Understanding US political divide, confounding variable of age

I admire this analysis and the genuine intent to understand the political landscape of the US elections, particularly for Presidents.

I think he is on the right track to say the divide is deeper than the mere difference between urban and less urban areas (rural, exurban, suburban, etc).   It is not merely the density of population, but the type of people drawn to these areas.

His observations about personality traits is interesting, but I object to the inference that this is determined to some extent to inherited personality traits.   For the sake of argument, I accept the inheritance of personality traits that greatly influence political inclination.    I don’t think this really works for the US.

USA is fairly unique among all other countries in terms of the transient nature of residence in urban areas.   While all urban areas in the world have their share of transient populations, people immigrating from other parts of their country, USA stands out in the homogeneity of its transients.   Other foreign countries will find immigration into cities from nearby outlying suburbs, exurbs, or rural areas because they share a common sub-culture that varies by regions within the country, even geographically smaller countries like like the UK.   In other countries, the migration patterns are to nearby cities, or to specific neighborhoods within a common metropolis where the neighborhood has a dominant and familiar subculture.

Within the USA, despite its vast geographic area, there is great homogeneity of culture across the country.   The regional subcultures that do exist are similar enough that people generally feel comfortable residing in places where their individual subculture is a minority.   When people migrate in and out of cities, their subculture is a very minor consideration, if it is a consideration at all.

The problem I see with the above linked analysis is the transient population in cities where young people from rural areas from all over the country will immigrate to any city in the country where they can find gainful employment.   Young people from rural areas will of course bring with them any inheritable political traits from their families, but once in the city their political inclination seems to vanish.

In terms of the US politics, the cities lean too heavily democratic than would be expected if the immigrating youth from more conservative areas held onto to their conservative views.   They become liberal, or more accurately they become more likely to vote Democratic when the move to a city.

The cities attract many young people.   These young people bring with them an eagerness to spend their money as well as their eagerness to work.   They spend money in attempts to establish or strengthen social status.   Consequently, the urban economies catering to consumer are heavily influenced by what interests or excites the younger population.   This catering to younger people in turn influences the older people to adopt similar tastes in part to witness the better offerings the city has to offer and in part because they previous options are no longer available.

At the same time, the older individuals will only stay in the city if they have achieved to the point of having relatively secure positions in their jobs or in their social circles.  Older people may also say in the city if they have established some family ties to the city, but this is relatively rare because child rearing is not as common or any adult children that do come will leave for other cities that better suit their career interests.

My impression is that there is a continuous migration into USA cities with younger people coming into cities while older people (who have exhausted their opportunities in the city) migrate out of the cities to more suburban or rural areas.

The dynamic of cities voting Democrats while outer areas voting Republican has more to do with ages that dominate the culture in the two areas.   Cities are younger or have cultures that more cater to the younger people.   Rural areas are older, or have a culture where the younger will tend to show more deference to older adult opinions.

In a city, one’s status largely comes from conforming with the general attitudes and world-views of the younger people.   In the areas outside of cities, one’s status is more likely to come from conforming to the general attitudes and world-views of the older and more experienced even when those experiences are less relevant in the modern conditions.

There are endless discussions about what determines the political leanings of individuals in this country.   I tend to agree that all of the explanations have some validity.   However, my inclination is to put much more weight on the age difference of the voters.   Older people tend to be more Republican especially when they are in areas where the conservative viewpoints are prevalent.   Younger people tend to be more Democratic especially when they are in cities where being Democratic facilitates their career or status aspirations.

All the other political-leaning traits such as personality traits in the above article or identity politics (race, gender, etc.) appears to me to offer very little guidance about the merits of the proposed policies offered by the groups.   We consider the policies based on the details of those policies with an awareness of who are championing those policies.

In contrast, the division of political leanings by age seems to offer a consideration that goes beyond the specifics of the policies advocated.   I believe that the success of this country over the past two centuries was based on the country’s ability to adapt rapidly to the changing world.  For most of our history, this agility came from the political power of the younger voters.   In earlier generations, the average age of voters was much lower than it is now.   As a result, the policies that won were policies that the younger generation wanted.   In hindsight, some of these decisions may have been regrettable but they did allow the country to adapt to newer conditions.   Part of the reason of the success was that the younger people supporting the winning policies had to own and defend those policies for many years after the decisions were made, often defending these policies for the rest of their lives.

