The electoral geography of the United States is constantly changing as a result of political processes that take place on a day to day basis. Electoral geography is defined as an examination of the dual interaction whereby geographical traits of a territory affects political decisions and geographical structure of the election system affects electoral results. Different political processes such as gerrymandering and the Electoral College have a profound affect on electoral outcomes and also play a role in the political homogenization of communities.
Politics and Place
Political polarization in the United States is at the highest level it has been since the Civil War. American citizens and policymakers are increasingly less able to come to a consensus on many issues causing bitter battles between those on the left and those on the right. Cable news networks such as Fox News and MSNBC have only heightened the tension between parties by reinforcing the prejudices of their viewers. Americans have become less exposed to contrary views over time, and are less likely to discuss politics with those who have opposing views. This has manifested in a much larger, geographic problem in which American citizens increasingly surround themselves with like minded Americans in their counties, neighborhoods, and even social clubs. This clustering of like-minded Americans has not only increased polarization, but has also had the effect of completely altering the electoral geography of America’s neighborhoods.
The Electoral College
The Electoral College system has led presidential candidates to focus their time and money on states that are considered swing states while campaigning. It is more advantageous of a candidate to focus on these states where they have a chance at winning the electoral votes than a state that they will likely win or a state that they will likely lose. Candidates will also focus a their attention on states that have larger populations because these states have more electoral votes. The Electoral College system has created a campaign environment where states with small populations and those that are not considered swing states receive little interaction from presidential candidates.
Gerrymandering and Voter Suppression
Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2014) defines gerrymandering as a process by which a “territorial unit [is divided] into election districts to give one political party an electoral majority in a large number of districts while concentrating the voting strength of the opposition in as few districts as possible.” There is strong evidence that this type of partisan redistricting behavior is increasing in intensity overtime, following the trend of polarization we see in the more broad US political sphere. These gerrymandering efforts are controlled by the party which controls the highest number of individual state legislatures and have affected Democrats the most in 2014. Gerrymandering limits the chance for voters to have a fair say in who is elected to be their Congressional representative.
Going hand in hand with gerrymandering are voter suppression efforts. This legislation, such as voter identification laws, elimination of same day registration, etc. has severely limited the means of many demographic voter blocks to perform their Constitutional right. These laws have affected minorities much more than other voters both historically and in 2014.
Local Electoral Geographies: a Case Study of North Carolina
To understand the ever changing nature of political geographies, it is useful to view processes at work on a local level. To do so, it is helpful to look at demographic information and analyze trends within the state. Geographical patterns in put urban and rural areas at odds with each other. Typically urban areas in North Carolina like RTP and Charlotte are normally democratic. This can be attributed to more minorities, youth, higher education average, and larger populations. Rural areas like the western mountain region and farming areas like Randolph county are typically republican. This trend can be attributed to smaller populations, tendencies to vote “conservatively”, and less minority voters. Further, NC has a few swing zones. The Outer banks and New hanover county are unpredictable districts because they have a mixture of all industries and rural and urban living situations.
Recent trends in electoral geographies can be attributed to economic shifts in the state. Shifts in the states economy (from labor intensive textiles and tobacco to more information and technology sectors) have also pushed NC towards democratic candidates because shift to skilled work has brought in young tech savvy voters to RTP. This influx of people who are both young and educated has contributed to the shift towards democratic candidates. Also this growth has lead to urbanization. Urbanization brings in minority voters. That combined with the recent increase in the Hispanic population has also contributed to democratic shift. Social movements like Moral Mondays contribute to an influx of democratic voting. However counter movements like the Neo-Conservative movements are turning the tide back in favor of republican candidates.