Regionality is Alive and Well in American Politics, But So Is the Urban-Rural Divide


Ryan Cooper writes this morning that his world has been rocked. Conventional wisdom suggests that American politics is heavily dominated by a rural-urban divide, but is it possible that it’s actually dominated primarily by differences between regions, as hypothesized by Colin Woodard? To check this out, Woodard took a look at the urban-rural spectrum in the recent gubernatorial race in Virginia:

In Greater Appalachia, Cuccinelli won every category of county, from the very largest cities in the section (where he won 49.1 to 45.7) to counties without so much as a big town (62.8 to 30.8)….By contrast, in Tidewater, McAuliffe won by large margins in counties large and small, taking five of the six categories. In the biggest cities he won 56.3 to 37.3. In the most rural counties he won by a convincing 51.0 to 41.1.

Hmmm. Obviously the conservative Cuccinelli did better in the western half of Virginia (part of Greater Appalachia) and the liberal McAuliffe did better in the coastal half (Tidewater). At the same time, in Greater Appalachia Cuccinelli won big cities by 3 points and rural counties by 32 points. Conversely, in Tidewater McAuliffe won big cities by 19 points and rural areas by only 10 points. It looks to me like the urban-rural divide is alive and kicking.

Does regionality matter? Of course. Everyone knows the South votes differently from the Northeast, which in turn votes differently than the Mountain West. But within those regions, rural areas trend considerably more conservative than big cities. Both factors are at work. I’m not sure I see what’s new here.

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