Our geographical political divide

The New York Times has been struggling to understand the geopolitical divide in America – that is, Republicans in the South and Midwest, Democrats in the Northeast and the West Coast. Despite all the factors it examines, it ignores one factor that is of overwhelming importance in most people’s lives and that is the nature of their jobs; namely, whether they are adding value to a product and have independent responsibilities.

In its “close-up picture” of America’s “partisan segregation,” three of the Times employees dive into the geographical segregation of people by political preference. At the end of a long article, they conclude that they have no real conclusion. Despite examining all the usual leftist classifications -- race, education, income, and availability of public services – they cannot figure out why Republicans tend to live in some areas and Democrats live in another. They think that people deliberately self-segregate along political lines.

The Times team may have overlooked something simple. People may not locate in particular areas because of any political preference. They may choose their political preference based on how and where they live.

This separation is most obvious in the political differences between urban and rural voters. It’s undisputed that the less populated areas are more Republican and cities are more Democrat. Some of it may be explained by differences in income, wealth, education, or race, but something more subtle and complex may be at play.

People outside of cities must plan their lives based on different factors than urban dwellers. Every day begins by examining the logistics of life for the day. Is the car going to start? Will it need gas? How long to drop off the kids at school and then get to get to the store or work? How far is the commute to work and when must I leave to negotiate traffic? It is a highly variable life with little government intervention.

In urban areas, which are more dependent on public transportation for both parents and children, the choices are more limited. People choose to live where the services they want and the places to which they travel are readily available. It is a defined existence with much of it controlled by government services.

The more rural the setting, the more independent are the lives of those living there. People who need liberty to make their lives function will vote to keep this liberty. City people live with a more vertical decision process that sees them dependent on government-provided services and will vote to maintain this.

The nature of work in the two regions also creates different levels of independence. Most manufacturing has moved to rural and suburban settings. The people in manufacturing lean conservative even though unions are Democrat strongholds.

This may be because people in manufacturing understand a horizontal process flow. Their jobs depend on someone else providing material and the work they do will be processed by people after them. They are a part of a process, and they see themselves as independent entities in this flow.

People who work in government or services, however, have a vertical workflow. Things are handed down for them to do and they push them back up when completed. These are tasks, not flow.

The value added is also different. In manufacturing, agriculture, and mining, every worker can see his labor add value. What he does takes materials of lower value and changes them into something of higher value. This increase in value is the source of the money that creates that paycheck.

For most of these people, value comes from their job and the community around them, not from the government. They know that their lives depend on their own efforts and the freely chosen efforts of others. That is the essence of liberty and, therefore, Republicanism. That’s reflected in rural and suburban votes. People who want independence and liberty will not necessarily choose to live in a place because of that, but they will avoid places that take it away. When they find that place, they will vote to keep it that way.

A lot of urban work has no obvious increase in the value of something. It is just time spent. There is a mental difference in being paid for value-added and time consumed.

People in the cities understand that their lives have less variability and they depend on government services to keep things moving. They process ideas and paperwork, with their existence dependent on the things outside of their control. They tend to vote for the politics that support that existence and will vote to maintain the government support that sustains them.

Contrary to the Times team’s assumption, people may not choose where they live because of their politics. They just might choose their politics because of where and how they have chosen to live.

IMAGE: Parachute factory WWII. Public Domain.

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