November 7, 2004


The Real Divide: Waterside Voters Versus Inlanders (JOHN TIERNEY, 11/07/04, NY Times)

[W]hile political analysts have been busy dividing the electorate by race and religion and age, perhaps the United States electorate is divided by something more elemental: location, between those who live on the water and those who do not.

This pattern can seem, at first glance, like the ancient distinction throughout the world between liberal cosmopolites and traditionalist farmers. The inlanders have always doubted the morals of merchants in port cities. And the urbanites have always considered the inlanders backward. One Democratic author, John Sperling, called this election a contest between Metro and Retro America. But as the election results showed, the water people are not exactly in the vanguard of history, at least not now, when you consider where people and industries are moving.

While some of the old port cities grew during the stock market boom of the 1990's, since 2000, their population has generally either been falling (as in Boston, Baltimore, Chicago and San Francisco) or growing relatively slowly (as in New York) in comparison with places like Fort Worth and Phoenix.

"The new frontier is inland," said Joel Kotkin, a fellow at the New America Foundation and author of of the forthcoming book, "The City: A Global History." He says that port cities like Boston and San Francisco, and to some extent New York, have become what he calls "boutique cities" that appeal to the "hipocracy" - the young, the childless and the affluent in search of quaint neighborhoods and lofts with a view.

"The coastal cities," he said, "have generally been settled longer, and you see a bifurcated pattern in the real estate: rich neighborhoods with ocean views and poor neighborhoods with closed factories and service workers. The intelligentsia and the nomadic rich in these coastal cities don't mind the lack of economic growth; in fact, they often fight growth. But middle-class families are moving to cities and exurbs in the interior."

Of the major cities, the ones with the smallest ratios of children to adults are all on the water: San Francisco, Seattle, Honolulu, Boston and Portland. "Your hip, well-educated, 20- and 30-somethings come to the great cities to get their career cards punched and meet mates," said Fred Siegel, a fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute and the author of "The Prince of the City," a forthcoming book on Rudolph W. Giuliani and New York. "But if they marry and have children, they tend to leave, unless they're what I call trustafarians - people with a lot of money that was made somewhere else."

The port cities originally became bastions of the Democratic Party by appealing to upwardly mobile families whose money came from factory jobs in the booming urban centers. But now that the factories have closed and most new jobs and homes are being created in the inland suburbs and exurbs, the Democrats living in cities often seem out of touch with middle-class values and the mainstream economy.

"It used to be that the port cities were a microcosm of America and the suburbs were different," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. "Now the suburbs are a microcosm and the port cities are different. They have some minorities, young people there during their single years and the well-educated and well-off elites that can afford to live in the best cities. That's become the Democratic base."

Meanwhile, the Republicans have been courting the middle classes in the interior, a region with a very different culture because of both geography and history. Much of it was settled by clans of Scots-Irish fundamentalists whose values and traditions, like country music, spread from Appalachia throughout the heartland.

Compared with the European Catholics, Jews and WASPs living in port cities, these inlanders were much less likely to look to union leaders, party bosses or government officials to solve their problems, said James Webb, a former secretary of the Navy and author of the new book, "Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America."

"The Scots-Irish have historically been against centralization of power," Mr. Webb said. "Scotland was formed from the bottom up through the clan system and loyalty to local leaders. This culture has always mistrusted elites and aristocracies. They combine Calvinist religiosity with populism. They're more individualistic and less collectivist than the immigrants who settled in cities."

The hard part for the Right is going to be convincing politicians and their constituents that by relocating the inner-city poor to their own neighborhoods and schools they can not just improve the lives of the underclass but extend the political power of the broad conservative middle class. Depopulating cities spells the death of liberalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 7, 2004 11:24 PM

Mr. Judd;

That won't work without very tough welfare reform. If the relocated minorities continue to be able live off of Uncle Sam, they will continue to be massive generators of social pathologies.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at November 7, 2004 11:52 PM

This whole argument would make more sense if it weren't for the fact that the coast just from Texas to Maryland is probably larger than the eastern seaboard that went blue, and ports such as Houston are still growing.

