More than any other American president, Jimmy Carter owes his election to the votes of black people and other minority groups--particularly in the South and in the urban North.
When you add to that crucial support from working class voters in the North and South who earn less than $10,000 a year--as well as more affluent members of big labor unions and liberals--the outlines of Carter's victory become clear.
Carter was more successful in courting Southern votes than any Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt '04: he carried 10 out of 11 states of the Old Confederacy, gathering upwards of 55 per cent of the vote in the region as a whole--a place where Hubert Humphrey barely cleared 30 per cent in a three-way race in 1968, and where George McGovern received slightly less.
Beginning early last night, the South provided Carter with a base of more than 100 electoral votes that lasted him throughout the evening. Like so many cards, Ford's hopes in selected Southern states fell one by one in the television network projections, beginning with Kentucky, which had voted for Nixon three times.
That was quickly followed by the Carolinas, where a strong Republican organization created by people like Sen. J. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) fell to the combined votes of white dirt farmers and an army of urban and rural black people, the latter voting for Carter in the region by more than 80 per cent.
The coup de grace for Ford came in the trans-Mississippi states of Louisiana and Texas. In Louisiana, where pre-election polls showed the incumbent narrowly ahead, Carter won with a strong vote from the state's largest minority group, the French-speaking Cajuns. In Texas, a strong turnout of Mexican-Americans in the southern part of the state provided the winning total of 53 per cent.
That is not to say that the efforts of Northern black political leaders did not supremely complement the work of the Southern organization headed by Rep. Andrew Young (D-Ga.). In Roxbury, a Carter aide said last night, there were two precincts where Ford received no votes at all. In New York State Carter's black vote was about 92 per cent; in Detroit an estimated 93 per cent. And Carter carried Pennsylvania, critical for his chances, mainly through the high voter turnout in black North Philadelphia.
There was also in key Northern states like New York the partial return of urban ethnic and Catholic voters after the defection over McGovern. The heavily Catholic Queens borough of New York City gave Carter a margin 10 per cent greater than Humphrey received in 1968. The South Side of Milwaukee was largely responsible for Carter's surprising win in Wisconsin; the mainly Polish, Lithuanian and South Slav voters of that area gave him a vote upwards of 55 per cent.
But elsewhere, particularly among Italian-American voters in the East, Carter did not do nearly as well as even losing Democrats like Humphrey. Carter lost Connecticut for this reason--an offense unheard of for successful or even close-run Democratic candidates. In the suburbs of Cleveland, which are largely Eastern European in extraction, Ford did far better than predicted, throwing Ohio's 26 electoral votes into doubt.
Nationally, an NBC News survey found, Catholics voted 56 per cent for Carter. That was three points less than Humphrey's share and about 20 or more points below Johnson's and Kennedy's margins in the elections of 1964 and '60.
But Carter, despite the vote lag among Catholics, stayed in the race, at press time, in 25 to 35 per cent Catholic Ohio, Illinois and California, lost narrowly in Michigan, and actually won in Pennsylvania and New York.
That was possible in part because of strong support for Carter in normally Republican rural areas in practically every one of the states in the mostly industrial area around the Great Lakes.
In downstate Illinois Carter broke even with Ford--something no other Democrat, excepting Lyndon Johnson, has done since 1948. The story was the same in central Ohio around Columbus, in western Wisconsin and much of Iowa. The Democratic candidate's background as a Southern farmer and evangelical Protestant undoubtedly made the difference here.
Region was important in deciding the election, as was ethnicity and, to some extent, Carter's rural but social class ultimately may have been the best predictor of how any individual would vote.