Is Obama avoiding red states?

Politicians certainly like to speak in front of friendly audiences, but in order to win elections, they have to venture often into less-welcoming venues.  Barack Obama campaigned in every state during his presidential run, but he has had less affinity for returning to some states as President.  A new study by my friend Dr. Eric Ostermeier at the University of Minnesota shows that Obama has delivered more public remarks outside of the country than he has in red states here at home:

While many Americans believe that their voice was not heard in Washington D.C. during the recent passage by the Democrats of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Tea Party adherents the most vocal among them), there are indeed Americans who can point to having received less of the President’s attention than their neighbors, at least through his first 14+ months in office: red state Americans.

A Smart Politics analysis of more than 500 addresses, speeches, and remarks by President Barack Obama finds that he has delivered nearly 10 times the number of verbal statements made outside of Washington D.C. in states he carried in 2008, compared to those won by John McCain.

Excluding formal media appearances (news conferences and interviews), the President delivered 531 verbal statements in formal addresses, speeches, and brief remarks from Inauguration Day through March 21, 2010:

  • The majority of these statements, 63.5 percent (337) were delivered within the District of Columbia.
  • Another 116 statements were delivered in states Obama carried on Election Day (21.8 percent)
  • Only 15 such statements were delivered in states won by John McCain (2.8 percent), or 8 times fewer statements than in ‘Obama states.’
  • An additional 63 verbal statements (11.9 percent) were delivered outside of the United States (excluding media events).

It’s not terribly surprising that Obama has delivered more speeches in Washington DC than any other constituency. After all, the President lives and works in DC. However, Obama ran on being a Washington outsider, despite his status at the time as a US Senator.  Since his election, he seems very comfortable as a DC insider, delivering almost two-thirds of his speeches inside the Beltway.

Eric runs through a couple of explanations in his analysis.  For instance, the states that Obama won have about twice the population as those McCain carried in November 2008.  However, Obama has spoken over 8 times as often in his states than in the red states he didn’t carry.  Obama has spoken in 22 of the 28 states he carried, while only appearing publicly in 7 of the 22 states he lost, which makes random chance a little hard to believe.  The McCain state with the most appearances by Obama is Missouri, in a four-way tie for 11th on the list.

Even those Obama states in the top 10 might be a problem for the President.  After all, Virginia tops the list with 21 appearances, 16% of all of Obama’s locations for his verbal statements during his presidency, but Democrats took a beating in the 2009 state elections.  They also lost big in New Jersey (tied for 9th) in the same elections, and Massachusetts (4th) elected a Republican Senator for the first time in 38 years in its special election in January.

Democrats may argue that they can compete in every state, but it’s hard to reconcile that with Obama’s reluctance to appear in states that didn’t catch Hopenchange Fever the first time around.  Indeed, it looks as though Obama would rather go abroad than visit those states.