By Melissa Ruby, Opinion Writer
A little over a month ago the United States elected Donald Trump as President. However, many controversies have arisen surrounding his election, not least of which is the questions of the efficacy of the Electoral College. This article is not about whether the United States should or should not keep the unique constitutional design for presidential elections. Rather, the purpose is to reflect on is why the results manifested in the way they did during the election.
It is not a common result that the winner of the popular vote is not the winner of the Electoral College vote. Indeed, it has happened a grand total of four times in two hundred years. As reported in the LA Times, the first was when Rutherford B. Hayes won the Electoral College vote, while Samuel Tilden won the popular vote. Benjamin Harrison’s win was second, and George W. Bush’s third. So, while the outcome is hardly novel, many are concerned that something in the system is broken—after all this is the second occurrence in less than twenty years, and the Democrats always seem to be on the losing end.
I believe the recent lopsided win demonstrates that there are some serious shifts occurring in the country. In 2012, The Atlantic ran a story discussing the Urban-Rural divide, which gives insight into a trend. “The difference [between voting trends] is no longer about where people live, it’s about how people live…” The focus is that cultures are changing between areas that are predominately rural and those which are predominately urban. People in these differing locals have a hard time envisioning the values and commodities that are important to others in differing places.
Take for example the issue of gun control. In cities, and suburban areas, guns are often seen more as a hazard than a tool. People here live close together, resulting in less viable hunting land, police officers with shorter response times, more people and a different set of values concerning what freedom entails. In rural areas, these are just the opposite. People live farther apart, resulting in more hunting land, police officers have a longer response times, and there is a culture that values independence and self-reliance in a different way than do those in urban areas.
The culture difference stems far beyond gun control. In many of these areas, the job market is different, the needs are different, and the values of the people are different. The problem is that they are just not understanding the divide. Many people in the “educated” urban areas, see those in the rural areas as uneducated, rough, and rowdy, to a point where their opinions are considered less valuable than those with higher education. Yet, voting is an avenue for all people to express their concerns. Simply because people in rural areas have different needs and concerns, does not mean they are less valid.
The Guardian quoted the following from an Indian small business owner, “Surprise! There is a whole other part to this country outside of your newsroom walls that actually thinks differently from the mostly liberal ideas that most news outlets put out there.” While this quote’s focal point is the media, the message could be applied to most urban areas. The urban areas just do not understand the rural ones, and since much of the country’s land mass is still home to rural communities, the Electoral College reflects this divide. The heartland, the industrial towns, the hillbilly country, they all went red and may continue to go that way if the democrats do not make an effort to bridge that urban-rural culture gap.
It may have only been 16 years since the last similar election results, but the Popular vote/Electoral College results are not necessarily indicative of a broken system. Rather they are reflective of a changing culture that is affecting some areas of the country more drastically than others. The key is to see what the map is telling us and to learn the lessons it is demanding we understand. There is a difference, not between smart people and stupid people, but between how and where we live relative to other people, which affects our actions, thoughts, opportunities, and experiences.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, December 10th print edition.
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