Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared at Forbes.com.
Last week’s election results have given Republicans, Democrats, and political observers plenty to ponder. Various pundits have commented on the increasing importance of identity politics—that for many American voters, who they are and what they are, demographically speaking, predetermines which party they vote for. To the “who” and “what” factors, there is a third factor that seems just as important: where they live.
When looking at maps of the United States showing red for counties where the Republican candidate received more votes and blue for counties where the Democrats won, one can’t help but be struck by the predominance of red. Basically, the urban metropolises are Democratic blue and the vast expanse of most of the rest of the country is overwhelmingly red. If presidents were elected by acreage rather than by head count, Republicans would win national elections by landslides.
Look at it another way: take Philly out of Pennsylvania, the Big Apple out of New York, the Motor City out of Michigan, the Windy Cityout of Illinois, Cleveland out of Ohio, Milwaukee out of Wisconsin, St. Louis out of Missouri, etc., and a lot of blue states would instantly be red. What explains this pronounced and hugely significant partisan divide between urban and nonurban areas?
One obvious explanation for the overwhelming Democratic majorities in big cities is the Curley effect with the corresponding concentration of Democratic constituencies like welfare recipients and unions, but there is more to it than that. The Curley effect has turned once-vibrant cities into economic basket cases, but what, then, can explain the perennial dominance of Democrats in such thriving, prosperous cities as Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco? Why do affluent, white-collar, highly educated citizens in these cities tend to be liberal and vote Democratic?
Sociologists could have a field day with this question, but the explanation could be something as simple as the fact that people who live in cities are relatively insulated from how difficult and challenging it can be to produce the food, energy, equipment, devices, etc., that comprise the affluence that urbanites enjoy. In their urban cocoons, city-dwellers take for granted the abundance and availability of the economic goods that they consume. For instance, many well-to-do, educated urbanites see no downside to supporting stricter regulations and higher taxes on energy producers, because to them, energy is something that is always there at the flip of a switch (except during the occasional hurricane, as some New Yorkers recently discovered). Life in the city for affluent Americans creates the illusion that all they have to do is demand something and—presto!—it will be there when they want it.
Affluent denizens of our metropolises see no inconsistency in supporting the Democratic jihad against “greedy corporations” and “the rich” while also expecting their every whim to be supplied, often by those same corporations and successful entrepreneurs. This is because they are removed from some of the harsher daily realities of life that confront those who are on the front lines of mankind’s ongoing economic struggle. They have forgotten that mankind’s natural state is poverty and that strenuous, heroic efforts are required to produce the astounding affluence and abundant paraphernalia of our modern, affluent lifestyles. To use Marxian terminology, urbanites have become alienated from economic reality.
Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter in the “little house on the prairie” stories who later became a globetrotting journalist (even traveling alone to Vietnam to report on the Vietnam War when she was 78 years young) remarked on the illusions that can beguile urbanites long ago. In her 1943 book, “The Discovery of Freedom,” Lane critiqued urban greens and liberals, writing:
“Anyone who says that economic security is a human right, has been too much babied. While he battles, other men are risking and losing their lives to protect him. They are fighting this CD, fighting the land, fighting diseases and insects and weather and space and time, for him, while he chatters that all men have a right to security in it some pagan God–Society, The State, The Government, The Commune—must give it to them. Let the fighting men stop fighting this in human Earth for one hour, and he will learn how much security there is.”
Lane perceived that liberals suffer from a self-satisfied delusion about how the world works. Like the ivory-tower academics who enthuse about socialism because they have never experienced the harsh realities of socialism, so today, many denizens of our big cities are afflicted with a “metropolitan blind spot” that causes them to support irrational, ultimately self-destructive policies. Thus, America’s metropolises will continue to be painted blue at every election unless the people there awaken from their smug delusions.
— Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.
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