Opinion

The influence of geography on politics | Rich Elfers

Approximately 60 percent of the people who live within the city limits of Enumclaw vote Democratic while 40 percent vote Republican. Yet, if you go into unincorporated King County, the numbers are almost exactly reversed. Why is that?

I ask these questions because every year when I travel to visit my friends and family in eastern Washington and Montana, I’m shocked to see how geography affects political attitudes.

Have you ever looked at a map of red and blue states during presidential elections? Blue states (Democratic) consistently hug the populous West Coast and the large urban areas of the Northeast while the Red states (Republican) are consistently found in the agricultural Midwest and South.

Geography plays a big part in these political divisions as it has throughout American history. From our nation’s birth there have been geographic/political divisions.

New England, home to hard, rocky soil and short growing seasons, helped to create people who were interested in business and commerce; those people represented the first American political party, the Federalists. They favored a strong central government with high tariffs on imports to protect infant American industries.

The South, on the other hand, had long growing seasons, large, slow moving rivers, and rich, fertile soil more conducive to labor-intensive agricultural crops like tobacco and cotton. These geographic conditions encouraged the use of slaves to provide the labor. The South, eventually, along with the frontier West, became the Anti-Federalists, then Democrats, who favored farmers over commerce and trade and states’ rights over a strong central government.

The post-Revolution middle states, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey as examples, had a combination of large rivers like the Hudson, good for commerce, and warm growing conditions and better soil for agricultural crops. They were a blending of these two polar N/S tendencies, both politically and economically.

Even though the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th century changed how things were done, Democrats have always traditionally favored what has been called the “common man.” That characteristic, with some exceptions, has held true throughout the history of the party. Today, because of the enormous demographic changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution, the “common man” (and woman) now predominantly lives in modern cities. It is where the poor are more closely concentrated and more easily seen than in the rural areas. City dwellers come to expect government services like garbage pick-up, waste treatment and water.

Many city dwellers hold government jobs. Today, they also tend to work for employers and industries that have located in or near large cities to take advantage of the large labor pool. Poor immigrants also congregate in the cities to work in the factories and businesses. The high numbers of workers and poor rather than employers has made cities more Democratic.

Republicans, the modern descendents of Federalists, are still prosperous business owners and now favor less government control and fewer taxes because those higher costs take away from their profits.  That partly explains the 60/40 split I described in the first paragraph.

Each side appeals to issues that interest people who vote for them.

Thus we see, and can predict with reasonable accuracy, how certain areas and regions will vote. Geography does influence politics.

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