Sunday, November 22, 2015

The politics of the rural vote, in today's NYT

Two items in today's New York Times touch on the politics of the rural vote, though only one mentions "rural" explicitly.

First, the NYT reports here on Democrat John Bel Edwards win in the Louisiana gubernatorial race.  Noting that the Edwards win "defied political geography," Campbell Robertson describes Edwards, who handily defeated U.S. Senator David Vitter, thusly:
A more promising red state Democrat could hardly have been found than Mr. Edwards, a Catholic social conservative from a family of rural law enforcement officers who graduated from West Point and served eight years of active duty in the Army.
The other is this commentary by Alec MacGillis, "Who Turned my Blue State Red?" The subhead is "Why poor areas vote for politicians who want to slash the safety net," and in it MacGillis analyzes the politics of low-income people--even those who have used the social safety net in the past--voting Republican.  MacGillis sums up the tendency of liberals: 
The temptation for coastal liberals is to shake their heads over those godforsaken white-working-class provincials who are voting against their own interests.
MacGillis provides illustrations from rural places like Pineville, West Virginia (population 668) and Pike County, Kentucky (population 65,024).  Here's the first:
In Pineville, W.Va., in the state’s deeply depressed southern end, I watched in 2013 as a discussion with Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, quickly turned from gun control to the area’s reliance on government benefits, its high rate of opiate addiction, and whether people on assistance should be tested for drugs. Playing to the room, Senator Manchin declared, “If you’re on a public check, you should be subjected to a random check.”
And here's the second:  
Where opposition to the social safety net has long been fed by the specter of undeserving inner-city African-Americans — think of Ronald Reagan’s notorious “welfare queen” — in places like Pike County it’s fueled, more and more, by people’s resentment over rising dependency they see among their own neighbors, even their own families. “It’s Cousin Bobby — ‘he’s on Oxy and he’s on the draw and we’re paying for him,’ ” ... “If you need help, no one begrudges you taking the program — they’re good-hearted people. It’s when you’re able-bodied and making choices not to be able-bodied.”
A local political consultant summed it up:
It’s not the people on the draw that’s voting against [the Democrats.]  It’s everyone else.
This is reminiscent of what Jennifer Sherman observed in "Golden Valley" California in Those Who Work, Those Who Don't: Poverty, Morality and Family in Rural America.  In short, the "have a little" crowd turn up their noses toward--and vote against the interests of--the "have nots."

MacGillis describes the work of Professor Kathryn Edin to illustrate:
Edin, of Johns Hopkins University, found a tendency by many Americans in the second lowest quintile of the income ladder — the working or lower-middle class — to dissociate themselves from those at the bottom, where many once resided. “There’s this virulent social distancing — suddenly, you’re a worker and anyone who is not a worker is a bad person,” said Professor Edin. “They’re playing to the middle fifth and saying, ‘I’m not those people.’ ”
This reminds me of Matt Wray's descriptions of intra-racial bias among whites, how even whites who are only slightly better off work to establish their distance and their distinction from those popularly thought of as "white trash."

Perhaps the saddest revelation in MacGillis's piece is that poor and low-income folks don't vote at the same rate as those with higher incomes.  A number of bar graphs depict this in highly accessible form.

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