You Are Where You Eat

I have been wallowing cheerfully in data lately, a lot of it studies of how our divided country is divided – economically, educationally and, of course, politically. So I may devote a few blogs to fun with demographics. The first may be the most fun since it includes the unbeatable Whole Foods — Cracker Barrel indicator.

Last week the Wall Street Journal used a pair of Missouri Counties, one rural and one urban, as a microcosm of the nationwide split between urban and rural attitudes.( City vs. Country: How Where We Live Deepens the Nation’s Political Divide Mar. 21, 2014)

It noted that, nationwide, 260 million of us live in urban (and suburban) places and only 46 million in rural areas. The urban households earn 25% more than the rural (median income $52K vs. $41K) in part because the rural population has grown increasingly older, This is largely due to the fact that jobs more and more have moved to the city causing young people seeking opportunity to migrate out leaving their elders behind.

The older, less affluent nature of rural counties is in turn reflected in attitudes, so 31% of urban dwellers say religion is not that important to them. A scant 9% in rural counties agree. Over 50 percent of rural people say 1) abortion should be illegal (62% rural – 43% urban) 2) it bothers them when they come in contact with immigrants who speak little or no English (55 – 38), and homosexuality is a sin (59 – 40). A whopping 70% in rural counties think the country is on the wrong track and only 42% favor more restrictions on guns.

This rural-urban split has obvious political implications and they are exaggerated by a couple factors. First, the historical oddity of awarding two Senate seats to each state regardless of population disproportionately rewards voters in tiny rural states like Alaska and Wyoming (2012 US Census Population: 563,626) and penalizes gigantic heavily urban states like New York or California (37,253,956).

Second, gerrymandering in many states has contrived to draw districts so that a few urban districts vote 90 percent Democratic while many more districts are designed to combine some suburban neighborhoods with rural areas to create 60-40 Republican votes.

Over time the urban-rural split has only grown more pronounced as the clever demographers at the Cook Report which analyzes voting patterns discovered in the case of the aforementioned Whole Foods – Cracker Barrel indicator. Turns out counties with a Whole Foods (more unban, more affluent) were more reliably Democratic while in counties with a Cracker Barrel the vote could be relied on to be more Republican.

Thus in 1992 Whole Foods counties voted 60% for Bill Clintons but he could only win 40% in Cracker Barrel counties. By 2012, Obama won Whole Foods counties by 77% but could only garner 29 % of Cracker Barrel county voters. Of course, the cynical among us can think of a least one reason besides changing demographics in urban and rural counties to account for that difference.

Postscript to Flight 370: Regarding yesterday’s joke at the expense of TV coverage of the lost Malaysian airliner, my daughter was miffed that I did not include her oft repeated pet peeve in this regard. The reliance on the apparently outdated technology of the black box, its limited battery life and likelihood to be lost in the event of a ditching at sea.

“What about the Cloud?” She cries, repeatedly. ”Why isn’t the data stored in the Cloud instantaneously?”

To her credit some of the TV folks seconded her motion, suggesting that much about the way planes are tracked and monitored is several computer generations out of date. But the Wall Street Journal, ever cognizant of the bottom line, pointed out that transmitting and storing so much data for so many thousands of flights daily around the globe would be hugely expensive. You want your ticket price to rise? Again?

And I, ever suspicious of allegedly foolproof tech, can easily imagine the cloud data vanishing — or shall we say vaporizing — just when it was needed. Or, even worse, turning out to be vulnerable to hackers or other maleficent evildoers, introducing a new security worry instead of solving an old one.

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