The Red West vs The Red South

In a conversation about national and regional politics, Greginak (which I know is meant to be Greg In Alaska, but I continue to internally pronounce Grejinack) awesomely makes the following delineation between the Red South and the Red West:

I can speak for red state Alaska where I live but i’ve traveled all over the West. There is much more of a libertarian streak in the rural mountain west then in the deep south. The south in general is much more religious. Its more acceptable to be pushy and overtly conservative Christian. In the rural west there is significant a “just leave me alone” feeling even if some of those people are also religiously conservative and not tolerant of any difference.

The West is far more based on natural resource use so in some ways there is an acceptance of gov action for conservation and management. Of course many feel that management should be solely focused on helping ranchers, farmers, etc be more productive.

People in the West can be easily stereotyped, just like everybody else. They are not all conservative at all. A good friend of mine from rural Nevada grew up ranching in a town of of a few hundred. She told me there a handful of male couples who lived together up in the mountains. Everybody knew they were…wink wink nudge nudge…and were fine with it.

The West has far different historical baggage then the South. The South has the confederacy and jim crow and KKK. ( yes those things were not all just the South, but that is still what they carry). The West has the treatment of Native Americans which was evil in its own right. However the West has a lot of glorious myths of westerns and cowboys they can treasure. The West in many ways is symbolic of newness, natural beauty, escape, freedom and all that is new and good as opposed to the East. But some of the things it is symbolic of is also true. The West was pristine and the place for adventure, while the East/South was old, full, built up and citified.

Many Westerners moved here within the last generation or three where many Southerners have roots going back 100-150 or more years. To a degree many in the West see the country east of the Mississippi the way Americans in general see western Europe. The eastern half of the country is the old homeland in the distant past but the West is the clean fresh home where everybody can get rich on The Big Rock Candy Mountain. Lots of people moved to the West because they thought they could get rich on gold or oil or to find room to farm or ranch that they couldn’t afford in the East/South.

Warning: egregious generalizations ahead. I hesitate to do it because both the West and the South are diverse regions, but it’s hard to have the conversation without some degree of generalization.

The West does, I believe, have a libertarian streak, though it’s some part libertarian and some part communitarian… in generally good ways for both. His story about the gay couple doesn’t surprise me. Even in the Mormon part, there were gays and while I didn’t envy them, there was a lot more tolerance than I would have guessed (particularly among the non-Mormons, but even a lot of Mormons were uncomfortable when my former employer fired their legal counsel for being gay and the LDS Church itself supported anti-discrimination law in Salt Lake County). A majority of Montanans support legal recognition of same-sex couples and the numbers for gay marriage are shifting rapidly. The news on that front is pretty bad in Idaho and Utah. Wyoming is at a stalemate wherein those seeking to expand or more formally restrict gay marriage are being stymied.

Montana has machine gambling at virtually every convenience store in the state. The last brothel in Montana was shut down in the 1980’s – prior to that, everyone agreed to look the other way. Montana also experimented with medicinal marijuana with a plan that arguably proved to be too liberal. Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote and the first state to have a female governor. Nevada is… well… Nevada. New Mexico loved Gary Johnson. Utah and Idaho remain two of the great exceptions to this streak, largely due to the Mormon influence. And Arizona, of course, has a lot of anxiety at the moment regarding immigration.

One of the things I appreciate about the West, however, is the communitarian streak it has out here. Back in the South, there are contracts on top of contracts dealing with the allocation of firefighting services. The little suburb (East Oak) in which I was raised was too small to have its own fire department, so it contracted out with next town over (Rotterdam). Rotterdam and East Oak then both had a separate contract with much large Phillippi in order to handle any overflow. When the fires struck Orion County in Tennessee and were left to burn, I understood exactly what had happened, why, and shrugged it off as the way that things work. Out here, everyone assists everyone much more freely with or without contracts. This isn’t due to an inherent nobility, but because a fire over there poses a huge threat to over here. It’s in everyone’s best interest to work together.

One of the largest differences, as Greg notes, is the comparative history and lack thereof. The South is mired in a bloody history going more than a century back. The degree of racial conflict then and now drives its policies in ways that aren’t inherently racial. There are tensions that are hard to understand (and saying “Those f’ing racists” does not qualify as understanding). The Southern identity is tied to specific things. Though there is a bloody history out here, too, but the effects are different for a plethora of reasons.

One other major difference is religion. Both are overwhelmingly Christian, of course (especially if we put the LDS church under that tent), but it plays out differently because the nature of it all is more diverse out here. Last cycle, there was a candidate who had a compelling “Born Again” story to tell. From prison to a community leader. In the South, this would have been central to his campaign. Here, though, it was more of a line in his biography when his opponent tried to make hay out of his criminal record. He more-or-less responded that he found Jesus and has lived in service to the community ever since. Let’s move on.

There is a greater Catholic presence here than back in the South. Even the conservative LDS Church jams the disrupt the consensus that the South has in the Southern Baptist Church and comparatively like-minded evangelical sects. Idaho is pluralist, Montana is majority-protestant (barely) but divided between Mainline and Evangelical (with a significant number of Catholics and more than a few Mormons). Wyoming is divided along similar lines, though with a mildly larger Mormon population. It’s hard to pinpoint Nevada’s religious diversity without taking into account its Hispanic population. Point being, though, people populate the West from all over and brought their religious traditions with them. The South is more unipolar, and it shows.

So, with these various differences, why do they vote in lockstep? Primarily because, despite the differences, they do tend to see themselves having more in common with one another than with the urban coasts. Well, with the South the focus is on the North and in the West it’s more on the two coasts more specifically, but it tends to hold true. Politics makes for alliances and I believe the alliances influences political preferences (I believe this about more than the two regions in question).

If the US were to ever split up, though, I would expect the regional-political map of “Jesusland” to very much be South vs West with a few wildcards here and there (Utah, for one, and maybe Arizona). I would also expect the West to be more liberalish. Not just more liberal than the South, but more liberal than it is now. The opposition to the coasts would likely take the edge off a lot of the conservatism that exists out here.

I sound like a Western partisan, I suppose. Though I was raised in the South, my relationship with it is complicated and a lot of my fondness for the South comes from my upbringing and knowing it well enough to get by. The West was a much more instant fit. Leaving home (even my relatively moderate urban/suburban corner of the South) kind of lifted me of a certain weight I hadn’t even realized was there. I don’t actually fit in all that well in the precise town where I live, but nonetheless a lot better than I would in a town of similar size and situation in the Deep South (we’ve more or less eliminated it from consideration, barring a special circumstance).

Hopefully this doesn’t come across as Dixie-bashing. Like I said, it is saddled with a history and a bum legacy that makes it what it is and makes the path to progress down there more difficult. The west is a place of new beginnings and always has been. As someone who is prone to self-reinvention, that has a very particular appeal to me. As an awkward guy, the “take you as you come” attitude out here (at least in comparison to most places) is something I will always appreciate about this place, regardless of where we end up.

Addendum: I meant to add this in there, but one of the things that people think of when they think of Idaho or Montana are militias and more specifically white separatist militias. It’s worth emphasizing the “separatist” part, though. One of the allures of this area is that there is a lot of space where they can basically set up their own colonies. They remain, for the most part, segregated. Montana has the distinction of having set up the third black studies program in the country and the first outside of California. Also, Utah and Eastern Idaho may be the most genuinely color-blind places I have ever been. This is a big of a mixed bag, of course, because a lot of that is related to ingroup/outgroup and the LDS Church. But how surprised was I when Idaho elected a Hispanic congressman and Utah nominated a black woman? Not surprised at all.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. About the only thing I would have added to my, admittedly awesome comment, is about space. The shear space defines everything. There is certainly a communitarian streak in the West since without it people wouldn’t survive. For all the stuff about Rugged Individualists in the West it is highly focused on communities. Most of the RI’s go to town and find a community ( distant though it may be) to be part of. The space also can bread a loneliness in some and craving for people and need for community. That space also defines many people in that they feel being 50 miles from the nearest town is a bit too close to civilization. They aren’t running away from the community but the scale is just so different. Driving for an hour or three between towns is common. The distant horizon , when its isn’t bringing some gruesome wind or rain or snow, always holds out hope and adventure.

    Its so easy to be a nomad in the West. There are so many places to go and so far apart they can feel new. This is indeed the place for new beginning after new beginning. Eccentricity is often accepted here abouts.

    I’ve always loved Wallace Stegner. He was a man of the West ( although he did write about the East also) and defined it so well.

    I’m glad to hear your take on this btw.

    • Truth. I wish I had more to add to this. Driving five hours to get to the nearest major airport changes your perspective in many ways. When working for the Census (not as a Census Taker), I became familiarized with a really small town where someone learned EMT simply because the previous guy who knew EMT moved away. They are over an hour away from emergency response. My wife’s hospital has a service area larger than the State of New Jersey (and there are people who, for non-emergencies, will drive here past a more local hospital because they just don’t like it there).

