On Friday, Philip Bump of the Washington Post approached me to calculate the total land area won by each candidate in the last three presidential elections at the precinct level. Saturday’s resultant article spawned a litany of tweets and comments echoing the idea that “land doesn’t vote, people do.” Aside from showing they hadn’t read the article (Bump himself stated a variation on this self-evident sentiment multiple times), this cacophonous chorus of complaints also demonstrated a complete lack of understanding concerning what the data itself was trying to say.
Bump’s article mostly served to demonstrate just how inaccurate using a land area representation can be if you’re expressly wanting an electoral map to visually convey who won at a quick glance, but that’s not really what maps are for; that’s what bar and pie charts are for. Granted, most Americans don’t seem to know much about geography or population distributions, but I’d much rather we talk up to people rather than down to them; challenging people to rise is almost always more beneficial than taking a lowest common denominator approach.
But what else can we glean from land-area-won data? A quite stark narrative, in fact: excluding Alaska (Obama actually gained territory there due to both the lack of Palin in 2012 and the fact that rural Inuit voters tend to be extremely pro-incumbent), Obama lost 4.2% of land area between 2008 and when he ran for re-election, only slightly more than the 3.4% of votes which swung away from the Democratic nominee in those same two elections. Between 2012 and 2016, however, the Democrats lost only 1.8% of vote margin, but an additional 4.0% of land area. This loss in land area between 2008 and 2012 was far more uniform than between 2012 and 2016; the standard deviation of statewide land area swings was 6.1% for the prior interval and 8.8% in the latter.
When liberals say “land doesn’t vote, people do,” rural residents hear one thing: you don’t matter. Your farms don’t matter. Your forests don’t matter. Your livestock doesn’t matter. Your values don’t matter. Your lives don’t matter. We don’t need you holding us back from our entitled destiny in the great pre-ordained march of history. Yet, the great gilded throne rooms they sequester themselves into, within their fortress megalopolises, are invariably and fundamentally at the mercy of the open land. What would Seattle be without the great hydroelectric powerhouses on the Columbia or the fertile Columbia Plateau? What would Los Angeles be without the Colorado River or the Central and Imperial Valley breadbaskets? Tear down the skyscrapers, and they can be rebuilt taller and grander; scorch the earth and salt the land, and it will never return (and good luck building more).
Here were the biggest losses in terms of land area percentage for the Democrats between 2012 and 2016:
|State||Perc. Area Lost|
As you might notice, most of these states are actually in the liberal Northeast and New England and only secondarily in the Midwest. The white, rural vote in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions revolted against the Democratic Party. Democrats lost large area counties they should have no business losing: Aroostook, Maine; Franklin, New York; Gogebic, Michigan. Counties like Kent County, Rhode Island voted for a Republican in a non-landslide year for the first time since 1956. Itasca County, Minnesota voted Republican for the first time since Al Smith in 1928, as did Grays Harbor County in my home state of Washington.
Grays Harbor County represents a microcosm of many of these counties. While best known for producing Nirvana lead Kurt Cobain, the county and its largest city Aberdeen have long supported Democrats on the basis of strong timber unions; sawmills, paper plants, fisheries, shipyards form the backbone of the county’s economy and have long provided reliable income to its inhabitants, but Democrats, seeing the strength of unions decline and their ability to machinate votes vanish, turned their backs starting in the 1970s in favor of embracing strong environmentalist policies. The local economy has since collapsed; the last paper mill in Aberdeen closed in 2011, standing thousands of coastal residents in abject poverty subject to the ravishes of heroin, opioid, and methamphetamine epidemics. 23.3% of Aberdeen’s residents live in poverty, more than Mississippi and more than all but a handful of major cities. For their troubles, the Democrats responded by calling them backward, racist, or worse if their plights were discussed over or alongside those groups deemed acceptable to pity and faux-lionization.
When this level of condescension becomes the norm, this is what we see: 48% of Rhode Island’s territory gone in two cycles, 52% of Wisconsin, 35% of Iowa and Connecticut and Michigan. Democrats walling themselves off in cities is ultimately a self-defeating strategy, dooming the party to a near-permanent Senate minority and a structural disadvantage in the House. If condescension and smugness are the paths the Democrats choose, so be it; they will reap what they sow.