Friday, November 19, 2004

You tell me where you live, I tell you how you vote 

In the early Middle Ages, when the growing towns became oases of freedom among the dreary landscape of feudalism, Germans came up with a saying "Stadtluft macht frei" or "City air makes you free". Well, in the United States apparently it now makes you left-wing.

An interesting article by Patrick Cox at Tech Central Station compares two maps of the United States, the county vote in the presidential election and the population density, and comes to the conclusion: "Americans' voting behavior reflects the degree to which their own neighborhoods are more or less crowded." Or, in effect, the higher the population density, the bigger the Democrat vote.

"Why would, after all, city life cause one to embrace liberal political views? Why would life in the country yield a conservative perspective? What, specifically, are the causative factors?" asks Cox, yet after a brief tour of topics ranging from crime rates, voluntarism, America's agricultural past and government spending patterns, he's none the wiser as to the nature of the connection.

Historically, there has always been a strong cultural divide between rural areas and the cities - the former more conservative, the latter more liberal. Religious spirit was stronger in smaller communities, urban areas tended to be more dissolute and free-thinking. Change was slow outside cities, inside there were so many novelties, so many temptations. A common criticism of cities throughout the ages is that they atomise society, that they replace community with a mere collection of strangers living in close proximity to each other. I guess all the points above would be the conservative arguments why cities disdain traditional values and breed leftyism. The liberals would turn the argument on its head and say that this is all a good thing; that cities encourage creativity, experimentation and therefore growth; that assembling so many different people in one location exposes people to variety and imbues them with more acceptance and tolerance of "the other."

Since I enjoy so much the combined brains-trust of my readership, why don't you share your ideas in comments: why the city/country divide? why are the suburbs, which are also trending Republican, more like rural communities than big cities they service?


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