Friday, November 21, 2014

11/06/2014 at 2:16pm

Photo by Robert F. Bukaty Voters in Knox, Maine, at the polls to vote in the midterm election this week.

Senator elect Joni Ernst owes part of her victory to Iowa’s rural voters, who favored the Republican over Democrat Bruce Braley. But the Des Moines Register points out that Ernst created victory by keeping things close in the state’s largest cities. Daily Yonder’s tabulations show that Ernst actually won a plurality among metropolitan voters, so her larger margins among rural voters were gravy.


Late-night returns from outlying districts fueled a Republican victory in the Minnesota state House, reports the Minneapolis Post. Briana Bierschbach reports:

In all, the GOP picked up 11 seats, making most of their gains in rural and outstate Minnesota districts,” “When all the votes are tallied and finalized by the Secretary of State’s office, Republicans will have likely moved from a 73-61 minority to a 72-62 majority.

“It really was a metro-rural split tonight,” [House Minority Leader Kurt] Daudt said of the result. “A lot of these rural Democrats came to St. Paul and voted with the Minneapolis and St. Paul Democrats and unfortunately they paid the price in their districts.”

Republican lawmaker Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake, Minnesota, tweeted: “This election should be a wakeup call to all state leaders! Do not turn your back on greater Minnesota!!”


Democratic commentator Matt Barron says Democrats have themselves to blame for poor performance among rural voters in this week’s election. In his opinion piece in The Hill, Barron writes:

The Democrat’s problems with rural folks … are due to a variety of factors ranging from recruiting poor candidates, not showing up in small towns to campaign, hiring urban-centric consultants who have no dirt under their nails to bad mapmaking as a result of the 2010 redistricting.

Barron says there were good issues for Democrats to campaign with in rural areas. For example, Arkansas’ Democratic Senator Mark Pryor, whose committee work helped fund popular rural programs like broadband expansion and the Extension Service, lost to Republican Tom Cotton, a member of Congress who voted against the farm bill. In Iowa, Senator elect Joni Ernst (Republican) said she opposed the farm bill and didn’t support wind power. Barron tracks a similar theme into gubernatorial races in Massachusetts and Wisconsin.

11/05/2014 at 2:53pm

Daily Yonder analysisThough Allison Lundergan Grimes tried to distance herself from President Obama in the Kentucky Senate race against Mitch McConnell, she actually fared 7 points worse among the state's rural voters than the president did in 2012. Across the board, city, small town and rural voters made similar shifts from Democrat to Republican candidates in the 2014 midterm elections. Compared to the national elections in 2008 and 2012, metropolitan and nonmetropolitan votes for Republicans grew at about the same rate.

One exception was in Kentucky, where the Democratic Senate candidate who refused to say whether she voted for Obama did far worse among rural voters than the president did there in 2012.

Kentucky’s Allison Lundergan Grimes lost to incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell by about 15 points statewide. Among the state’s rural (noncore) voters, McConnell’s margin of victory was a whopping 34.5 points. Nearly three out of four voters in noncore counties voted for the Republican. (Noncore counties are nonmetro counties that don’t have a city of 10,000 or bigger.)

Like many Democratic candidates this season, Grimes kept her distance from Obama, even refusing to say whether she voted for him, though she was an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2012.

In a pattern repeated in other key Senate races, McConnell also won among Kentucky’s metro and micropolitan voters with smaller but no less definitive margins. (Micropolitan counties are ones outside a metro area that have a city of 10,000 residents or more.)

To see whether we could spot patterns in nonmetropolitan voter preferences from previous elections, we compared the results of key Senate races to the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012. Some states behaved remarkably similarly from year to year.

Here's the information for Kentucky.

Daily Yonder analysisKentucky’s rural (“noncore”) voters (green bar) broke more favorably for the Republican candidate in the 2014 race than they did in presidential races of 2008 and 2012. The chart shows the percentage who voted for the Republican candidate in presidential races in 2008 and 2012 and Senate in 2014.

For example, Georgia’s Senate contest between victor David Perdue, a Republican, and Democrat Michelle Nunn is nearly a carbon copy of both the 2008 and 2012 presidential races. The chart shows the percentage of the vote received by the Republican candidate in each of those elections. Bear in mind that the 2008 and 2012 elections were presidential, while this year’s midterm is for the state’s seat in the U.S. Senate.

After six years and millions in campaign spending, the numbers remain virtually unchanged among all voters – metropolitan and nonmetropolitan.

Daily Yonder analysisGeorgia’s Senate race was a virtual repeat of the 2008 and 2012 presidential election results.

11/04/2014 at 4:48pm

Photo by Photograph by GS/Gallery Stock When everyone lives in a city, our problems will disappear, right?

Is there any problem that moving to the city can’t solve? If so, you wouldn’t know it from reading Charles Kenny’s “Small World” column in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Titled “Cheer up, Liberals: City Dwellers Will Soon Rule the World,” the piece celebrates the myriad ways global urbanization will save humanity, the planet and liberals, not necessarily in that order.

