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Urban v. Rural: a north american trend?

September 13, 2008

Three recent publications zoom in on Canada’s demographics: Michael Adams, president of Environics and member of the Canada’s World advisory committee, writes an essay about his company’s latest findings that show a trend toward a Conservative majority government; John Duffy, a Liberal commentator, compares Canada to the U.S. and posits a new post racial, post regional wedge issue: urban v. rural; and Canada’s bad boy of the culture wars, Christian Lander (Toronto raised, McGill educated), gets his book published on Stuff White People Like.

Is it possible to see a thread in the comments of all three: an emerging geographic “culture” split – a kind of Rorschach test for how people vote?

At first glance, Michael Adam’s piece would suggest, no. His Environics firm polled 2, 505 Canadian voters and found that campaigning on a “carbon tax” was across the board unpopular (68 percent against; 72 percent against in QC), with a majority of Canadians agreeing with the current federal government’s approach to dealing with climate change; that 57 percent of those polled did not think a Tory government would be much different than what we have now; and that the majority of Canadians (56 per cent) didn’t approve of Canada’s military participation in Afghanistan. According to the poll, two thirds of Canadians do not think the Canadian mission in that country will succeed. The survey found that aside from the economy, no one issue dominated public concern. Interestingly, Adams’ poll results show most Canadians still see the economy and the environment as two competing priorities.

That dichotomy is perhaps related to Duffy’s argument which sees both the Canadian and U.S. federal elections not only as on a continuum across North America, but as a division between “city folk” and “high-consumption, low-density rural voters.” Duffy argues that in the States, race as a determining factor and in Canada, regionalism as a predictor of party loyalty has shifted. (He might well be dead wrong on that one.)

Duffy references the GOP dependence on the rural vote and finds that where rural and urban “line up,” the result is either a close or outright Democratic win. More persuasively, Duffy examines Canada through the same lens and predicts that “environmental politics” will further the rural-urban split: “as environmental problems get worse, however, politicians will be…forced into confrontations between urban and rural conditions.”

Christian Lander’s satire on the consumption habits of wealthy, primarily urban “progressives,” featured in the online Atlantic with the lede, Intolerant Chic, taps into some of Duffy’s claims – that across North America, consumer “narcissism,” often stereotyped as being “from the city,” particularly a “coastie city” – drives a wedge between urban and rural – to be exploited by politicians locked in tightly fought contests. Predictions anyone?

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. d'wayne marsonis permalink
    September 16, 2008 7:16 pm

    Hi Renee,
    Thanks for your explanation of “PG” and why you use “wuz” etc. I see the “UR”-like “words” and other text messaging shortcuts as an indication of the dumbing down and “hurrying up” of discourse. Your blog is great because it forces one to slow down and think and think beyond the surface whereas texting seems to happen in a hurry and seems pretty superficial to me. I’m an old person, however, as you can probably tell. I also think women and minorities feel the need sometimes to dumb themselves down so as to not offend or threaten when presenting a view that might not be acceptable to others.

  2. reneethewriter permalink
    September 16, 2008 6:06 pm

    Hi Derrick, Scott and d’wayne: always good to hear your comments.

    -Derrick – i hadn’t thought about tourism but it’s an interesting economic/social issue to overlay on regionalism. I’m intrigued by your reference to the book, “The Quest of the Folk” etc – please tell us more…

    -Scott: I agree that a single frame (e.g. rural v.urban) probably doesn’t work. Particularly regarding how that dichotomy intersects, in for instance the U.S., with “race.”
    Perhaps in Canada, with immigration patterns.

    -d’wayne: yes. Economic divides also exist; and intersect & interact with all these social, geographic, demographic layers.

    P.G./PG is Prince George, British Columbia. Re: wuz/UR: a play with words, particularly in context of telegraphing playfulness. Also, in comments section, a way to offer opinion w/out sounding too in the Super Id/The Ego; hence, often, the lower case “i.” Playfulness and elasticity in language when expressing Big Thoughts sometimes keeps the flow going , keeps us mindful of the subjective always there with the objective. Your thoughts?

  3. d'wayne marsonis permalink
    September 16, 2008 5:31 pm

    I think the divide is also the old “rich vs poor” debate, too.

    Renee, what does “PG” stand for? Perhaps you are in a very big hurry so don’t have the time to write out the whole word(s)? Also, why do you write “wuz” rather than “was” and “UR” rather than “you are”?

    I must really not be white or perhaps I’m just technologically illiterate as I couldn’t get the quiz on the “gene expression” blog to tally my results. Perhaps the quiz only works on Mac computers.

