Thursday, July 23, 2009

A secession scenario, part I

Today, a poster on NationStates posed the following hypothetical: Suppose Texas and a majority of "red states" threaten to secede from the Union in response to Obama and the Democrats nationalizing health care. What would you do? Well, I thought it was an interesting question.

My first thought, naturally, is to explore the scenario a little more carefully to determine what states are involved. An anti-Obama secession movement will be almost strictly Republican; thus, we should start with those states whose state governments are entirely Republican controlled. There are eleven of these. I'll subtract Florida - since Obama won Florida's electoral votes - and add the overwhelmingly Republican Oklahoma and Wyoming, which have Democratic governors but posted the lowest percentages for Obama. Finally, I'll throw Montana in, since they just got surrounded, to make 13.

In red, we have the Anti-Socialist States of America (henceforth the ASA) and the Remaining States of America (henceforth RSA) are in blue.

After looking at the map and thinking about it, I'll introduce a group of "border states." Kansas: It's been a long time since "bleeding Kansas," but it's in something of a strategic spot. Politically, it's similar to Wyoming and Oklahoma in having a strongly Republican state legislature and a Democratic governor; it's also a state in which Obama enjoys surprisingly high approval ratings, considering he lost it in the fall.

Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi in the Deep South are also strategically positioned, and an area in which Obama polls low numbers. However, they are also states with significant black populations that their Democratic state legislatures rely on heavily. These four states are possible candidates for a second wave of harder-fought secessions in this scenario, but also states in which secession would be more politically difficult. These are battleground states in this sort of scenario, and are keys to either the RSA or ASA having a more contiguous territory.

And that's the first thing we really notice about this map, as opposed to a map of the Union-Confederate divide in the Civil War: The CSA (grey) and the Union (blue) were both contiguous territories, and the disputed states/territories whose membership is less clear are all on the border. Our hypothetical ASA and RSA divide the continental US into five separated chunks - three ASA chunks and two RSA chunks on my first map, or one contiguous continental ASA dividing the RSA into four pieces with the "second wave" states.

I think that's a very important lesson to draw: Our political interests, as a nation, are not as sharply divided regionally as they used to be. We've seen some electoral maps that seem to show sharp regional divisions, but the interior of this country is not exactly politically uniform. The situations from state to state, right at this moment, defy an easy division of the country into a Republican region and a Democratic region.

Let's look for a minute at the characteristics of the two freshly-divided nations. We're assuming that this is somehow an amicable parting of ways.

First, the RSA is staggeringly Democratic, and the ASA staggeringly Republican. The Senate keeps at least 52 Democrats and loses at least 19 Republicans, for example. On the federal level, both have a clear supermajority in one party - which means that we should expect major political shifts, possibly the rise of new (or newly prominent) political parties.

Second, the two hold about the same land area (between Australia and India. with one 6th and one 7th place in the world, depending on who gets the border states), but the RSA has most of the people:

RSA: 235 million, 4.1M km^2 land
ASA: 58 million people, 4.5M km^2 land
Border states: 15 million people, 600K km^2 land

Neither one is exceptionally richer than the other; the "border" states are a bit poorer than the rest of the country, on average. The RSA remains the world's largest economy, while the ASA goes somewhere in the area of 5th-7th place, depending on the details of how we measure things and whether or not it gets the border states:

RSA: 2008 GDP $10.8 trillion, $45,000 per capita
ASA: 2008 GDP $2.6 trillion, $44,000 per capita
Border states: 2008 GDP $590 billion, $39,000 per capita

So the ASA would be about the population and wealth of one of the major European countries - somewhere in the range between Italy and Germany. We wouldn't expect anything much larger than the ASA plus border states to secede even in a political atmosphere favorable to secession.

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