The 9/11 Effect Revisited

In the months before the Presidential election, the Bush campaign argued that voters in the New York metropolitan area — notably in New Jersey — might break with tradition and vote Republican due to their close experience of the September 11 attacks.

A number of reporters, including this one in the Observer and Terry Golway in the Times, found some anecdotal evidence of this, but the argument was dismissed by Democrats, who called Bush’s trip to New Jersey a “head-fake.” Kerry won New Jersey, and we forgot about the whole thing.

Vindication is here!

National Journal‘s Charles Mahtesian, who edits the indispensible Almanac of American Politics, had a look at the congressional district-by-district returns in an article last week (unfortunately subscription only), and found that “Bush posted many of his greatest gains in the unlikeliest of places: the blue-state heartland that once stood in the shadow of the World Trade Center, among those who live closest to Ground Zero.”

He reports that of the 17 districts that switched from Gore in 2000 to Bush in 2004, six were in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. And of the 53 districts with swings of 10 or more percentage points between the two elections, a quarter were in those states.

Anthony Weiner-land in Brooklyn and Queens, it turns out, showed the widest swing in the entire country.

“In 2000, Gore won in a 37-point landslide, garnering 67 percent of the vote to Bush’s 30 percent. But last year, the cops, firefighters, middle-class homeowners, Caltholics, and Orthodox Jews of the polyglot 9th deserted the Democratic ticket in droves. Kerry won by just 12 points, 56 percent to 44 percent. That 25-percentage-point erosion in the Democratic margin of victory marked the district as the most volatile in the nation.”

Mahtesian found a similar effect in the Jersey suburbs and on Long Island.

“Little else other than 9/11 can account for those patterns. For decades, Nassau and Suffolk counties moved in tandem with the suburbs of Chicago and Philadelphia, first voting solidly Republican and then, beginning in the 1990s, spiraling away from the GOP toward the Democratic camp. In 2004, the Chicago and Philadelphia suburbs continued their drift away from the Republican Party, but Nassau and Suffolk broke back toward Bush.”

UPDATE: One of our wonkier readers asked below whether these numbers take into account the new congressional district lines. We asked Charlie Mahtesian, who emailed: “Both the 2000 and 2004 results are according to the new congressional district lines adopted in 2002.”