Elections

The Vermont Paradox: A Left-Wing State with a Remarkably Popular Republican Governor

Historically, Vermont was one of the most Republican-voting states in the union. In 1936 it was one of only two states (along with Maine) to favor Alf Landon over Franklin D. Roosevelt, and did so decisively. But since 1988, Vermont has voted for Democratic presidential candidates. It is now by some measures the country’s most left-wing state. In 2020, Vermont gave a higher percentage of its votes to Joe Biden than any other state. Its democratic-socialist senator, Bernie Sanders, won his most recent election easily, gaining the support of 67.4 percent of Vermont voters. In the state’s 2022 U.S. Senate election, Democrat Peter Welsh overwhelmed Republican Gerald Malloy, who took only 27.6 percent of the vote. But these were all national elections; at the state level, a different picture emerges. Vermont not only has a Republican governor, Phil Scott, but an extraordinarily popular one at that. In 2022, Scott enjoyed a landslide election, taking 69.2% of the vote. Of all the sitting governors in the United States, only Mark Gordon of Wyoming received a higher percentage of the vote in the most recent gubernatorial election (see the map below).

Vermont is not the only state with different political environments at the national and state levels. If one compares maps of gubernatorial and presidential elections, the general correlation is relatively close – but the exceptions are significant. As of early 2023, three “red” states will have Democratic governors (Kentucky, Kansas, and Louisiana), and three “blue” states will have Republican governors (Virginia, New Hampshire, and Vermont). Currently, deep blue Maryland and Massachusetts also have Republican governors, although in 2022 both states elected Democratic replacements. Of these seemingly incongruous states, Vermont is by far the most aberrant. It is extreme on both scores, being the most Democratic-voting state in recent national elections and the second most Republican-voting state in the most recent gubernatorial elections.

Like other recent Republican governors in New England, Scott occupies a left-center position on social and cultural issues and a center to center-right position on economic issues. According to his own self-description, “I and very much a fiscal conservative. But not unlike most Republicans in the northeast, I’m probably more on the left of center from a social standpoint. I am a pro-choice Republican.” Scott’s fiscal conservatism is probably key to his success. Vermont is a high-tax state, and evidently many of its residents want to hold the line on further taxation and expenditure.

Scott’s landslide 2022 victory was also related to the unpopularity of his Democratic opponent, Brenda Siegel. Siegel took only 23.4 percent of the vote, losing every county in the state (independents and write-ins took 5 percent of the vote). Siegel is a noted progressive activist, who focused her campaign on homelessness, the housing crisis, the opioid epidemic, drug-law reform, and climate change. As noted by VTDigger,

[Siegal] gained the most attention last fall when she slept on the Statehouse steps for 27 nights to pressure leaders to extend the state’s motel voucher program for Vermonters without permanent housing. The goal, she said, was to serve as a constant reminder to lawmakers about the realities of living outside, confronting them on their walks to work and pressuring them to act. After nearly a month of sleeping on the cold stone steps, she and fellow activists prevailed when the program was extended through the winter.

 

One might have expected Siegel’s political positions and steadfast determination to prove popular in a state as left-wing as Vermont. Electoral returns, however, indicate otherwise. Although the Democrats’ progressive wing has substantial clout within the party, it is regarded with suspicion by moderate Democrats and is rejected outright by most independents. As a result, progressive candidates often have a difficult time winning elections. But if Vermont Republicans had nominated a Trumpian populist, Siegel’s probably would have prevailed. Vermont Republicans, however, incline away from right-wing populism. In 2016, Donald Trump won the Vermont Republican primary, but did so with only 32% of the vote. John Kasich, a center-right if not centrist candidate, came close to winning, taking 30% of the vote.

In several deep blue states, most notably California, Republicans currently have little if any chance of prevailing in a gubernatorial contest. If they were to nominate a moderate candidate, success could be possible. But the Republican base in most parts of the country disdains center-right candidates as “RINOs,” or “Republicans in name only.” In California, where Donald Trump took 75 percent of the vote in the 2016 primary, Republicans are unlikely to nominate a candidate who has a serious chance of winning.

The United States has not only undergone pronounced political polarization in recent decades, but it has also entered an era of what might be called “negative politics.” In this environment, both parties are unpopular with the public at large, and many voters opt not for the party or candidate that they like the best, but rather the one they dislike – or even hate – the least. This unstable dynamic will be explored in a later post.

 

The Vermont Paradox: A Left-Wing State with a Remarkably Popular Republican Governor Read More »

The 2022 Republican Losses in Pennsylvania and Michigan

By the 1990s, Pennsylvania and Michigan had become solidly Democratic states in national elections, forming key blocks in the so-called Blue Wall stretching across the northeastern quadrant of the country. In 2016, however, both states swung to Republican Donald Trump, albeit by very narrow margins. In the 2022 two midterm election, both states returned to the blue camp, with Democratic candidates outperforming expectations. In all likelihood, Michigan and Pennsylvania will be critical states in the 2024 President presidential election.

In Pennsylvania’s election, several Republican candidates severely stumbled. In the gubernatorial contest, Doug Mastriano took only 42% of the vote. Mastriano’s defeat was expected, as he was widely regarded as an extremist candidate associated with the fringe Christian nationalist movement. The U.S. Senate election in Pennsylvania, in contrast, was expected to be close. Many Republicans were optimistic about the prospects of their candidate, Mehmet Oz. Oz had won a close Republican primary in which the endorsement of radio broadcaster Sean Hannity may have been decisive. But in the end, Oz received only 46.5% of the vote. Many Pennsylvanians were evidently skeptical about Doctor Oz. Beyond political issues, objections focused on his dual Turkish citizenship, his career as a television doctor who dabbled in pseudoscience, and the fact that he had only recently moved to Pennsylvania.

In the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives, the Republican Party also performed poorly, losing 12 seats and control of the body. Comparing the 2022 election map to that of 2016, the biggest difference is the massive loss of support for Republicans in the affluent southeastern corner of the state, located in the Philadelphia metropolitan region. The Democrats also gained a seat in the Pennsylvania State Senate, although they did not win control. In the 2022 U.S. House of Representatives election in Pennsylvania, the Republicans lost a seat while the Democrats held steady (the state dropped a seat in redistricting). Yet in terms of the popular U.S. House vote, the Republicans triumphed, taking 52.6% of the vote. This result show that Pennsylvania is still a purple state, one in which Republicans can win if they put forward the right candidates.