As far as the west coast goes, I bet the vast majority of Alaskans live on or near the coast.

Posted by: Ryan at November 8, 2004 1:39 AM

If you haven't read them, Kotkin's books Edge City and The Nine Nations Of North America are highly recommended -- and good evidence that he knows whereof he speaks.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at November 8, 2004 4:40 AM

Donald Luskin has two really great map displays. The first one is here and shows that the issue is Jesus vs Canada and the second is here which is large and can be made larger.

Open both by right click, open in new window.

Posted by: h-man at November 8, 2004 6:49 AM


Give them an HSA, a Social Security account, school vouchers and a housing voucher and they'll conservatize fast enough.

Posted by: oj at November 8, 2004 7:14 AM

I just read, and responded to, an article in a SF paper talking about CA seceding.

I replied (seriously) that SF & LA should consider seceding. Heck, add Seattle, and you have a network of "city-states" that have knowledge economies & ports.

This is a win-win for all sides. We lop off millions of Bluestate voters, and they get to become the Netherlands & Luxumborg.

They keep their Federal Income taxes and gain revenues from trade through-put from the Pac-rim, and we get rid of millions of Left votes and goof ball ideas.

In ten years, both sides will seek reunification, but they'll need it more.

Posted by: BB at November 8, 2004 11:21 AM

This is why the "smart growth" movement is a leftie thing. If the sprawl to the suburbs continues, the urban hipsters become a permanent minority.

Faster, please...

Posted by: M. Murcek at November 8, 2004 11:57 AM

re: secession.

Just another example of Leftwing arrogance and condescension— "They need us more than we need them", without any attempt to back up the claims other than the self-satisfaction and self-evident superiority of the person making the claim.

One thing they forget is that they will have to give up all their vacation homes in the Tetons, Sun Valley, Tahoe, the Colo. Rockies, Flathead Valley, etc. If cities are so damn great, thenwhy are the residents so eager to get away from them so much? Worse, they won't be able to impose their enlightened Gaian religious beliefs on land and resource management on those stupid Xtians.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at November 8, 2004 1:06 PM

And if those maps of "Jesusland" were accurate, they'd show Alberta set free from their Canadian overlords.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at November 8, 2004 4:30 PM

Francis, those two books were written by Joel Garreau.

This sounds a lot like Cultural Revolution talk. So geography is destiny OJ? All your talk of liberty goes out pretty quickly when you see a good social engineering scheme.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at November 8, 2004 9:19 PM


There's a reason cities are where they are. But they're dying institutions. They'll be nothing more than theme parks in a few decades.

Posted by: oj at November 8, 2004 10:33 PM

Civilization started with cities, they wont be going away anytime soon.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at November 10, 2004 1:01 AM


The insistence that the future projects in a straight line from where you sit is the sign of a closed mind.

Posted by: oj at November 10, 2004 7:27 AM

I'm open to a well thought-out theory, but nothing I've read so far on this blog comes close. Cities are an enduring pattern, they won't be erased very easily.

But this argument is much about semantics. Edge cities are still cities. Mesa Arizona is a city, though it is less densely populated. The main difference between a city and a town or rural area, culturally, is that cities have afforded people (in general) more social freedom and mobility than towns, and with that, less social cohesion. You argue in your review of the Mumford book that technology allows the kinds of communication and interchange of ideas once restricted to the cities to become available in rural areas. But doesn't this just export that aspect of the city to the outlying areas?

Today's rural residential retreats are merely extensions of the city from a cultural perspective, they are not small towns of yore. You can still live in the kind of spatial anonymity that the city affords, the proximity of your neighbors does not bind you to a social unit as the town once did. You shop at WarMart or on Amazon, not the general store run by the same family for 3 generations. You converse more with people who go by screen-names on your computer than the guy who lives two doors down.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at November 10, 2004 10:56 PM


If non-cities are cities you're right.

Or you could look at stuff like this:

Posted by: oj at November 10, 2004 11:24 PM