Dem 51
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GOP 49
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It's Location, Location and Location

It is sometimes said that in real estate, the three most important factors that determine the price of a property are location, location and location. Maybe that's true, maybe not. We don't know. But in politics, voting has been increasingly location-based in recent years, even thought it wasn't true historically. Thomas Edsall has now summarized some recent studies on the subject.

The Republican Party is now largely dependent on winning votes and House districts in sparsely populated rural areas whose population is actually declining due to more deaths than births and people moving out. Studies show that the rural areas are becoming redder because many voters are switching from the Democrats to the Republicans. Back in FDR's time, farmers were largely Democrats. Now they are largely Republicans. There are three main reasons for the shift:

  1. People in rural areas believe the Democrats care only about urban dwellers and don't care about them.
  2. People there think they don't get an adequate share of public resources.
  3. They also think city folks don't understand their lifestyle and if they do, denigrate it as primitive.

The situation in the cities is different. People are not switching parties as in the rural areas. Instead, the influx of new voters as they turn 18 strongly favors the Democrats.

Wisconsin is a case in point. As recently as 2006, rural Wisconsin was Democratic. Jim Doyle (D), the Democratic candidate for governor, won the rural counties by 5.5 points. In 2022, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) won them by 29 points. That's a shift of almost 35 points, largely due to the points made above, as documented in several books. The 1992 presidential election was a milestone. For the first time in its history, the Democratic Party got its strength outside the rural South, with wins in the Northeast, Illinois, and the West Coast. This is when the urban-rural divide really started to take off in many areas. This was also visible in the House. After the 1992 elections, Democrats had 41% of suburban districts. After the 2018 elections, it was 60%. Democratic control of rural districts dropped from 24% to 5% in the same time period.

Some Democrats like this situation. They think white rural voters are dumb, bigoted yokels and don't want them in their coalition. Or at least, they are not willing to change any of their policy positions to try to attract them. The problem with this view is that Republicans are starting to attract socioeconomically rising and "white-adjacent" members of minorities (think: middle-class Latinos), especially when Democrats go all in for issues that they find culturally repulsive (think: if you say you are a woman, then you are a woman).

The gap between rural and (sub)urban America can be summed up by a remark from Maria Kefalas, a sociologist at St. Joseph's University and author of the book Hollowing Out the Middle. She wrote: "People who live in rural America are surrounded by folks who play along with a particular worldview, yet my friends from Brooklyn and Boston will tell you they don't know anyone who supports Trump or won't get vaccinated. It's not open warfare, it's more like apartheid." (V)

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