In 1860, only 11% of Missouri votes cast went to Abe Lincoln, with the balance of the vote split among three secessionists. By 1864, Lincoln recovered to collect 69% of votes cast.
That’s an impressive turnaround to be sure.
Sometimes Missouri giveth, and sometimes Missouri taketh away.
Missourians favored Hoover in his first term but abandoned Hoover on his second try in favor of FDR by nearly 2 to 1. We continued to vote for FDR each time he ran, and we gave Truman our electoral votes. We liked Ike. Who wouldn’t? Eisenhower won the war—with a little help. But Adlai Stevenson won in Missouri on Ike’s second term.
The last time more than 50% of Missourians supported a winning Democratic presidential candidate was in 1976 when Jimmy Carter edged out Gerald Ford with 51.1% of the vote. That was also the last time a solid majority of Missouri voters went Democratic in a presidential election.
In 1980 Ronald Reagan beat Carter by nearly the same margin Carter won by four years earlier.
In 1992 Bill Clinton eked out a half-hearted Missouri win over incumbent George H.W. Bush with just over 44% of the vote to Bush’s 30-something. That’s after third-party candidate Ross Perot siphoned off over 20% from Bush. Clinton logged a second win in 1996 by collecting 47% to Bob Dole’s 41%. Perot’s performance was halved to 10%, but it was enough to deprive the Republican Dole of his Missouri majority.
These days Democrats in Missouri consistently trail Republicans, especially in rural areas of the state. The exceptions are urban areas around Kansas City, St. Louis, Columbia, and Springfield. That may be because those cities are home to major universities with progressive attitudes and tech industries they attract. It’s something like conservative Texas where Austin has become a magnet for tech with its urban development and lower cost of living compared to the coast.
While states like Texas still have smoky old pickup trucks and Confederate flags, they’re also attracting a new generation of Americans whose culture is tilted toward red wine instead of red necks. The number of congressional districts in Texas continues to expand with its growing population, while Missouri’s districts have been in steady decline for 80 years.
While the overall population of Missouri trends higher along with the nation, we aren’t following the curve, and rural Missouri is in decline. In fact, we’ve done such a good job of shrinking, the entire northern third of the state is its own congressional district. We’re literally dying off. In my northern Missouri county alone, we lost more than 11% of our population from 2000 to 2010. Numbers from the 2020 census will likely show a further drop.
It’s not so much a red thing or a blue thing, but a long-term thing reflecting the overall trend in agriculture. While Democrats have been unsuccessful in making our diverse, proliferating, family-farm dreams come true, Republicans have managed to blame their own debilitating predatory ag policy outcomes on Democrats.
After the humiliating 2010 census Missouri went from having nine House seats to eight. Gerrymandered redistricting assured that the number of Republican representatives would be unchanged while Democratic held seats fell from three to two. In these parts, it’s easier for a 2,000-head hog CAFO to pass through the eye of a needle than for a progressive to get elected to statewide or national office.
Here as across the state and the entire nation we’ve lost most of the greatest generation, the majority of whom voted reliably Democratic. Those who are still around find it increasingly difficult to vote. That’s because “they” keep making it a little tougher for low income and elderly voters to satisfy identification requirements … and get to the polls.
Local control is the mantra here. Coastal liberals don’t dare tell us how to live. But if we say we don’t want to live with 10,000 hogs on 10 acres? That’s when big Republican state government steps in to mansplain that rural Missouri is dying and the future is corporate manure.
There’s more than one word for manure, and one of those describes what the political majority is selling rural Missouri these days. Just as an example of how far they’ve pushed this thing, some farmers who feed the corporate hogs really do have to buy poop they have stored on their own land.
Years ago while speaking with one of the locals, the name of our congressman came up. I asked her what she thought of him. “You know” she said, “I don’t understand politics or a lot of this stuff they’re talking about, so I’m just glad we have him in Washington to take care of all that and do the right thing.”
So much for local control.
I understand that most of my fellow floundering fishies out here in a sea of red will vote Republican. What I understand less well is why. The intent here is to explain why. But if I use the language and reasoning some around these parts give, I’ll make a lot of readers angry for verbalizing their thoughts. It actually sounds worse than it is in some cases.
But not all.
The things we fear are what separate us, even if some of those things aren’t real. At the same time, things that should incite us to action (trickle down economics, herd immunity, tax cuts for the wealthy, corporate agriculture monopolies, climate change) are only real problems if we believe in them. There are politicians and people in power who understand that and use it to their advantage. But the more those apologists for corporate everything win, the more they lose, because little by little they’re killing off their strongest support—our rural communities. Bad as it is in some places, Democrats still can’t inspire support.
You’re a Democrat. You kill babies.
How can we possibly stop burning coal? Missouri gets 80% of its electricity from coal.
Break up the big meatpacking monopolies? Where will we get our food?
People here know their law enforcement. Why would anyone in his right mind want to defund them?
To city dwellers this might be as scary a place with its occasional rippling banner of stars and bars, as an inner-city street corner is to us. But people here don’t all worship the Southern condition. We hold benefit auctions to cover medical costs for uninsured neighbors. We’ll stop and fix your flat, or if you’re a buck short at checkout they might even plunk it down with a big smile and a hearty “pass it on.”
Perceptions of rural Missouri can be as nuanced as Michigan protest coverage on the six o’clock news
Most of us only deal with the city cop, a deputy, or a state trooper if we call 911 for a fire, a car wreck, or a family member who’s ill or injured…or see them in the coffee shop. If we’re short one EMT, they’ll help lift the stretcher into the ambulance. We’ve seen rioting and looting folded seamlessly into peaceful protest coverage on the evening news. It’s antithesis here. After working so hard to keep a handful of stores open in a rural American town, how could anyone burn them down?
I think what President-elect Biden was getting at when he told supporters to quit talking about defunding police, is that he understands that people in some parts of America simply do not support that. It’s a local problem that comes up, with local solutions.
For whatever that’s worth. We’re only local if it’s allowed.
In other parts of the country where parking lots are full and people walk shoulder to shoulder in to work each day, attitudes are different. AOC is loud and proud to them. But she sounds scary bad here. And the people running Missouri these days, the people who tell us we don’t know what’s good or bad until they tell us, tell us she is bad. That goes for Schumer, and Pelosi too. BAD coastal elites. They don’t look like us. They don’t sound like us. They don’t have our values. And their heritage isn’t the same as ours.
We judge the book by its cover because we heard the reviews. And we believe them.
There’s little optimism the political climate here will change. It seems more likely that our rural communities will become smaller, older, and more withdrawn from the rest of the country. That’s not to say we can’t change. All it might take would be acknowledgement of our needs and values, and a plan.
After all there is a precedent.
His initials were FDR.
Richard Oswald is a fourth-generation farmer from Langdon, Missouri. He is membership and policy director for the Missouri Farmers Union.