Pennsylvania is deeply divided by electoral geography. The eastern part of the state, particularly the Philadelphia metropolitan area, is now firmly in the blue category, as is the Pittsburgh metropolitan area in the west. Contrastingly, central Pennsylvania, often disparagingly referred to as “Pennsatucky,” is in general a socially conservative area that leans in a strikingly populist direction. In the 2016 Republican presidential primary election, Donald Trump won Pennsylvania handily, with 58% of the vote. Not surprisingly, Pennsylvania Republicans were able to nominate a number of Trumpian populists who were not competitive in the 2022 election.

Trump was not nearly as popular in Michigan in the 2016 Republican primary election as he was in Pennsylvania, taking only 37% of the state’s vote. But Michigan Republicans nominated several very conservative candidates in 2022. They had high hopes for their gubernatorial choice, Tudor Dixon, widely regarded as a charismatic candidate. Dixon’s opponent, incumbent Gretchen Whitmer, was viewed by many as vulnerable, partly because of her rather draconian COVID policies. In the end, however, Whitmer triumphed handily, taking 54.9% of the vote. She won in several  counties in the Lower Peninsula that have often supported Republican candidates (compare the 2022 and 2014 maps). Abortion may have been a crucial factor in this election. Tudor Dixon was noted for her strong pro-life stance, opposing abortion even in cases of incest and rape. In the same election, Michiganders gave 56.6 percent of their vote to a referendum “Creat[ing] a Constitutional Right to Reproductive Freedom.” The Republicans Party also lost a Michigan seat in the US House of Representatives, as well as the state’s popular House vote, albeit by a narrow margin. Michigan Democrats took control of both chambers of the state legislature, gaining four seats in the senate and three in the house.

Although Donald Trump is still polling ahead of other possible Republican contenders for the presidency in 2024 and is therefore the apparently front-runner, the 2022 elections in Michigan and Pennsylvania indicate that he would difficulty winning these crucial states. Although several right-populist pundits and politicians, including Ohio Senator-elect J.D. Vance, have warned against blaming Trump for the disappointing Republican tallies in 2022, the Michigan and Pennsylvania results point in a different direction.

The 2022 Republican Losses in Pennsylvania and Michigan Read More »

Mixed Election Returns in Arizona: The Trump Effect?

One of the main take-home messages of the 2022 U.S. election is that individual states matter a great deal. The Republicans gained control of the U.S. House of Representatives largely because they did well in New York, a distinctly blue state, and in Florida, a formerly purple state that is now firmly in the red category. The Democrats, on the other hand, performed well in Pennsylvania and Michigan, both in national and state contests. Other states showed less pronounced movement in either direction. Arizona, in contrast, came in with highly mixed results, offering disappointment for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Arizona was once one of the most reliably Republican states in the union. It was the only state outside of the Deep South to support Barry Goldwater, a native son, in the pivotal 1964 election. Although it voted for Bill Clinton in 1996, it did not opt again for a Democratic presidential candidate until 2020. In that year, Arizona had the country’s closest electoral margin, with Biden receiving 49.36% of the vote and Trump 49.06%. Arizona can now be considered a deep-purple swing state. It also has a reputation for supporting maverick candidates, whether Democrat or Republican. In the recent part, Republican Senator John McCain often irritated other members of his party, as does Democratic SenatorKyrsten Sinema currently.

In Arizona’s 2020 gubernatorial election, Republicans had high hopes for their candidate, Kari Lake. Lake, a former television newscaster, is very comfortable in front of the camera and was widely regarded by Republican pundits as an ideal and charismatic candidate – a “MAGA star” according to some. In contrast, her Democratic opponent, Katie Hobbs, refused to debate and did relatively little campaigning as the polls tightened and the election approached. In the end, Hobbs eked out a narrow victory, which Lake has been reluctant to accept. In the Arizona U.S. Senate contest, Democratic candidate Mark Kelly more handily defeated his Republican opponent, Blake Masters, winning by roughly 5 percentage points. In these high-profile contests, the Democrats were clearly victorious.

But in the 2022 U.S. House of Representative elections in Arizona, a different picture emerges. Going into the contest the Democrats held five Arizona House seats and the Republicans four. After the votes were tallied, the Republicans ended up with six seats, the Democrats three.

The Republicans’ success in the Arizona House races, in contrast to their failure in the gubernatorial and senate elections, seems to be linked to the nature of the individual candidates. Both Kari Lake and Blake Masters are strong Trump supporters who questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. Lake also pointedly rejected the support of Republicans affiliated with John McCain, insulting his legacy. This may not have been a wise strategy. Four days before the election, she told an audience of her supporters:

“We don’t have any McCain Republicans in here, do we?” Lake asked from a campaign stage. “Alright, get the hell out,” she said, before adding, “Boy, Arizona has delivered some losers, haven’t they?”

Senate candidate Blake Masters, for his part, is widely regarded as a hard-core American nationalist who has also opposed U.S. aid to Ukraine. Perhaps more harmful to his image, he is seen as a protege of the controversial tech tycoon Peter Thiel. Thiel’s advocacy of such causes as transhumanism does not endear him to traditional conservatives.

Donald Trump strongly lent his support to Lake and Masters. But he also endorsed two successful Arizona U.S. House candidates, David Schweikert and Eli Crane. Schweikert, however, won by an extraordinarily thin margin, even though his district had been rated as “safe Republican” by 538. Crane won easily, but his victory can be attributed in part to a redistricting process that created a safe Republican seat.

The take-home message of the 2022 Arizona election is that close association with Donald Trump, along with a reputation for extremism, often proves harmful for Republican candidates. In the Arizona U.S. House contest, the Republican candidates received 56.4 percent of the vote statewide, whereas the Republican Senate candidate received only 46.5 percent. These are striking numbers.

As we shall see in the next GeoCurrents post, Trump-endorsed candidates also performed poorly in Michigan and Pennsylvania. These two states had moved from the “blue” to the “purple” category in recent election, but both now seem to be trending back in the Democratic direction.

