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.