    • The shear space defines everything.

      In a way that’s hard to understand if you haven’t been there. I remember traveling by bus from Indiana back to California once, and when we stopped in western Nebraska/Eastern Wyoming (I forget just where, but think it was Wyoming), I stepped off the bus and noticed first the crisp air, so unlike midwestern air, and the space even within the town–wider streets, more space between buildings. And then there’s the real space, the vast distances between towns. It’s awesome and fearsome–a landscape you feel you could truly get lost in.

      Marvelous post, Will. You capture the distinction so very well, and remind me why I miss the west so much. As a native midwesterner I fit into my current town very well, and am very happy living in my native region. But I still feel the ever-present pull of the west.

      • Thanks, James. As someone who lives in the Mountain West and is looking at the farm belt (which I know is not the part of the midwest you are now, but if I recall you have some roots there), I’d love to hear a compare-contrast between the here and there (and the south, depending on your familiarity with it).

        • I guess it depends what you mean by the farm belt. We’re not in Kansas with its vast farms, but agricultur is huge around here. My county is tops in Michigan for combined revenues from corn, soy and wheat (2nd for each individually). And number three in the state in total farmland. Oddly, though, only 11th in total market value of crop production. But just this week I was driving around the countryside with a friend looking at farming practices in relation to streams/drains, and we saw, besides the ever present corn and soy, tomatoes, cabbage and–to my surprise–chili pepper (which looked really good, perhaps the only crop that’s thrived in this drought year). There’s also apples and a fair amount of dairy. So I think of it as farm belt, but of course we have a lot of economic activity in industry in a way the plains states don’t, so maybe we’re not really.

          Consrvatism’s funny around here. We’re pretty solidly Republican (although Obama beat McCain by about 5 points), but traditionally it’s been a standard moderate Midwestern conservatism–Gerald Ford’s GOP, the type that wouldn’t be very out of place in the inter-mountain west. But our current representative is very much a southern-style religious social conservative (he’s actually a minister). He first one in ’06 by taking out the incumbent in the primary, with the help of lots of outside money, and saying the Ford-type guy wasn’t a real Republican, even though he exemplified the republican tradition. The Democratic opponent was a token, a nice lady but a bit goofy (she publicly defined herself as a “gun toting organic farmer”). But in ’08, with a stronger opponent and the Obama bump, he lost. Then in ’10 he retook the seat. But he’s not exactly beloved, and one journalist publicly blasted the arrogance of his “Jesus camp” campaign team. Redistricting has made his seat safer, so he’s probably not going away, but he’s not particularly well-liked, and I know some traditional Republicans who loathe him. Based on his presence we seem more southern, but really we’re not and would relate more closely to the west. Although given how small our farms tend to be, and the ubiquitous presence of small woodlots that obscure anything resembling a horizon (all very domestic and charming), big sky country would probably cause us all to cower in terror at its vastness. (Actually, I love the openness of the mountain west, but the vast expanse of the plains spooks me–crossing from Indiana into Illinois on I-74 never fails to give me the shivers.)

          • good parts of the Keystone state are farming areas. Corn corn and miles of corn.
            Chili peppers love a hard year — babying them makes ’em sweet.

      • Also, I get what you’re saying about the fearsomeness of it. Coming from the city, it is overwhelming (and I got my start in a small city, unlike where I am now). Out here in particular, it’s some of the little things: roads with huge drop-offs and no guard rails.

        Cell phones help a lot, I think. I know that if I get stuck on some road, it’s just a few miles to where I can make a call. I might scared spitless if that weren’t the case.

        (And despite all this, I am not really a worrywart. I’ve lived in some pretty sketchy urban neighborhoods without much fear for my personal safety. Being on the side of the road fifteen miles out of Malad, Idaho, was a new one on me.)

  2. “So, with these various differences, why do they vote in lockstep?”

    It seems to me that they aren’t so much voting-in-lockstep as being explicitly told by the other choice that They Aren’t Wanted.

    • There is a fair amount of reciprocal animosity. I don’t know about the “explicit” part, but there is a common cultural alienation.

    • … really. I’m not the person to say that kos speaks for the Democratic party, but there was a HELL of a lot of cheerleading for Tester, last I checked…
      Half the people talked over for “next president” are from the West (if not the south…).
      and the Dems sunk a hell of a lot of money into Harold Ford’s campaign.

    • A) I don’t think they do vote in lockstep. Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada are blue states, as are Virginia and (increasingly) North Carolina. Obama lost in Montana by about 2 points in 2008. It’ll be considerably less close this time, but that data point isn’t meaningless.

      B) Kimmi is right. The Democratic Party adores Brian Schweitzer and John Hickenlooper. And Jim Webb, for that matter.

      There is, of course, real animosity between the liberal base of the Democratic Party and the South. No disagreement from me there. And, of course, I think that animosity is well-deserved. I don’t want the South, by and large, to be part of the Democratic coalition until it gets its act together. The West, however, is a different story. Those guys are all right by me.

      • Bah. the south can be part, so long as it’s willing to Behave Itself. If you wanna be conservative, that’s fine — our tent’s big enough for that. Just don’t go around insisting that everybody else gotta do what you want, just cause…

        (I liked Byrd. Ford would have been a better senator than the current guy from TN. And Clinton’s from the South too…)

      • I’m still surprised by Virginia being increasingly blue. I mean, they came pretty close to electing Oliver North when I was a kid. It was interesting though- even when I was in “moral majority” areas like Lynchburg, I never really felt much of the weight of religion around me. But, like the post said, you notice it more when you’re gone.

        • Lot of folks in VA that depend on Uncle Sam for a job. Northern Virginia has gotten pretty liberal.

          • Yeah, Arlington County has one of the highest concentrations of people with advanced degrees in the country. Like the Research Triangle in North Carolina, which is also responsible for the blue-ening of that state, it’s a very highly educated workforce. Add in the fact that that workforce is overwhelmingly reliant on the government for jobs (directly or, probably more importantly, through contracts) and you’ve got a major Democratic constituency.

            It’s also densely populated (more or less), so Dems who rack up large margins there – Obama got 70% of Arlington, 70% of Alexandria, and 60% of Fairfax – and in Richmond and Albemarle (where UVA is) can swamp the losses they take in the rest of the state.

          • True enough, though it’s worth pointing out that this is only part of what’s spurred NoVa’s growth – after all, a lot of the growth on the government side of the equation has been in sectors that appeal more to conservatives than liberals – ie, defense contractors, homeland security, etc. By and large, the core of NoVa’s movement left has been the growth of the NoVa tech industry.

            In fact, it seems worth mentioning that from 2000-2008, when NoVa’s increasing strength put the state in the Obama column, the total number of federal employees stayed more or less constant, and at historically low levels:

            I also suspect a small part of it has been increasing gentrification of DC, which has forced a good number of liberal black folks into the Virginia suburbs, but that’s only a very small part of the story since the parts of Northern Virginia that have lurched the furthest left would be out of the price range of someone forced out of DC by gentrification.

          • I think it actually has little to do with depending on Uncle Sam for a job, and a lot more to do with the fact that it’s increasingly inhabited by educated (government and government-related) workers migrating in with a preference for a more urban, coastal environment. Also, the fact that NoVa is so expensive seems pretty important. Expensive places to live veer left.

      • ” I don’t want the South, by and large, to be part of the Democratic coalition until it gets its act together. The West, however, is a different story. Those guys are all right by me.”

        Oh shoot, and the South wants so badly to be part of the Democratic coalition. I contacted the South and it is sorry you don’t think it has measured up to progressive standards. The South wants me to apologize on its behalf — it’s in the process of a major transformation. The South really is trying.

  3. First, this belongs on the front page (both your original work, and greginak’s original comment, which I thought was awesome when he first wrote it). It’s awesome slathered with a side of awesome sauce.

    Second, you know that symposium idea I mentioned about geography and politics the other day? This is exactly what I had in mind.

    • I’m of half a mind to bump it up to the front page myself. This is great stuff.

      What seems under-addressed is the issue of immigration. The cultural changes that come with the influx of new people causes cultural anxiety that sets up common cause between Arizona and Alabama.

      • I mentioned that Arizona has some anxiety over immigration that is causing some… issues. But you’re right that I didn’t elaborate. There is also some of this in Western Idaho, which has seen an under-reported influx.

        However, there is what I consider to be a significant difference between Arizona and Alabama: With Arizona, it’s about new people coming in and triggering a cultural disruption. With Alabama, it’s about people who have been there forever and with whom there is an acrimonious history. Right now, things look rather similar. I expect things in Arizona to pass over, eventually, in a way that I think will be harder for Alabama. Though Arizona has dug itself in kind of deep.

        • Lots of people who moved to the West to get away from the East or for more space or to find a new begining or whatever are quite capable of recreating all the things they didn’t like about the rest of the country. People who have been in the West for a few generations can easily want to close the door behind them and say we are full. There are plenty of “aristocrats” in the west who see the place as their own for all its glory and as place where a person can make a new life, but not want any more competition or people who wear their clothes wrong or think the new beginings crap is done over.