Mixed Election Returns in Arizona: The Trump Effect? Read More »

Geographical Patterns in the 2022 Election, Part 1, The North-Central United States

The U.S. House of Representatives 2022 election was an almost exact inverse of the 2020 contest. In 2020, the Democrats won 50.8 percent of the popular vote nationwide and took 222 seats; in 2022, the Republicans won 50.7 percent of the popular vote nationwide and will probably end up with 222 seats. Yet both parties can credibly claim to have triumphed in this election. The Republicans took control of the House, but they performed worse than expected. The party out of power at the presidential level usually loses more seats in a midterm election, and in this contest the Democrats faced serious headwinds, including an unpopular president, a high rate of inflation, and a pervasive feeling that the country is headed in the wrong direction.

The electoral geography of the United States has been in transition for the past several decades, with nonmetropolitan regions trending in the Republican direction as metropolitan areas trend in the Democratic direction. The Pacific Coast and the southern half of the interior West have also shifted toward the Democrats, as has the Northeast, while the Midwest and the South have moved toward the Republicans. In the 2022 contest, some of these trends continued but others showed signs of reversal. The Republicans won two more non-metropolitan House seats in the Midwest, while the Democrats cemented their hold along the Pacific coast, winning every House district bordering the ocean, even that of red-state Alaska. But the Republicans picked up some unexpected seats in the metropolitan Mid-Atlantic, particularly in the New York City area, while the Democrats realized a few gains of their own in the Midwest and South.

All these patterns will be explored in later posts. The remainder of this one focuses on the electoral transformation of the north-central region of the country. This area has been trending “red” for some time. Here the Republicans picked up two House seats in 2022 and three in 2020 . But as recently as 2008, a radically different electoral geography appears, as the Democrats then held most of the region’s seats. Even the Dakotas are blue on the 2008 map. The political transformation of this general region can also be seen in recent presidential elections. The next set of maps moves the frame of reference a bit to the east and south to illustrate this electoral transformation. As is readily visible, non-metropolitan areas of Minnesota, Iowa, northern Missouri, Illinois, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan have seen a pronounced red shift over the past 30 years. This transformation is particularly notable in Minnesota. In the landslide election of 1984, Minnesota was the only state to opt for Democrat Walter Mondale over Republican Ronald Reagan; in 2020 Donald Trump lost Minnesota, but only by a narrow margin.

In Minnesota’s 2022 midterm election, the Democrats performed well. Democratic Tim Waltz won the gubernatorial election with 52.3 percent of the vote, but more importantly the Democrats established control over both branches of the state legislature. As can be seen on the first map below, the Democratic Party thus established “trifecta” control in Minnesota, just as it did in Michigan, Massachusetts, and Maryland. But the metropolitan/non-metropolitan divide continues to deepen, as can be seen in maps of the Minnesota State House of Representatives. In 2022, the Democrats triumphed here because they dominated the vote in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metropolitan region. Peripheral Minnesota, on the other hand, is almost entirely red. Even the mining country of the northeast, historically one of the most solid Democratic strongholds in the country, supported Republican candidates in the 2022 state legislative elections. Contrastingly, the Twin Cities metropolitan area has been moving further in the “blue” direction.

 

For Minnesota as a whole, the modest blue shift in the 2022 election seems to be closely linked to the pro-Trump stance of several prominent Republican candidates. A argued by Minnesota State Representative Emma Greenman in a MINNPOST article:

From the top of the ticket, Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen repeatedly refused to acknowledge that Joe Biden won the 2020 election and publicly suggested that Secretary of State Steve Simon should be jailed. The Republican candidate running to be Minnesota’s chief elections officer, Kim Crockett called herself “the election denier in chief” … . In the statewide match-up that put the issue of democracy directly to voters, Secretary of State Steve Simon soundly beat Kim Crockett and won more votes than any other statewide candidate. In Minnesota’s swing legislative districts, DFLer* challengers defeated extremist election deniers, including an incumbent from Circle Pines who is a member of the Oathkeepers, and a St. Peter incumbent who attended and defended the Jan. 6 Storm the Capitol rally in St. Paul.

Similar results were found in other states in which Republican nominees strongly supported Donald Trump and questioned the results of the 2020 presidential election, as we shall see in later posts.

* The Minnesota affiliate of the U.S. Democratic Party is officially called the “Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party,” or DFL.

Geographical Patterns in the 2022 Election, Part 1, The North-Central United States Read More »

Racial and Regional Voting Patterns in Brazil’s 2022 Election

Some clear racial voting patterns are evident in the 2022 Brazilian election. A map of Brazil’s relatively densely populated eastern strip, for example, shows a clear north/south divide. Its northern half is mostly non-white and voted heavily for Lula da Silva, whereas its southern half supported Bolsonaro and has a population of mostly European descent. To be sure, a few exceptions are found, such as the mostly white, Lula-voting area in the extreme southeast. When one looks at maps of Brazil as a whole, however, the situation is revealed to be much more complicated, as it does in maps of individual Brazilian states and regions. The second map posted below indicates the Brazilian states in which Bolsonaro found his highest level of support in 2022. As can be seen, four of these states have mostly non-white populations. All four of them are located in Brazil’s western zone of deforestation and agricultural expansion.

Before digging further into the details, it is important to note that race has been conceptualized differently in Brazil and the United States. In the U.S., a person with any ancestry from sub-Saharan Africa has been conventionally regarded as Black, whereas in Brazil a person with any European ancestry has conventionally been regarded as non-Black – not as “white,” to be sure, but as pardo, or brown. Historically, Brazil encouraged interracial marriage, partly due to the racist hope that it would result in a gradual “whitening” of the population. As a result of these attitudes and practices, Brazil’s Black community is estimated as constituting only around seven percent of the country’s total population. On the detailed map of racial distribution used in this post, hardly any Brazilian municipalities are shown as having a Black plurality, let alone majority. But by the U.S. system of racial classification, the Brazilian population would be reckoned as roughly half Black, with the northeast having a clear Black majority. Brazil also lacks the heritage of overt racial discrimination that characterizes the United States. Still, people with substantial African ancestry tend to be markedly poorer and less educated than people of primarily European ancestry, and they do suffer from stigmatization. But class status can partly override race; as noted in a 2007 scholarly article, “The idea that ‘money whitens’” is a classic topic in the sociological literature on race in Brazil.”

