Before I start, let me give an introduction and explanation for this diary series.
One of my goals from childhood included visiting all 50 states. Having lived in 4 and visited 23, I am more than halfway to that goal. Along with seeing the sights in each state, I’ve wanted to learn more about their cultures and later their politics. DKE and RRH, as well as some other blogs I frequented since I became interested in electoral politics in 2003, have helped increase my knowledge. I especially learned a lot about the north and east, where I am deficient in knowledge and experience. Doing some research helped me better understand Alaska’s electoral history, which I will get to now. Election data for the boroughs and census areas are hard to come by, so I will write about the electoral history of just the state.
In the late 1950s, admitting Alaska as a state was debated. President Eisenhower was hesitant because Alaska at the time looked like it would be a Democratic state. Progressive tendencies for the time plus needing government funds for the basics made Alaska look like it would become a Democratic stronghold. Juneau attorney Mildred Hermann claimed Alaskans had enough creative people and resources in Alaska to solve any problems.
“If we cannot buy steak, we will eat beans. We will fit the pattern to the cloth. If we cannot make the kind of a dress we want, we will make one that will cover us anyway, and we are perfectly willing to pull in our belts and do without some things for the purpose of statehood.”
When Nebraska newspaper publisher Fred Seaton joined the Eisenhower administration as Interior Secretary in 1956, he helped move the administration toward supporting statehood. Helping the cause was another member of Interior Department staff, young attorney Ted Stevens, later known as “Mr. Alaska”, who helped draft the statehood act.
As support for statehood increased in the Eisenhower administration and in most of the country, support decreased in the South amid fears that the new Senators from Alaska and Hawaii would oppose segregation, adding to the anti-segregation majority. The bill for Alaska statehood passed the House 210-166 on May 28, 1958, and the Senate 64-20 on June 30, 1958. Alaska was admitted as the 49th state on January 3, 1959.
Alaska at first leaned liberal and Democratic until the discovery of petroleum at Prudhoe Bay in 1968. Then, the federal government was seen as meddling in local affairs, and the state shifted Republican, where it has remained ever since. Republican presidential nominees won in landslides most of the time after the 1960s.
Alaska is one of a few states with a strong affinity for other parties. There is the Alaskan Independence Party, which had Wally Hickel as governor from 1990 to 1994, and current Independent governor Bill Walker. (The state legislature also has Democrats and some Republicans in a power-sharing coalition, currently in the State House and also in the State Senate 2007-2012.) In the 1980 presidential election, John Anderson (I) and Edward Clark (L) combined for 19% of the vote, higher than any other state. At 7%, Anderson’s highest percentage was not here (they were in most of New England), but Clark’s, at nearly 12%, was. In the 1992 election, Independent candidate Ross Perot’s second-highest vote percentage (after Maine), came from here. This was also the only single-digit-margin Republican win in Alaska after 1968.
Alaska started out as a swing state relative to the country in the 1960s, and rapidly became more Republican after the oil boom. Alaska’s Republicanism peaked in George W. Bush’s presidency, and began slowly trending Democratic afterwards.
1964: R+2.79; 1968: R+2.83; 1972: R+0.99; 1976: R+6.91; 1980: R+12.47; 1984: R+10.94; 1988: R+9.07; 1992: R+9.15; 1996: R+12.60; 2000: R+16.69; 2004: R+15.09; 2008: R+13.37; 2012: R+12.02; 2016: R+9.39
Stop by The Elections Geek for more in-depth information on past elections.