Tuesday, November 13, 2012

DC Tops US Urban Hierarchy

Welcome to Geography Awareness Week at the Burgh Diaspora blog. I'm reading “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America” by Colin Woodard. Woodard makes sense of contemporary US political geography via the settlement of North America and subsequent migrations (i.e. cultural diffusion). How the recent election looks through this lens:

The election also confirmed a historic development a decade in the making: the undoing of the "Solid South" that Republican presidential candidates had come to count on. While the Deep South and Greater Appalachia remain solidly in their camp, the Tidewater country has become a reliable member of the "blue" coalition.

For students of history and political consultants alike, this is an epic development. The Tidewater -- which encompasses the Chesapeake Low Country, the lower two counties of Delaware, and much of eastern North Carolina -- was the most powerful regional culture in the 17th and 18th centuries. Built by the younger sons of southern English gentry, it was meant to reproduce the semifeudal manorial society of the countryside they'd left behind, where economic, political and social affairs were run by and for landed aristocrats.

It has long been fundamentally conservative, a culture in which a great value is placed on respect for authority and tradition, and very little on equality or public participation in politics.
But for the past two centuries, it has been in slow decline, blocked from westward expansion by its boisterous Appalachian neighbors and, more recently, eaten away from within by the ever-expanding federal halos around the District of Columbia and the federal military bases at Norfolk, Va. Literally millions of people across the region have moved here and live their cultural and economic lives without reference to the cultural and economic landscape of Tidewater. In electoral terms, the region has crossed the tipping point.

For two elections running, Tidewater counties from southern Delaware to east-central North Carolina have voted decisively for Obama. In 2008, his margin of victory in Tidewater was so great he was able to capture the Electoral College votes of both North Carolina and Virginia, despite overwhelming opposition across those states' Appalachian sections.

This year, the pattern was repeated. He narrowly lost North Carolina (which has a larger Appalachian section) and won Virginia by three points.

Nor was the pattern confined to the presidential race. In Virginia's U.S. Senate race, Democrat Tom Kaine owes his victory to strong support in the Tidewater, which allowed him to overcome Republican George Allen's 2- and 3-to-1 margins in most of the state's Appalachian counties.

The defection of Tidewater, combined with the growing electoral power of Spanish-speaking El Norte, will likely continue to give Democrats a critical edge in presidential and U.S. Senate contests in the coming years. Both parties ignore the implications of this underlying regional geography at their peril.

Emphasis added. The article comes with a map of the eleven nations and will aid in making sense of the above analysis.Rather than revisit the demographic destiny of the "GOP is Dying" post, I highlight the talent churn of the Tidewater nation and how migration has untethered that region from its historical geography. It is an earth shattering transformation.

Tidewater nation, particularly Greater DC, is becoming a place onto itself. It has emerged as the number one destination for talent. Woodward argues that inmigrants conform to the historical geography forged long ago. The Tidewater is an exception to this rule. Inmigrants are driving the politics. That's not true in Chicago, Los Angeles, or even urban alpha dog New York. There is DC and then there is the rest of the United States.

1 comment:

Done By Forty said...

I love that article by Woodard and will be going to the library to pick up his book. What a cool way to view our nation(s).

Kind of funny that DC would be tipping the scales in a national election. Sure, the residents don't have any electoral votes and their representative is the only one who can't cast a vote, but DC's now the kingmaker.