Friday, November 10, 2017

No, the great US political divide isn't rural vs urban. Here's the proof.

One counter-argument I often hear in regards to the political effects of the American Nations is that regionalism isn't important, that the salient divide in American politics is actually between rural and urban voters.

Nonsense, I've said again and again and again. And now I have comprehensive federation-wide data to prove it.

I crunched the numbers for the past three presidential elections, revealing and comparing not only how rural and urban voters behaved in each of the United States' eleven regional cultures, but even how specific categories of counties voted, from the major metro core counties to the most remote and rural.

I've released the results, posted with maps and tables galore, over at Medium as the latest installment of my ongoing American Nations-powered series, "Balkanized America." They show that regionalism overwhelmingly trumps population density when it comes to political behavior, with people from each class of county exhibiting enormous differences between "nations."

Here's just a taste:

In five of the regional cultures that together comprise about 51 percent of the U.S. population, rural and urban counties always voted for the same presidential candidate, be it the “blue wave” election of 2008, the Trumpist storm of 2016, or the more ambiguous contest in between. In Greater Appalachia, the Deep South, Far West, and New France, rural and urban voters in aggregate supported Republican candidates in all three elections, whether they lived in the mountain hollers, wealthy suburbs, or big urban centers. In El Norte, both types of counties always voted Democratic, be they composed principally of empty desert or booming cityscapes.

I’m not saying urban/rural electoral divides don’t exist – they do in every nation, from France to India – but their predictive power is often greatly exaggerated. And in the case of US presidential elections, they are a grossly inadequate means to interpret the results.

[Update, 11/10/17, 0931: An unrelated programming note: C-SPAN is airing their special Portland, Maine program tonight, Nov.10, at 7:06 pm, including segments with me on two of my other books, American Character and, later, Lobster Coast.]


  1. Good morning, Mr. Woodard-
    Just discovered your blog, and apologies, but you may see me responding to your posts with regularity from now on. I’m an attorney (env., nat resc., & water law certificates) with an M.S. in bioregional planning and community design.

    I’d be interested to hear how you feel your theory is impacted by Tiebout’s sorting model. Thus, I’d also be interested (and maybe this is where a new book goes?) to compare the correlations between how counties in each region allocate public services and left/right voting patterns. I hypothesize that the addition of this factor to your model will show, particularly in the “Far West” region, the rural urban divide more acutely.

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    2. I respect Mr. Woodard's work from the historical perspective, particularly the model of Levi-Straus where an ethos of regional cultural imprint develops over time. So the Tiebout model interested me by its contrast, and also because your work in community building is similar to my own. Immediately one sees a problem with Tiebout’s central concept: "foot voting," or moving on to another community where local fiscal policies are more congruent with one's personal needs and interests are NOT free, as Tiebout suggests. Choice is free, but at great cost. Moving one of the most expensive investments both financially and in terms of political capital, sacrificing investment in social cohesion, and great investment in time and emotions in forming new social networks. I am interested in Mr.Woodard's view, but such actual and mostly covert costs outweigh any concept of "free move," or the "foot voting" Tiebout seems to talk about. Or am I misunderstanding here? In terms of voting patterns your point, however is very interesting, in terms of local, municipal voting, which may become defined by the nitty-gritty of let us say, local school board decisions, vs national elections where deeply defined attitudes --ethos of regions, what is my nation? --which Mr. Woodard addresses become defining. Would sure appreciate his thoughts on this dichotomy –municipal vs regional voting patterns.

  2. As a historian, by persuasion, I'm new to Tiebout's model; can you send me a good starting point to digest that?

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  4. Perhaps I misunderstand, but how can Nevada show as pink/red when it went for Hillary?