major Combat Unit: 10th Mountain Division



Shift from 2004: 0-5%

Shift in Favor of: Democrats/Obama 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphic.jpg



Elected: John McCain 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphicCopy.jpg

Military Base: Fort Hood

Service: Army

County: Bell

State: Texas

Major Combat Units: 4th Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry Division, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment



Shift from 2004: 20%+

Shift in Favor of: Democrats/Obama 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphic.jpg



Elected: John McCain 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphicCopy.jpg

Military Base: Fort Lewis

Service: Army

County: Pierce

State: Washington

Major Combat Units: 2nd Infantry Division, 2nd Ranger Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group



Shift from 2004: Insufficient Data

Shift in Favor of: Insufficient Data



Elected: Barack Obama 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphic.jpg

Military Base: Fort Polk

Service: Army

Parish: Vernon

State: Louisiana

Major Combat Unit: 10th Mountain Division



Shift from 2004: 5-10%

Shift in Favor of: Republicans/McCain 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphicCopy.jpg



Elected: John McCain 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphicCopy.jpg

Military Base: Fort Richardson

Service: Army

County: Anchorage

State: Alaska

Major Combat Unit: 25th Infantry Division



Shift from 2004: 10-20%

Shift in Favor of: Republicans/McCain 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphicCopy.jpg



Elected: John McCain 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphicCopy.jpg

Military Base: Fort Riley

Service: Army

Counties: Geary and Riley

State: Kansas

Major Combat Unit: 1st Infantry Division



Shift from 2004: 10-20% (both)

Shift in Favor of: Democrats/Obama 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphic.jpg



Elected: John McCain 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphicCopy.jpg

Military Base: Fort Stewart

Service: Army

Counties: Liberty and Bryan

State: Georgia

Major Combat Units: 3rd Infantry Division, 1st Ranger Battalion



Shift from 2004: 20%+ (Liberty County) 10-20% (Bryan County)

Shift in Favor of: Democrats/Obama 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphic.jpg



Elected: Obama (Liberty County) 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphic.jpg McCain (Bryan County) 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphicCopy.jpg

Military Base: Fort Wainwright

Service: Army

County: Fairbanks North Star Borough

State: Alaska

Major Combat Unit: 25th Infantry Division



Shift from 2004: Insufficient data

Shift in Favor of: Insufficient data



Elected: John McCain 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphicCopy.jpg

Military Base: Schofield Barracks

Service: Army

County: Honolulu

State: Hawaii

Major Combat Unit: 25th Infantry Division



Shift from 2004: 20%+

Shift in Favor of: Democrats/Obama 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphic.jpg



Elected: Barack Obama 2008-11-13-nytimes_graphic.jpg

While this is certainly no academic study, we can still learn a lot from it. First, however, it should be noted that no conclusions can be derived from this data to support the idea that military communities are either conservative or liberal. What the data does show is that, in 2008, the communities most affected by repeated deployments of ground combat units overwhelmingly shifted their votes in favor of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. Of the two that shifted toward John McCain and the Republicans, one of them--Fort Richardson--is located only a few miles from Sarah Palin's hometown of Wasilla, Alaska.

It's also worth pointing out that six and a half of the 15 communities experiencing significant shifts toward Obama still voted for McCain. To me, this comes across as some serious anger. We're talking about communities that were obviously deeply conservative in 2004--like Fort Hood, TX and Fort Stewart, GA--which were able to shift more than 20 percentage points in favor of Barack Obama in 2008, and still lose to McCain in the end.

With these numbers, there can be no doubt that the military communities that have paid the most in time and lives lost over the past seven years have moved considerably away from both Bush policies and McCain's attempts to extend them. While Republican support is still strong in these communities, the election of 2008 demonstrates that without comprehensive changes in the way the military is utilized by the government, that support is on a trend to evaporate. Combat-experienced military communities sent a message in 2008: Keep the year-long deployments going, keep the bellicose rhetoric up, and you will lose elections to Democrats.

Another way to look at this is that military communities like George W. Bush more than they like John McCain. And that's bad.

I also find it slightly amusing to consider, then, that John McCain ran his entire campaign on the "success" of the "surge" in Iraq--a "fact" that meant we were "winning." And yet the military communities to whom he was directly speaking moved in the direction of Obama. Talk about out of touch.

UPDATE: It's been brought to my attention that some of these Obama/Democratic counties are quite large--like San Diego and Honolulu--and have much more diverse populations than the others. This, of course, is true and it definitely dilutes the affect of the military communities in those counties. Nevertheless, the fact that counties like Muscogee (Fort Benning, GA) and Cumberland (Fort Bragg, NC)--which are much more homogeneous--both shifted to Obama and elected Obama is quite telling.

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