Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Garnering the rural vote

As I recently wrote, the secret to Republican success in recent decades has been winning elections in sparsely populated areas, which are proportionally overrepresented.

Now, Ken Silverstein reports over at Harper's that Cosmopolitan -- yes, the fashion magazine for women -- was actually at least partly a political journal a century ago, and he provides a link to an article from back then discussing how campaign financing essentially allows the rich to buy political offices. All of that is interesting enough, but what I found remarkable was another passage in that article:

The apportionment of legislators is such that one-eleventh of the population, and they the most ignorant and most venal, elect a majority of the legislature—which means that they elect the two United States senators. Each city and township counts as a political unit; thus, the five cities that together have two-thirds of the population are in an overwhelming minority before twenty almost vacant rural townships—their total population is not thirty-seven thousand—where the ignorance is even illiterate, where the superstition is mediaeval, where tradition and custom have made the vote an article of legitimate merchandising.

A number of things are salient here. First, the author would be lambasted today as an elitist, who shows anti-Democratic disdain for the masses. Nothing particularly unusual about that -- it puts him in the company of our Founding Fathers -- but I find it hard to imagine any mainstream journalists being able to say such a thing openly today. But you could certainly do so in the blogosphere.

Second, it seems that the overrepresentation of rural areas affects all levels of politics, not just Capitol Hill. Yet, I find it hard to believe that the United States is truly that much further to the left than our politicians. It seems clear that the majority of Americans simply do not get what they want from their government more often than majorities in other Western countries, but it also seems clear that Americans are much more conservative in religion and economics (though not culture) than the French or the Germans, to take just two examples.

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