Columns, Opinions

Campbell ’19: Avoiding cities won’t solve politics

By
Staff Columnist
Wednesday, April 26, 2017

In the wake of the 2016 election, numerous articles were written placing at least part of the blame for Hillary Clinton’s defeat on America’s urbanites — simply for living where they do. City-dwellers, the logic went, were essentially self-gerrymandering, diminishing their political impact by living in high-population states like New York or California with fewer Electoral College votes per capita. This evaluation correctly assesses the structure of the Electoral College but fails to adequately consider the impact of cities on our political culture. As many of us graduate and look to move out into the real world, most of us become the exact educated liberals addressed in articles that criticize young, urban Democrats such as “Go Midwest, Young Hipster.” This argument — which urges young liberals who seek to have political impact in elections to move to rural areas that aren’t already blue — should not sway any of us.

The main basis for this position is accurate: High-density areas are represented poorly in an electoral system that starts every state with at least three votes. A New York voter has one-fourth of the electoral power of one living in Wyoming. Yet, the fact that we live within a flawed system is no reason to ignore the myriad benefits that cities bring to society.

Firstly, cities offer many incontrovertible and relatively apolitical benefits to their residents. High density allows for efficient and accessible public transit, which both lowers the environmental impact of those living there and increases access for those who want to forego driving. Apartment buildings are far greener than homes. Cities are job creators, as a single block might hold numerous small businesses. Politics cannot change these realities. Regardless of what this or any other administration does, regardless of even your own politics, the positive impact city-dwellers make to the environment and the economy are inherent simply to living there.

Yet more importantly, the argument that liberals should move away from cities to have their votes count ignores the fact that cities are liberalizing forces in American politics. Yes, now it seems as though liberals are flocking to cities to be with like-minded individuals.  But why are cities liberal in the first place? This, too, can be seen as inherent to urban life. Exposure to people who have other viewpoints is one of the single most impactful determinants of a liberal perspective. Cities themselves — by exposing their inhabitants to a greater diversity of people — work to make their inhabitants more understanding and tolerant. The fact that liberal people go to urban areas isn’t the whole picture; living in an urban area can make people more liberal. If we want America to become a place more accepting of different identities, we should be promoting migration to places with high density and diversity, not discouraging it.

Finally, when choosing a place to live, the electoral power of a place crosses so few people’s minds that the discussion is more than a moot point. Is the system slanted to give more power to those living in small states? Yes, absolutely. Should we demand that young people hamper their job prospects by moving to a small town where the economy centers around a single industry, rather than trying their luck in New York or Los Angeles? Of course not. Should we blame this problem on liberals looking for a nice place to start their lives? No. If you really need to place blame, New Hampshire — which worked to create a system where small states have considerable power during the drafting of the Constitution — might be a decent place to start (though at this point you’d be better off looking toward the future).

Young Americans are steadily becoming more urban. Of all the things that could stop this trend, the Electoral College doesn’t have a chance. If you want to move to a rural area after Brown, that’s fantastic: Don’t let me stop you. But rather than repeatedly trying to game the current electoral system by convincing more young progressives to find small towns in Indiana appealing, we should focus our efforts on making the system more representative of a future — and increasingly urban — America. If a system doesn’t work for a nation with cities, it’s better to reform the system than to do away with cities themselves.

Vaughn Campbell ’19 can be reached at vaughn_campbell@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

3 Comments

  1. Rhode Island has enacted the National Popular Vote bill.

    The bill is 61% of the way to guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes and the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by changing state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes.

    All voters would be valued equally in presidential elections, no matter where they live.
    Candidates, as in other elections, would allocate their time, money, polling, organizing, and ad buys roughly in proportion to the population

    Every vote, everywhere, for every candidate, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election.
    No more distorting, crude, and divisive and red and blue state maps of predictable outcomes, that don’t represent any minority party voters within each state.
    No more handful of ‘battleground’ states (where the two major political parties happen to have similar levels of support) where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 38+ predictable states that have just been ‘spectators’ and ignored after the conventions.

    The bill would take effect when enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes—270 of 538.
    All of the presidential electors from the enacting states will be supporters of the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guaranteeing that candidate with an Electoral College majority.

    In 2017, the bill has passed the New Mexico Senate.
    The bill was approved in 2016 by a unanimous bipartisan House committee vote in both Georgia (16 electoral votes) and Missouri (10).
    Since 2006, the bill has passed 35 state legislative chambers in 23 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 261 electoral votes.
    The bill has been enacted by 11 small, medium, and large jurisdictions with 165 electoral votes – 61% of the way to guaranteeing the presidency to the candidate with the most popular votes in the country

    NationalPopularVote

    • Man with Axe says:

      This approach may turn out to be unconstitutional, a violation of Article 10 Section 3: “‘No State shall, without the Consent of Congress…enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State…”

  2. Man with Axe says:

    One reason people in cities tend to be liberal is because the things that liberals like are feasible in the urban environment. (From Cracked.)

    For example, public transportation makes sense in some urban environments, but is absurd in places where the population density is too low to support it, and there is no way for public conveyances to go to all the places rural people work and live. At the same time, traffic is so terrible in urban areas that having a car is not the convenience (or necessity) it is for non-city people.

    City dwellers come face-to-face with the homeless, and so many other poor people that rural people don’t see. And so many of the homeless are mentally ill that city dwellers develop the idea that so many people can’t help themselves.

    City dwellers tend to interact all the time with immigrants and homosexuals, while rural people do less often if at all.

    A high minimum wage might make sense to city dwellers whose cost of living is so high (although it really doesn’t make economic sense). This is less true in low-cost-of-living areas. San Francisco costs so much more to live in compared to, say, Texarkana.

    Government services are much more important to city dwellers. They can see the effect of municipal waste removal, snow removal, water and sewer systems, hospitals, etc. Not so much in the country.

    Gun rights are more valuable to people for whom the nearest policeman is half an hour away, and people have a reason for having guns other than shooting other people. In the city people are more afraid of others with guns.

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