          • Are you referring to the “exploding” Hispanic population out there? 150% up from a really small number is still a pretty small number. At least in comparison to, say, Arizona.

          • On a bit of a sidenote, Burt wrote this about his experiences in Huntsville. Which actually came as a bit of a surprise to me since I had kind of considered that area to be a cut apart (mostly because of NASA and having one of the best school systems in the country).

          • I’m not referring to anything — I’m asking if you know anything about these places — have you been there? Do you know anything about the demographics?

          • I have multiple ties to the greater Mobile area (Mobile, the Florida panhandle, etc.) I’ve been through the southern half of the state, and I’ve been to Birmingham, but not in the last four or five years. I should be back around a year from now.

    • Thanks, Mark. I will see if there is any cleaning up to do (I wrote this and posted it immediately, which is usually a sign that there is some cleaning up to do).

  4. This is a really great post.

    In case anyone doesn’t know, I’m a city mouse. Born and raised in the shadow of NYC, I’ve never lived more than an hour from either NYC, Boston, or DC; before the most recent move, I never lived more than 10 miles from those cities boundaries. My first night up here in the “country”, I was literally the former city-dweller who found it too quiet to sleep. And I just returned from a bar where someone thought it appropriate to chant “Tony Homo” at the TV and it appeared that only my party was the least bit offended by this.

    Anyway, in some ways, both the south and the west are sort of scary for me. This is likely in part because of a fundamental lack of true understanding of either region (see my bleg on Nashville for further proof). Yet, for whatever reason, the West has always had a much greater appeal than the South, at least with regards to a place to live (I’d venture to guess that the south wins when it comes to cultural elements like food or music or sports…). This piece, I think, sums up something I somehow knew in my gut but never could have articulated.

    Again, excellent piece.

      • Oh. Yes. I’ll work on that.

        I was hoping you’d ask about the bourbon tasting club. I suppose the idea of me in Italian party shorts is better than bourbon.

        I’ll work on both.

        • I thought the bourbon club idea was all settled. Who could possibly be against it?

          On that note, I recently infused some Knob Creek with bacon. The change in flavor was much more subtle than I thought it would be — perhaps my bacon was not smoky enough? It is, however, spectacular when added to batter for French toast.

          Anyway, you pick the brand, and we’re on it.

          • Burt-

            The bacon-infused bourbon tends to have a subtle flavor. Many folks expect it to actually taste like bacon, which it won’t. What it does pick up is the unique smoke characteristics. If you want a stronger infusion, you can use smokier bacon and/or steep it longer. It is really all a matter of preference. Just don’t expect it to take on a bacon flavor the way a fruit-infused vodka would take on a fruit flavor. Nonetheless, experiment and let us know your results!

            I’ll work on a bourbon club. I’m a bit of a spirit novice myself, though bourbon is my general preference.

          • Glyph’s liver can go to hell!

            I recently spent $100+ on Four Roses, Blantons, and Eagle Rare, so how about we be nice to me and start there? I’d suggest starting with Eagle Rare because you can buy a small bottle, 375 ml, for a very reasonable price, do everyone can get started without having to pony up a lot of dough and you get a sort of “taster” size. Plus, I think it’s real dandy.

  5. There’s a book that everyone who wants to understand the way the southern united states behaves now, and perhaps for much of its history, should read is Culture Of Honor: The Psychology Of Violence In The South. Much of the way the South behaves, culturally, politically, even economically, begins with the culture of honor that Nisbett and Cohen describe. Sure, religion plays a role, but as anyone who’s spent time around southern Evangelicals, fundamentalists, and even Old South Catholics can tell you, southern religion is infused with that same culture of honor. That is, the two are deeply intertwined in ways that aren’t predictable from religion alone. That culture is, of course, deeply individualistic — honor is something that attaches to individuals and to families (“who you kin to” is the first question a lot of southerners will ask when meeting a stranger) — and it has a certain classically liberal or even libertarian bent, particularly with respect to land, but it’s also about social connections, inflexible codes of conduct, and other things that require community-level maintenance. So on top of that individualism, or maybe beside it, is a quasi-authoritarian tendency. The people the South votes for, be the Democrats or Republicans, reflect both of these tendencies. The world is much more complex than our simple political axes suggest, as always.

    I don’t know much about the West, really, unless you count Texas, which seems to me to be about 5 different states (East Texas, South Texas, North Texas, Dallas, the Panhandle, and the west and southwest of the state, which aside from El Paso is one of the most sparsely populated regions of the lower 48). However, my impression has always been that there was a deeper strain of rugged individualism in the western United States that simply isn’t native to the South.

    There’s another thing about the South that makes it different from much of the West (with a few exceptions, like Colorado and maybe Utah), too. Over the last 10-20 years, the South has been changing dramatically because it’s been importing a bunch of brains from the North and the West. Cities like Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte, maybe even Birmingham, are looking more and more like midwestern or, as scary as it probably sounds to many southerners, California cities, with their increased focus on tech industries and other brainy stuff. It will be interesting to see how this affects the culture, and the voting patterns, over the next few decades.

    • We just moved to Greensboro and many of the people with whom my husband works at the large corporation that brought us here were imported from all over. There’s much more diversity than we expected for a city of its size in the South. Interesting place. We haven’t been here long enough to get a real feel for the place, but so far we feel comfortable, even my husband who’s Russian and has never lived in a city of less than a few million before.

      At least in the neighborhood where we live, which is near UNC Greensboro and downtown and likely not representative, Obama lawn signs and bumper stickers outnumber Romney ones, suggesting that the political culture isn’t monolithic. But North Carolina isn’t the deep south and has been attracting population from elsewhere for quite awhile now, so perhaps it’s the shape of the coming south.

      • I suppose that depends on how you define “deep south” and it depends on where in North Carolina you are. You’re in the Triangle, which is definitely a specimen of the “new south.” My experiences in Tennessee were that the new south exists right on top of the deep south, usually comfortably juxtaposed with, but still something palpably different from, what had been there before. I suspect this is even more true in Greensboro than it was in Knoxville.

        Take a day trip to Asheville, and tell me if you still think North Carolina isn’t a southern state. Maybe spend a little time off of I-40 if you’re still not convinced. It’s well worth your time if you’ve not been already; Asheville is thoroughly charming, the Biltmore is a spectacular tour and the estate makes a very nice set of wines.

        • I thought Ashville was supposed to be a hippy kind of area. The kind of rural/college town area that attracts the perpetual believers of 1969.

          Maybe not as liberal as San Francisco or New York but still Democratic.

          North Carolina did barely go for Obama and I think the research triangle area and some other parts keeps it closer to the purple column than other Southern states. Certainly more than South Carolina*

          *My favorite description of South Carolina is “Too small to be a country. Too large to be an Insane asylum”

          • I’ve been to Asheville twice, and the only hippie-looking people I saw seemed to be the college students. Granted, I was there for tourism at the Biltmore the one time, and business the other time, so on both occasions I didn’t really have much cause to interact with or seek out conversation with the hippie-looking folk. I got antique shops, charming restaraunts, and lawyers who wore vests around the office as part of their professional uniform. I did get off the Interstate both times on my way back to Knoxville. When I did that, it didn’t take long at all before I noticed that the Confederate battle flag was displayed more frequently than the Stars and Stripes.

          • That is a nice description of South Carolina. I will say this for that state, though, it has the best shrimp and grits and the best sweet tea in the world.

            Damn, now I want some shrimp and grits.

          • You may review my experiences above and evaluate them accordingly.

            How about Greeneville, NC? That felt really southern to me also, although my experiences there were less pleasant than in Asheville.

        • Minor correction–Greensboro is in the Triad (with Winston-Salem and High Point), not the Triangle.

          I have no doubt that the deep south and new south co-exist here if only by the number of Civil War articles that appear in Carolina magazines. Do they not get that they lost? While I think this state is more new south than say South Carolina or Alabama, I’ve no doubt that if you get out of the bigger cities, you’re in a whole other world. But I’m not sure this phenomenon is limited to the South. Drive out of Seattle or Chicago into the countryside and you’re also in a much different, far more conservative universe. While I do think there are regional differences in this country, I’m not sure how pronounced they are, at least among certain groups, as they were in the past. This topic fascinates me and I’m glad to see it discussed here.

          As to Asheville, it’s on our list of must-see places.

          • Small towns are changing all over the south too, particularly around cities. It used to be that 20 minutes outside of a city in the south was the country. Pretty soon, you’ll have to go an hour to get unadulterated old south, not only because city people are moving to the suburbs, but because many of the businesses are as well.

          • follow the money, lady. follow the money. those articles are propaganda, pure and simple. and they ain’t paid for by anyone still livin’

        • Asheville is new south. in a big frickin’ way.
          I see bumper stickers around here… they say “Keep Asheville Weird”

          It’s where all the liberals from knoxville (does I have the geography right?) go to live.

