It’s always been puzzlement to me—why are the east and west coasts more liberal and the center of the country more conservative?
Lately, I have gathered together a few theories.
How the country was settled
If one follows the settling of the country from east to west, it is the story of the spread of Christian sects. Wanting to worship how they believed to be correct and proper, people moved to the frontier and founded communities where they could practice their particular religion without interference from the heathens left behind. These communities were often insulated and isolated from the rest of the country (the LDS Settlement at the Great Salt Lake being the most profound example) and opinions shared about the nature of God and the role of government became more homogenous. The further from the east coast cities, the more insulated and the less people had to deal with opinions different from their own.
In the extreme, it became an “Us vs. Them” issue. Brigham Young believed he had gotten far enough away from the government as to be left alone, but the slamming home of the Golden Spike some 90 miles northeast of the Great Salt Lake ended that splendid isolation and forced the Church to make some peace with the United States Congress.
The communities left behind by these migrants—pilgrims into the frontiers of our county—were where diverse immigrants from Europe in the east and Asia in the west settled, bringing with them their own peculiar sets of belief about God and Government. It’s one thing to allow differences of opinion when it takes weeks of travel to find those with different opinions—the granting of free speech rights costs nothing because nothing with which one disagrees is said. But when Irish Catholics live next door to German Lutherans and Jews, well, one has to get tolerant of different ideas pretty quick or there is no living together.
City vs. Country
The first issue here is the same thing as mentioned in the previous paragraph. The relative proximity of divergent beliefs breeds tolerance and requires people to follow Voltaire’s words: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
Cities also require administrative work and more white-collar jobs. Someone has to manage the process of getting potable water into and trash and sewer out of the cities, which require a taxing of the residents to pay for it. In the country, this was handled individually by digging wells and septic systems and taxation was anathema.
The first universities were in the east and, if for no other reason than proximity of divergent beliefs, tended to be more accepting of divergent beliefs. Universities were also established as the country moved west, but initially and primarily to educate clergy trained correctly, that is, in accordance with the narrower beliefs of the far-west settlements and without the levelling effect of pluralism.
A greater proportion of the population in the large cities have historically been college graduates than in the country, and for all the reasons mentioned above, tend to be more liberal.
Farming vs. Manufacturing
Most farms are in the middle of the country and the independent farmer/rancher distrusts government and regulation. Mostly family owned, they needed and had few employees outside of family and those they did need were during planting and harvesting, or, in the case of ranching, and for a brief capsule of time, driving the cattle to the railroads.
Most large manufacturing concerns are in or near the larger cities. The number of workers vastly exceeded those with capital. Had the working conditions not gotten abusive before and during the gilded age, the need for collective bargaining might not have arisen; but owners and managers exploited and abused workers, allowing or causing unsafe workplaces to exist and because they were the only game in town, keeping wages very low and working children too young to even shave, and eventually enough was enough and the workers united. The same thing happened in the large corporate farms in California—read The Grapes of Wrath.
Unionization meant collectivism and the need for organization. The fight for liveable conditions and wages pitted the masses against the few and caused workers of one union to support and assist the workers of other unions. They often became anti-capitalist in their extremes and associated often with socialistic ideals.
Leaving the Farm
Many leave the farm to go to a big-name school, which all tend to be on the coasts for reasons mentioned above. Or they are into the arts—theatre, film, playwriting, painting, etc.—and to be near where these things are require moving east or west. Let’s face it, Dallas does not have a community even remotely close to Greenwich Village or Haight-Ashbury. LGBT people also tend to gather on the coasts.
Birds of a Feather
Yes, they do flock together. Think of the church you attend. Probably most people are of a similar economic class, having similar opinions on social issues. This is just plain normal. We associate with people like us. So, the more liberal the coasts become, the more liberals go there. And the more conservative the centre of the country becomes, the more conservative they become.
What it is not
The one thing I hear that I believe not to be true is that the east and west coast have more liberals because that is where the big cities are and where the big cities are, there the moochers are, where those who tend to think the government owes them a living congregate.
One reason this buffalos me is that the large corporate farms located in the centre of the country receive the preponderance of crop support subsidies.
Another is that in terms of payment into the federal treasury and benefits received there from, it is a zero-sum game. What is weird is that, except for Texas and Georgia (which are about break-even), every red state receives more from the national piggy bank than it puts in. What this means is that for every dollar paid in taxes to Uncle Sam, Uncle Sam returns to the red states more than a dollar in the form of Military Bases, Crop Support, Highway Monies and so on (see report here).
It may not be that the red states are hawks but that if military spending is cut, a significant part of their economy will just dry up.
The liberal states support the conservative states because the real distribution of wealth is from the blue states to the red states. The very thing they fight is what they need to survive.