In northeastern Brazil, the poorest part of the country, voting patterns and racial patterns show little correlation. Although the population of northeastern Brazil is mostly non-white, the region does have pockets of mainly Euro-Brazilian settlement. One prominent example is the south-central part of the state of Rio Grande do Norte. Income maps show that this region is more prosperous and has less dire poverty than the rest of the state, but is still relatively poor by southeastern Brazilian standards. It is not, however, distinguishable on the 2022 electoral map, as it voted, like neighboring non-white areas, heavily for Lula. Almost all of the districts in northeastern Brazil that supported Bolsonaro in 2022 are in the coastal area of Alagoas, a mostly pardo (or mixed race) area. Deeply entrenched patron-client relationships, in which local elites influence the voting patterns of non-elites, might explain this seemingly anomalous pattern.

The largest number of people classified as “Black” in Brazil are found in Bahia, a large state that covers the southern half of the northeastern region. Bahia as many distinctive cultural features, which have been both celebrated and disparaged in the rest of Brazil. The final post in this GeoCurrents series on the 2022 Brazilian election will look more closely at Bahia.

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Voting Patterns in the 2022 Election in Brazil’s Cerrado Region

As noted in a previous post, the deforested areas of Brazil’s Amazon Basin supported the extreme rightwing candidate Jair Bolsonaro in the 2022 election, whereas the non-deforested areas supported the leftwing candidate Lula da Silva. Somewhat similar patterns are found in the vast Cerrado zone to the south of the Amazonian region.

The seasonally wet and dry Cerrado was mostly covered by savannah vegetation in its original state. It was long considered almost worthless for agriculture, due to its acidic soils and low levels of plant nutrients. Brazilian agricultural scientists at Embrapa, however, learned how to make the Cerrado productive, mostly by adding large quantities of lime and phosphorus to the soil. They also bred new strains of originally temperate crops that would grow well in this tropical environment. Subsequently, clearance of the highly diverse Cerrado vegetation intensified, with much of the region converted to mechanized farmland. As this occurred, Brazil surpassed the United States to become the world’s largest soybean producer. This process has resulted in major economic gains but also in social tensions, heightened economic inequality, and extensive environmental degradation. As little land in the Cerrado has been preserved for nature, it has been called Brazil’s “ugly duckling of conservation.”

As can be seen on one of the maps posted below, much more of the southern and western Cerrado has been transformed into modernized farmland than the northern and eastern part of the region. As might be expected, the main agricultural centers in the western Cerrado voted heavily for Bolsonaro in the 2022 election. The less transformed northeastern Cerrado, contrastingly, voted heavily for Lula in the same election. This environmental/economic/electoral pattern is similar to the one seen in the Amazon.

Economic class is a major factor here. The northeastern part of the Cerrado extends into the poorest part of Brazil (the eastern part of the greater northeast). As Lula was very effective in alleviating poverty and enhancing social development in his earlier terms as president, he retains great popularity in the more impoverished parts of the country. Although some areas in the northeastern Cerrado have become major centers of soybean farming, relatively few people are employed on the mechanized farms and low levels of income remain widespread, as can be seen on the first set of maps posted below. As a result, there is relatively little correlation between voting patterns and agricultural production zones in this part of Brazil, as can be seen on the second set of maps below (the areas outlined in white on the electoral map have Brazil’s highest soybean yields).

The patterns that I am describing here are quite simple and are meant to be taken only in a suggestive sense. Much more detailed work would have to be conducted to make any conclusive statements. I do find it interesting however, that a major area of mechanized soybean agriculture in far western Bahia state in northwestern Brazil voted heavily for Lula de Silva, quite in contrast to the soybean centers in Mato Grosso and other western states. States matter a great deal in Brazil, and Bahia is highly distinctive, noted for having the largest African cultural and demographic imprint in the country. I will explore correlations between racial patterns and voting patterns in the next GeoCurrents post.

(Many thanks to André Goldman for sharing his knowledge of Brazilian political geography and thus helping me write these posts. I will add André’s insightful comments to my earlier Brazilian election posts later this week.)

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Amazonian Deforestation, Support for Bolsonaro, and the Roraima Mystery

In the 2022 Brazilian presidential election, the Amazonian region was strikingly divided, as is clearly visible on the Globo map posted below. (I have added an oval and two terms on the map to mark Roraima and the Amazonian region.) Most municipalities (similar to U.S. counties) here strongly supported one candidate or the other. Bolsonaro’s zone of support lies to the south of the Amazon River, but has a distinct northern outlier in the state of Roraima. In contrast, in the large state of Amazonas in the northwest, Lula da Silva received more than 60 percent of the vote in almost every municipality. The main exception was the capital city of Manaus (population 2.2 million), where Bolsonaro took 61 percent of the vote.

The electoral divide in the Amazonian region is easily explained by economic and demographic factors. As noted in a recent Mongabay headline, “Bolsonaro loses election but finds big support in Amazon Arc of Deforestation.” The Amazonian areas won by Bolsonaro have seen extensive forest clearance and now have economies based on agriculture, grazing, and artisanal (and often illegal) mining. As people stream into these areas from other parts of Brazil, pressure for further deforestation grows. As Bolsonaro, unlike Lula, is a champion of forest clearance and mining, his high level of support in these areas is not surprising. As noted by Mongabay writer André Schröder:

Experts don’t see the result as surprising since a large part of the population in this part of the territory doesn’t consider deforestation to be illegal. “Land invaders, loggers, ranchers and gold miners want a full license to occupy the Amazon territory. And Bolsonaro is not against that,” Beto Veríssimo, researcher and co-founder of the Brazilian conservation nonprofit Imazon, told Mongabay by phone. Voters from those municipalities benefit from politicians who promise not to fight illegal activities, according to Veríssimo.

 

 

The partially deforested, Bolsonaro-voting zone of the southern Amazon is also characterized by high rates of violent crime, as can be seen on the homicide map posted below. Force is often used here to seize land and settle disputes. In such an environment, many voters support Bolsonaro’s policies that allowed widespread gun ownership. In Brazil as a whole, however, roughly two-thirds of the people oppose these measures.

In the Amazonian heartland state of Amazonas, in contrast, relatively little deforestation has occurred. Here most rural people derive their livelihoods primarily from the natural environment and small-scale horticulture. Such areas strongly supported Lula, who significantly reduced the pace of deforestation when he was president in the early 2000s. As noted in a Guardian article, Amazonian municipalities with large number of indigenous people also voted heavily for Lula, as would be expected.