      • Greensboro is an oddity. It’s one of the most educated cities in the country, because it’s part of the Triangle, and it’s full of people from all over the country, even the world. It’s weird to even think of it as southern. It’s morel like a city (or region, really) dropped into the middle of North Carolina by aliens.

        • I lived near Greensboro for about 4 and a half years. I had to visit clients in Winston-Salem fairly often. NC is a diverse state, from Charlotte to the Research Triangle to Tarboro to Asheville to Nags Head you will find a little bit of everything.

          • I’ve gotten that impression regarding its diversity, both in terms of population and geography. In some way it reminds me of California–easy access to mountains and ocean but without the traffic and outrageous cost of living. I’ll take Greensboro to LA any day and I’ve lived in both places.

          • Michelle,

            I truly enjoyed living in NC. I traveled a lot in the position I had there, so I got to see the mountains to the ocean, and, yes, it’s quite diverse. Some mornings when I would drive up the mountains to a conference at Appalachian State U, I was overcome with the mystique of smoke and the mountain feel (I swore I heard banjoes and pig squeals, but that was N. Ga.). Then in Chapel Hill/Duram/Raleigh I was impressed with the combination of university/hi-tech/arsty shops/restaurants/etc — then in Rock Mount and other small cities there was the NASCAR obsession, and then there was Nag’s Head with all its groovy weird bacchanalia on island time. For a golfer like myself there was Pinehurst, Mecca.

          • NC is a diverse state,

            Indeed; it’s sort of the East Coast’s version of California, although smaller and without the political and economic fusterclucks.

  6. Since this was originally directed at a comment I made, I have some questions. For a point of biography, I was born and raised in the NYC-Metro area and now live in San Francisco. My heart is still misses the east coast a lot especially the sense of history and autumn.

    Now for the questions:

    1. Why do you think that the coastal west (Washington, Oregon, California) swing more more blue and are more Northeast-esque than the Mountain West and Sun Belt West? The 2010 election (and others) reveals that the coastal West and Northeast are going to be Democratic strongholds for a while. Do people view the Coastal West as not really being the West?

    2. Does a two-party system ultimately make these to be differences without a distinction on a federal level? When it comes to Congress, there is really no difference between a Red West Republican and a Red South Republican except maybe for grazing issues. The same can be said for a Blue West Democrat v. Blue East Democrat. Maybe they will all elect a different kind of red or blue for state government positions but when it comes to the Federal level, there is still lock-step and this include Congress, the most local of all Federal posts. I don’t see much social libertarianism in the Congressional delegations from Wyoming or Idaho.

    • As to perception from the outside, I know that when I moved to Tennessee and folks learned I was from California, I’d sometimes get a reaction like I just told them that I enjoyed braised kittens for dinner. And there was going to be no rescuing that with “But I’m from a really conservative part of the state!” either. Even the Tennesseans who thought that meeting someone from California was interesting and cool and who were genuinely curious about what life in California was like would clearly never have seriously considered moving there for any plausible reason.

      From where I sit now in a conservative exurb of Los Angeles, the ideological differences between a typical California Democrat, a typical Colorado Democrat, and a typical South Carolina Democrat are not nearly so great as the differences between a typical California Republican, a typical Colorado Republican, and a typical South Carolina Republican.

        • Your South Carolina Republican wears his religion on his sleeve. Less so the Colorado or California Republican. His motivations for molding public policy are based on preservation of social and cultural traditions as an inherent good.

          Your Colorado Republican is much like Will describes in the post: more libertarian and communitarian than trending towards social tradition, but with some degree of cognitive dissonance about governmental activities like reclamation projects and probably public schools.

          Your California Republican is the product of substantial gerrymandering and must periodically compete in a more-conservative-than-thou challenge of one sort or another. This generally takes the form of intense focus on one or two issues like guns or immigration. My state Assemblyman, soon to be my state Senator, actually thinks he can get the Legislature to adopt concealed-carry license laws; were he not such a straight arrow I would conclude his hobbies include smoking crack.

          I note that Tom Tancredo, a Coloradan, is monomaniacally focused on immigration, following the ideological-purification and issue-distillation pattern I describe for a Californian. But I also notice that he is no longer a Republican, from which I conclude that the process that resulted in his weird insistence that every problem in the United States is somehow related to immigration is atypical as compared to most of his Republican colleagues from the Mountain West region.

          • Immigration is really weird. (And, by “Immigration”, I mean “Undocumented Mexican Immigration”.)

            There are the “THEY’RE ALL CRIMINALS!” people, sure, but the majority of the attitudes that I see towards immigrants are variants of “they work hard, they keep to themselves, leave them alone”.

          • I mean, here’s a weird example: There are protestant churches in town that display the Virgin of Guadalupe in order to communicate that they are a church that welcomes (or even caters to) Mexican Immigrants.

          • Bizarre barely does justice to the Republican side in the last governor’s race here in Colorado. Josh Penry, one of their rising young stars from the Western Slope was campaigning for the nomination; my own opinion is that in 2010, Penry would have won easily. The big money wasn’t fond of him, though, and backed Scott McInnis. McInnis then had a scandal emerge over plagiarism (and being paid big bucks for apparently little work by a conservative think tank) and the Tea Party wing got Dan Maes nominated by a narrow margin (50.6% to 49.3%). Maes had, well, inflated his resume a bit, and was doing terribly in polls against Democrat Hickenlooper, so Tancredo changed his affiliation and ran as a third-party candidate. Hick won, and if the approval numbers mean anything, should get reelected in a walk in two years.

            Colorado statutes differentiate between major and minor parties, and minor parties operate under a number of restrictions. The requirement to be a major party is that your candidate got at least 10% of the votes for governor in the most recent election. In the last few weeks of the campaign, the Republican Party was actually pushing their members to vote for Maes, even though he had no chance of winning, simply so that the party could retain its “major party” status. Maes ended up with 11.3% of the vote. Tancredo did much better, so the American Constitution Party (affiliated with the national Constitution Party) is now a major party in Colorado. That requires them to have county-level committees, choose candidates through a primary, and do a whole lot of reporting. To date, they are badly out of compliance. Fortunately, the statute doesn’t include any penalty provisions.

          • My farm CSA has Mexican workers. When we mentioned it to my parents in law, they asked, “are they illegal?” The response was, “they work hard, and that’s what matters’

    • Hey ND, I wanted to start off by saying that I hope my comments on the matter don’t come across as “Listen here, buckaroo!” confrontational-like. This is just one of those subjects that gets my gears going.

      To answer your questions:

      1. The Pacific Coast is a different bird. Some of the things that I believe influence “The West” don’t really apply there. You can put the word Mountain in front of every time I say West if that helps the conceptualization. The coastal areas do have some things in common with interior that don’t apply as much to either of their political counterparts eastward, but I’m looking at it a bit more narrowly. The coastal areas are not only urban and comparatively crowded, they’ve been so for a while. Nevada and Utah are also urban/suburban states, but the fact that they are surrounded by the great wide open seems to have an effect on things, even among conservatives here and there.

      2. It depends on what you’re looking at. At the federal level, a Republican is generally a Republican (and a Democrat a Democrat) most of the time. There are some exceptions, though, particularly from Idaho. Only Republican senators voted against the NDAA 2012 and Idaho’s were two of them and only 43 Republicans voted against it in the House but both of Idaho’s did. Idaho’s governor, as a member of the House, voted against the Patriot Act in 2001 and 2006 (his successor’s successor’s successor did in 2011*). These were doomed votes, though, so I’m not sure if you count them. But they are conspicuous.

      In the longer run, they actually have the potential to part ways at some point or another. The Democrats (or liberal party or whatever) have a lower floor in the Mountain West, but also a higher ceiling. Obama came within a couple points of winning Montana. There’s not much reason to believe that Idaho couldn’t be moved under the right circumstances and with a little demographic prodding. It’s not going to happen any time soon, but it is less unlikely than the South. Colorado and Nevada, despite being primarily white, have shifted to purple-blue.

      * – That seat has seen a lot of turnover. Otter’s successor, Bill Sali, lost to Democrat Walt Minnick for a worldview and demeanor that might have made him governor of Mississippi. Minnick lost two years later to Raul Labrador.

      • No worries, we all have our hobby horses. My two are when Dawkin-atheists conflate all religion with Christian Fundamentalism and people who promote STEM with absolute contempt towards the arts and humanities. This is nothing against STEM but I believe that the arts and humanities are equally important. Plus I am the product of a liberal arts education.

        I know about Bill Sali. He was used as good fundraising for liberal causes of the “look at the scary Republican” tactic.

        Idaho also had a Democratic Senator (Frank Church) for a good chunk of the post-WWII era. I think he was a Senator for 25-30 or so years and fairly progressive. Wyoming had Democratic Senators as well.

