The starkest divide in American political culture is not between north and south. It is not between whites and “minorities” – not even heartland and coasts. Nothing captures the red-blue divide in the US quite like the disparity between cities and suburban/rural areas.
In 2008, something peculiar happened in Nebraska. The state’s 2nd congressional district, which contains the city of Omaha, voted for Barack Obama. On the map, the district is basically a dot of blue in a sea of red. This happened in Nebraska because it’s one of only two states that award electoral college votes by district rather than “winner takes all”. If Texas allocated votes by congressional district, then surely Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin would be similar blue dots. Similarly, vast swaths of upstate New York would be red.
For the Obama campaign, Nebraska’s 2nd district was not necessary for victory, but it was a nice cherry on top of their cake. While anomalous in terms of electoral history, the story of Omaha captures what’s going on in cities and states throughout the country.
The following is the results of the 2012 Presidential election by county. Red is Republican, blue is Democrat.
The following is a map of US population density by county. Yellow is low density, blue is high density. The similarities tell a much larger story about America today. Where we live has a whole lot to do with how we live and what we believe. Perhaps we choose where to live based on the latter – a chicken and egg problem essentially. Either way, any real conceptualization of the red-blue divide in the US that focuses too much on East coast tendencies, or Midwest values is ignoring the real story.
According to The Atlantic, 27 of America’s 30 biggest cities voted for Obama in 2012 – that’s 90 percent! Furthermore, cities are getting bluer and rural areas are getting redder. We are constantly being warned that our country is becoming increasingly polarized. At least we know now where that battle lines and boundaries are being drawn.