Who Lost Appalachia?


There was a lot of talk during the Democratic debate this week about Jim Webb, and his place in the Democratic party. Was he too conservative? Too martial? Too old-fashioned?

The real problem with Webb for Democrats is not what ideas he represents, but what geographic region he represents: Appalachia. Once the stronghold of FDR’s Democratic coalition, this region has been abandoned by Roosevelt’s successors. And the change is happening quickly. Look at this chart of the decrease in Democratic vote in Kentucky, and note that the mountainous counties have been in much steeper decline:

Appalachia Democrats

If we take the date back to 2004, the shift is even more pronounced:

Appalachia Democrats 2

Democrats in Appalachia are abandoning their party in droves, and they’re not coming back. Democrats at the national level claim to be the party that supports the poor, but when it comes to America’s poorest region, they seem to be going out of their way to alienate their erstwhile supporters. (For more on that, check out Kevin Williamson’s 2014 article on Appalachia here.) On guns, on religion, and on individualism, the party promotes everything Appalachians are against, and tries to make up for it with more welfare spending.

The people Jim Webb represents don’t want handouts, they want jobs. The Democratic establishment responds by fighting the coal industry, historically the biggest employer in Appalachia. Every step the Democrats take pushes them farther away from these historic stalwarts of the party. Webb is the last Democratic leader to care about them. With his inevitable defeat, Democrats will close the book on the region as they’ve closed their hearts to its people long ago.

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