        That being said, I don’t fully buy the argument that many in the Red West have a libertarian streak. Perhaps they do on economic and property issues more than social issues but I still think there is a strong streak of social conservatism in the Sun Belt and Mountain West. A lot of the people who moved out to the Sun Belt were from the South or Evangelical Midwest and they were rather socially conservative. They might have come up with some libertarian justifications for their social conservative views though like Barry Goldwater* and his libertarianish opposition to the Civil and Voting Rights Act.

        Orange County (which had more in common with the Sun Belt and Mountain West) was home of B-1 Bob Doonan and one of their congress people in the 1950s and 60s came up with some really crazy conspiracy stuff. One of them was that the UN was running a secret training camp for Africans in Georgia and the Africans would take over the United States. This is the same kind of paranoid fantasy that we saw in 2010 with Sharon Angle and the guy in Colorado who talked about how bike lanes were a secret UN conspiracy.

        I don’t care if this is libertarian or not or whether said speakers honestly believed in it or were just being cynical. Crazy is crazy.

        • I don’t care if this is libertarian or not or whether said speakers honestly believed in it or were just being cynical. Crazy is crazy.

          Oh, I never once said that there aren’t a lot of crazy people out here.

          • Oh, I never once said that there aren’t a lot of crazy people out here.

            Indeed. One of the distinctive characteristics of the Western states, IMO, is the number of crazies. But there are some odd aspects to it. As you mentioned elsewhere, everyone comes together in the face of fire, say, or flooding from a big snow melt. Some part of the “crazy” gets set aside during those times.

          • Michael,

            I tend to think that a fervent belief that oil companies murdered the scientists who developed automotive engines that run on water and the willingness to say “Hey, there’s a 12-mile fire about 300 miles from here. We’ll figure out the details later, let’s go!” are now wholly unrelated. Not that there isn’t a logical component to the latter, but I don’t think it’s just that.


            With the crazy eccentricity comes a degree of tolerance for crazy eccentricity, which I sometimes consider an endearing trait. Sometimes.

          • Jaybird,

            Eccentric is harmless like Joe Gould. A politician or political candidate with fantasies about UN takeovers and race wars is not harmless.

          • Thanks for putting me straight, NewDealer. I’ll try to not throw so much of my support in the direction of politicians who support a race war as much in the future.

        • I think Will’s point is that there may be plenty of social conservatives in Western states, but they’re less likely than Southerners to insist that everyone else ought to be social conservatives as well (and, moreover, that the government ought to make them so if they don’t choose to be on their own.)

    • I don’t really think there’s as much of a difference between the coastal west and the mountain west as you suppose. The less populous bits of California, Oregon, and Washington look pretty similar to their inland counterparts. They tip blue because big cities tip blue, and they have more big cities.

      • Exactly. I’ve lived in both California and Washington (yes, we’ve moved a lot over the last decade or so) and the inland areas outside the coastal cities are very different beasts than the big cities. But the same is true of Illinois, where Chicago and Champaign-Urbana skew the state liberal, and Pennsylvania, which James Carville described as Philadelphia and Pittsburg with Alabama in between.

    • 1. Cities. The urban populations of CA, OR, and WA are all significantly higher than in ID, MT, WY. WA and OR would be red states if it weren’t for Seattle and Portland, and there are literally millions of registered Republicans in the hinterlands of California. AZ is something of an exception that can be explained away mostly by its Southern influence (per Jared Diamond, immigration patterns run latitudinally, which explains why so many few Portlandians and so many Phoenicians can trace their ancestry to the traditional South) and high Mormon population.

      2. I think the primary process explains a lot of the homogeneity here: libertarianish Republicans are unlikely to make it to the general. But notice how Western Democrats are much more clearly libertine than their Southern counterparts.

      • Wasn’t or Isn’t Phoenix one of the fastest growing cities in the United States?

        • It is. Phoenix has a Democratic Mayor. A lot of the metro area is pretty widely dispersed, though, preventing a lot of the traditional blue tilt of large metropolitan areas. The suburbs tilt heavily red.

          One of the noteworthy thing about Phoenix is that it became a hub of people of a particular mindset. The self-sorting is among the things that makes Phoenix comparatively unusual for a large city.

          • And Flagstaff and Tuscon are pretty liberal. Each city has its own vibe and is a product of significant self sorting.

          • Arizona is economically peculiar among the Western states. The others that have put together a metro area of a size on the order of Phoenix — Washington, California, Nevada, Colorado — have become relatively wealthier. Phoenix should have made Arizona wealthier than it is.

  7. “There’s not much reason to believe that Idaho couldn’t be moved under the right circumstances and with a little demographic prodding. It’s not going to happen any time soon, but it is less unlikely than the South.”

    It might also be helpful to point out here that the Mormon Belt is the only region that has been reliably Republican for the entirety of the 20th century — i.e., it sided with the culturally-moderate Northeastern Republicans before the Great Dixiecrat Switcheroo. I don’t think the Democrats will be able to make inroads into Idaho in their current form, but if the parties’ regional coalitions get scrambled enough, there’s definitely no guarantee that Boise and Biloxi will still be on the same team.

    • **After looking it up, Utah was won by both FDR and Truman. But I think my point about Utah’s past dalliances with Northern liberals still stands.

    • Robert, this is true (except as noted below, and LBJ). Utah will be a tough egg to crack. A lot of people don’t realize how urban/suburban it is. Idaho is less Mormon, though, and what happens there will depend in good part what happens with Boise/Nampa/Meridian.

        • Yes, but this isn’t quite right.

          There’s urban and there’s urban. If you’re an urbanite and you live in New York, odds are pretty good your friends are all urbanites and your family is all urbanites (or suburbanites), etc. There’s a degrees of freedom thing, there.

          In Utah, you probably live near one of the cities (because there’s just widespread ranching and farming taking up all the rest of the space), but you’re probably much more likely to have a Bacon number to a ruralite that’s much smaller than a New Yorker.

          The “number of steps you have to go to get to a country-dweller who rides a hoss and occasionally comes to town and gets drunk with you on the weekend” is a factor, here.

          • If I were to draw a distinction, it would be that the I-15 corridor is so remarkably suburban. SLC itself is smaller than Boise. It’s just attached to a lot of other cities that are smaller than Boise but total up to be a lot more than Boise and its friends.

            That being said, the LDS Church puts a premium on urban/suburban living. They are rather self-conscious about being seen as a bunch of country bumpkins. And it does matter when the vast majority of the state lives along a single corridor.

          • PA has a surprisingly small bacon number. Used to work (right in the downtown metro) with someone who raised sheep a county over (played bluegrass too).

          • Mark: Yeah, the interesting thing about Pennsylvania is that it straddles both the East Coast (Philly) and the Great Lakes Midwest (Pittsburgh). PA’s two biggest cities may be both in the same state, but Pittsburgh is more like Chicago than like Philly, which is more like NYC or Boston. The mountains are a pretty big barrier to cultural exchange between Pennsylvania’s extremes.

          • Robert: That’s more or less correct, although culturally, Northeastern Pa (roughly from Easton to Scranton) is probably more like the Great Lakes/Rust Belt region than it is like the Northeastern megalopolis.

            I may as well lump Phillipsburg, NJ in with Northeastern Pa while I’m here.

          • PA is not Midwest–any of it. There’s a hard line drawn down the Ohio-PA border dividing East from Midwest.

          • James, I’m not sure we should put much stock in the Ohio/Pennsylvania boundary. The culture of Pittsburgh is pretty unique and can’t be called absolutely Midwestern, but it definitely can’t be called purely Eastern either, and it exhibits interesting Midwestern elements. Pittsburgh is more economically connected to eastern Ohio and Great Lakes shipping routes than to any other large Pennsylvanian city. Geographers usually list it within the Great Lakes megaregion that includes Detroit, Toronto, and Chicago.

          • Robert,

            I’ll grant you Great Lakes Region (but that also includes western New York), but definitely not Midwestern. In fact not all of Ohio is even Midwestern–southern Ohio is Appalachia (although Cincinnati, like Pittsburgh, also occupies a Venn diagram intersection). In fact in many ways, much of western PA, exclusive of it’s Lake Erie strip, is more akin to Appalachia than the Midwest (but with better universities).

            Of course all this is a bit tongue-in-cheek, and such boundaries cannot be drawn with precision. But as a midwesterner by birth and upbringing, I have strong considered opinions. I still resent Penn State’s presence in the Big 10–a midwestern athletic conference–while thinking Nebraska is a natural fit.

          • I believe the proper term is “Rust Belt” rather than “Midwest.” James is also I think correct that the region has broadly more in common with Appalachia than the Midwest.

          • James and Robert,
            Pittsburgh is the Paris of Appalachia.
            it is definitional that it is Appalachia, not kinda sorta, or anything like that.
            That said, Northern appalachia has a lot of admixture of Midwestern ideas and thoughts.
            (you should see Pamela’s waffles!)

          • Mark,
            boswash excepted. PA in south central pa is still remarkalby blended with ruralia.

