Pennsylvania's Political Grand Canyon
Pennsylvania has its own "Grand Canyon," a gorge 47 miles long and as much as 1400 feet deep. But that's nothing compared to the political gulf exposed by the Pennsylvania Democratic primary.
"It tells me that the two candidates represent two different 'peoples,'" says Bill Bishop, author of The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-minded America is Tearing Us Apart.
"It also tells me that communities are tipping to one candidate or another, and that once that tipping begins, the vote becomes as much about community solidarity as it does political expression."
Bishop and geographer Tim Murphy analyzed the Pennsylvania vote county-by-county for the Daily Yonder, an online news outlet for the Center for Rural Strategies, a non-partisan group that tries to attract attention to rural issues.
Their findings indicate a deep division among Democrats that mirrors a national chasm between Democrats and Republicans.
The analysis measures the voting based on where voters live. It calculates the winning margins in rural, exurban and urban counties and indicates two very partisan and very different Democratic worlds in Pennsylvania.
Hillary Clinton not only won 33 of 34 rural counties in Pennsylvania, she won most of them by landslide proportions. Clinton won from 60 to 75 per cent of the vote in 30 of those counties. She also completely dominated 10 of 11 exurban counties, winning from 59 to 79 per cent of voters there.
The vote overall in urban counties was much closer. Clinton won the city vote statewide by just 4 percent. Barack Obama's only landslide wins were in exurban Centre County and urban Philadelphia.
In The Big Sort, Bishop uses decades of census data and election results to show that the nation's political divisiveness results from a deliberate sorting by Americans. People are clustering where there are like-minded folk.
"As Americans sorted by way of life, they also sorted by politics," Bishop contends. Republican communities became even more Republican and Democratic communities became even more Democratic. He now sees a similar kind of sorting among Democrats in the primary results in Pennsylvania and Ohio. "It's fascinating that the same kind of geographic polarization is happening within the Democratic Party."
"The polarization and separation of these two candidacies is becoming increasingly more vivid," adds Bill Greener, a Republican political consultant who closely tracks voting patterns in rural areas.
Greener has this list of hardcore Obama supporters: affluent urban liberal whites; minorities; and young people. "He's getting votes from the (Democratic) political equivalent of evangelical Christians. He is not getting votes from anyone who would ever vote Republican."
Greener's list of hardcore Clinton supporters includes feminists from the Democratic base, but also seniors and what he calls working class "ethnic" voters who dominate rural areas in Pennsylvania and Ohio. "She is getting support from people who might otherwise vote Republican."
"Clinton and Obama captured their votes in two different Pennsylvanias, just as the two senators split Ohio and Texas," adds author Bill Bishop. He notes that there was a difference of at least 20 percent in the vote tallies in 53 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. Close to 60 percent of the state's Democratic primary voters live in those deeply partisan counties.
So where does that leave Democrats hoping for a united front when they finally have a presidential nominee?
"Obama's voters will go for Clinton if she's the nominee," says GOP consultant Greener. "But not as many Clinton supporters will go for Obama."
Bishop has what might be called the "Kumbaya" solution for Democrats. "It makes you think the only way to join these two quite separate communities is to join the two candidates."
-- Howard Berkes
8:05 AM ET | 04-24-2008 | permalink