Maryland has been a pro-Democrat state for over 150 years and it could be argued that the political history of Maryland reflects political swings in the history of the U.S.A., going from one of conservatism to one of strong liberalism – all within the same Party. Since 1960, Maryland has only voted in three Republican presidents, helping towards giving almost landslide victories to Richard Nixon in 1969, Ronald Reagan in 1981, and George H.W. Bush in 1989. Barack Obama (D) beat Mitt Romney (R) here by 62% to 36% in 2008. This is just a part of what makes Maryland so democratic.
Republicans vs Democrats
Abraham Lincoln, a liberal Republican, was appointed President of the U.S.A. in 1860 – his party having actively supported the banning of slavery in all U.S. territories. Lincoln had declared, in his inauguration speech, that his government could not impose a ban on slavery in all states but, in the following year, the pro-slavery Confederates fired the first shots of the Civil War in a bid to prevent the freeing of their slaves. In 1862, as a result of this declaration, Lincoln then declared the Emancipation Proclamation as a war goal.
Back then, Republicans were liberal and open to change whilst the Democrats were conservative and didn’t like to ruffle the status quo. Today, these roles are reversed. Why and when did this happen and what has made Maryland so Democratic?
The description of majority Democrat and Republican states as being Blue and Red, respectively, stems from the first live coverage of elections on television in 1976. The colors the channels chose were inter-changeable; some years the Democrats were red, other years they were blue. It was only during the coverage of the 2000 presidential election that the colors became fixed as blue for Democrats and red for Republicans, with non-proclaimed states staying white until their final numbers were in: inspiration having come, no doubt, from the red, white and blue of the U.S. flag.
Maryland at the Crossroads
Maryland was one of the first 13 colonies to join the Union in 1788, and has participated in every presidential election. Before the American Civil War of 1861-1865, Maryland had almost as many freed slaves (49%) as it had indentured slaves, and was one of the five “border” slave states that neither seceded from the United States of America – the Union – nor joined the Confederate States of America.
Although still considered a slave state at the time of the war, it sat at the crossroads between north and south, a gateway to trade, neither fiercely liberal nor conservative. In fact, Maryland did not operate its railway line during the Civil War as it didn’t want to support the war effort on either side.
Maryland has voted pro-Democrat since 1868, recording only 11 pro-Republican presidential votes between that year and 2016. This long history of Democratic voting stemmed from tradition and heritage during the 19th century and first half of the 20th century.
The Democrats’ Maryland Constitution of 1867 brought about reapportioning of the legislature in that state according to population, including the freed slaves, instead of by county. The Democrats tried to bring about numerous disenfranchising laws in the decades that followed but these all failed as the numbers of black electorate and immigrant voters grew.
Democrats Turn Liberal
During John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1960, he verbally supported civil rights and racial integration but it was left to his vice-president, Lyndon B. Johnson, to sign in the Civil Rights bill in 1964, four months after Kennedy was assassinated. Kennedy was a Democrat and this was the defining shift for Democrats from conservatism to liberalism.
Maryland voters, however, stayed with the Democratic Party and embraced the changes in ideology. After the Civil War, the Southern landed gentry had, not surprisingly, favored the conservative Democratic Party. In the 1960s, country-wide, the Democratic Party became home to all previously disenfranchised black people as well as white liberals, including those who had previously supported the Republican Party. The shift was further impacted with the presidential campaign of Barry M. Goldwater who ran on a very conservative ticket.
During the past four years, even more progressive law changes have taken place in Maryland under the auspices of the Democratic party, including the approval of same-sex marriage (2012), repeal of the death sentence (2013), approval of the medical marijuana Bill (2013), stricter gun control laws (2013), granting of drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants (2014), and approval of tuition fee discounts for undocumented immigrant college students and university students (the 2012 “Dream Act”).
Chris van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat and Senator-elect, acknowledged that immigrants in that state are creating jobs through the small businesses they start. He also stated that, “Enacting Trump’s program of mass deportation is simply unacceptable, and I will fight it in the U.S. Senate”.
Although it is unclear how many undocumented immigrants currently reside in Maryland, all minority groups currently make up 40.4% of the total demographic. Just how many minorities are registered Democrats is unknown, but Democrat votes in the 2016 presidential election outweighed Republican votes 60.3% to 33.9% out of the total number of votes cast.
It’s interesting to note that Maryland’s neighbor, Washington D.C., voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Democratic Party – 90.5% – in the last presidential election. Many state workers from D.C. tend to live in Maryland as housing costs are lower there. City and town dwellers tend to be more Democratic, while residents in rural areas are more likely to vote for the now more conservative Republican party.
Marylanders’ proclivity to vote Democrat may have started out as one of tradition and exclusion but as the needs of the people changed, so the Party also changed, becoming more progressive and inclusive.
President Barack Obama’s election in 2008 started a wave of increasing political involvement by younger voters and minorities who are all rooting for progressive reforms and change. Maryland is just one example of politicians’ shift in mindset, the shaking off of old traditions, and being more responsive to the desires and needs of their constituents.
Is Maryland so Democratic? What do you think? Post your comments below…