A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll looks at how and why the country is so divided. The findings clearly reflect the reality here in North Carolina. The fault lines fall mainly between rural and urban dwellers and educated and less-educated citizens. Globalization plays a major role in the divisions and highlights the discrepancies of views between the winners and losers.
According to the NBC analysts, “Overall, 55 percent of respondents in the poll say they’re comfortable with the nation becoming more diverse and tolerant of different lifestyles, gender roles, languages, cultures and experiences.” While that seems a relatively evenly divided nation, there are sharp differences along political and cultural lines. Only 30% of Republicans are comfortable with the changes while 77% of Democrats are. In addition, 65% of urban dwellers embrace the diversity while only 38% of rural residents do.
In North Carolina, we see these divisions clearly in our politics and our quality of life. Much of rural North Carolina is reeling from changes due to globalization and changing attitudes. First, tobacco became a virtual pariah crop and eastern North Carolina saw a prime source of revenue dry up in just a few short years. Next, NAFTA all but destroyed the textile and furniture industries in the state, leaving towns across the piedmont with aging and shrinking populations.
At the same time, the banking and tech industries took off. Charlotte and the Research Triangle Park became economic powerhouses that made North Carolina one of the fastest growing states in the nation. They added more than enough jobs to keep the state’s overall unemployment rate low, but added to the discrepancies between rural and urban life. While stores and small businesses shuttered across much of the rural piedmont, developments the size of small towns popped up in places like Cary and Weddington in Union County.
The poll reflects just such differences. According to the Wall Street Journal analysis, “Rural Americans and people without a four-year college degree are notably more pessimistic about the economy and more conservative on social issues. Those groups make up an increasingly large share of the GOP.” They’ve seen fewer benefits from globalization and free trade, which is ironic since the Reagan Revolution sped up both.
Democrats are quickly becoming a more educated and urban party, reflecting the changes and benefits of globalization. However, they’re also becoming a younger party with less reliable voters. In contrast, the GOP reflects a shrinking population but it’s becoming older with more consistent voters. In the long run, prospects look brighter for Democrats who represent a more satisfied portion of the electorate. In the short term, Republican represent people who are angry and grievance, not satisfaction, is more of a motivator to go to the polls.