          • Pittsburgh is the Paris of Appalachia.

            I’ll buy that. And a fine Paris, from all I’ve heard.

        • IIRC, the Census Bureau distinction is not urban, but rather non-rural. By that standard, and based on population, most of the western states are quite non-rural — the big empty spaces between cities are really empty. Lots of reasons for that. For the most part, the West is so dry that agriculture only flourishes near rivers that can supply reliable irrigation. There aren’t a lot of transportation corridors — it’s not an accident that the Oregon/California/Mormon trails, the UP Railroad and I-80 all went/go through the South Pass in Wyoming. And roughly 45% of the land in the non-urban West is owned by the federal government, with lots of restrictions on whether and for what it can be used.

          • In the case of Utah, though, something along the lines of three quarters live in a handful of counties.

            I can’t find the statistic that Ryan is referring to (though I have no doubt of its veracity). I can find a breakdown between “cities”, “small cities”, and “rural” and Utah is at 81% (9.4% in rural). Colorado at 77% (13.9%), Idaho at 50% (29.4%), and Wyoming and Montana at about 25% (35%/44%). Interesting stuff.

          • Someone on CNN said that Colorado is the most urban state in the country, in terms of percentage of the population that lives in an urban area.

            Of course, our sense of “urban” is relative. I grew up in a town of 40,000 that was 15 minutes from Manhattan. We called this the suburbs because Manhattan was the city and we were not the city. Formally, we were likely better classified as urban. But, no, we considered Manhattan to be the city, where I lived to be the suburbs, a little further out was the sticks… and everything else? Yea, don’t go anywhere else…

            I’m sure there are a number of folks that would look at what I considered the sticks and consider it “the city”.

          • I was raised off the Mississippi River. I travel a lot for my job. Whenever I go out west, I am stunned at the things they call “rivers” out there. The Columbia and Missouri are the only two rivers that earn the name. There are rides at water parks that move more water than some of these “rivers.” I guess, tho, when you live in a desert, you have to adjust your definitions a little.

          • I was also raised in NJ suburb of NY with i think 50000. It took a long time for my defintion of city and town, urban and rural to change. I still get a kick out of, and can barely grasp, people that think Anchorage wiht 300,000 people is a big city.

          • I never thought I would look at a town of 30k or so and say “Wow, look at all of the things you can do there! I wouldn’t mind living there!”

            But here I am!

          • On a cross-country flight one time, we flew over western NY and PA and it seemed pretty desolate. “WOW!” I thought. “There is NOTHING around here.”

            Then we flew over the farmland. “HOLY CRAP! Now THAT is a whole lot of nothing!”

            Then we hit the southwest. I thought we were flying over the moon. “WHERE ARE ALL THE PEOPLE!?!?!”

            The same thing happened with geographical features…

            “Man… the Rockies are big!” “No no, THOSE are the Rockies. You were looking at a speed bump.” “HOLY CRAP!”
            “Man… the Grand Canyon is something!” “No no, THAT’S the Grand Canyon. You were looking at a pothole.” “HOLY CRAP!”

            Scale is a powerful thing.

          • Jazzy–if you want to experience a whole lot of nothing out there, try driving through North Dakota. While there are some hills on the Western side, most of it is flat and empty.

  8. I don’t have much to add other than a few observations:

    – In the South we are pretty tribal. Our culture is a BIG DEAL and it’s all held together with social rituals and food.

    – Southern Democrats are not liberals

    – I wish we were more libertarian in our conservatism but religion and patriotism interfere with that goal.

    • There have been Southern Democrats who are liberal or at least willing to play the part. Estes Kefauver, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Yarborough, Sam Rayburn in his own ways. Though maybe populist is a better term.

      For modern Southern Democrats who are liberal (or at least liberalish) you have Don Siegel from Alabama, Ronnie Musgrove from Mississippi, and John Lewis from Georgia.

  9. For a moment (just barely a moment) I thought you were going to talk about communist movements in the west and the south. This is one of the ways in which the republicans have a marketing problem.

    At least in the american context, being on the wrong side of history is associated with the colour red. The british were the red coats. Communist Russia is red (and the communist threat was called the red terror). Why the hell would US conservatives who are obviously pro- american revolution and anti-communists associate themselves with the colour of their historical enemies?

    It is even more puzzling because almost eveywhere else in the world, the colour for the conservaive party is not red (in the UK, it is blue). In fact, labour and socialist movements have historically been associated with th colour red.

    • The last part is the one that breaks my brain. It is standard operating procedure everywhere else to use red for liberals, blue for conservatives. Even Dave Leip, who runs the best election results site on the whole internet, uses red for Democrats and blue for Republicans because it just makes more sense.

      • When did that start? Is it as simple as hey, “Republican” and “Right” both start with “R”, as does “Red”? Is it the supposed increased patriotism or the Right (“Red, White, and Blue, love it or leave it!”, “Red-blooded-American patriot”).

        • It actually only started following the 2000 presidential election.

        • They used to switch it up periodically. If you look at an election map for 1984, it’ll break your brain. It’s *ENTIRELY* Blue… with one little Red State in the middle of the country.

        • I’d guess that it comes from a now-bygone media convention that blue represents “the establishment” and red represents “the insurgents,” in initial congruence with global conventions that I believe trace back to the French Revolution. So whatever party held the White House at the time of a particular election would be depicted in blue. I may be selectively remembering here, but my recollection is that the last time the Democratic party was illustrated in red on mass media maps of the electoral college was in 1992.

          In 2000, a Democrat sat in the White House so the “insurgent” was in red, and for some reason — probably all the hype about flipping colors in Florida during the era of Bush v. Gore — the identification of the color red with the Republican party just sort of stuck. So by the time 2004 rolled around and Republicans should have switched back to blue, they’d been red for so long, and the experience of 2000 embedded red as their iconic color so deeply, that the convention had shifted and the phrase “red state” had entered common parlance.

          Of course, I’d say that, because of my own particular focus on the Supreme Court as the most important institutional pivot of American history. YMMV. As I said, this is a guess and it may be based upon misremembered history.

    • The Official Red/Blue started in 2000. Before that, they used red and blue maps and switched every four years. In 2000, it was the GOP’s turn to be red. Well, the map became so popular that they stuck with the colors after that.

      • I don’t think they switched per se. I think it was a matter that the Democrats were the incumbents and so they were blue, just like Reagan in 1984.

        Normally the map is on TV election night and the next day, and everyone forgets about it until four years pass. However, because of the nature of the 2000 election the map was on TV every day from election day on November 7 until the supreme court disgraced itself on December 12. Also, because the colors tended to correlate with distinct regions of the country, the moniker of Red State/Blue State to describe different regions of the country really started to take hold. The outliers were New Mexico and New Hampshire, and when they flipped in 2004 to be like their neighbors, the Red State/Blue State meme became permanent. Let’s put it this way, if a network decided to make Obama blue and Romney red, they would get many phone calls and emails to notify them of their error.

        • I don’t think they switched per se. I think it was a matter that the Democrats were the incumbents and so they were blue, just like Reagan in 1984.

          That makes sense. I knew it was something other than the political motivations some people are talking about. Incumbency would make more sense

    • Red is angry, emotion-driven, scream-and-leap diplomacy; Blue is cool, calm, logical and methodical.

  10. An excellent post. You always have a keen mind for geography, and here is no exception.

    As to your question, “So, with these various differences, why do they vote in lockstep?” — I think I have an answer. We have a two-party system in this country. It arises from our voting setup, from our legislature’s traditions and institutional order, from our Constitution, and from our election and ballot access laws. If you want any voice at the national table, you typically have to join one of the two parties, then go after the median voter. Regardless of what you really believe.

    Changing that dynamic will require either changing our laws and institutions, or changing the mind of the median voter. Neither will be easy.

  11. Another point you could have touched on is the very different reasons that the two regions have for their animosity towards the federal government. In the South, it’s mostly about the history of federal interference in “cultural” matters: religion in the public sphere, integration, etc. In the West, it’s dominated by the presence of large federal land holdings and federal land use policies.

    • The South were huge supporters (and beneficiaries) of the New Deal, and stayed solidly Democratic through 1964. It’s not tricky to figure out what changed.

    • Land and resource management is definitely a huge issue. As Greg says, the west is a fan of conservation. However, (a) conservation is more likely to be a means to an end whereas federal environmental initiatives don’t always see it that way (or don’t always see the same ends) and (b) the federal government sometimes does things and approves things on its land that the people don’t much care for.

  12. I have to wonder about the idea that the American west is “more libertarian”. I kept obsessive records of the elections during Bush’s time in office, and one of the notable things was that he actually had stronger support in western red states than in the south. And this is the president who brought in the Patriot Act, indiscriminate wiretaps, infiltration and spying on groups that disagreed with his policies, an overreaching TSA, the DHS, etc. If the West was libertarian, I’d expect to have seen a third party arise there during 2004 in particular, rather than being the part of the country that most supported Bush.

