why you can’t scold people into changing a nation’s electoral map

America's electoral map hasn't caught up to how its citizens live, so Democratic pundits are asking voters to find a way to adapt to the limitations of the past to assure electoral success.
hipster stache

In any political debate, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find someone who will rush to tell you that America is a red country with little blue islands in a pretty dramatic display of fallacious logic, ignoring that when taking voters, not just territory, into account, there are just as many blue votes as red ones. Of course the reality is that American opinions are pretty diverse, and when we add just a little nuance to the electoral map, we end up with what some pollsters and analysts call Purple America. Relatively few people are such die hard partisans that their opinions come pretty much solely from their party’s talking points and taken as a religious dogma. But the party elites don’t like that; they want to know their chances of winning elections so for them, the old paradigm of red vs. blue works just fine for campaigning.

And in the spirit of this reductive myopia, journalist Alec MacGillis has taken to that old Democratic Party hobby horse, scolding all those young hipsters they assume swarm blue cities into moving to red states to boost Democrats’ chances of winning the House. Much of his op-ed decries the all clustering in cities and laments that it effectively allows Republicans to gerrymander a vast stretch of the country solely because not enough liberals live there. This is basically a textbook example of the kind of problems with which political elites concern themselves. Hey, you there, with the beard and fedora, even if you don’t have one. Would you mind scooching over to rural Nebraska and Iowa? We need to change how the electoral map looks so we win control of one of the chambers of Congress we’re having a hard time cracking. Come on, just do it, it can’t be that bad, I hear the cost of living is lower.

Tellingly, at no point does MacGillis ask the obvious question of why all the blue voters have concentrated themselves, just complains that it’s become so extreme. Funny enough, I should add that he lives in Baltimore rather than one of those red areas to which he’s trying to motivate all the young people to move. Wonder why that is. Oh, yeah, because urban areas in which all the young, left-leaning voters have concentrated are the ones with all the jobs and growing economies while rural areas are in steep decline. He’s literally asking young people trying to build their lives in a tough economy in the middle of a shift no less profound than the transition from agrarian to industrial around the turn of the 2oth century, to risk their livelihoods just so the Democrats can brag that they finally have a rural stronghold in the Midwest.

Not only is this a fantastic example of how party priorities are not always your priorities and that blind loyalty doesn’t pay off, but MacGillis is forgetting to look beyond the next election. When today’s rabid archconservatives make grand speeches that they’re going nowhere, that red America is the only real and true America and that the “liberal, Marxist menace” is a trend that will disappear in history, they actually have it exactly backwards. The GOP is not just less diverse, it’s also graying, and hunkered down in the very rural areas from which there’s been an exponentially growing exodus of potential future voters. In 2014, virtually all population growth was in urban areas, and this year, while growth in city cores themselves finally slowed as it reached peak saturation, it really just shifted to the adjacent suburbs, which are still a big part of those bluish metropolitan areas that concern Democrats.

Unless something profoundly changes, the population of America is shifting to urban nodes, diversifying, getting more education, which is, much to the GOP’s consternation, also correlated with voting more liberally, and the core rural voters are becoming more homogenous, older, and more isolated. This in no way guarantees that the Democratic Party will dominate legislatively if it simply waits for Republican population to shrink into electoral irrelevance. But it does show that clustering is only going to be a big issue for Democrats for several election cycles (when including the midterms) until most of the country sorts itself into urban centers, and a sign for the Republican Party that in order to prevail at the polls, they need to moderate, compromise, and be more inclusive, not rely on red meat social klaxon to get graying voters amped up by the talk show outrage machine to vote straight ticket. That trick has an expiration date on it and its fans are loud, but shrinking fast.

# politics // 2016 election / demographics / urbanization


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