Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Exceptions to America's Urban vs Rural Politics

The little debate that LTG and I had about the political culture of the upper midwest got me thinking about something.  For the most part American politics is increasingly dominated by an urban vs rural dynamic.  Most of the states with large urban populations vote for Democrats most of the time.  Most of the states that are mostly rural or small towns vote for Republicans.  Even within states you can see this pattern.  In most maps of recent presidential election results you can see high percentages of the Democrat in countries in which major cities are located and high percentages for the Republican in counties with no cities.  Some good examples of this patter would be California and Kansas.  Check out the county by county maps from the New York Times election results page here.  You can zoom in on the state you are interested in and change the election year with a handy sliding scale device.  In the California map you can see the the densely populated coastal areas are largely voting Democratic (the major exception being wealthy, suburban Orange County).  You can also see the large Republican vote shares in the more sparsely populated interior counties.  Kansas is even more striking.  You can see that most of the Democratic votes are concentrated in and around Kansas City.  The little blue county just SW of Kansas City is the county where the University of Kansas is located.  The blue county due south is a swing county that goes for either party (barely) depending on the year.  You can see a similar pattern in Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Florida, Tennessee, and even Utah and Texas.  In Texas (famous as a Republican stronghold), Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin stick out like sore thumbs.  The clump of Democratic counties along the border are due to large Tejano/Latino populations.  

There are some notable exceptions however.  One is the upper midwest.  Check out Iowa or Minnesota.  In those states there are some rural counties that vote consistently for Democrats.  Another exception is Oklahoma where even Oklahoma City and Tulsa (both fairly large cities both with large Universities nearby) vote for Republicans.  Mississippi and Alabama have some rural counties voting for Democrats and these counties mostly are those with large African American populations (this part of the South is one of the few places in the USA where African Americans are still living in numbers in rural areas).

The NY Times map is really fun too.  You can look at the "county bubbles."  You'll notice that there are very few large, red bubbles and few small blue ones.  You can look at the county shift and see that Obama did better than Kerry did in most of the country except for a swath of the hill/mountain South and Louisiana/East Texas (where large numbers of poor blacks were displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita).  

I'm not sure what explains all these exceptions - there are probably different reasons for the exceptions in each case/region.  But they are noteworthy.  These patterns may be interesting for the ongoing struggle for marriage equality and other social issues.  They may point to urban areas that - despite being relatively cosmopolitan - won't be tolerant of marriage equality (like Oklahoma City or .  On the flip side they MAY point to rural areas that won't be quite so intolerant.  


The Law Talking Guy said...

I'm not sure how exceptional most of these exceptions are. For example, the few southern/inland cities that vote Republican are surrounded by seas of Republican rural and suburban voters. In these areas, the Democrats in the cities are disorganized and few, with 'moderate Republicans' building suburban/urban coalitions instead. Dallas and Houston come to mind. We saw this in the TX primary where the Dems were so disorganized statewide that in many precincts, they had never run a caucus before.

The Orange County, CA exception isn't an exception at all: it's just a piece of suburbia - like the suburbs of Atlanta - that votes Republican. Over the last 30 years, the population has swelled and it looks demographically urban. (And, in fact, the Democrats are making inroads in OC as a result). But as in Dallas, the dems are disorganized and a Republican political culture dominates. Such political cultures are hard to dislodge.

The same explanation probably goes for the Upper Midwest. The progressive movement there hindered development of Republican power structures in the region. They have cropped up primarily in newer suburbs of Minneapolis where, not surprisingly, there was more of a blank slate. As I said, however, the statewide organization of the GOP in MN and WI in particular has been strengthening over the past 20 years.

I expect that over the next 20 years, you will see these 'exceptions' mellow out and even out nationwide.

Raised By Republicans said...

But Dallas and Houston are (at least in the last election) oases of Democratic voting in just such a sea of Republican voters. So are Nashville, Salt Lake City, and Kansas City. So why are some cities able to resist the sea of Republicans and others aren't? Why are there Democrats in Dallas and Houston but not Oklahoma City?

With regard to the Upper Midwest, the party identification of the rural and urban voters flipped in the last century. The Progressives were the Republicans in those states (and that might be the source of their exceptionalism - different types of Republicans). In the upper midwest it was the Democrats that were associated with social conservative populism and the Republicans that were the secular party of the towns and cities.

I think you are right about Orange County though and I didn't mean to offer it in the same category as Oklahoma City.

The Law Talking Guy said...

If you look at voting patterns in OKC, you will see Democrats, just not a preponderance of them. I see that it has to do with organization of the party. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Solid Democratic South finally gave way some 20 years after the national Democrats left them behind to pursue civil rights. Finally, in the last few years, we are starting to see Democrats reorganize in the South. In Texas, in part thanks to the influx of Hispanics, the Dems are since 2006 on their way back to being at least an opposition party. I think you will find that in Kansas, Utah, and Tennessee, Democrats are still able to organize and turn out an urban base, something they just didn't do in Texas in 2000 and 2004, and that they are still not able to do in Oklahoma. Whether they are able to organize depends, also, on whether there is any reasonable chance at winning statewide offices. In TX and Kansas, you see this. OK, despite its current gov, is trending GOP in a big way. It also depends on race. You see, in some places like LA, moderate Democrats take the place of Republicans, because there is no barrier to rich white men running as democrats, and running as republicans is pointless. Similarly, in many parts of the south, ambitious pols on the center/left run as moderate Republicans, not democrats, because Democrats have no institution that can win. Note that you have a racial problem in cities and the rural south where blacks are excluded from the Republican party, so they organize in their minority-majority districts (the voting rights act was all about protecting this, btw, which is why the GOP judges on the SC severely weakened the act last month).

Orange County CA is a different story. So is the upper midwest.

But in all these places, what you see is probably the legacies of institution building and the current chances for ambitious young pols to seek offices through minority parties in what are mostly one-party states.

But RBR, I am surprised that you, of all people, would seek a cultural explanation for political behavior. Is culture and religion really the explanation for Democratic success in the upper midwest? I don't buy it, in part because we have seen substantial Republican victories there too.

I would suggest that you have a vigorous two-party system in the upper midwest, something that is lacking in a lot of the country and a statewide level.

Raised By Republicans said...

I don't know that I'm seeking a purely cultural explanation. The upper midwest farm belt is also wealthier. But you are right, this is a bit of a departure from my usual position.

It is the difference in the health of the two-party system in the upper midwest - at the local level - that interests me (many states have two parties at the state level, along the lines of Missouri where the urban-rural split is strong and balanced). Why is this?

I guess what I'm trying to figure out is WHY Democrats in Salt Lake City can organize and Democrats in OKC can't (I never meant to suggest there were 0% Democrats there). Is Salt Lake City more racially diverse than OKC? I doubt it. Why Democrats in rural Iowa and Minnesota can organize and Democrats in rural Kansas cannot?

I also think there may be a cultural component to the extent that the peculiar "American" ethnicity so predominant in the Appalachian South (I think you posted something interesting about this a while back) is independent of the socio-economic conditions in which those people live. The upper midwest has a fair amount of ethnic diversity if you pay attention to different types of Europeans. Perhaps that diversity combined with the relatively recent wave of immigration (by rural standards) is a factor.

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