    • I want to say that 2004 was also a referendum on Iraq. Colorado Springs alone has five military bases. I’d say that the rest of the Mountain West has bases, silos, and “other” sprinkled pretty liberally. While it’s more libertarian than the south and the northeast, it’s a very pro-military libertarian inclination.

      Had the Democrats nominated someone who would have been capable of turning the election into *ANYTHING* other than a referendum of Iraq (hell, Howard Dean!), I think we would have seen much purpler states out here.

      • I have trouble seeing “pro-military libertarian” in that sense as anything but an oxymoron. “Oh, we can’t stand the government telling us what to do, but it’s great to occupy other countries and tell people there what to do!”

        (I remember being completely bewildered by the 2004 election (the first US election I paid any attention to). “Why is Bush bragging that he invaded Iraq? Why is the Democratic candidate someone who voted for it! Iraq was a fiasco! It was a flagrant violation of international law! It destroys the post-WWII principle that aggressive wars are never acceptable! Why’s Bush talking about it like it’s a point in his favour?!”. To which my dad answered [paraphrase], “Well, he sure as hell can’t run on his domestic record.”)

        • I have trouble seeing “pro-military libertarian” in that sense as anything but an oxymoron.

          Come out and visit.

        • You are correct to a great degree about “pro-milatary libertarian” being an oxymoron. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exsist and define a lot of people. People can mix seemingly incompatible values and beliefs quite well in practice. As Jay notes milatary bases are all over the West. Take just about any conservitive in the West who says the Gov can’t make jobs and then talk about cutting back at the nearest base and they will have heart palpitations.

          • I would like to point out that “libertarian” is not a binary thing (unlike, of course, being a Democrat) but is more of a vector than a destination.

            I’d also like to point out that calling into question the libertarian bonafides of any state that votes for one of the two “real” parties is, indeed, very much worth doing.

            With both of those things pointed out, I’d merely compare the NIMBYism of the Mountain West to the NIMBYisms of the much more liberal East Coast and shrug and point out that people are people, what are you gonna do.

          • What I keep coming back to is the Free State Project. It’s not that the west is a libertopia – there is none. As I say in the post, there is a real amount of communitarian involved. There are also a lot of water management issues that have to be coordinated. BUT, if you’re looking for a place that is going to be more receptive to your ideas than most, and particularly a place you are likely to have more of an impact with smaller numbers, Montana and Wyoming would have been much better places to start than New Hampshire.

        • With the exception of Utah (I think LDS missions get in the way, among other things), people in the Mountain West join the military in very large numbers. I think anything short of full-throated support for the military, including the mission, gets people a bit a little off. It’s not that you can’t support the troops while opposing the mission, but a lot of people don’t have their intuitions so well-tunes.

          Ron Paul has a lot of enthusiastic support in the states. The Montana Constitution Party put him on their presidential ballot in 2008. In Idaho, his supporters tried to hijack the state’s delegates and send them Paul’s way (until Paul put a stop to it). It’s kind of complicated.

          I would also point out what I told NewDealer above: Idaho’s two senators were two of only six Republicans (thirteen senators total) to vote against the NDAA of 2012. Idaho’s governor, as a congressman, voted against the Patriot Act in both 2001 and 2006.

          There was actually some serious opposition to World War I in the mining and resource communities. The federal government sent out people who made them “contribute to the war effort” at gunpoint. They then decided they would never be on that side of any war effort ever again.

          • A lot of Mormons join the milatary. I’ve known or met many up here in stationed at our bases.

          • Huh…didn’t know that about Utah. Darn unpatriotic beehive lovers.

          • WWI goes across the board in terms of who supported American entry and who was opposed to it.

            IIRC the Democratic Speaker of the House resigned from his seat when the House voter to enter the war as an act of protest. William Jennings Bryan also resigned as secretary of state because he thought America was going to join or becoming more anti-German.

            Of course the socialists opposed it.

            My grad school (The New School) was formed by dissenting professors from Columbia who were appalled by how Columbia was pro-entry into WWI. This sort of cranky dissenting leftism is still very alive at the school. It also shows our endowment issues. The New School is not the type of school that generates alumni who will donate millions to the school. We will protest a lot though. Well not the Drama section, we were in our own little universe at the far end of the West Village.

          • Small world. I went to the New School for a three graduate semesters way back in the day (late 80’s)

        • Pro military libertarian – one who wants gay marriage recognized by the US government *and* by the Iranian government

    • Re: the patriot act “[if we keep enforcing that,] we’re gonna need our guns!” — that was one of Tester’s lines from a debate. The crowd’s reaction to that was a whole lotta boot stomping.
      Montana’s been part of the fight against the Real ID too… even during bush years.

  13. I grew up in the Foothills of the Appalachians in North Carolina. My impression, from my childhood and the literature I grew up with, is that Appalachia–in its history and attitudes–more closely resembles the Red West you describe here than the Red South. Moving to the frontier to get away from the government. Then, moving to the mountains as the CCC began improving the area (my grandfather helped build the Blue Ridge Parkway as part of the CCC). Finding a way to live in peace with the Native Americans. Certainly there were differences from the history of the West–Appalachia’s history of European settlers is of course much older–but I just wanted to point out a bit of the fine detail missed in the broad generalizations you apologized for near the beginning of the OP.

    Living in the Foothills allows one to see the mix between the cultures. My impression was that the racism and fear-of-other attitudes bled up into the mountains about as far as the religiosity did, and both came from the more Deep-South Piedmont (not the same as the Foothills) and Plains. A lot has changed in those flat areas; the Triangle, the Triad, and Charlotte are all increasingly liberal metropolitan areas as the businesses that the locals bribed to locate there brought in educated professionals from the more populous urban areas. The mountains are changing, too, but their starting point was different from the rest of the South, and it’ll be interesting to visit them over the coming years.

    • The mountains are changing in a kinda bad way, in a lotta places. Lotta influx of not so good dudes… and holier than thou types.

      Appalachia has a different culture than the deep south, far far more egalitarian. Appalachia’s about half blue and about half red — split mostly by whose unions stuck, and whose didn’t.

  14. One point about the differnt way the nasty history of the West and South have been processed. In the South they still build places calling them plantations. Old plantations are prettied up and used as fancy hotels or for weddings. Many people have dreamy thoughts about plantations.

    Nobody does that with Reservations in the West.

    • Ah-heh. The Authentic Cowboy Cattle Ranch and Authentic Old West Ghost Town are as much of a cliche tourist attraction as the Authentic Southern Plantation.

      • There is a way big difference between a ghost town, cowboy ranch and a reservation. Plantations have a direct link to slavery. There were run on the backs of slaves. Ghost towns are age old hokum that have no tie to any region or history of oppresion. Ranches were certainly built off the land often stolen from Native Americans but they weren’t run by slaves. A ranch is generaly nuetral. Reservations were where we forced Native Americans to go while we stole their lands and they often died. Res’s were neglected for years and they were given the worst lands. Reservations and plantations have a direct historical context of terrible things being done to people. You can’t seperate that context from the thing.

        • > A ranch is generaly nuetral.

          Let me bespeak for a moment: for many members of different tribal nations, a ranch is not generally neutral.

          There are, however, far fewer tribal nation members that are that bound to their ancestral way of living than there are black people.

          • Fair enough about ranches. Let me put it this way, ranches and plantations are signficantly different in context and history. Yeah, as i noted ranch land was land stolen from NA’s but there is a difference. There is a trend/feeling in the South to glorify plantations as just pretty places without any actual history.

      • Aw, heck. We got us a ghost town east of the Appalachians, ya know? It’s right pretty to boot.

  15. What strikes me as interesting about this is that “The West” is sort of built into five chunks in my head, now. Age is how I’m sorting it, for a large part.

    You have The Mountain West – what Will talks about here, Montana, Wyoming, some of Idaho. You have the Mormon West – the rest of Idaho, Utah. You have the Pacific Northwest – Washington, Oregon, and a sliver of northern California. You have the Catholic Missionary Hispanic West – New Mexico and the rest of California. And then you have the Desert West – Nevada and Arizona.

    New Mexico and California have a “we’re very old, we’re older than YOU GUYS” attitude that springs from the adobe missions. Ask someone from New Mexico what the oldest state capital is in the country and they *all* *know* it’s Santa Fe, never you mind that New Mexico wasn’t a state until 1912. Shut up.

    Utah is an odd duck because of the Mormon influx from 1847-1869. While the rest of the country was gearing up for the Civil War, the Mormons were really doing their own thing.

    Nevada and Arizona are odd ducks because very few people lived there until the invention of air conditioning. Look at this graph, nobody lived in Arizona until after 1945. It was just too damn hot there.

    • Montana, Washington, Oregon… they were settled in trickles here and there, yes? (I might be wrong on that score). Utah/Idaho, that was all the Mormon Invasion. Nevada and Arizona, all post-war. New Mexico, trickles, but the old Spanish colonial presence survived mostly intact. California of course is the *really* odd duck, thanks to it’s climate and the gold rush.

