A Plea for Purple Voters

Demographics, Democracy and the Blues

Here’s a map of the US with population density graphed in the z-axis (from Time magazine):

And here’s how people voted in the 2004 presidential election with number of winning votes by county graphed in the z-axis:

The more densely populated the area, the more likely they were to vote democratic in the 2004 election.

Another view can be seen below. In this one, the color scale changes between red and blue in each county. If a county voted 100% Democrat, it’s blue. If it voted 100% Republic, it’s red. If a county voted 50% Democrat and 50% Republican, it’s purple. Again, higher density areas tended to vote democratic in the 2004 election.

The Color Purple

I have two theories about why the pictures look the way they do.

The first theory is that living each day in close proximity to lots of people (with competing interests), where you can’t possibly get to know them each personally, forces people to compromise more on a daily basis than those who have the luxury of knowing all their neighbors. This tends to encourage social-liberalism (or social laissez-faire) where you agree to stay out of someone’s business with the expectation that they in turn stay out of your business. For example it’s very easy to be rapidly pro-gun (a position generally correlated with social conservatism in the US) if you personally know and trust each and every one of your neighbors. It’s much harder if you don’t know everyone you see every day. This causes most highly dense urban areas to vote Democratic (the large party in America more associated with social liberalism).

My second theory is that if you live in a highly dense area that is also highly culturally diverse, you are forced to interact with people with opposing points of view, and are likely to be more accepted if you have less extreme views. For example, it’s very easy to be rapidly pro-choice and believe that late-term abortions need to remain legal (to avoid “a slippery slope” where abortion eventually becomes illegal) if you live in Berkeley, CA (an extremely homogenous liberal enclave) where everyone takes pro-choice for granted. Try being rabidly pro-choice in a multi-ethnic neighborhood in the Bronx, NY, see the moral pain on a very religious Muslim’s or Christian’s face at the prospect of a late term abortion, and it’s much harder to maintain the extreme. This forces dense urban areas with heterogeneous populations to be more trend more bluish-purple than pure blue.

Perhaps the key to moving elections and candidates back to the middle in the 2008 election is to relocate all the people who live either in sparsely populated areas of the country or in culturally homogenous areas to a densely packed 100 square mile area of the country (I hear Billings, Montana has space). If we did that I suspect all the graphs above would get much more bluish-purple and we’d end up with candidates who are much more reasonable than the current set of Democratic and Republican candidates (who are all veering to the far left and far right).

Spending Purple Money

But we’re not likely to relocate everyone with extreme views to live next to each other (I am firmly against forced relocations of anyone, although I’d love to see Al Franken and Bill O’Reilly share an apartment). However, there is one thing I believe we can do to move American back to the middle ground.

If you are a Purple Voter, always vote in every primary election! Especially the small ones.

For example, New York has a (very unpublicized) local primary election on Tuesday. I’ll be voting in it. I consider myself (currently) a socially liberal, fiscally conservative, internationalist. In other words, I’m a bluish-purple voter, and I’ll vote for candidates as close to that as possible.

You might not think it matters, but the people we vote for in primaries are very influential. They choose the rosters of candidates that we’re presented with for many higher offices. They form the staff of national campaigns. They are listened to by the national parties when drafting policies, candidates and platforms.

Somehow in America many purple voters (like me) believe that if the candidate they voted for didn’t win then their vote didn’t count. And often in primary elections today, the middle ground (purple) candidate loses. But our votes do matter; politics, like business, runs on a market economy. Only in politics, votes are the currency. The mere fact that someone got our vote will cause other politicians to veer in our direction to try to woo us the next time we spend our vote (see how John Kerry veered left in 2004 to try to recapture the voters that went for Nader in 2000).

Purple voters have become convinced that our voting dollars are worthless, and therefore we don’t spend them in the elections where they are actually worth the most – small local primaries.

As a result, purple voters don’t vote in primaries, right and left extremists do. Then our low-level politicians run to the edge of the political spectrums and they nominate candidates for higher offices who also pander to the edges. And that’s how we get the crap national candidates and crap policies they spout (all but one Republican presidential candidate views the Theory of Evolution as suspect; all but one Democratic presidential candidate is firmly against the concept of free-trade). What do we expect? The politicians, like good businessmen, are responding to the market that spends money!

If middle-ground people are consistent about spending our purple money and voting in primaries, the local candidates will eventually notice us voting, and they will start having to pander more to the middle. This will lead to more purple candidates for higher offices. And as the map above shows, America is a lot more purple than red or blue, so if we consistently vote purple in all primaries, we will take back this country.

– Art

Help me raise money for people suffering from cancer

5 thoughts on “A Plea for Purple Voters

  1. GNP

    I never of gun control in the terms you mentioned. Makes a lot of sense. I realize that was a minor point in this post but I still found it interesting.

  2. Matt K

    A challenge I suspect is many purple voters are classified as independent (isn’t that something like 30% of voters are registered as independed?), and as far as I know cannot vote in primaries for parties they are not associated with. (I think this is not the case in all states, but most.)

  3. Archie

    Art, the regions are purple, but that says nothing about a given voter’s politics. The reason the regions are purple is because there is a more even split between “red” and “blue” voters in those regions, not necessarily that the voters themselves are a blend of red and blue. They may be, but we don’t know that from the data provided. A politician in a purple region might win election by taking “purple” positions, whatever those may be, or he might just choose the faction with the slight majority, however slight, and court them. Risky, but it does happen.

    Also, I admire how you’ve defined “reasonable” and “sensible” voters as those who comport with your political sensibilities. My politics are quite different from yours. Does that make me an extremist? And is a moderate someone who may have “extreme” positions on different issues at opposite ends of the spectrum (e.g., pro-death penalty but also pro-choice), or is it someone who is “centrist” on most issues? And what are the centrist positions? Some defining of terms and assumptions might be in order.

    I also don’t think ‘social-liberalism’ is synonymous with ‘social laissez-faire’. The former usually involves tax policy (read: wealth redistribution). ‘Social-libertarianism’ might be closer to the mark.

  4. Art Clarke

    Hey Matt,

    I agree that 30% of voters are registered as independents and hence their votes don’t count in primaries.

    Or put another way, 30% of voters, most of whom are smart, have elected to disenfranchise themeslves by not voting in the elections where their vote would count most.

    “Independents” claim that they don’t register because no party represents their interests. My response is “pick a party, and change it so it does represent your interests”. I know that’s hard and harsh, but if the system has all the power, don’t remove yourself from it. I’m an independent voter, but I never register independent.

    Independents not voting in primaries has been one of the biggest successes of the political extremes in my opinions.

  5. Art Clarke

    Hey Archie,

    My uber-point is vote in primaries, please. I think you’ll agree with that.

    To your other points:
    1) The data I presented does not, on it’s own, show the country is purple, but several polls suggest the country is actually a centrist country IF THE PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT VOTING ACTUALLY VOTED. So, I’m trying to encourage people who don’t vote today, to vote, even if they disagree with me. I believe the not-voters are often more sane than the current primary voters.

    2) I agree I was loose with my terms. Shame on me. I know the importance of that. To me a moderate is someone who tries to see all sides of an issue, and is open to swaying by people on either side. To me, an extremist is someone who takes a position without regard to how it impacts others. Not a fair definition I know.

    3) In general, just because someone “doesn’t agree with me” does not make them an extremist. However, I’d be happy to make an exception for you 🙂 j/k


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