The Urban Archipelago

When I was doing research for my book “Distrust, American Style,” I came across an article written just after George W. Bush defeated John Kerry. The author rejected the “red state/blue state” divide, in favor of a more fine-grained analysis comparing voters in urban and rural areas. Cities tend to be blue, rural areas tend to be red; most states are thus “purple.” He called the blue islands in seas of red “Urban Archipelagos,” and attributed urban voting patterns to the lessons and attitudes one learns living in close proximity to other people. Urban life is diverse; it requires progressive attitudes and a degree of tolerance largely missing from more bucolic settings.

A recent survey by Pew on attitudes toward abortion tends to support that thesis–although what Pew was measuring were religious and denominational differences on the issue. As religious scholar Martin Marty summarizes the findings,

“Almost sixty percent “say that at least some health care professionals in their communities should provide abortion.” This time white evangelical Protestants are anti-abortion and joined by Latino Catholics. “White mainline” and “unaffiliated” are most “pro” (at 72% and 71%). “White Catholic” and (here’s one surprise for me) black Protestants, line up next (58% and 56%) as pro-abortion. Least enthusiastic is the third duo, “Latino Catholic” and “white evangelical” (at 38% and 37%). One large gap is between the pro-abortion among metropolitan areas (67%) and rural dwellers (39%). ” (emphasis supplied)

When you think about it, the urban/rural differences make a lot of sense. In a city, you soon learn the folly of insisting that everyone adhere to your personal religious and moral beliefs. You learn to live and let live. If you are truly open to the society of people with different backgrounds, ideas and customs, you may even come to question some of your own beliefs and prejudices, and to appreciate that–as an old friend of mine used to put it–it’s a very thin pancake that has only one side.

I think that’s the original definition of a “liberal.”


  1. Rex usually phrased it as “a mighty thin pancake”…

    Nevertheless, your commentary was spot-on !

  2. I recall looking at one of those precinct-by-precinct maps, and realized you could pretty well map rivers using it — nothing more remarkable than the fact that population centers tended to rise up around water, and the red/blue divide was largely a function of population density.

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