Urban Rural Politics: America’s Biggest Divide

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.2008 Omaha

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.2012_Presidential_Election_by_County

The following is a map of US population density by county. Yellow is low density, blue is high density.US population density 2000 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.

Advertisements

The Importance of Texas

Yes Virginia, there are liberals in Texas, and not just in Austin. 

Quick question (and don’t look it up on Wiki) – what percentage of Texas voted for Barack Obama in 2008? Given that Texas is often seen as the “role model for red states”, it may surprise many to know that four years ago, Obama won nearly 44% of the vote. While Obama’s numbers declined by about 2% in 2012, this level of support still shows a state that is much more complicated than the caricature that it is often presented as. Convincing a small percentage of the state to turn blue can change the country for decades.

Let’s not kid ourselves – Texas is most certainly a conservative state. But even in the most ideologically extreme states, at least a third of the electorate goes against the prevailing wind. When we say that a state is really red, that just means that the state isn’t a tossup in the election. A shift of a few percentage points can change all of that. In Texas, the margin of difference is small enough to flip the state, or at least color it purple.

Texas is the second largest state in the country and has 38 electoral votes – almost 20% of Romney’s electoral vote haul. If a big blue state like New York flipped, it would be a big deal too. But electorally speaking, New York is much bluer than Texas is red (Romney won only 36% of vote there) and more importantly, the demographic trends do not bode well for future Republican gains.

Texas on the other hand is at the heart of one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in our nation’s history. I hate breaking things down in terms of white and non-white, but for what it’s worth, much of the country votes that way. As Texas becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, the greater the likelihood of a flip.

I doubt any monumental shifts will occur by 2016, but beyond that, it’s certainly a possibility. It would be foolish for Democrats to ignore Texas, and it would even more foolish for Republicans to take it for granted. With Texas, Dems are more or less guaranteed Presidential victory; without it, Republicans are guaranteed defeat. There are plenty of skeptics, but for the first time in more than a generation, Texas is being viewed as a real battleground for national elections.

Read more:

Human Development Index among red and blue states

It’s easy to get confused by the endless red-state blue-state rhetoric during this election season (which is to say, the past six years). It’s worthwhile to take a look at how people live across the divide.

In this week’s New Republic, Jonathan Cohn’s Blue States are from Scandinavia, Red States are from Guatemala explores the historical roots of this great American divide. Cohn argues that there are affectively two countries in the United States. In one, government is seen as a mechanism to ensure that as many people as possible have their basic necessities taken care of. This is expensive. In the other “country”, government costs very little and provides very little.

What are the consequences of this divide? As Cohn points out “by nearly every measure, people who live in the blue states are healthier, wealthier, and generally better off than people in the red states…The four states with the highest poverty rates are all red: Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas. And the five states with the lowest poverty rates are all blue. Since it’s difficult to measure “nearly every measure” the next best thing is to look at the American Human Development Index developed by the Social Science Research Council, and inspired by the global HDI commissioned by UNDP. The AHDI takes into consideration things like health, education and overall standard of living.

The following is a list of the states (and DC) with the highest AHDIs and the states with the lowest AHDIs.

American Human Development Index 2010/11
12 Highest 12 Lowest
Connecticut  6.30 
 North Carolina  4.64
Massachusetts  6.24  New Mexico  4.56
Washington, D.C.         6.21  Montana  4.49
New Jersey  6.16  South Carolina         4.36
Maryland  5.96  Tennessee  4.33
New York  5.77  Kentucky  4.23
Minnesota  5.74  Oklahoma  4.15
New Hampshire  5.73  Alabama  4.09
Hawaii  5.73  Louisiana  4.07
Colorado  5.65  Mississippi  3.93
Rhode Island  5.56  Arkansas  3.87
California  5.56  West Virginia  3.85

With the exception of two swing states, every single one of the top AHDI states is blue. There are zero red states at the top – the highest ranked red state is Alaska, coming in at number 17. Continue reading “Human Development Index among red and blue states”

How Blue States Subsidize Red States

The next time a conservative complains about welfare and the redistribution of wealth, point out that blue states have been subsidizing red states for years.

Governor Jindal talked a lot of smack about the stimulus but had no problem posing next to (taking credit for) this giant stimulus check. Notice the office name on top.

What’s the difference between a conservative and a liberal in the United States? The former will often say that they believe in tradition, small government and the free market, whereas the latter are godless socialists. Conservatives pride themselves on strong work ethic and self-reliance and abhor the government redistribution of wealth – supposedly.

There is mounting evidence that most conservative (red) states receive much more money from the federal government than they contribute in taxes, whereas most blue states are net contributors to the federal coffers. Blue states are effectively subsidizing red states.

X Axis shows liberal to conservative from left to right. Y Axis shows contributors to moochers from bottom to top.

Republicans have been complaining about welfare for decades. Reagan popularized the term “welfare queen”, which became a sort of code word for the urban black poor who were exploiting government programs. Newt Gingrich even referred to President Obama as the ” welfare president”. These demeaning references ignore the billions in federal assistance that go to rural America and the root causes of the current poverty (pre-Obama policies) that have driven so many people onto public assistance. I am sick and tired of listening to the conservative rhetoric machine that tries to convince the country that they represent the hardworking “real” America that isn’t interested in any handouts.

There are certainly disparities in federal taxation and spending, but its the red states that gain the most. I’m not an opponent of redistribution, but I am opposed to blatant hypocrisy and finger pointing.

Read more: