An Evolution of Elections in the Ozarks

Nov 6, 2012

In our local history series, Sense of Place, we look to our past to find answers for the present. With the presidential election upon us, KSMU’s Emma Wilson brings us a brief look at how elections have changed in the history of the Ozarks region.

In 2008, Missouri was hotly contested and Springfield hosted presidential candidates on several occasions. Not so this year. The change from Missouri’s status as a political battleground may be symptomatic of a gradual shift in political ideology of the state.

“Missouri came into the union as a conservative state and continues to be a conservative state. I think most people would argue that Missouri is becoming more conservative.”

Dr. George Connor, head of the political science department at Missouri State University, says the most significant change in politics in southwest Missouri has been fewer and fewer Democrats being elected over the past 50 years.

“Whereas it wasn’t too long ago that the democratic speaker, Jim Kreider, was from Nixa. Now there is only one democratic representative—Sara Lampe—from all of southwest Missouri.”

This is largely due to the growth the region has seen in recent years. Christian County has grown tremendously, Conner says, mostly with people moving from larger cities like St. Louis or Kansas City.

“And so there’s a clash between people who call it ‘Nixy’ and people who refer to it as ‘Nixa’ but at the end of the day, the people who are moving to Christian County and into southwest Missouri—Taney County, Stone County, Greene County—are all conservative both economically and socially. So the new people are re-enforcing the conservatism that was already here.”

Conner says there’s another side to that coin. With the closure of many Missouri manufacturing operations, like the formerly abundant clothing and shoe factories, blue-collar workers who may have been more likely to vote Democratic have moved out of the area.

Missouri has often been referred to as a ‘bellwether’ state, meaning it had a near-perfect match rate when choosing candidates in presidential elections. In the 20thcentury Missouri had been wrong just once: in 1956, when Missouri voted for Adlai Stevenson when the rest of the country ‘liked’ Ike Eisenhower into a second term.

“It has urban areas, it has suburban areas, [and] it has rural areas. There’s a little bit of everything and the geographic center of the United States is just outside of Plato Missouri. So there’s a sense that Missouri is in the center of everything but I think Missouri is trending to the right and that means it’s trending away from the middle, trending away from Missouri being a microcosm of the United States.”

After Missouri broke its record in the last presidential election when voters chose John McCain by a narrow margin, pundit attention shifted to states like Ohio and Nevada, which are thought to more reliably ‘pick a winner.’ But as our population has become more mobile, so have our politics. Like in Missouri, people move and maps change.

For KSMU's Senseof Place, I'mEmmaWilson.