Thursday, December 8, 2016

Democracy and Geography

Hillary Clinton lost Michigan by fewer than eleven thousand votes.  She lost Wisconsin by about twenty-two thousand and Pennsylvania by about forty-four thousand.  All told, she lost these states, with 46 electoral votes between them, by fewer than one hundred thousand votes.

At the same time, Hillary Clinton carried California, the state in which I live, with more than four million votes to spare. Which has me asking myself: what the hell am I doing here?

In the American political system, geography matters.  A lot.  The overwhelming majority of our political processes -- federal, state, and local -- are built on a structure of winner-take-all contests within geographic districts.  Consequently, where you live matters as much as who you vote for.

This fact is not politically neutral. Democrats tend to live in overwhelmingly Democratic neighborhoods, cities, and states.  (The other name for that phenomenon, by the way, is "racial segregation."  But that's a topic for another post.)  In the language of political operatives, Democratic voting power is distributed "inefficiently."

Like most social facts, this one arises from the personal decisions of millions of individuals, each of whom is doing what seems best for themselves and their families, under the circumstances they face.  We live where we find work, where our friends and family live, where we feel safe, where we feel at home.  For the most part, where we live is not, itself, a political statement.

Except that it is.  Because even if we do not chose our neighborhood for political reasons, our choice has definite political consequences.  The personal -- as we must remind ourselves from time to time -- is political.