We The People

"How can you keep them down on the farm, after they've seen Paris" -- is a lyric from an old song. Turns out that San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Orlando, among others, have the same magnetic power. Most Americans are moving to eight or nine states. People are moving not only to urban cores, but to increasingly densifying suburbs.

The Internet has made remote working possible, but it also allows people to share photos, opinions, values, and location nearly instantaneously. As a result people know where to find communities of similar cultural traits.

As they exercise their right to travel, people can and do associate in like-minded communities. Because successful political practice has the tribal quality of aligning parties with voters sharing a common set of beliefs and values, opinions and ethics, the parties inevitably find and mirror the culture of people in states with large populations. It follows that these states predictably produce pluralities of voters for the same party in repeat elections.

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Republican and Democratic political professionals have sorted out the big states. The R's win some; the D's, others. Both sides know that Republican nominees aren't going to win California and Texas both, because the dominant communities in those states are culturally different, defining culture as a web of beliefs and values. So the Republicans don't try to win California. And reciprocally the Democrats don't try to win Texas.

Florida is an exception because its growth has been more suburban and more composed of retirees, Central and South Americas, and Mid-Westerners -- an unusual mixture -- than other states. The admixture has accidentally created a political balance where either party can win a presidential plurality.

Moreover, much migration has comprised younger, more educated, multi-ethnic people. In general, Democrat-leaning voters have moved to the growing states, leaving Republican-leaning voters behind in the others. As a result, in most of the 40 or so other states, the Republicans are likely to win presidential elections. There are exceptions, like Vermont, but this is a general truth. It is not about good or evil, right or wrong. This is a story of change in the social landscape.

If people of all kinds were moving to middle size cities distributed all over the map, then candidates for president would have to compete nationally. The winner would always win both the national popular vote and the Electoral College. This was true from 1884 to 2000, an era in which in fact the railroads, the automobile and the industrial economy did cause many medium sized cities in many states to flourish, especially as suburbs grew around old downtown cores. In the present century the unstoppable trends head in the opposite direction.

Given current demographics, the emptying and the filling states together are not easily contested by both major party nominees in a presidential election. Unless the presidential election winner can enjoy a near-landslide like Obama in 2008 or Reagan in 1984, neither party has a reason to shape a message appealing to voters anywhere except an increasingly small number of truly contestable, or "swing", states.  

In 2016, other than Florida, only Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota were closely contestable for both parties. (New Hampshire was close too, but has too few electoral votes to swing an election, save in 2000.) In that Mid-Western swath, for reasons lying in the nature of job creation in the old industrial economy, the two parties have bases of voters that are roughly equal in size. 

Even an incumbent president seeking re-election should reject an electoral strategy that depends on appealing either to the Democratic-voting states or the Republican-voting states. The former he/she cannot win; the latter can be taken for granted. A rival nominee also should assume the votes of the base and not compete in the base of the opposing party.

As a result, free traders in Republican-leaning grain states can be ignored by a president intent on destroying the global anti-tariff framework the United States has upheld since its victory in the Second World War. And that same president can also ignore the desire of voters in urban-densifying states like California and New York for more federal spending on infrastructure, like trains, roads, airplanes and schools. For that matter, a Democratic nominee can ignore the evangelists' agenda or the gun rights advocates in numerous Republican-leaning states. 

Inevitably, if candidates only need to appeal to a tiny fraction of the total voting populace and if that fraction is not demographically and culturally representative of the whole, then the winning candidate will not have any incentive to govern in the best interest of everyone. Instead the motivation will be to appeal to the few, and to express cultural views that divide rather than unite the country, upholding the preferences of critical factions in a few states and rejecting the views and values of most Americans. 

That's a problem. A democracy works only if a majority can have its preferences translated into policy by representatives in government. The rights of the minority should be protected by the courts, but the legislature and executive branch should act consistently with the preferences of most citizens. That is the entire point of a democracy, and of course is likely to maximize benefits for everyone.

To make the American democracy work as it should, it is necessary to guarantee that both parties' nominees must seek to pursue the preferences of most people. That means nominees must win the national popular vote in order to become president.

To educate about this topic is why I co-founded Making Every Vote Count and why so many wonderful people have joined our board and signed up as supporters. You can do so by hitting the sign-up button on this page.