by Noah Bate
Bush-Obama America exhibits all the characteristics of America, but with a populace smaller than France. In almost every economic and demographic regard, it is a microcosm of a larger society. It is not a separate country, but a reflection of the larger whole.
There are a few differences. Its Hispanic population is larger than would be expected. In that way, it reflects America of the future. On the other hand, the percentage of those engaged in manufacturing and industry is also greater. In that, it reflects America of the past. Incomes have not kept pace with growth in America, while its population has surged ahead at a much faster rate. Like its greater whole, Bush-Obama America is a country on the edge. It skirts the line between conservative and liberal, left and right, religious and secular.
The most compelling reflection is that of America in all her diversity. Racially, economically, religiously, ideologically. We chose these 273 counties for their one common characteristic: their voting pattern in the last three presidential races. But that commonality conceals a wide range of differences.
In some places, red counties have been turned blue through migration, both domestic and international. California’s Inland Empire, large cities in Texas, and the burgeoning population clusters of North Carolina and Virginia come to mind. The people who live in these places are not the same as those who lived there ten years ago. They have been colonized by northern liberals, as well as immigrants from other countries who have injected a new political spirit into once solidly conservative counties. These newcomers are already changing their adopted homes.
Other counties, especially those in the Deep South, are racially divided. High turnout amongst African Americans eager to see the first black president turned blue places that have not elected a Democrat since the 1950s. Jefferson County, Alabama, home to Birmingham, is the capital of this breed of Bush-Obama counties. In places like this, it is not so much that their people have changed their minds, but who actually makes it to the ballot box. They illustrate the paramount importance of voter turnout.
Like their Deep South cousins, college towns around the country raised their voices in 2008, as young people rushed out to make history with Barack Obama. In places like Oktibbeha, MS, and Centre, PA, conservative districts were overwhelmed by excited new voters. Whether they come out again in 2012 to renew their faith in Obama, we shall see.
Finally, there are those counties that simply wanted a change in 2008. These are the dozens of counties in the Midwest that have long been manufacturing hubs and have seen their way of life and their livelihoods unravelling. Faced with the relentless march of technology and globalization, they felt powerless and turned to the fresh-faced newcomer to make good on his promises of hope and change. We will know in November whether they feel they got the change they believed in.
If Bush-Obama America is just simply a reflection of the broader country, why study these counties? They are condensed, an America in concentrate, shrunk down to a manageable size. Ours is a nation churning, its populace moving from city to city, state to state, with newcomers enriching its culture, language and gene pool. It is also a land riven by race and religion. It is a place where old ways and habits die hard. To tell the story of these Bush-Obama Counties is to tell the story of America.