Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"The farther you are from another human being, the more likely you are to be a Republican."

That's what Randy Penrod, the Republican county chair of Scott County, Minnesota said, as quoted on the Daily Yonder. Bill Bishop writes there:
There’s been lots of talk about whether Sen. Obama can win the “blue collar vote.” But the Democratic candidate should be concentrating less on economic class and more on geography -- alert to how Americans have clustered in communities based on ways of life. It's these lifeways, increasingly, that are key to political behavior rather than the older, and now often misleading, measures of age, education or wealth.
I don't know if Penrod and Bishop are correct, but if we assume they are, why would there be a correlation between not living near others (Penrod's quote suggests population density as the measure of rurality; Bishop suggests a "way of life" definition) and voting Republican? What would lead rural voters to vote as a block? Are Penrod and Bishop suggesting that common concerns link rural voters across regions? or that individual rural communities, like individual urban and suburban neighborhoods, tend to vote alike?

Going back to the question about why rural voters might tend to vote Republican, perhaps the high value in self-sufficiency is a common denominator among rural voters? perhaps it is about distrust of big government? if so, why do people who choose to live remotely from others tend to distrust government? is it something about a desire for privacy? a desire to be left alone?

Just as interesting is the question of whether, as traditional (by this I mean long-time, intergenerational, which is what Bishop suggests by the term "lifeways") rural populations shrink, the rural vote will continue matter? Will phenomena such as exurbia and rural resorts significantly change the "rural" vote so that many of those living remotely from others (and therefore rural by that indicator) will have values and priorities that are more culturally urban, leading them to vote Democrat? What will this reverse migration or population churn in places with low population density mean for the so-called "rural vote"?

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