Yes, argues immigrant author Jonathan Raban in the BBC, starting with an analysis that is not really all that novel, i.e., that in the US, urban areas tend to lean Democratic while the rural hinterland votes Republican. What’s intriguing is his argument that the divide stems from differences in how rural vs. urban people relate with nature! Here’s an excerpt where he presents the case for the Seattle / Washington area:
At issue is the fundamental question of mankind’s relationship with nature.
To many country dwellers, the mountains, plains, forests, and rivers of the state are a limitless resource of arable and grazing land, precious metals, timber and hydroelectricity – and some of the pious among them like to quote the Book of Genesis, in which God is said to give man “dominion” over “all the earth”.
To environmental activists (usually described by the ruralists as “Seattle liberals”), the magnificent geography of Washington state is a sacred space, a wilderness to be lovingly preserved and restored, as closely as possible, to its original “pristine” state.
And Seattleites have been inclined to treat the rest of their state as a giant park, a recreational facility for hikers, fly-fishermen, climbers, mountain-bikers, birders, and the like, for whom the traditional occupations of the countryside appear simply as rude blots on the landscape.
Pitched battles have been fought between the city and the countryside over such bones of contention as the habitat of the spotted owl (that battle resulted in the end of logging on National Forest land), gold mines, cattle grazing, dams on rivers (which block the passage of the declining runs of Pacific salmon to their spawning grounds), brush-cutting and wetlands setbacks.
In the course of this long and continuing conflict about land-use, rich, liberal, green, high-tech Seattle, with its high proportion of college graduates, has emerged as a post-regional city, deeply resented for its political power by people who live beyond the metro area, who once thought of Seattle as their own.
While I think the relationship to nature is an important element of someone’s political views – and one that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it should – I’m not convinced that it splits so neatly between urban/rural :: liberal/conservative. What do you think? And, as Janaki Lenin (who led me to this article) wonders, how does this play out in other parts of the world, especially now that more than half of humanity lives in cities? Why aren’t we seeing “liberals” or “environmentalists” gain more political power anywhere, given the urbanization of our species, if Raban’s argument about the relationship with nature holds?