The Brazilian state that gave the highest percentage of its votes to Bolsonaro (76 percent) is Roraima, located in the northern Amazonian region on the border with Venezuela and Guyana. The natural vegetation of Roraima is a mixture of savannah and rainforest, both of which have seen extensive agricultural conversion. Illegal mining is also widespread – and environmentally destructive. Roraima, the least populated Brazilian state, has seen explosive growth in recent decades, its population rising from 79,000 in 1980 to 631,000 in 2020. As can be seen on the paired maps below, only one municipality in Roraima supported Lula in 2022; not coincidentally, it has an overwhelmingly indigenous population. But the state’s other northern municipalities also have indigenous majorities or pluralities, yet they voted for Bolsonaro.

 

 

The electoral victory of Bolsonaro in the indigenous-majority municipalities of northern Roraima is not easily explained. An interesting graphic in The Guardian notes this oddity (posted above) but offers no explanation. A recent Al Jazeera article reports, unsurprisingly, that indigenous leaders in the state see Bolsonaro as a threat and have strongly supported Lula. The article also claims that the indigenous residents of Roraima have not received any benefits from the mining boom. As the author, writing before the election, notes:

If re-elected with enough support in Congress, Bolsonaro could try to push through his long-planned bill to allow mining and other industrial activities on Indigenous lands. As is the case with many Indigenous territories, official requests from companies to mine in Raposa Serra do Sol, including proposals for both gold and diamond mines, have increased since Bolsonaro took office, according to data compiled by the monitoring group Amazonia Minada and seen by Al Jazeera.

“If Bolsonaro is re-elected, we will see a continuation of anti-Indigenous policies,” Antenor Vaz, a former coordinator with Brazil’s Indigenous agency Funai who now works as an independent consultant, told Al Jazeera. “Raposa Serra do Sol would face even more pressure from illegal gold miners, as well as large landowners from outside the reserve.”

 We thus encounter a mystery: why did most voters in heavily indigenous northern Roraima opt for Bolsonaro? Several possibilities come to mind. In Lula’s stronghold of northeastern Brazil, the 2022 election was marked by voter intimidation and suppression. Even the Federal Highway Police, allied with Bolsonaro, tried to delay or prevent people from reaching the polls. Could similar tactics explain the anomalous voting patterns of northern Roraima? I have seen no evidence of this, but my research has been limited. It is also possible that many indigenous people simply did not participate in the election, although Brazil does have compulsory voting.

It does seem that this apparent mystery deserves investigation by someone who knows more about Brazil, and Roraima, than I do.

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Brazil’s Stark Electoral Divide

In recent elections, Brazil has exhibited a distinct north/south electoral divide, with the north supporting leftwing candidates and the south supporting rightwing candidates. Strictly speaking, this is a more a northeast vs. south & west-center split, as the sparsely populated northwest is itself electorally divided, as is the large center-east state of Minas Gerais (“MG” on the map below). This political division correlates closely with income and human development. As a general rule, the poorer states of Brazil’s northeast support candidates on the left while the richer states of the south support candidates on the right. This pattern can be seen on maps comparing the 2022 election results with those showing per capita GDP by state and the Human Development Index (HDI) by state. Some exceptions exist, such as the relatively poor but right-voting states of Acre (“AC”) and Amapá (“AP”), and relatively wealthy but left-voting Minas Gerais, but the general pattern is clear.

This correlation might seem predictable, but it no longer holds in the United States or over much or Europe, where wealthier regions now tend to vote for the left. Brazil’s north/south divide, moreover, has emerged only in recent elections. In 1989, for example, the leftwing candidate Lula da Silva triumphed in the relatively wealthy southern states of Rio Grande do Sul and Rio de Janeiro, as well as in the prosperous Federal District (Brasilia), while losing most of the impoverished northeast. When Lula finally won the presidency in 2002, he took every state except northeastern Alagoas. Lula’s successful anti-poverty programs subsequently solidified his power across the northeast (with the exception of coastal Alagoas)  In his 2006 reelection, the current latitudinal divide appeared on the Brazilian electoral map. In that contest, the centrist candidate Geraldo Alckmin took most of the south and the center-west. Intriguingly, Alckmin teamed up with Lula to run as his vice-presidential candidate in 2022.

This stark electoral and economic divide has led many observers to worry that there are now “two Brazils” that will not be able to function well together. Lulu is also concerned about this split, which helps explain his partnership with Alckmin. He has also promised to try to heal the division. As Lula recently stated:

“My friends. As of Jan. 1, 2023, I will govern for 215 million Brazilians, and not just for those who voted for me. There are not two Brazils. We are a single country, a single people, a great nation,” he said. …

“We will find a way out so that this country can live democratically and harmoniously again,” he said. “No one is interested in living in a divided country, in a permanent state of war.”

State-level mapping, however, is of low-resolution and is therefore often misleading. But if we look at local level, the same correlation between voting behavior and economic development still holds (see the maps below). Here Minas Gerais does not seem exceptional, as its wealthier southwestern areas went for Bolsonaro and its poorer northeastern areas went for Lula. But again, there are other exceptions. Center-west Brazil, for example, is only moderately developed yet voted heavily for Bolsonaro. This seeming oddity will be explored in a later post.

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Brazil’s Lack of a Metropolitan/Hinterland Political Divide

The 2018 and 2022 Brazilian general elections shared some important features with the 2016 and 2020 U.S. presidential elections. In all cases, a rightwing, populist nationalist won the first contest (Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump respectively) but lost the second, in both instances to an older, politically well established, center-left opponent (Lula [Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva] and Joseph Biden respectively). But the electoral geographies of the two countries are highly divergent. In the United States, and in much of Europe, parties on the political left now find most of their support in areas of high population density, whereas those of the right find most of their support in areas of low population density. Michael Lind, a hard-to-classify political centrist, has analyzed this new electoral pattern in some detail. As he writes:

On a map of the United States color-coded by party, big cities and university towns and a few regions with large immigrant and racial minority populations are a chain of Democratic islands in a Republican ocean. Similar patterns appear on maps of voting for Brexit in the UK and elections in continental Europe.

Looking at these maps, it is easy to see why scholars and journalists refer to the “urban-rural divide.” But this is misleading. Farm owners and farmworkers make up only a tiny sliver of the population in the typical Western democracy. Most voters in Europe and North America today live in broadly defined metro areas or small communities on their periphery. In the case of partisanship, the most important border is not between city and countryside, but between expensive, high-density urban business districts and inner suburbs on the one hand and, on the other, low-density suburbs and exurbs.

