Monday, November 08, 2004

City Mouse and Country Mouse

Remember that story many of us read as kids about City Mouse and Country Mouse who go to visit each other and discover how different life is in rural America compared to the big city?

That, apparently, is the real story of the 2004 election, according to historian Sean Wilentz. In the best analysis of voting patterns I've seen so far, he smacked down that retarded Red State / Blue State meme that won't go away in yesterday's LA Times and points out that it's rural and most of suburban America vs. urban America if you want to see the real difference in voting patterns.

This map in USA Today drives the point home. My home state of New York? Mostly red except for New York City, Albany, Buffalo and a few other places that are probably upstate cities I don't know about. My current home of California? Blue all along the coasts in and around Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc., while the entire inland area of the state (plus conservative San Diego) are red. To take a counter-example, look at Texas. This "red" state has a few sizable blue chunks in what I believe is Austin and a number of heavily latino cities near the border like El Paso. As Wilentz further points out, Kerry even won cities in conservative strongholds like Jackson, Mississippi, and Selma, Alabama.

What's really striking here is how, geographically, this country went overwhlemingly "red" (for Bush) this year. But in the places where lots of people live, like my home in LA, we went strongly for Kerry. Wilentz accurately points out that one of the main reasons is race -- Blacks and Latinos are much more likely to live in cities. Wilentz doesn't think much of the fact that "artsy intellectuals" (as he calls us) live in cities since there aren't alot of us, but I think if you define that category broadly to include young hipsters of any sort -- most of whom may not actually work in movies or publishing or advertising, but are working other jobs and wish they were, there are a decent number of us and we definitely tend to be liberal. I also think that in diverse urban areas where there is no one dominant religion or cultural paradigm, you're much more likely to prefer a candidate who's more agnostic on what American culture should be (Kerry), vs. one who projects a definite idea and appeals to a plurality of people who prefer it (Bush).

My final point here would be that this trend shows that the whole "red state"/"blue state" concept is driven by absurd way in which we elect president -- the electoral college. Because 51% of the people can define a state's vote, suddenly the red areas of eastern California and the blue cities of Texas and Alabama become meaningless. It doesn't just distort our political system (see Bush's "victory" over Gore in 2000 despite losing the popular vote), but distorts our very understanding of American culture and how our political views divide us.

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