Leaving aside the assertion that cities produce more liberals, or whether, if true, that’s a good thing, let’s look a little closer at Kenny’s claim. His thesis – one we see repeated as gospel among many Washington-D.C. think tanks – is that urban areas generate prosperity while rural areas are a drag on economic progress.

Not for a moment would I discount the economic importance of cities. But Kenny’s column goes over the top in equating urbanization with unmitigated progress – no downside at all, except perhaps for the few people he sees remaining in the world’s non-urban areas.

Here’s the gist of Kenny’s argument:

The environment will likely benefit from declining rural numbers because urban living is simply more environmentally sustainable. At the same income level, dense cities have lower per capita energy use than sparsely populated rural areas because people don’t have to travel as far for work, school, or entertainment, and expensive land makes for more compact housing. City living is also good for human development—urban populations in the developing world see higher life expectancies and better education outcomes because public service provision is so much more straightforward than trying to provide electricity or schooling to sparsely populated rural areas.

The problem here is that there are no problems here. Kenny omits evidence that the nation’s largest urban areas also have some of the biggest disparities in wealth and income. The Financial Times’ Simon Kuper equates these luxury cities like Paris and New York with “gated communities where the 1 percent reproduces itself.”

Per capita energy use may decline with population density. But why, then, if the global population is urbanizing, is energy demand going up so fast?

In the United States, I'd say part of the discrepancy is that the energy-sucking suburbs are a big factor in economic productivity.  Kenny doesn't include this fact, despite evidence that suburbs, not just urban cores, are at the heart of much of the U.S. productivity.

And human development? It may be theoretically easier to provide services to densely populated areas. But the reality is that services like broadband and good education are unequal across geography in urban areas. If population density alone solves infrastructure problems, why is there a 65-point gap between cities with the highest and lowest broadband subscription rates. 

The answer is that problems go where people go. Depopulating the countryside is not going to improve cities. Nor will it feed and fuel our growing urban population.

There are certainly advantages to living in a city, as there are to living in rural areas. As someone who has done both, I’m happy to discuss their relative merits. But claiming that urbanization alone is the answer – well, that’s going a subway stop and five exits too far.

-- Tim Marema


You “don’t know what you got till it’s gone,” they say. One thing going fast is the small town lawyers. The Des Moines Register reports the local angle of a national trend: Lawyers in rural areas are retiring and no one is taking their spots. Young lawyers, fresh out of school, are too often saddled with so much debt they’re forced to take jobs in urban firms just to get by. That leaves many out in the cold when they need a will or help with their taxes.

"We take so many things for granted in our world, in our society and in our communities," [Ringgold County’s (Iowa) judicial magistrate James] Pedersen said. "And one of these days … people are going to say, 'Why don't we have any attorneys here?' You've got to fight for those things."

11/04/2014 at 4:12am

Photo via the city of Morganton Vance Patterson speaks at the Charters of Freedom monument he and his wife gave to the City of Morganton, North Carolina. They gave a similar monument to the town of Murphy.

This is the Second Amendment:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

And this isn’t:

“Article the second... No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

Carved in stone, a “Charters of Freedom” display was dedicated September 17 in the heart of Murphy, North Carolina, a mountain town of 1,601 that’s the seat of Cherokee County, population 27,218. 

Formidable waist-high stone monuments by a granite company in Minnesota have the texts of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.  A third monument is labeled with the words “Bill of Rights.” While the text of the "bill" is carved in stone, those words are actually more of a rough draft. Instead of the familiar 10-amendment Bill of Rights, the monument contains a 1789 joint resolution of Congress proposing 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution.   

Out of order and in a kind of raw form before a lot of editing occurred are the familiar pillars of American law we recognize in the first 10 amendments, such as:

  • The freedoms of religion, speech and press;
  • The right to keep and bear arms; and
  • Protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.   

So how did the first draft of the Bill of Rights out of date since at least 1791 get enshrined in granite in 2014?

Go to the National Archive website, and you’ll see that the National Archives and Records Administration prefers to display the 1789 resolution rather than the final Bill of Rights. Of the 12 amendments proposed in the 1789 resolution, two did not pass. (The failed amendments dealt with proposals for the number of constituents per representative and congressional compensation.) The remaining 10 amendments were approved by the states and became enshrined as the Bill of Rights – and have been taught as such ever since to American school children.

But in North Carolina, a two-time candidate for Congress didn’t pick up on this nuance. So two towns now have hundreds of pounds monuments dedicated a first draft of the Bill of Rights. They at least entail a hunt-and-peck to find the familiar phrases.   

11/03/2014 at 6:28am

Bureau of Labor Statistics dataThe map compares unemployment levels from September 2013 to September 2014. Click the map for an interactive version to explore county-level jobs data. Green represents rural counties with unemployment rates at or better than the national average. 

