I’ve resisted posting anything on my blog about the US election, realizing that a) I’m sad and angry and not thinking especially clearly, b) I try hard to keep this blog focused on my media research and on Africa, and c) my non-US readers are likely sick to death of hearing about our damned electoral process. But hey, I just found a really fun data set (mmmm… data sets) and a couple of pretty maps, and I thought I’d share.
(Addendum: Resident critic and provocateur JT points out that the previous paragraph is totally disingenuous. I’ve posted several times about the election, just trying to frame it in “perspective from Africa terms”. Guilty as charged.)
First, I need to tell you a little bit about where I’m posting from. I live in Lanesboro, MA, a small town (population 2,990) in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. We’re just north of Pittsfield (population 45,793), the county seat, 5 miles from the state of New York, 15 miles from Vermont… and about 140 miles from Boston, the state capital.
We are quite literally in the heart of “blue country”. Looking at a county-by-county election map produced by USA Today, thoughtfully hosted by Dave at Scripting News, it appears that Massachusetts is one of only three states in the nation where every single county voted for Kerry. (The others are Hawaii and Rhode Island – thanks for the correction, Ron.) Even ultra-liberal Vermont had a Bush county – Essex, in the far Northeast, sometimes referred to as “The Northeast Kingdom” in a nod to locals libertarian leanings and periodic threats to secede from the state.
Many Blogger-Americans are taking some consolation today from a lovely map designed by Jeff Culver, posted on BoingBoing under the title “Purple Haze”. It shows almost every state in America as a shade of purple, reminding us that most states are split 55-45 and that the “two nations” rhetoric disguises just how mixed political leanings are throughout our diverse nation.
That may be, but where I’m sitting, I’m just not feeling it. The night before election day, my wife and I caught a Richard Thompson concert in nearby (okay, 50 miles, but that qualifies as nearby in our part of the country) Northhampton, MA. Richard, who’d done an excellent job of being apolitical all night, took a straw poll near the end of his set. He asked “Who here will be voting for Bush tomorrow?” There was ten seconds of dead silence, followed by a minute of self-congratulatory laughter. As I took the “T” into Cambridge the next morning, I grabbed the local free paper and read the “Person in the Street” section. Of the 12 people surveyed, 11 were planning on voting for Kerry, and one was not planning to vote.
You can understand how I might have believed Kerry might win this election. It’s not that I wasn’t watching the polling – it’s just that there are very few people in my daily life who were planning to support Bush. (Just to make it very clear – I think that’s a bad thing, not a good thing, which I’ll try to make clear in a moment.)
There’s an excellent discussion taking place on Joi Ito’s weblog. Joi made an inflamatory, but hugely useful, post titled “The People of America Have Failed Us Today”. In my response to his post, I referred to myself as living in “the navy blue corner of a dark blue state”. I was guessing at the nature of local politics based on my experiences living here, but the AP has released a town-by-town voting list for Massachusetts, allowing me to test my theory.
In the average (mean) town in Massachusetts, 62% of voters supported Kerry, 37% supported Bush and 1% supported Cobb or Badnarik. (Bourne is weird – 16% supported Cobb or Badnarik…); in the median (sorted by percentage voting for Kerry), the breakdown is 59%/40%/1%. But the towns I regularly encounter are even bluer. Lanesboro voted 70% for Kerry; Williamstown, where I pick up my mail, was 79.5% Kerry. Nearby cities Pittsfield and North Adams both were 75.4% Kerry. Of the 32 towns in my county, 24 were in the top quartile of Massachusetts towns in terms of percentage of Kerry voters. All but one were in the top half; the lone rebel – Otis, MA – had 720 voters, 320 of whom supported Bush, giving the town a 56% showing for Kerry.
(Incidently, none of the Berkshire towns are in the top 10 of pro-Kerry towns. But Cambridge, where I work, and Northhampton, where I hang out, are.)
So here’s the thing: I’m a big believer that Americans don’t know enough about Africa, and therefore aren’t very interested in Africans. Increasingly, I’m becoming convinced that this is because most Americans don’t know many Africans and don’t have personal connections that cause them to pay attention to Africa. I’m admitting, here and now, that I don’t know enough conservatives, especially Berkshire County conservatives. And I’d like to know more of you.
So, my offer: if you voted for George W. Bush in 2004, and you’re willing to come to deep blue Lanesboro, MA, let me buy you a beer. (And if you don’t drink or are underage, let me buy you some other beverage.) November 11th, 7pm, the Old Forge (Rt. 7, just north of the center of town) – email me ethanz AT gmail.com to let me know you’re coming. I promise not to whine, cry or pout – just to talk and drink. See you there.