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NMSU profs find border region voting patterns can influence national elections

Bradley, Bush, Gore, McCain. No matter who is to become our next president, New Mexico State University economists say they'll benefit if their campaign trail stops along the border.

NMSU economics professors Richard Adkisson, left, and James Peach look at a map of the U.S.-Mexico border. (NMSU photo by Michael Kiernan)

James Peach and Richard Adkisson, economics and international business professors at NMSU, recently completed a study of the voting patterns of residents along the U.S.-Mexico border in U.S. presidential elections. They found the border counties in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas voted differently from the rest of the states' counties, which could have implications for future elections.

In the spring of presidential election years, well-known economist Ray Fair of Yale University releases predictions for the outcome of the elections based on economic models. After his 1996 article the NMSU researchers began to consider his work from a border perspective.

"The border is right here and we have done a lot of research related to the border. We often find this area is different from national results," Peach said. So they decided to find out if border voting patterns showed the same trend.

They used data from the 1992 and 1996 elections to determine if the border region votes differently based strictly on geography. "We controlled for other factors such as ethnicity and other social and economic considerations," Adkisson said. "Even after controlling for these variables, we found a significant difference."

They discovered that overall, the border counties voted more often for Democrats. This was true for counties immediately along the border and for the next tier away, in both 1992 and 1996. But they also found discrepancies between different parts of the border. "Texas border counties were heavily Democratic," Peach said. "California's border counties were heavily Republican."

Another thing the NMSU team had to consider was the impact of Ross Perot in both the elections they studied. "Perot was a unique element in those elections that probably won't occur in 2000," Peach said. "Along the border, Perot helped the Democrats."

Why do border residents vote differently? Research shows voting patterns are greatly influenced by economic variables such as income and employment rate, as well as past voting behavior and political loyalty. In addition, Adkisson and Peach theorize that border residents pay more attention to federal issues.

"National policies on issues including immigration, trade flows, exchange rates, migration and drug policy are more of a concern to them," Peach said. "That may be part of the reason we see a difference in their voting."

The difference is enough to affect elections, Adkisson said. In 1996 Arizona's border counties were the deciding factor in the state's presidential decision. The border counties favored the Democratic candidate, Bill Clinton, by more than 10 percentage points, while the rest of the state was evenly split, with less than half a percentage point of difference between the parties. In this case, the border vote was sufficient to push Arizona's eight electoral votes into the Clinton column. If states' results can be decided by their border counties, the national elections could be influenced by the states' results, Peach said.

In 1940, the four border states commanded 51 of the 535 electoral votes cast in presidential elections. "That's less than 10 percent," Adkisson pointed out. In 1992 and 1996, the border states decided 99 electoral votes, which is almost double. This is a result of the growing population along the border.

In a previous study, Peach and colleague James Williams discovered that population growth along the U.S.-Mexico border is stronger than in other areas of the country. They projected that the population of the border counties may increase from 5.8 million in 1995 to 10.7 million by 2020. This means a continuous increase in the impact these border regions will have on elections, the researchers said.

The NMSU study will be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Borderlands Studies. "This study is unique because we used county data for national elections," Peach said. "But it is only one small piece of ongoing border research."

Photo is available at http://kiernan.nmsu.edu/newsphoto.
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PHOTO: adkisson_peach.jpg
CUTLINE: NMSU economics professors Richard Adkisson, left, and James Peach look at a map of the U.S.-Mexico border. (NMSU photo by Michael Kiernan)

Rachel Kendall
Feb. 29, 2000