04 September 2008
What is the real political divide in the USA?
Television likes to make everything nice and simple for its viewers, which is why we have this red and blue state division. The blue, Democrat states are basically New York, New Jersey and the New England region. Travelling westward we have the Great Lakes' states, and then Oregon, Washington and California on the Pacific coast. However, the divide is actually between the cities and the countryside, with social class, the one thing that Americans hate to even mention, added in as a kicker.
The rural-urban divide is not new in the USA, as Prof. Sean Wilentz of Princeton University noted in his 2004 essay. Over a century ago the two parties slogged it out and the division was quite clearly marked in the late Nineteenth Century between the rural Democrats and the urban Republicans. Today the parties have switched, and it is the Democrats who represent the urban population, but the basic division is still there.
What has changed is the relative power of the urban vote compared to it rural counterpart. A century ago the cities pretty much dominated everything, but today the two populations are more evenly balanced. If you add in the suburban vote, which didn't even exist in those days, then the cities can be outvoted at almost every turn.
To simplify all this, the cities vote Democrat, as do the inner suburbs. The further away from the city core a person lives, the less likely he is to be a Democrat.
Class then comes into play, because in 2004 almost two-thirds of voters who earned less than $15,000 a year voted for the Democrat John Kerry. Of those earning between $15,000 and $30,000, 57 percent went for Kerry, and finally Kerry got a fraction over 50 percent from those pulling in between $30,000 and $50,000. Above that figure and the numbers got steadily more and more Republican.
What seems to be happening especially in the rural areas is that self-interest is being trumped by ideology. It really is the only explanation that accounts for almost a third of America's truly poor voting Republican. They refused to vote Democrat on the grounds that the Democrats are pro-abortion, against prayer in schools and favour stricter gun control laws.
The Democrats could overcome this problem quite easily because rednecks want federal aid just as much as the urban poor, but they don't because they are determined to ensure that their vision of what is good and proper continues to be rammed down everyone else's throats.
The sensible thing for the Democrats to do would be to agree amongst themselves that matters such as abortion and gun control are state problems and should be left to the states to deal with. At a stroke that would undercut the Republican's ideological advantage outside the cities, and people could then be expected to start voting for the Democrats' economic policies.
Let's put everything together. What we have is an urban-rural divide, which is complicated somewhat by the refusal of many low income people to accept the elite's notion of what is good for them. Until the Democrats accept that not everyone accepts their social views, the party will probably continue to lose elections at presidential level.