    • Well the other thing about the West is that without Gov water projects most of it would be even m0re empty then now. Gov water projects and all the cheap electricty made most of the desert SW liveable and greatly assisted farming in the arid and semi-arid west ( which is pretty much all of it except for north cali and the pacific NW).

      • I dunno that the Colorado river really counts as a government water project. I mean, sure, there’s dams and whatnot, but there’s this:

        Note that all the big cities are really *on* the river. From a Sim City standpoint, there isn’t really that much Big Water Project’ing going on.

        Hoover does has a big bit to do with Vegas, but of all the odd ducks in the West, Vegas is the oddest.

        And then there’s this:

        The second is certainly a government water project. The first is much less so.

        • I don’t have time to use my google fu for a little while, but i think there are hundreds if not thousands of dams in the West. That is a lot of water management. Not all of it was entirely Fed, but a lot of it was. The Bureau of Reclamation has done lots o’stuff for building the West.

      • This is true, though I do have to point out that reclamation (water management) has historically been paid for by the region. The selling of federal lands within the state, mineral leasing, and user fees. None of this changes the degree of administration and cooperation required, though.

    • That’s a fair summary. My only criticism is that Washington and Oregon get pretty Idahoish pretty quickly as you move eastward. So if we’re going to subdivide states, I think that should be taken into account.

      • Yeah, that’s a fair point…. especially in Eastern Washington.

        Eastern Oregon seemed to be less like Idaho than Eastern Washington was. Not sure why.

        But they’re both much more like Idaho than they are Western (their state).

        • I was going to say the opposite, actually. That Eastern Oregon is more Idahoish than Eastern Washington. We’re agreed that it applies to both, though.

          • I’ve only passed through a few times. There’s definitely a “low quality observation” problem, there.

      • I think someone may have brought this concept up awhile back, but one thing I’d love to try to do through the site at some point is a crowd-sourced redrawing of state borders (maybe even going so far as to rename them where appropriate).

        I’m trying to figure out the logistics of it, but I think it’d be a pretty interesting project.

        • Here’s a starting point, though I had a different mission than what I think you are talking about (I tried to use natural landmarks and boundaries in addition to cultural consolidation).

          I still need to correct and finish that dang thing.

          • Nice. My one — well, initial, since I haven’t studied it in great detail — complaint would be the use of rivers as boundaries in the Mountain West and Great Plains. For example, Lakota is bounded on the south by the Platte and on the north by the Missouri. Better, I would think, to put dividing lines between rather than through watersheds.

    • Texas is a bit like Missouri, where it’s the intersection between regions. The West Texas is more southwestern, East Texas is more southern, though because it bleeds over, they’re all a part of the body politic and culture.

      That’s my take, anyway.

      • Right. It’s best to think of Texas as 8 pretty distinct regions: East Texas, North Texas, Dallas, Panhandle, West Texas (including El Paso), South Texas (most of the border), Central Texas, and the gulf/Houston. East Texas and North Texas arelike the South. The gulf/Houston is like the South with a bit of south Louisiana thrown in. Central Texas is its own thing, as is Dallas (it’s Dallas!). The panhandle is like Kansas or maybe Nebraska. West Texas is very western deserty, without the Native American presence of New Mexico, and with some of the most sparsely populated areas of the country outside of Alaska. South Texas has a heavy Hispanic influence. Texas is basically a demographic nightmare waiting to happen because its regions are so distinct.

        • And Austin is California, or working hard to get there.

          Houston is shifting more from southern to “southwestern” with each year passing. But it’s an island. Go out to Galveston, and it’s like you say.

          • Austin used to be like a poor man’s San Francisco (maybe Oakland? I’ve never actually been to Oakland). Now it’s trying to be Orange County. Portland is the new Austin. Hell, they even stole Austin’s slogan.

          • I felt that Nashville and Austin had a lot in common, at least superficially.

          • I prefer Nashville: second best music scene in the country (nothing can beat New Orleans), great southern food, good museums, it’s green, and it’s not oppressively hot.

            Austin’s music scene is on life support (without SxSW and ACL Fest, there wouldn’t be a music scene worth mentioning here anymore), its food is mediocre, it doesn’t have any quality museums, it’s turning into sub-desert, and it’s crazy hot.

          • Also, Nashville has two major league sports franchises. Austin doesn’t even have its own minor league baseball team. One of its suburbs does.

          • At some point, the bars in Austin because so entitled that they stopped paying musicians to perform, so the ones who wanted to be paid would go to San Marcos.

            Last I heard, the locals decided that they didn’t move to the Live Music Capital to listen to that racket and demanded that the music be turned down.

            Somewhere in there is the smoking ban. That one hurt Houston a lot and I doubt it helped Austin.

          • Blue, a couple things happened: the noise ordinance, which is a result of people moving downtown in the 90s because of the music scene, and then getting older and deciding the music was too damn loud and they needed their beauty sleep is the first. The second is the real estate in downtown Austin became really, really expensive, so the rents went through the roof. It’s much cheaper to have a shot bar with low overhead and a regular, predictable income stream than to have a live music club that has neither of those things. So now there is very little live music downtown.

            The smoking ban doesn’t seem to have hurt Austin’s night clubs at all, so I’m not sure that was as big of a deal as it might have been in other regions. Austin didn’t have a lot of smokers anyway. When I moved here from Kentucky, where everyone smoked, I was still smoking, and I felt really self-conscious because I’d often be the only person standing outside with a cigarette.

          • at Chris:

            People seem to move to Portland when they get outpriced of the Bay Area. Portland surprises me because it is more laid back and bohemian than San Francisco! I guess the Bay Area has Silicon Valley and Genetech to provide a high-stakes economy and other stuff. Even though Portland is now very cool, it still feels like a small city on the far edge of a country and more disconnected from the mainland than San Francisco. It is also much cheaper. You can be a barista in Portland and have a not bad life. The problem is that there does not seem to be too much beyond that. You have Nike in Beaverton but the economy is still very local. A guy in my building lived in Portland and he said that he worked just as many hours there but for much less pay than in SF. He is in advertising.

            Oakland is weird. In some ways it feels like it is on the slow path to becoming the Brooklyn of the Bay Area. A lot of people have pride in living in Oakland over San Francisco. However, there are still many places in Oakland (especially West Oakland) where people dare not tread.

      • Missouri has always been a state that has sort of baffled me. I’d probably struggle to find it on a map, it part because I don’t have a firm sense of where it fits in culturally. This is at least partly informed by sports teams. When I think have Kansas City, I think of the Chiefs. They have a Native American motif and are in the AFC West. When I think have St. Louis, I think of the Cardinals. I think of them as an Eastern-MidWestern city, like Chicago. I tend to think of those two cities as more “east coast” than other Mid-Western cities like Cleveland or Indianapolis.

        Of course, I’ve never visited any of these places and am probably putting too much stock into sports culture (SHOCK!). But Missouri, like Texas, has always been a hard place to peg in terms of what cultural region it belongs in. PA sometimes seems to fit this, because it stretches from Philly in the east to Pittsburgh in the west, which seem pretty distinct (east coast versus rust belt).

        Ultimately, as it so often seems to be, Texas is simply its own animal.

  16. Also, what do you know about Grand Junction? I keep seeing that place pop up on lists of great places to live and the pictures are always breathtaking.

    • Long history of boom-and-bust economy based on resource extraction (most recent major cycle, oil shale). Over the last decade or so there was a mini-boom in oil and gas drilling, which also accounts for their higher-than-average crime rates. They’ve been building a substantial outdoor-athletic-tourism industry. Shows up on lots of lists as a terrific place to retire, but retirees are generally immune to the boom-and-bust thing for their income. High marks for health care — they’ve been big on getting all of the providers to work together on overall patient care. The metro area is less than 150,000 people, though, so if you have something unusual you’re a long way from the more specialized specialists.

      • I should have added that politically, they have a substantial inferiority complex. Rural Colorado would like to have one of the seven US House seats “belong” to the eastern plains, one belong to the Western Slope (of which GJ is the de facto capital), and have the other five split amongst the Front Range counties. In the 2010 redistricting, that was essentially impossible. The way the lines were drawn, by 2020 it is more than likely that the eastern plains will be dominated by Fort Collins and surrounding smaller towns to which that rural area was attached (that district is reliably Republican on the basis of overwhelming majorities in the rural area). The Congressman from that district is currently from a rural plains town, but my perception is he got reelected as the incumbent, and will be the last rural Republican to win up there. GJ has to worry about which part of the Front Range will be attached to “their” district in 2020 in order to balance the population needs. During the 2010 posturing over districts, the Democrats submitted one map in which all seven districts would have been effectively chosen by the Front Range counties. GJ really has to hope that by 2020, Colorado has grown enough to get an eighth seat. Similar things are happening in terms of the Colorado legislature; Colorado outside of the Front Range is slowly getting squeezed out.

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