What was that about the Sunbelt?

You remember the Sunbelt, right, the ever-growing, job-producing, always-booming heart of the nation’s economy? Well, check out the map above.

The counties colored red or orange had unemployment rates in September that were above the national average of 5.7 percent. Red counties are metropolitan. Orange counties are nonmetro – or what is frequently referred to as “rural.”

The vaunted Sunbelt is awash with red and orange. Georgia, with the highest unemployment rate in the country, is almost entirely red and orange.

To find urban or rural counties with unemployment rates at or below the national average of 5.7 percent (blue and green, respectively) you have to swing your gaze to the Great Plains or, gasp, the Northeast. Don’t look to the Pacific Coast. It is as red and as orange as the Southeast.

The healthiest piece of the country is the giant swath of green and blue running from West Texas to North Dakota. Yep, the Great Plains just might be the new Sunbelt — only without the hype.

Click the map or here to get an interactive version and explore job figures by clicking on any county.

 (Alaskans and Hawaiians, just pull the map to the north and west; you know the way.)

10/31/2014 at 8:03am

 Blue areas have faster access. The Financial Times analysis shows the broadband divide isn't just urban-rural. There's vast differences in access within urban areas, as well.

Rural areas have lower broadband subscription rates than metropolitan ones overall. But the digital divide – the gap between those with broadband access and those without – is stark in many American cities as well, reports the Financial Times.

It had been thought that the rural make-up of much of the U.S. was the main factor in a national broadband subscription rate that is just 73.4 per cent, behind other developed nations such as the UK and Germany, which have rates of 88 per cent. About 67 per cent of households in rural areas have broadband internet service, compared to 75 per cent of urban households.

But the new Census Bureau statistics show a huge disparity among US cities and towns, with a gap of 65 percentage points between those with the highest and lowest subscription rates.

In other words, cities have both the highest and lowest rates of broadband subscription. It all depends on what part of town you’re in.

A map of Chicago, for example, shows better rates of access in downtown and affluent Lincoln Park areas. But in the west and south, where incomes are much lower on average, the rate of broadband subscription drops precipitously. Cities in distress are faring worse, not surprisingly:

US cities that have become synonymous with urban decay, such as Detroit and Flint in Michigan and Macon in Georgia, have household broadband subscription rates of less than 50 per cent, according to the US Census Bureau data. The median household income in all three is less than $25,000 a year.

The Financial Times analysis says the high cost of broadband subscription is a major factor in the disparity. Rural broadband advocates say cost is part of the rural broadband divide, too.


The New York Times visits the rural western North Carolina hometown of San Francisco Giants pitcher and World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner. The reporter talks to Madison’s dad, Kevin, about what it’s like having his son home during the offseason.

During the season, Madison lives in a $5,000-a-month condo rental in San Francisco, with a view of the Bay Bridge. The day after the season ends, he hops a flight to Charlotte, N.C., and drives to Dudley Shoals. He has the farm with eight Black Angus cattle. He goes to Pancho Villa’s Mexican restaurant at least once a week. (He gave them an autographed Gigantes jersey that hangs over the door.)

“Last winter we were at dinner there,” Kevin said, “and someone says, ‘Hey, Madison!’ I figured it was autograph time. Then the guy says, ‘I hear you got a new horse!' “

10/31/2014 at 6:07am

Photo by Loren Holmes Early voting in Fairview, Alaska's Central Lutheran Church.

With less than a week to go to Election Day, it’s one thing to make the case that every American Indian and Alaska Native should vote. It’s another to make certain that the door to the voting booth is actually open and there is a ballot ready to go.

Across the country that’s the challenge.

One of my favorite ideas is simple. My tribe, The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Fort Hall, Idaho, has sent out a list of all tribal members whose addresses cannot be confirmed by the county clerk. This catches up with people who’ve moved or for whatever reason have an address that cannot be confirmed. Randy’L Teton, the tribe’s public affairs manager, asked people on the list to stop by the tribal attorneys office to pick up their mail. And then go to the county elections office to update the address. Idaho is a good access state because voters can register at the polls on Election Day.

Many tribes, including Shoshone-Bannock, are offering free rides to the polls.

Get Out the Native Vote in Alaska has stepped up its messaging about how the state could be different if Natives voted in larger numbers. There is a Facebook campaign from the Alaska Federation of Native Convention last week where people posed with a sign explaining why they are voting. The reasons range from family to issues such as subsistence hunting and fishing. Alaska has recently improved voting access by adding more than a hundred early voting sites across the state.

One concern, however, is that there will not be enough ballots on Election Day. The state ran out of ballots in at least 18 locations, including one polling station where voters left in frustration. In Alaska, like many states, the law allows the use of a sample ballot as a substitute when there are not enough ballots. The problem in August, however, was that not every poll worker had that information.