Rather than use the terms “city” and “countryside,” we can describe the high-density areas as “hubs” and the low-density areas around and between the hubs as “heartlands.”

In Brazil, a highly urbanized country, such a density divide is barely visible. As noted in The Guardian:

Lula’s victory had a peculiarity: he won many votes in some of Brazil’s most populated municipalities but also in most of the sparsely populated areas. In the latter, he reached more than 80% of the vote. It was at these two ends that he made the difference. Bolsonaro, instead, did very well in medium-size cities, as shown by the concentration of blue bubbles in the graph below in districts with between 100,000 and 1 million inhabitants.

But as The Guardian’s chart shows, Bolsonaro triumphed in more than half of Brazilian cities with populations of more than one million. As a map from the same article shows, Brazil’s “hubs” do not stand out from their “heartlands” in regard to electoral geography. A Portuguese-language graphic from Nexo shows that Bolsonaro won more than half of the capital cities of Brazil’s states. In the northeastern state of Alagoas, where Lula took 58.7 percent of the vote, Maceió, the capital city and largest urban center, went for Bolsanaro. (Note that in Brazil, as in most of the world, red is used for the political left and blue for the right.)

 

An important exception to this generalization is the city of São Paulo located in the state of the same name. São Paulo is Brazil’s largest city by a wide margin, and São Paulo is Brazil’s most populous state by a wide margin. The state voted solidly for Bolsanaro (55.2 percent), but the city went for Lula by a similar margin. Given the large size of São Paulo city, its votes were critical for carrying Lula to victory.

The same pattern is evident in São Paulo’s 2022 gubernatorial election, which was won by a close ally of Bolsanaro, Tarcísio Gomes de Freitas. As can be seen on the Nexo map posted below, Tarcísio (as he is mononymously called) lost São Paulo city and most of its inner suburbs while winning in most of the rest of the state. But Tarcísio did triumph in several large cities, taking both Campinas (population 1.2 million) and São José dos Campos (population 729,000; metropolitan area, 2.5 million). No U.S. cities of such a size vote for rightwing candidates. The largest to support Donald Trump in 2020 was Oklahoma City, with a population of 681,000 and a metropolitan area of 1.4 million.

We will examine other aspects of Brazil’s electoral geography in later posts

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Iran’s Kurdish Population: Anti-Regime in the Northwest; Pro-Regime in the Northeast

Many maps of the current Iran protest movement have been published and posted, showing both cumulative and daily events. Although such maps are highly useful, the patterns that they indicate are not easily discerned. Protests have been happening in so many places that a map of their occurrences approximates a population density map of the country (see the excellent population density map by Michael Izady posted below). Close analysis, however, shows a distinct concentration of protests in the historically Kurdish region in northwestern Iran (see especially first map posted below). This is no surprise. Mahsa Amini was herself Kurdish, and Iran’s Kurdish population has long been noted for its relatively liberal and anti-regime sentiments.

Protests have been relatively sparse, however, in North Khorasan province in northeastern Iran, which is almost half Kurdish. North Khorasan is not part of historical Kurdistan; Kurds were deported from their homeland to this region in the early modern period by Safavid shahs who wanted their help in protecting their empire against Turkmen and Uzbek pastoral peoples from Central Asia. Evidently, pro-Kurdish and anti-regime sentiments are much less pronounced here than they are in the solidly Kurdish regions of the northwest. Population distribution probably plays a role. Although many of the Kurds in North Khorasan live in Kurdish villages, the province’s cities are ethnically mixed, counting many Farsi-speakers and Turkmens. This mixing has perhaps diminished ethnic identity among the region’s urban Kurds.

Electoral returns, however, indicate that deeper factors are at play. North Khorasan, like most of the rest of northeastern Iran, is a conservative area that gives most of its votes to hardline, pro-regime candidates. Reformist candidates would not do so poorly in this province if they received widespread support from the local Kurdish population. Posted below are three Wikipedia maps of relative fair Iranian presidential elections, all of which show moderate/reformist candidates winning in the historically Kurdish northwest yet doing poorly in heavily Kurdish North Khorasan. The 2001 map, which shows vote percentages at the district level, best illustrates this pattern. As can be seen, the most heavily Kurdish areas of the northwest gave more than 84 percent of their votes to Mohammad Khatami, the incumbent champion of relatively free expression, civil society, and a “dialogue among civilizations.” North Khorasan, however, gave Khatami fewer than 39 percent of its votes. Intriguingly, nearby areas to the south and east, with much smaller Kurdish populations, gave Khatami a significantly larger share of their votes.

The relative conservatism of Iran’s northeastern Kurds is an interesting phenomenon that has received little attention in the English-language literature. I can only wonder whether Iranian scholars, pundits, and political activists have examined it.

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Maps and Graphs to Help Explain Italy’s Turn to Rightwing Populism

Rightwing populist parties have gained support over much of Europe over the past decade. Italy, however, is the first western European country to see a rightwing coalition led by a populist party come to power. The success of Giorgia Meloni’s Brother of Italy is partly explicable on the basis of Italy’s extremely low fertility rate in combination with its highly negative attitudes toward immigration, as can be seen in the map and charts posted below. With few children being born and immigrants generally unwelcome and no longer staying in large numbers, Italy faces an impending financial/demographic crisis. Unless something changes, future retirees will no longer be easily supported. Meloni’s pro-natalist plans, which call for substantial subsidies for child-bearing couples, thus proved attractive to many voters. Widespread antipathy to immigrants also helps explain the appeal of Meloni’s majoritarian identity politics, focused on nationalistic sentiments.

Why the Italian population is so averse to immigrants is an open question. The country’s foreign-born population is not high by western European standards. It is significant, however, that Italy does not have a long history of receiving immigrants; for most of its time as a nation-state, it has been noted instead for sending out emigrants.

