he One Minute Geographer: Rhode Island Politics — Democrat Heaven?

Jim Fonseca
3 min readJan 24, 2022
Rhode Island’s state capitol in Providence. Photo from upriseri.com

Begin with a state founded on the principle of religious liberty — Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, and other refugees from those maypole-bashing, stiff-necked Puritans from that state to the north. Add all those Italian and French Canadian and Irish and Portuguese mill workers. Make most of them Catholic. Organize them in unions. Give them a decent, but not extravagant, standard of living. Add a historically high unemployment level. The state almost always has an unemployment rate higher than the national average. It does now, for example, as Rhode Island is tied with several other states for 17th highest at 5.1% while the national average unemployment rate is 4.2%. (November 2021 figures.) So, add job insecurity if you work in manufacturing, because you never know if your plant will be the next one to close.

Make a lot of those residents elderly. Rhode Island ranks 9th among states with the oldest population measured by median age. Half the residents of the state are over 40.3 years of age and half are younger. The US figures is 38.1. Make them worried about their social security getting cut. Rhode Island also happens to have a lot of renters. Perhaps because the whole state is within a metropolitan area, it ranks 45th among home ownership rates with only about 62% of residents owning their own homes compared to the US rate of 64%. Home ownership rates tend to be higher in states that are not highly urbanized. And Rhode Island has relatively few people owning guns — less than 15%, third lowest after Massachusetts and New Jersey. Now stir this pot. What do you get? Democrats.

Rhode Islanders take the Penguin Plunge into frigid water for the Special Olympics. Photo by socialkat on Flickr on rimonthly.com

Depending on how you measure it, Rhode Island is certainly one of the most, if not the most, Democratic state in the nation. It’s a reliable blue state for Democrats, giving Obama his 4th highest percentage (63% — landslide numbers) in both 2008 against McCain and in 2012 against Romney. In 2016 the state went for Clinton over Trump 54% to 39%, and for Biden over Trump in 2020, 59% to 39%.

Looking further back, it was Rhode Island, not Massachusetts, that gave John F. Kennedy his biggest winning percentage of any state…

Jim Fonseca

Geography professor (retired) writes The One Minute Geographer featuring This Fragile Earth. Top writer in Transportation and, in past months, Travel.