Watching the colored county maps on television election night, reading the results the next day, I am struck again by the political gap between Americans who inhabit cities and those who live in the country. Its troublesome breadth and depth raise worrisome questions: Are we one nation, or two? Is there any way to bridge the gap? What would it take to make that happen? If it can't happen, is co-existence possible?
In the 2004 Democratic National Convention speech that put Barack Obama on the map, the then-Illinois state senator pooh-poohed the supposed division of the country into red states and blue states. We defy such easy stereotypes, he suggested, illustrating his argument with lines like this one: "We coach Little League in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states."
Yet a glance at the Wall Street Journal's graphical summary of how counties voted in this election (http://on.wsj.com/…) underscores a distinct red-blue rural-urban divide. And while that same divide was evident in earlier presidential elections, it seemed to yawn wider in this one. In many rural areas voter turnout was higher and the Republican margin of victory bigger (http://tiny.cc/…).
Why did this happen? I refer you to the excellent explanations in the reportage of DTN's Chris Clayton and Todd Neeley? (What does the election mean for markets? DTN analysts Darin Newsom and Todd Hultman have been all over that.)
I would just share one thought about the implications of the rural-urban divide for the future. In a column titled "A disruptive yet ruinous triumph for the GOP," the conservative pundit George Will discusses a related trend: the rising percentage of the electorate who are African American, Asian American or Latino (http://tiny.cc/…). He cites statistics suggesting states as diverse as Georgia and Arizona will turn majority-minority in the years ahead. "Demography need not dictate for Republicans a grim destiny" Will writes, "but it soon will, unless they act to counter adverse trends."
He may be right, but it's worth noting that Donald Trump received a slightly higher percentage of the minority vote than Mitt Romney in 2012 (http://tiny.cc/…). And while rural voters went overwhelmingly for Trump, blue-collar urban voters favored him as well.
If Trump or other populist candidates can hold together coalitions of voters like that in the future, the inexorable march of demography may be slowed. Whether the rural-urban gap can be narrowed in a broader sense is more problematic.
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