Purple America vs. Red-State Blue-State: Is the United States of America Really as Politically Polarized as it Seems?
In other words, America is purple in general and most Americans live in somewhat purple districts.
Winner-Take-All and Majorities Make America Look More Polarized than it is
America may seem to be divided into red-states and blue-states on an electoral map due to state-based majorities winning the day (and not the nearly split down the middle national popular vote), but America is purple at its core (as there is almost no state or region in which both major parties don’t have a respectable following, even if one party is a clear minority).
This can’t be understood just by look at an electoral voting map, or just by looking at a county-based voting map, instead one must factor out gerrymandering and majorities and look directly at the mix of voters in each region (for example, see party affiliation statistics, party affiliation by region, or state popular votes for 2016).
With that in mind, 2016 was a very politically polarized election, gerrymandering is real, and the country has seemed to become more and more divided recently in a number of ways (here one should note Citizens United and the polarizing effect of Mass Media and Social Media).
Below we explore the ways in which America is polarized and America is purple, and we explore the factors that are contributing to this.
Geography of United States Elections | Course Introduction. As you can see, like it is with the world map, it makes different impressions when you look at it different ways. With that in mind, a centrist will be happy to note that all the parlor tricks aside, there is still a purple America hiding behind the political polarization.
TIP: See Washington Post’s “Most Americans live in Purple America, not Red or Blue America,” an article from 2013, and compare it to Five Thirty Eight’s “Purple America Has All But Disappeared,” an article from 2016. Today things are more polarized, and more and more districts are “uncompetitive” (meaning they have a clear partisan majority). However, at its core, America is still rather purple. See also, Pew Research “Political Polarization.”
Why is America so politically divided? – BBC News. America is clearly divided… but it is still purple at its core.
The South, Midwest, and Rural Tend to Vote Republican, the North, Coasts, and Cities tend to Vote Democratic, but America is Purple
Even though the south, midwest, and rural America tend to vote Republican Party, and the North, Coasts, and Cities tend to vote Democratic Party, each region and state has a wide array of voters (who are part of a wide array of factions, which favor a wide array of different issues).
What we call “Red States and Blue States” are more a product of the need to win a majority in a two-party system (and related effects like lobbying, gerrymandering, and media reinforcement), than they are a result of citizens actually being split ideologically by region.
This isn’t to say that a rural vs. city, or north vs. south, or coast vs. midwest split isn’t real. It is only to say that there is no region in America devoid of one type of voter. Often states are won by little more than slight gerrymandered margins, and thus there is no good reason for a state or party to ignore a certain type of voter.
The States Have Gotten More Polarized in Some Eras, but They Have Always Been Purple
With the above said, the first thing to note is that what region favors what party, and what party favors which region, has changed over time (for example the Solid South almost always voted Democratic Party prior to the 1960’s).
The second thing to note is that the terms “red state” and “blue state” are from the 2000 election cycle.
Today things are more polarized than ever (in no small part due to the rise of media, a lack of a Fairness Doctrine, and the unlimited spending allowed for by Citizens United), but the grand result is that America in general is still rather purple (a term that means it has a mix of red and blue voters).
When we look at an electoral voting map or a county-based voting map we may see Red and Blue, but that is simply showing us the majorities and parties controlling regions (it is not literally showing us regions filled with a certain type of voter).
In other words, the United States is not as polarized by North, Coasts, and Cities (Democratic Party) vs. South, Mid-west, and Rural (Republican Party) as it seems, at least not on an individual level.
Honestly, even in the most polarized of times, America has never been fully divided on an individual level (not even the Civil War is an exception; consider the Free Soilers, the Know-Nothings, those who opposed the Confederate Southern Democrats from the South, and the Copperheads who supported the Confederates from the North for just a few examples).
Considering Other Factors
The reality of the United States is that each region is mixed politically, and there is hardly a region in which both major parties don’t have a strong following.
Just consider figures like Jon Ossoff, the progressive Democrat from Georgia running in 2017!
As noted above, it may appear on a voting map that shows electoral state-popular votes only the country is split by North and Coasts vs. South and Mid-west, and it may appear on a county-based election map that considers regions within states that the split is between Cities vs. Rural… but, while there is a real city vs. rural split (in America, and in every historic nation) the voting maps are somewhat misleading.
The reality is many states and regions are generally split between Democrats, Republicans, Independents, third party identities like socialist and constitutionalist, and non-voters. Each caring about different issues, and each having tastes and needs that change over time.
When we add this truism to the realities of the two-party system, the media, industry lobbying, industries funding campaigns, and gerrymandering, we get a system that looks way more polarized than it is.
In other words, the need to win a majority paired with a number of factors polarizes us, but we aren’t just red states and blue states, we are just many shades of purple states and purple regions.
See this Gif of maps over time. Ok, so it is a little less purple today… but it is still rather purple. Even in the images below, the ones that show the changing and polarizing parties the best, all we are seeing is majorities taking states (we aren’t seeing the many voters who voted another way, or centered non-voters).
Considering Factions and People as they Are
There are many different factions of Democrats and Republicans (not to mention third parties and single-voter issue factions), parties change, and what we see on the map and in congress is almost always a result of a majority will (and not completely equal representation).
Our history is as complex as the modern system, but it is a grave mistake to assume prejudice views like “all of rural is backwards and conservative” or “all citied America is hopelessly progressive and globalist.”
When we make cartoon characters out of people due to party politics we forget the true character of the actual citizens of our country.
Consider a place like “the black belt,” this part of the south has always (when they were free to do so) voted against the one party south. Yet, on an electoral map they don’t even register (you can only see them on the county maps).
Consider the social conservatives of the major cities, and consider the Democratic party strongholds where conservatives rarely get representation, or consider the progressive upper-class south who never did appreciate the influence of big business and have always fought for progressive populism.
There are countless types of Americans living in many different areas, neither party and neither type of voter should be judging whole states based on the current polarized parties.
The North and Coasts vs. South and Mid-west, or City vs. Rural, split is very useful to understand, but it is something we should understand from a broad lens. It is a first step to understanding, not a final step.
When you dig deeper you see a very diverse nation with shared ideals (like those found in the Bill of Rights).
If the Democratic Party only cares for cities, and the Republican Party only cares for rural areas, then we don’t have a republican democracy, we have the tyranny of a given majority incrementally beating the other team over the head.
That isn’t what George Washington wanted, that is no way to run a country, and that isn’t going to help these states remain United.
We can’t make cartoon characters out of our brothers and sisters just because they live in a different region. It isn’t fair to the majority or the minority voter, and is sure to have a polarizing effect.
U.S. Presidential Election Results (1789-2016). One can see America is not divided in two, instead many single-voter issue factions come together to win elections under two big tents. The game has been changing recently with Gerrymandering and Mass Media, but don’t be fooled. America is purple today and it always has been to some extent… it is, just less purple than it has been, as today here in 2017 we are a rather politically polarized nation divided by party politics.