Imagine you live in rural Montana. One hot August afternoon you decide to barbecue some meat on a grill. Your nearest neighbor, two miles away, decides to do the same. In fact, all your neighbors in a several square mile area … all two or three dozen of them … decide to barbecue that afternoon. There is no problem created by your individual actions.
Now move this though experiment to Manhattan, New York. Thousands of people living on each city block in a neighborhood all decide to barbecue some meat. Now you have a problem.
There is nothing inherently wrong with barbecuing and any one individual who chooses to do so doesn’t pose a problem for anyone else. But when this freedom is practiced in densely populated areas by many people it can cause a problem.
It seems to me that increased population density creates both challenges, like the barbecue example, and opportunities, like the creation of mass transit. These realities require a degree and type of cooperation that is not necessary in less densely populated areas; it’s not right or wrong, but different. Yet country folks view city dwellers as controlling, while city folks view country folks as anti-government and uncooperative.
Since the days of Barry Goldwater in the 1960s, the Republican Party has been deeply influenced by leaders from contexts of Western wide-open spaces. But the country is now heavily tilted toward a population that lives in densely populated areas.
I’ve seen other articles recently that suggest that what we have is less a red vs. blue state problem and more of a city vs. non-city problem. Look at this chart from The Atlantic Cities taken from The Real Republican Adversary? Population Density:
Read the whole article, What Republicans Are Really Up Against: Population Density.
I wonder if it is possible that a key component of the party divide is this demographic shift. Cause and effect are always murky. Maybe people with particular leanings move to contexts that mirror their values, but I suspect a bigger influence is that our demographic context shapes our socio-political outlook. I’m not suggesting this is the determining issue in our divide but I think it may play a bigger role than we realize.
What do you think?