  4. Scott Y permalink
    September 16, 2008 3:11 pm

    I think that the rural-urban divide is a legit observation, but I’m not sure its the end-all-be-all explanation for Canadian voting distribution. For example, thus far in this election, we’ve seen the Tories making inroads with immigrant and ethnic communities in the metropolitan areas, which have traditionally been a Liberal stronghold. I also think that historical regionalism also plays a key role in voting choices. After PET’s National Energy Plan, it became obvious that Saskatchewan and Alberta would never vote for the Liberals federally and put them in the Conservatives’ pocket. But, keep in mind that Saskatchewan is infamous for its left-of-centre governments, and they don’t see this as a contradiction. And how do I explain BC? I can’t…we’re just messed up out here.

    Anyway, the important thing is that I think its a mistake to rely on just the rural-urban divide as a defining feature of Canadian voting patterns.

  5. derrick permalink
    September 16, 2008 5:03 am

    i would throw another major element into the kelowna vs. PG question, which is tourism. the okanagan valley has been marketed for 100 yrs as a tourist or resort destination, a “british garden of eden”. PG has never had a tourist economy, for various reasons, and has developed very differently. the effects of tourism on local cultures is one of my favoruite questions and one i have not explored – there is a fantastic book called “the quest of the folk: antimodernism and cultural selection in 20th century nova scotia” that is really great for this stuff!

    saskatchewan is, with the exception of wascana, entirely represented by conservative MPs. what does this mean?

  6. reneethewriter permalink
    September 15, 2008 10:21 pm

    Dear Steven, Cor, and Derrick: Thank you for the thoughtful comments – worthy of reflection and more analysis:

    a/ PG. v. Kelowna – now that’s an interesting comparison – Kelowna “feels” more “urban” while P.G…er, less so. (i’m writing a cycle of P.G. poems…).

    b/urban v. rural as an economic schism rather than geography. Yes and the PG/Kelowna example illustrates; comparable to Vancouver city v. suburbs

    c/Cor, U R a Great Canadian no matter what. Of course you’ve drilled to the key question: what do actual polling data returns show etc. Will have to look into that…

    d/ Derrick -i wuz too shy to try the “Test.” Gulp. Go figure. I’ll check out “rebel sell”…Tx for the reminder re rural/urban within one region and the blended voter returns for each of Canada’s major parties…wonder what happens in France (e.g. Paris v. the rest of the country)?

  7. derrick permalink
    September 15, 2008 1:36 am

    Duffy is very late to the party on the urban/rural stuff. i specifically remember dan savage writing a feature about “the urban archipelago” in 2004, and I’ve been talking/thinking about it at least since then, if not longer. it’s a crucial distinction to rebut the “red-state/blue-state” monolith. most states voted between 40-50% for bush AND kerry. it’s the lens i use more than region for looking at canada too. in fact, i’ve always been very proud of our political dynamic – each of the NDP, Libs, Cons, and BQ hold very urban and very rural ridings across the country, and i do not expect that to change this time around.

    and hey, look at BC – vancouver split 5/5 NDP/LIB last election, and so did the rural north, for the most part. and hey, so did the suburbs! only the south fraser valley and the okanagan can be considered solid regional blocs.

    i scored 13/107 on the ‘whiteness’ test. of course, ‘white’ is shorthand for a pile of cultural signifiers that may or may not be ‘white’ etc. blah blah. but i just read “the rebel sell” this week, and it addresses a lot of the same stuff – i really enjoyed a lot of it, and would love to discuss it further with you, renee!

  8. corsullivan permalink*
    September 14, 2008 1:55 pm

    Fascinating post! A lot of people seem to be talking about the urban/rural split, but I suspect it’s been a bit oversold. Surely this is just one more factor that will be superimposed on those old-fashioned racial and regional differences in voting behaviour – not to mention cultural, religious, generational and economic ones. With that said, it would be interesting to know (1) how big the gap in voting preferences between rural and urban areas really is, and (2) what specific issues account for these differences. I suspect the answers to both questions might differ between Canada and the U.S., too.

    If you want to find out how white you are, in Landerian terms, a post on a blog called Gene Expression will help you figure out whether you like Stuff White People Like. My score was 32 out of 107, which probably means I’m what Lander likes to call “the wrong sort of white person”. Oh, well.

  9. Steven Lewis permalink
    September 14, 2008 12:21 am

    I read Duffy’s article late last night and found his analysis to be lucid and well-written, but I was unsure what he meant by rural vs. urban. I find the urban/rural dichotomy to be less about geography and more about economy. For example, I think Kelowna is an excellent example of an urban city. Its got good educational institutions, excellent restaurants and is fast becoming a top Canadian tourist destination. In my mind, it is inarguably urban. But can the same be said for a city like Prince George? Prince George was based on the forestry industry, much of its economy is still forestry-focused and yet, it feels more rural. But both are relatively close (85 000 PG vs. 100 000 in Kelowna) in population size.

    I think, if nothing else, that Duffy’s article proves that the one-size-fits-all formula is no longer going to be satisfactory. I think its a touchy dilemma for politicians. How do they ease the legitimate pain in some parts of the country (ie: long-distance rural commuters) without pissing off the other half? The party that figures this out is going to win the election.

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