Colorized, Polarized America

by John Fund

The country is more divided geographically than ever, it seems. Take the House of Representatives: Democrats gained eight House seats in this month’s elections but their House membership is now increasingly dominated by just two states — New York and California. Even though those two states make up only 18.4 percent of all House seats, nearly 30 percent of the Democratic caucus will be from those two states. Throw in gerrymandered Illinois and Massachusetts, and 40 percent of all House Democrats will hail from ZIP codes in just four deeply blue states.

The University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics blog reports that over the last 50 years, the percentage of the Democratic caucus coming from just the Empire State and the Golden State has risen by more than two-thirds. The share has gone from 17.4 percent in 1962 to 29.4 percent in 2012; New York has lost 14 House seats and California has gained 15 during that period.

Republicans have their own geographical imbalance, though a milder one, resulting from their dominance in the South. The House Republican caucus has over 20 percent of its members elected from Texas, Florida, and Georgia. But those states make up almost 17 percent of the House’s overall membership. As Charles Mahtesian of Politico points out, “There’s a danger, of course, when such a high proportion of members hail from just a few states . . . it’s easy to develop a tin ear when a party is too concentrated in states where the political climate is unrepresentative of the nation as a whole.”

It seems such a long time ago when Barack Obama wowed a the television audience watching the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston with a stirring keynote speech that gave the impression he wanted to bring the country together. “There’s not a black America and a conservative America — here’s the United States of America,” he intoned. “The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states, red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. . . . We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”

Wonderful sentiments, but some of them are left for now in a dustbin after this year’s highly toxic negative campaigns. Especially the one about the red states and blue states. It turns out the country is more colorized — and polarized — than ever. 

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