Monday, May 30, 2011

The Fightin' Side of Me's Salena Zito on "an ethnic group [national campaign strategists] often overlook" — The Scots-Irish Voting Bloc. "We found that when we talked about our core values as a party -- equality, fairness, social justice -- and how that applied to issues, we immediately made a connection to these voters," said Tom McMahon, a Washington strategist who was executive director of the Democratic National Committee from 2005 through 2009.

"The Scots-Irish apparently became voters to watch and court without knowing it," says the author. offering us some history:
    Several hundred thousand Scots-Irish, primarily Presbyterians and other Protestants from the Irish province of Ulster, came to North America during the colonial era. Fiercely independent, clannish and skeptical of government, many settled in Pennsylvania and helped shape its industrial growth. They understood hardship and hard work.

    "By the end of the 17th century, this became the largest migration from Europe to America,” said F. Thornton Miller, a professor of U.S. history at the University of Missouri.

    These settlers preferred the hill country to coastal areas, building frontier communities across the ridges of the Allegheny Mountains, moving from Pennsylvania into Ohio, and then south into West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama. Often they became squatters, said Miller.

    "They were known for fighting Indians, distilling and drinking whiskey. ... They became known as hillbillies," who didn't want to pay for land or to pay taxes, he said.

    Today, political strategists might have some difficulty identifying these voters. Many don't identify with their ethnicity, and if they do, they are so distrustful of joining anything that they are hard to pin down, said McMahon and Todd.

    “They have maintained their non-conformist nature all through the generations. ... This culture is the bellwether of change in this country, for either party,” said Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va. Considered an authority on the Scots-Irish, Webb recently completed a documentary, “Born Fighting,” for the Smithsonian Channel and wrote several books on the subject.

    Scots-Irish himself, Webb practices that non-conformist way of life: he was a Republican, and then ran as a Democrat for his Senate seat in 2006. He announced this year he would not seek reelection.

    Todd determined the Scots-Irish were swing voters by poring over mapping data after the 2008 presidential election. He found a distinct voting pattern: people who rejected President Barack Obama, choosing Hillary Clinton in the primary election and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona in the general election.

    “When I looked at that map, I realized I was looking at where the Scots-Irish had settled, starting with Pennsylvania and Ohio (and moving) diagonally south along the spine of Appalachia,” said Todd, who knows a little about these finicky voters because of his own Scottish and Irish bloodline.
As exchange student in Chile, I was happily allowed to express my Scots-Irish heritage in the use of my segundo apellido, McCaskey. (I remember a kid in Buffalo insisting that my mother's maiden name indicated that I was half-Polish.) Still, I'm a bit ambivalent towards my Scots-Irish heritage, given what I see as an overall negative cultural and political influence these ethnics have had on the American Republic since the days of Andrew Jackson.

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Blogger tubbs said...

I've always said that if they (Scots-Irish) have the right teeth-to-tattoos ratio, they are known as WASPS. And I believe Christopher Hitchens has also pointed out the very thin line between a WASP and a redneck. Actual "Anglo-Saxon" genes have little to do with it all.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Pints in NYC said...

I once heard someone say there may have been a connection between the sides in the U.S. "Civil War" and the origins of the settlers in the North and South; that the "War between the States" was really a continuation of a very long-standing feud between different clans / tribes from the old country. If you know anything about this these, please post!

Now speaking of maps - I've always enjoyed the way the Scotch Irish identify themselves as recorded in this map of ethnic identities from the 2000 census: "Americans" haha! Check out this awesome map here:

9:54 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Interesting stuff, gents. Thanks.

2:10 PM  

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