Why Are Cities Blue?

Why are big cities Democratic strongholds? Why are the most populated counties in America painted blue? Why is there such a large land area in the middle of this country that is deep red? If you look at an electoral map lit up by county, you might think the United States is a conservative (Republican) nation. But you would be wrong.

The New Republic put together a map (cartogram) that shows counties represented by population rather than land mass. As you can see, the result is a nation with large areas a blue with strands of red.

America cartogram county red blue population

So why are cities and high population counties blue? I’m sure this is a question in need of a much more complex answer, but I like this comment to the New Republic article —

BirdMechanical: I always say, cities are blue because they actually have to deal with issues. They have a concentration of people. They get elected on what they do, not what they say.

On the other side, it is much easier in rural conservative areas to get people upset by things that are primarily irrelevant to them and based mostly on false narratives. Which is why social issues have been the primary focus of conservatives and Republicans. Meaningless fights that get rural areas to vote.

It’s a simple explanation, but I believe there is much truth to it. Cities are very diverse and they have an increasingly complex set of logistical, civil and social issues to deal with. The Republican answer to these complexities is to ignore them by reducing taxes, reducing the size of government and pretending the private sector is a fix-all. This is not to say Democrats have always done a good job running large cities, but you can’t effectively make a city work with the current philosophy of the Republican Party.

And on the flip side, rural areas have their own challenges, but they do not have the complexity. And since government has long since done its job of making sure basic infrastructure has reached those rural areas (electricity, roads, bridges, etc.), that allows a certain level of false self-reliance to set in. People in rural areas can more easily pretend the world revolves around them, and they don’t need no stink’n government to live. That allows rural conservatives to polarize around social issues, alienating themselves from the more moderate or even liberal majority in the rest of the country.

And this is why when we look at an electoral map painted by county we get a false sense of the ideological and political makeup of this nation. America is not a center-right country. It’s not states that vote. It’s not counties that vote. It’s not cities that vote. It’s people who vote. And it doesn’t matter if those people exist in large population centers or in rural areas. No vote counts more than another. This is why conservatives love to dismiss cities and high population counties while they stare at a map dominated by red, as if land mass matters in an election.


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