WILSON: Election maps show nation, states divided by controversial issues

Posted: Nov. 9, 2012 4:30 pm Updated: Dec. 22, 2012 12:15 am


Blue state Illinois will be bluer still when Democrats are seated in the Illinois Legislature next year.

Red state Missouri will be a little more red and the political polarization of the United States will be played out, in miniature, in the neighboring states.

A glance at the red-blue election map shows how the Land of Lincoln and the Show-Me State mirror national trends.

The bluest parts of both states -- those areas with the most Democratic votes -- are in metropolitan areas. The lower the population in a county or city, the more Republican (red) votes show up on the map.

Both states moved more toward the dominant party this election cycle in part because of redistricting after the 2010 Census. Democrats had a lock on both the House and Senate in Illinois last year and passed redistricting maps that helped their own cause this year. Computer programs allowed map makers to see how individual precincts have voted in recent elections. By loading Republican voters into some districts, the mapping strategists could peel away blocks of Democrat voters to shift the political bent of neighboring districts.

New maps also allowed redistricting teams to group two or more incumbents into a newly drawn district, while leaving other districts open.

In Missouri, one of the mappers thought Rep. Paul Quinn, D-Monroe City, had been lumped into the new 5th District, where Rep. Tom Shively, D-Shelbyville, and Rep. Lindell Shumake, R-Hannibal, were located. Instead, they found that the Quinn showing up in the new district was not the three-term incumbent, but one of his relatives.

Quinn came up short in the 40th District against Jim Hansen, a Republican from Frankford. Hansen had limited political experience, but got strong name recognition within the district after pro-Republican groups bought large blocks of advertising on his behalf.

"Advocacy spending was huge. It made me wish I had a television station," said Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Both parties had advocacy ads, to greater or lesser extents.

Brown said some ad campaigns were probably unsuccessful because "the things they were claiming were so extreme that it didn't compute with the voter."

Yet it is these extremes, or the perception of huge differences, that fuel the partisan debate.

Chad DeWaard, assistant professor of political science at Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Mo., said partisanship and polarization have been around for years but seem to be on the rise. DeWaard believes controversial issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage take on "a religious feel" for people on both sides of the issues and politicians are not inclined to compromise on those issues.

Both parties also have seen the ranks of moderates thinned as primary election voters tend to be more liberal among Democrats and more conservative among Republicans. Moderates, who are more likely to seek compromises, often pay a price among the party faithful.

For all these reasons, the map of America will continue to show the divide between red and blue voting blocks and Americans will get the heavily partisan legislatures and the gridlocked Congress they deserve.