Italy’s economic malaise is another important factor in its swing to the right. In the late twentieth century, the Italian economy was in good shape. In the Il Sorpasso phenomenon of 1987, Italy’s GDP overcame that of the United Kingdom, making it the sixth largest economy in the world. Today Italy’s GDP stands at 2,058,330 (US$ million) whereas the UK stands at 3,376,000 (US$ million). Italy has experienced pronounced economic decline over the past dozen years, and most of its regions suffer from high unemployment. Considering as well Italy’s chaotic political system, it is perhaps not surprising that its voters have turned against their country’s political establishment. Such dissatisfaction also helps explain the recent rise of its left-populist Five Star Movement. But Five Star saw a massive decline in support in the 2022 election. Perhaps its suspicions about economic growth were a factor here.

Maps and Graphs to Help Explain Italy’s Turn to Rightwing Populism Read More »

Economic and Class Factors in the 2022 Italian Election

Historically, leftwing political parties and movements have championed the working class and, in turn, have received its support. But as cultural and social issues have increased in importance, this connection has weakened and now seems to be disappearing. In Europe, concerns about immigration and European integration have also pushed working-class voters from the political left to the right.

Such dynamics were clearly evident in the 2022 Italian election. As the graph posted above shows, the most left-leaning of the major Italian parties, the Greens and Left Alliance, found the bulk of its support in the higher income quintiles. The Democratic Party, the heart of the left coalition, did poorly with lower-income voters. Higher-income voters were much more inclined than low-income voters to support the pro-EU, centrist “Action/Viva Italia” alliance. The one left-leaning party to gain most of its support from the working class was the neo-populist Five Star Movement. But while the Five Star Movement supports economic redistribution and many other leftist policies, it is also hostile to immigration and suspicious of the European Union. As a result, it has sometimes been shunned by the other left-leaning parties.

Parties belonging to the victorious rightwing coalition received a significant amount of support from the working class. Giorgia Meloni’s right-populist (or national conservative, sometimes deemed post-fascist) Brothers of Italy did well across the income spectrum but appealed most strongly to those in the lower-middle income quintile. Surprisingly, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza, an establishment oriented, pro-business party, did best among those in the lowest quintile. Matteo Salvini’s populist and regionalist/federalist Lega party also had slightly higher support among lower-income voters.

Patterns of economic geography are less visible in the Italian election returns of 2022. As can be seen on the map of multi-member electoral constituencies posted above, the left-populist Five Star Movement received most of its support in the south, which is by far the poorest part of Italy. In northern Italy, however, no economic correlations are apparent. The three richest provinces of Italy, as assessed by per capita GDP in 2019 (see the map posted below), supported different parties. Bologna gave most its votes to the leftwing coalition, as it always does. Monza and Brianza, just north of Milan, supported the rightwing coalition, as it generally does. In the far north, the Autonomous Province of Bolzano (or South Tyrol) supported its own regionalist party, as it almost always does. South Tyrol is very distinctive from the rest of Italy, mostly because more than half of its people speak German as their first language.

  

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Left and Right Voting Patterns in Italy’s 2022 Election

(GeoCurrents will return to the Seduced by the Map manuscript later this year. The next few posts will look at Italy’s 2022 election. Posts next week will examine the current protest movement in Iran.)

The recent Italian election saw a clear victory by the rightwing coalition, which gained an outright majority of parliamentary seats. In terms of popular vote, however, the results were not so clear. The rightwing coalition took only 43.7 percent of the total vote. But the leftwing coalition lagged far behind, with only 26 percent of the vote. Most of the rest of the votes went to two non-coalition parties, the left-populist Five Star Movement and the centrist Action-Viva Italia alliance. If these parties had joined the left coalition, it would have received 49.2 percent of the vote. If one were to add the votes given to two extreme leftist parties (People’s Union and Sovereign Italy), the total “left and center” vote would stand at 51.8 percent.

There are two main reasons why the rightwing coalition won a decisive victory despite its minority level of support. One was the lack of unity in the left-center. As The Guardian reported, “The centre-left Democrats, led by Enrico Letta, placed a veto on any alliance with the left-leaning Five-Star Movement, and the centrist Liberals in turn placed a veto on the Democrats. This uncooperative narcissism cleared the way for the far-right victory.” Also important was the ability of the rightwing coalition to reach plurality support in 83 percent of the 232 single-member constituencies of the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of parliament). With many parties in play, it is not difficult to reach first place with a far-from-majority level of support. On the electoral map of these constituencies, Italy appears almost solidly blue (the conventional color of the rightwing in Italy – and in almost almost every other country, except the United States).

But if the right’s victory was not as solid as it seems at first glance, the left’s defeat is still striking. Constituencies that supported candidates on the left in almost every election since 1948 failed to come through. Prior to 2017, almost every district in the important regions of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna in north-central Italy gave at least plurality support to candidates on the left. In 2022, such support was whittled down to Florence and its environs in Tuscany and Bologna and Reggio-Emilia and their environs in Emilia-Romagna. Although the left-coalition did win several densely populated urban cores elsewhere in northern Italy, the country as a whole does not show the “urban=left/rural=right” dynamic that is refashioning electoral geography in most other democracies.  Large portions of major cities such as Roma and Milan favored the right. Important cities such as Venice and Verona apparently voted much like their rural hinterlands.

Equally significant is the fact that the Italian left is not nearly as leftist as it used to be. The leading member of the left coalition, the Democratic Party, has recently moved relatively close to the center. The only clearly leftist major party, the Greens and Left Alliance, took only 3.6 percent of the vote. The hard-left parties did worse, barely cracking one percent. The Italian Communist Party took a grand total of 0.09 percent of the vote. In contrast, in 1976 the Communist Party took roughly 35 percent of the Italian vote, with the Socialist Party taking another ten percent. At the time, Italy’s “Eurocommunist” movement had dropped many of its extremist positions, but on basic economic issues it was still vastly more leftist than Italy’s current left alliance. The times have indeed changed, but not in the way that many had expected.

  

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Voting Patterns and Population Density – and “State of Jefferson” Exception

As has often been noted, electoral patterns in the United States increasingly correlate with population density; in general, densely populated areas vote for candidates in the Democratic Party while sparsely settled areas vote for candidates in the Republican Party. As a result, major metropolitan areas generally exhibit a pattern of concentric rings, which turn from blue to red as one travels outward from the urban center.

