Monday, February 25, 2013

The Great American Political Divide – Urban vs. Non-Urban

[Note: I wrote this post on November 11, 2012, just five days after the presidential election, but saved it rather than posting it. I'm not sure why. Maybe I meant to think about it; maybe I didn't think it was done; maybe I pushed the wrong button. I just read it, now on February 25, 2013, and it seems ready to me. This time I'll hit "Publish" instead of "Save". I realize it's a bit out of date, but I wrote it so I'll post it.]

How is it that Americans are divided? In 2000 the election was razor thin for both POTUS and Congress. 2004 wasn't as close, but it wasn't a blow out for Bush. If less than 100,000 voters changed their minds, Kerry might have been president. 2008 was a wider margin. Some called it a landslide since the Electoral College vote was lopsided. However, the popular vote differential was only 6 percentage points. By the old standards, this wasn't a landslide.

So we come to 2012, and the results are closer than in 2008, but with the same result. I haven't checked state totals yet, but I suspect a shift of between 100,000-200,000 votes would have made Romney president. It was actually a fairly close election by American historical standards.

But, my point here is different. Remember back to the 2000 election results if you can, and the maps that showed the results by county. The land mass of the USA was mostly painted red, showing that the Republican, Bush, carried most of the counties. Democrats won along both Atlantic and Pacific coasts, along the Mississippi, in some border counties, and in pockets here and there.

If someone had put together a similar map in previous elections, I never saw one. But such a map is standard post-election fare now. The maps in 2004, 2008, and 2012 are all similar to 2000: lots of red, blue on the coast and a few other places. People have made a big deal arguing about those maps, one side claiming they are significant, showing how little of the nations supports the Democrats. Others create population-proportioned maps of the same areas, organized by state, which shows distortions but which are supposedly balanced by population.

As I looked at those maps and studied them, it wasn't difficult to see, with even a basic knowledge of our nation's geography, that urban areas were blue and other areas were red. Not exclusively so, but mostly. Thus I came to the conclusion that our divide in the USA is urban areas vs. non-urban areas, with the suburbs stuck in the middle. It's not really Republican vs. Democrat, or liberal vs. conservative, or minority vs. white. It's urban vs. non-urban. Non-urban could be defined truly rural areas, exurbs, and farther out suburbs. The near-in suburbs would be urban rather than non-urban. How else might you define it? Maybe those areas served by regular and frequent mass transit would be considered urban, those areas with no mass transit system or with a "call for service", or unscheduled system, would be non-urban.

The goals for and desires from life are different for those who live where the population density is 100 people per acre rather than 100 acres per person. Sociologists and political scientists will have to be the ones to figure out exactly why.

But it seems that urban dwellers expect more from the government. Since Democrats generally look for government solutions in places where Republicans look for private sector solutions, it's no wonder that urban areas migrate to he Democratic party. And since many in non-urban areas tend toward "rugged individualism," it's natural that they move in the direction of the Republican party.

Certainly this is a simplification. Party affiliation is sometimes family based, sometimes based on specific policies, such as economics or social issues. But even some of these are based on the urban or non-urban circumstances.

This is a fairly new conclusion I've come to. I think I always knew this, but hadn't articulated it. I'm going to think through it some more. Maybe in a future piece I'll have more to say about it.

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