Washington is grappling for consensus, approaching the August 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling or risk defaulting on the nation’s debts. A study of the states shows that deep ideological division is not just a feature of Washington anymore. With each passing month, the nation is splitting further apart as states move in different directions on key issues, including same-sex marriage, abortion, immigration, and gun rights. Here is a glance at the states that have moved one way or the other, cross-linked with each state’s vote in the past five presidential elections. A look at the states’ voting history, shows that the pattern in 2011 has been one of red states getting redder and blue states getting bluer. The question is whether this is federalism as the Founders intended, or fragmentation.
1. Same-sex marriage
Five traditionally Democratic states have enacted same-sex-marriage or civil-union laws this year. Each of those states is from the “blue wall,” the 18 states that have voted Democratic in at least the past five presidential elections. Opinion on same-sex marriage is morphing quickly within the blue wall, where civil unions are becoming a compromise position, not a reach. Twelve of the 18 blue-wall states now have same-sex-marriage or civil-union laws that guarantee equivalent spousal benefits. By contrast, every state that has consistently voted Republican in recent presidential elections has a law or constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
While blue states moved left on same-sex marriage, a number of predominantly conservative states moved right on abortion. Fifteen states, including 13 that have voted Republican in at least four of the past five presidential races, enacted at least one major restriction on abortion in the first half of 2011. Many states enacted one or two measures, but Indiana and Kansas adopted all five restrictions that National Journal tracked: mandatory ultrasounds before abortions; longer waiting periods or more-stringent counseling requirements; limits on insurance coverage; defunding of Planned Parenthood; and a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a policy that abortion advocates say violates Roe v. Wade. Wisconsin and Florida are not traditional red states, but the GOP has unified control of the Legislature and governorship in both.
The traditional “immigration-receiving states” of the Northeast and the Pacific Coast mostly leaned against bringing the law down on illegal immigrants, while Southern and Midwestern states moved the other way. Five red states enacted Arizona-style immigration enforcement laws, while nine expanded the use of the E-Verify database in public and private hiring. Seven states, including traditionally blue Wisconsin and Rhode Island, passed laws requiring voters to show photo identification. On the coasts, blue states made in-state tuition benefits available to illegal immigrants, and Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York opted out of the Secure Communities federal enforcement program. Utah went in both directions, enacting a strict enforcement law along with a guest-worker program.
Gun-rights advocates this year loosened restrictions primarily, but not exclusively, in Republican-leaning states. Blue-state Maryland passed a law strengthening penalties for gun crimes, but other than that it has been one-way traffic on guns so far in 2011. Thirteen states (including eight traditional red states) lightened restrictions on carrying firearms, with the laws ranging from a Wisconsin act legalizing concealed carry to North Dakota and Texas laws allowing people to keep loaded weapons in their cars while unattended in parking lots. Pennsylvania, a blue-wall state, joined North Carolina in passing a stronger “castle law,” giving people more leeway in defending themselves with deadly force.