Younger voters bring progressive policies that reflect current conditions of the modern world, but they also bring the commitment to stick to policies that inevitably will encounter problems that will require further work to achieve the individual’s goals of maintaining or growing their status within society.

Much has been made of the difference between rural and urban voting preferences with the implication that we need balance between different sub-economies within our country.   I think this inevitably overlooks the differences between younger and older voters where there is a benefit to give more attention to the younger voters at the expense of the older ones.   The younger voters are responding to current and emerging conditions and if their preferences are accepted, they will work to make their preferences work, continuing the country’s success at remaining dominant in the future.

Addendum, 1/30/2017.   The above discussion is inconclusive about political causes, but only that I always see there is always something beneath something that seems so convincing.  This is a extrapolation of the above linked discussion that found a geographic dispersion and self-association based on personality that happened to coincide with population density.   Beneath that association is a component of age where younger people are more likely to be mobile in seeking new fame and fortune and thus concentrate in cities where the value of their vote was diluted by the electoral college mechanism.   I ended the above discussion with an impression that the age factor is the root of the problem, but I don’t really believe that.  I believe there are explanations below explanations, and there are explanations below the age explanation.   Eventually the explanations branch out and revisit earlier explanations so that the real explanation is a web of explanations, too tangled for the human mind, or certainly too tangled for  my mind.

I don’t really mind that I’ll never figure it out, and indeed I find entertainment in finding arguments against my own ideas.   In the end, I am very suspicious of explanations because they provide a narrative on top of the data.  The data should stand alone and it certainly should be set apart from narrative explanations.  Narratives are entertaining, but they don’t replace the data.  Narratives are models of the data, and I am suspicious of models.

In my above discussion, I gave preference of younger views because of the value of getting their commitment on executing the ideas they promote.  To make their ideas work, they need to work hard at them over a long time, where many will defend the ideas until old age at a time when they’ll be arguing with younger people who will disagree with them.   This commitment is what allows the culture to thrive into the future, allowing it to get another chance to remain relevant for future challenges.

On further thought, I recognized that there could be forces underneath the factors of age.  Younger people who flock to cities are largely doing so to gain recognition and status.  They do so within a culture of established holders of recognition and status from people who hold powerful positions in the cities that attract the younger people.   It seems reasonable to me that there is a large influence of older people onto the younger people’s sentiments and politics.  The younger people seek to impress the older people who hold power.   They may do this by reinforcing the older people’s opinions or by vigorously attacking those positions to prove their capabilities to win opposing arguments.  In either case, they may be impressing the ones who often are older than them.   This is the contradiction of my earlier argument in that older people in cities may be more instrumental in shaping politics in cities.   Such an idea is still consistent with my earlier discussion of disenfranchisement of older people, where part of the argument is that even without the right to vote the older population still retains considerable political power of influencing the politics of the younger people.

It is a small hop from here to return to the above author’s conjecture about personality proclivities for whether to live in urban or suburban or rural areas.   This personality explanation is emphasized with age where older people have more of a choice about where to live, especially if they  have achieved some level of success.  The above author is not incorrect, but his explanation is incomplete.   Much more than rural areas, cities are complex systems that in modern times reach a point of developing a hive intelligence based on unconscious behavioral contributions of the cities’ inhabitants.

As we consider the merits of the electoral college system for choosing a president, we can think beyond the democracy (popular vote) or geographic representative vote where both place trust in people.   We can also consider whether we trust the hive mind that emerges in cities where the cities themselves place votes for national offices.  The cities replace people as voters, a polisocracy as opposed to a democracy or a democratic republic.

In my opinion handing political power to metropolitan hive intelligence is the homogeneous intelligence the seems to inevitably emerge in the hive of humans where the systems are so complex that the intelligence is incomprehensible to human individuals.   The scary thing is the lack of diversity in opinion of the metropolitan hive mentality.   It always thinks the same way.  If history is any guide, the dominance of the metropolitan hive mind over politics always ends in collapses of civilizations.  Humans are stuck in a cycle of brilliance in creating awesome cities that inevitably take over politics with the mental capacity of insect colonies.

Maybe this time is different.  Today we have computers, the internet, and the cloud that enables storage, retrieval, and analytics of large quantities of diverse data.  Maybe the primitive hive mind of the city can join with the data-driven capabilities of big data to produce a new kind of intelligence that can guide politics in a way that can survive challenges that otherwise would crumble the metropolitan hive mind alone.   Maybe not.


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