Different cities, however, show major variations on this theme. Minneapolis-Saint Paul exemplifies the annular pattern, with a dark-blue core surrounded by rings of lightening blue that eventually turn pink. Dallas-Fort Worth is more complicated. Here one finds urban cores that are just as blue as those in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, but the urban peripheries and suburbs are more variegated, while the exurbs and enveloping rural areas are a darker shade of red. The greater Milwaukee area is notable for its steep gradient; as one leaves the city, blue yields to pink. Seattle, in contrast, has a gentle gradient, with light blue extending across and beyond the suburban fringe. (The dark red precinct west of Everett is misleading: it recorded all of three Trump votes – but no Biden votes.)

 

It is not just major cities where this density-dependent electoral dynamic plays out. As can be seen on the map of the 2020 presidential election in central Illinois and southeastern Iowa, all cities with more than 50,000 residents went blue, or at least had blue cores, whereas no town with fewer than 5,000 residents had any blue precincts. Pekin and Quincy were unusual in having more than 30,000 residents but no blue precincts in 2020. Yet even here, the town centers were light pink rather than red.

Several parts of the United States do not follow this pattern. Rural areas dominated by Native Americans and Blacks tend to be heavily Democratic voting. The same has historically been true of Hispanic-majority rural areas, although many are now trending Republican. And as noted in previous posts, rural areas dominated by affluent amenity-seekers also tend to be blue.

In a few parts of the country, this linkage between population density and voting behavior disappears. Consider, for example, far-northern-interior California, a white-dominated region with strong anti-California sentiments associated with the “State of Jefferson” movement. Although the cities and towns here are more pink than red, they lack blue precincts. The one exception is in Susanville, a small city economically based on prisons. But Susanville’s exceptional blue precinct is small, with just 54 votes cast. In contrast, many of the more remote parts of this region are Democratic voting. This is particularly true in the west, an area that has been heavily involved in cannabis cultivation.

The city of Redding, the “metropolis” of far northern California, has grown rapidly in recent decades, surging from under 17,000 people in 1970 to almost 100,000 today. Many of its newcomers have relocated from California’s major metropolitan areas, seeking lower prices and a more conservative social and political milieu. Although the Redding areas has many attractive natural features, its average July high temperature of 99.9 degrees dissuades the affluent, as does its political climate. Left-wing outdoor enthusiasts find places like Mt Shasta City, Weed, and Dunsmuir, all located in the mountainous blue-zone between Redding and Yreka, far more attractive. In 60%-Biden-voting Dunsmuir, population 1,700, class-three whitewater rapids are uniquely located in the middle of town.

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Montana’s Changing Electoral Geography

Although Montana has usually opted for Republican candidates in U.S. presidential elections, it was until recently something of a “purple” state, often dividing its votes relatively evenly between the two main political parties. As can be seen in the map series on the left, it has been trending in a decidedly red direction. In 2008, Barack Obama received 47 percent of Montana’s votes; in 2016, Hillary Clinton got only 35.7 percent.

As can be seen on these maps, Montana’s patterns of electoral geography have changed as well. The first two maps (1948 and 1960) show a north/south divide, with the south favoring Republicans and the north favoring Democrats. Many counties, however, were almost evenly split, with few experiencing landslide elections. These patterns disappear in the later maps. The north/south divide is now only vaguely evident, and landslide elections are common, at least in the Republican-voting east. Several counties have switched their party alignment. Cascade (Great Falls) formerly trended blue, but is is now reliably red. As the second map show, Cascade County even saw a minor red-shift from 2016 to 2020 (moving from a  57.1 % to a 58.46 % Trump vote). Gallatin County (Bozeman) has moved in the opposite direction. As recently as 2004, Gallatin voted Republican. It is now reliable blue – and getting bluer. It remains, however, Montana’s most libertarian county.

 

 

 

 

County-level maps of the Trump and Biden vote in 2020 reveal some interesting but subtle patterns. At the crudest level, the state’s main geographical divide now separates the east from the west. Although most western counties are still solidly red, several of the more populous ones are blue. Equally notable, no western county gave more than three-quarters of its votes to Trump. The statistical website 538 thus maps Montana’s western congressional district as leaning Republican, in contrast its solidly Republican eastern district. Twelve eastern counties gave more than 80 percent of their votes to Trump. But Biden did win two eastern counties and came very close in a third. As we shall see in tomorrow’s post, all three of these counties have Native American majorities.

 

 

The main electoral geographical divide in the United States now pits metropolitan areas against small towns and rural areas. This pattern, however, is only vaguely apparent in Montana’s county-level data. As can be seen in the paired maps, the most sparsely settled counties gave the highest percentage of their votes to Trump, and several relatively densely populated western counties supported Biden. But Montana’s population leader, Yellowstone County (Billings), solidly backed Trump, and several rural counties that are demographically dominated by Native Americans voted for Biden.

 

 

Montana’s rural/urban divide is more clearly evident at the precinct level. Consider Silver Bow County, which is politically consolidated with the city of Butte. Historically, Silver Bow was Montana’s bluest county, its many miners consistently supporting Democratic candidates. Today, the mines are largely shuttered, and the city now specializes in reclaiming toxic sites. It is still blue, although not to the extent that it formerly was. As can be seen, central Butte remains dark blue, whereas most of the outlying areas of Silver Bow County are red. The electoral maps of Billings, Helena, and Livingston all show blue urban cores surrounded by red rural hinterlands. Even the small town of Havre on the Great Plains, population 9,362, had one light blue precinct in 2020. On the other side of the ledger, two of Montana’s largest cities, Great Falls and Kalispell, had no blue precincts in 2020. But they are not as red as their surrounding areas.

 

 

 

A few rural areas and small towns in Montana that are not on native American reservations now habitually vote for Democratic candidates. The college towns of Bozeman and Missoula are both surrounded by rural blue precincts, although they are not as blue as those in the urban cores. Several remote towns and rural areas situated in areas with abundant natural amenities are distinctly blue. Big Sky, noted for its luxury ski resort, falls into this category, as do the small towns of Gardiner and Cooke City, adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. Red Lodge, also near Yellowstone and adjacent to the spectacular Beartooth Highway, falls into the same category. Near Glacier National Park one finds the small blue towns of West Glacier and Whitefish. Nearby Columbia Falls, however, is decidedly red. This difference reflects demographic sorting tendencies: Whitefish became an early center of outdoor recreation and environmentalism, which in turn attracted newcomers with similar interests and values. As Bill Bishop argued in The Big Sort more than a decade ago, Americans are increasingly moving to places that that match their political orientations.

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