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Moats: Demographic Divide

I was driving through the empty, sage-covered rangeland of eastern Washington one time when I saw a giant sign that said “Ron Paul for President.”

Of course, you’re for Ron Paul, I thought. What do you need government for out here in the wide open deserts of the West?

Paul is the libertarian former congressman who ran for president advocating for minimal government. And if you live out in sagebrush country, it’s easy to believe that government is something you can perfectly well do without.

In a dense metropolis, it’s different. Everything in our cities depends on the order provided by government — from roads, bridges, subways and airports, to water, police, parks and schools. Where lots of people live together it gets complicated, and we need government to sort things out.

A recent article found that the liberal-conservative divide in our country almost perfectly matches the demography of population density. Out beyond the suburbs, in the exurbs and rural counties, conservatives predominate. They’re
fewer in number, but they occupy more of the land.

Vermont is an exception. It’s been called the most rural state, but it’s also one of the most liberal — for are a number of reasons. One is the significant population of people who left the city behind but brought their urban ways of thinking with them. Another is that, while Vermont was historically a Republican state, it lined up with the liberal, anti-slavery Republicanism of Lincoln and the environmental Republicanism of Teddy Roosevelt.

A third is that the kind of conservatism that grows out of fundamentalist religion is not very strong here because that kind of religion is not as strong here as it is elsewhere. On the moral issues that animate people in other regions, Vermonters tend to have a live-and-let-live attitude.

The countryside has always been conservative. That’s not new. What’s different now is how the two parties have aligned along this demographic divide, heightening the political polarization growing out of these cultural differences.

It would be useful to recall that country people are still lured to the city for opportunity and excitement. And city people still retreat to the country for the beauty and quiet. America has both, and both can be respected and enjoyed by all

As for me, my summer promises Shakespeare in the park in New York and hot days at the lake in Vermont.

Put it all together, and it’s pretty good.

David Moats is an author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.
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