No, I’m not going to pontificate about where people of privilege live and how that location benefits them, true as it is. Rather, I’m going to point out how the patterns of how and where Americans live influences (some might say biases) the entire political system of the United States.
By now, most people who follow U.S. politics know that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million votes, yet lost the Electoral College by a wide margin – termed “a landslide” by Trump. When the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College, the reason was very simple. They didn’t want Presidential elections decided by the votes in Virginia and Pennsylvania, at least not exclusively by those two states.
What people tend to overlook about the Electoral College is that it reflects a mash-up of the make-up of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, that is, the total number of votes represents the total number of representative and senators. While states with greater populations have a greater number of representatives, each state has two senators. Thus, right off the bat, rural and sparsely populated states have an advantage.
The second problem is that, when the Founding Fathers set up the Electoral College, the United States was essentially ninety percent rural. This meant, that from the beginning, state legislatures were dominated by rural interests. While that influence has continually diminished, on the state level, in almost every state, rural lawmakers have an outsized vote. More important, since state legislatures, in all but two states, as I recall, dominate the reapportionment of congressional districts every ten years. Those states with rural populations tend to redistrict with an eye to maintaining the dominance of rural interests.
What has happened in Utah provides a good example of this. When I was working some forty years ago, Utah had two representatives, and one was a Democrat and one a Republican. This wasn’t a one-time thing. It continued for at least a decade, except… when Utah got more people and another Representative, the legislature made sure two of the three seats were Republican. At that time Utah periodically elected Democratic governors. For the past twenty-five years, there haven’t been any. That’s largely because of redistricting. And now, all the representatives and senators are Republicans, despite the fact that Salt Lake City has a Lesbian Democratic mayor. This just might have something to do with the 2011 re-districting that split up Salt Lake City so pieces of that Democratic bastion were included in districts where Democratic voters were outnumbered by Republicans.
Under current law, this is perfectly legal, but that “legality” overlooks two facts, one demographic and the other political.
The demographic factor is that poorer voters, for the most part, tend end up in high population density areas out of economic necessity. This makes shenanigans like re-districting them to minimize their impact much easier, and once that happens, their political power is reduced.
The political factor is that it’s not only expensive to run for political office, but it also requires name recognition, and our current President is a very good example of this. The only practical way for a non-wealthy candidate to gain political office is to work his or her way up the ladder, from city council to state representative to state senator, then U.S. Representative. If you’re in the minority, current redistricting practices make this difficult, and, as in the case of Utah at present, pretty near a practical impossibility. Add to this the fact that people working near the minimum wage level, who tend to lean Democratic usually have less financial resources, and less time to devote to politics.
California is an example of more successful Democratic redistricting, but I’d submit that it only worked there because of the growing wealth of the “newer” entertainment industry, which tends to be more liberal. Without that wealth, the state would likely have remained as it was in the time of Ronald Reagan, and the Democrats in most states can’t muster that of financial support.
So…in a different way… place matters more than is usually considered.