Urban-rural divide: Not just a Washington state phenomenon

Victor Davis Hanson has an extended (4,000+ words) and thoughtful discussion of what he calls “the oldest divide,” the nation’s urban-rural split. A piece like that cannot be easily or fairly summarized. We recommend the whole thing, not just as an exercise in political analysis but because it helps explain some of the regional differences that characterize elections here and in other states dominated by large metro areas. 

Here’s how he sets the stage.

Of all the growing divides in America—red-blue, conservative-liberal, Republican-Democrat, white-nonwhite—none is sharper than that between city and country. The nation’s urbanites increasingly govern those living in the hinterlands, even as vanishing rural Americans still feed and fuel the nation. At the nation’s birth, it took nine farmers to feed one city dweller. Today, one farmer supports 99 urbanites—evidence, supposedly, that almost everyone has been freed from the drudgery of agricultural work.

City and country are not coequals by any demographic, political, or cultural measure. The urban is growing and ascendant; the rural shrinks and becomes increasingly culturally irrelevant.

Provocative, yes. But also instructive. (To be sure, the Stranger explored the “urban archipelago” in 2004, as the editors bemoaned the reelection of George W. Bush.)

The urban-rural split here receives careful examination in Tracy Warner’s Wenatchee World column.

We have talked for years about the Cascade Curtain, the political divide between East and West. More recently we have traded the curtain for the King County-Is-An-Island model, which at times becomes the One-County-To-Rule-Them-All strategy, or maybe looks like the ruling aristocracy donning their chainmail and peeping out at the serfs from the castle turrets. 

Warner was looking at the results of the vote on I-1366 as he wrote his commentary. As we noted, the measure was passing in 36 of the state’s 39 counties, with the largest share of no votes coming from King County. A look at voter turnout sheds more light on Warner’s observation. It was a low turnout election; just 36.4 percent of registered voters cast ballots. The King County vote amounted to 29 percent of the total, though turnout in King was just 35 percent.

That does not mean, however, that King County voters exercise a veto power. Just that to prevail statewide, your message ideally will appeal to voters in both urban and rural areas.

We agree: It’s important to understand the divisions. But the goal of that understanding should be to gain insight into how to transcend the divide. That’s what Opportunity Washington has attempted to do in developing a positive and unifying set of priorities for prosperity, priorities that resonates in every part of the state: Achieve (education), Connect (transportation), and Employ (economic vitality).