Saturday, March 22, 2014

WSJ takes up cultural wars, politics, and the rural-urban divide

The Wall Street Journal featured a story yesterday titled "City vs. Country: How Where We Live Deepens the Nation's Political Divide Differences Between Rural and Urban America Are Underappreciated Factor in Political Split."  The dateline is El Dorado Springs, Missouri, population 3,593, in the western part of the state and a few hours from Jackson County, the state's second most populous and home of Kansas City.  Laura Meckler and Dante Chinni use this geographic juxtaposition to contrast two contiguous U.S. Congressional districts, one essentially rural and the other urban.  Here's a quote that sums up their story: 
There have always been differences between rural and urban America, but they have grown vast and deep, and now are an underappreciated factor in dividing the U.S. political system, say politicians and academicians. 
Polling, consumer data and demographic profiles paint a picture of two Americas—not just with differing proclivities but different life experiences. People in cities are more likely to be tethered to a smartphone, buy a foreign-made car and read a fashion magazine. Those in small towns are more likely to go to church, own a gun, support the military and value community ties. 
In many ways, the split between red Republican regions and blue Democratic ones—and their opposing views about the role of government—is an extension of the cultural divide between rural Americans and those living in cities and suburbs. 
As Democrats have come to dominate U.S. cities, it is Republican strength in rural areas that allows the party to hold control of the House and remain competitive in presidential elections.
Consumer choices illustrate many of the contrasts between rural and urban that are offered in the story.  In El Dorado Springs, for example, coffee costs $.90 at the diner, and it includes free refills.  Starbucks in Kansas City charges twice that for its basic product.  The authors also refer to David Wasserman's Whole Foods Index, which tracks how people vote based on where they live.  Does the county have a Whole Foods or does it have a Cracker Barrel?  You can guess which consumer outlet suggests which voting block/party allegiance.  
In 1992, Bill Clinton won 60% of the Whole Foods counties and 40% of the Cracker Barrel counties, a 20-point difference. That gap that has widened every year since, and in 2012, Mr. Obama won 77% of Whole Foods counties and 29% of Cracker Barrel Counties, a 48-point difference.
Meckler and Chinni quote Wasserman:  
Politics hangs on culture and lifestyle more than policy.
I have written here about the culture wars in relation to the rural-urban axis. 

No comments: