Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Profound Connection between Geography and Politics

Ron Brownstein, in a eye-opening, well-researched article for CNN asks: "Is the fundamental fissure in American life now demographic or geographic?" He goes on to say:
"The answer, a growing body of evidence suggests, is both. And that may point to a future of even greater distance -- and antagonism -- between a Democratic coalition centered in racially diverse, largely secular, and post-industrial metropolitan centers and a Republican coalition grounded in small-town and rural communities that remain mostly white, Christian and rooted in traditional manufacturing, agriculture and resource extraction....
One reason small-town and rural areas tilt so much more toward the GOP than urban areas is because their demographic composition leans so much more toward the groups that now most favor Republicans: older, blue-collar and evangelical whites. In an exhaustive recent study, the non-partisan Pew Research Center, for instance, found that non-whites comprised over half the population in the largest urban centers, about one-third in suburban communities, and only about one-fifth in small town and rural places. Whites without a college degree represented about three-in-10 urban residents, exactly four-in-ten in suburbs and nearly six-in-10 in rural places.
But...another key factor [is] widening the American divide: voters with the same demographic characteristics display very different political and cultural attitudes depending on their geographic location. Each of the electorate's three broadest groupings -- whites without a college degree, whites with a four-year college degree or more and non-whites -- bend steadily toward more conservative views as they move from the most- to the least-populated communities."
Brownstein cites a wide variety of data from recent Pew polls to buttress this point. I have noticed the same thing myself in work I have done analyzing other surveys, so I think he is on very firm ground.
Brownstein explores the meaning of this divide further at the end of his article and I will somewhat immodestly quote part of his discussion:
"These results all testify to the persistent power of place, and not just social and racial characteristics, in shaping political attitudes. In that way, they reinforce the argument that Ruy Teixeira, a longtime liberal electoral analyst, and author John Judis made in their landmark 2002 book, "The Emerging Democratic Majority." In that book, the two argued that Democrats had a better chance of reaching blue-collar whites who chose to live amid the diversity of urban centers than those who located in more racially and religiously homogenous communities outside the metropolitan core.
In an interview, Teixeira cited three reasons that could explain why voters with the same demographic characteristics are trending toward more conservative positions in smaller geographic areas.
"One is you hang around in an area where certain types of ideas are dominant and you tend to absorb those attitudes," he said. Second, he continued, in small places people are less likely to actually face personal interaction with the sources of so many cultural flashpoints. "There is a well known relationship about ... having certain attitudes about immigration or feminists and not encountering many," he notes.
Finally, he said, these impulses are reinforced by the growing economic gap between thriving larger metropolitan areas and smaller places that are struggling to hold population and jobs. "The fact is that a lot of these white non-college voters who are living in dense areas are living in areas that are working, where economic mobility is feasible, and that takes the edge off of their cultural conservatism," Teixeira says....
The November midterm election seems likely to further extend this crevice between what I have called the Democratic "coalition of transformation" and the Republican "coalition of restoration." All polls suggest Republicans face enormous risk in white-collar suburbs and urban districts crowded with college-educated whites and minority voters resistant to Trump. But the Democrats' prospects appear much more limited beyond those urban centers....
Teixeira agrees that Democrats are facing a much steeper hill outside of the largest metro areas, both in 2018 and 2020. But he sees a sliver for daylight for Democrats in the tendency of small-town and rural residents, including most culturally conservative blue-collar whites, to support federal entitlement programs such as Medicare and to view the economy as favoring the rich and powerful. In Pew's data, large majorities of blue-collar whites across rural, suburban and urban communities agreed that the economy favors the powerful; across all three areas, in fact, they were nearly as likely to agree with that sentiment as were minorities and college whites.
"The chink in the armor [for Republicans], such as it is, there is a conflict between these [blue-collar and rural] voters' views of the rich and powerful in general and their views of entitlement programs and the way Republicans really do approach policy," Teixeira says. "If [Democrats] can convince more people that it's a really top priority to help you and your community, they would look the other way on some of their cultural conservative views. But until and unless you can make that case in a way that is convincing to a lot of these people, I don't think they are going to change."
Hey, what that guy said! Anyway, I commend the entire article to you.
About this article
In Philadelphia, the largest television market in Pennsylvania, the five most-watched cable shows among viewers with at least a four-year college degree include CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," MSNBC's "Hardball" and reruns of the cosmopolitan situation comedy "Modern Family."

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