Rural votes

Pay attention to red parts of blue states

Results of the presidential election have now been sliced and diced into 120 pieces, with each of those votes examined from multiple sides. The gist of the analysis right now is that the Obama campaign was better able to understand and capitalize on the data — and, perhaps, more willing to trust the numbers because they reflected what Democrats wanted to see.

Before many hours had passed, there were red-and-blue graphics dividing the electorate by age, gender, ethnicity, religion, education, income, employment, family configuration and a variety of other factors that had been judged to be meaningful.

Writing for the Denver Post, former state Sen. Josh Penry and former state Rep. Rob Witwer pointed out, “Every year, we kick somebody else off the island. We make it easy for Democrats to say that we don’t want the support of women, Hispanics, teachers, gays and lesbians, African-Americans, conservationists, Muslims and union members. Pretty soon there won’t be anybody left to vote for us.”

All those people add up, and those who are left — elderly white folks, as national pundits are saying, although the conservative coalition is still broader than that — simply were outnumbered this year and will remain outnumbered unless the GOP can shift some of those other components back into the blue.

One set of data that’s been neglected, at least in these first few post-election days, is the deep division between rural voters and urban voters. Tuesday’s maps showed a striking patchwork of states, with unexpected (to some) big blotches of blue in the interior of the nation. By drilling down further into the data and coloring counties rather than entire states, a different picture was revealed. Densely populated areas were blue; rural areas, for the most part, were red.

There were exceptions to that color scheme. Resort areas, no matter how tiny, tended to support Obama; immigrant and minority populations made a difference, and some specific economic factors, like the auto bailout, moved voters leftward. Mainly, though, rural areas supported Romney, even where urban voters tipped the state’s electoral count toward Obama. Nevada’s six electoral votes went to the president because of a single large county. On the county map, the Pacific states are more red than blue; so are even New York and Pennsylvania.

A blue stripe down the Front Range meant that Colorado could be called for Obama long before Montezuma County’s votes were tallied, and the presidential election could be declared over while voters in many places were still waiting to cast ballots.

It also means that deeply conservative Montezuma County is an electorally powerless red subdivision of a state with a Democrat governor, House and Senate — despite the fact that great big swaths of Colorado and the country are as Republican as they’ve always been.

The agricultural regions of the country are hardly irrelevant to the industrial and financial centers. Fortunately, they often are represented by people who understand the realities of rural economies. When they are neglected, the blame doesn’t fall exclusively on Democrats; the recent GOP focus on the rich has not served residents of the Interior West well.

The fact remains, however, that the American majority lives in cities and those who don’t must find creative ways to participate in government. Red or blue, when rural America is discounted, too many important voices are ignored. We must speak loudly and persuasively, since we can’t carry a big vote.