Thursday, February 9, 2012

Who votes for what and why

I read a very informative book: American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by historian Colin Woodard.  It's observation is that each part of our country was founded by different people with different ideas and valules, and that over time those ideas and values have remained pretty much intact and have created their own cultures that have endured.  His point is that there is not one United States, but rather there are nine distinct cultural nations in the U.S., all of which vie for political power each election.

The heart of liberalism is the cultural nation of "Yankeedom", started in New England and spread across the land in its particular way; and the heart of conservatism is the Deep South, started in South Carolina and spread in its particular way.  The other nations align to greater or lesser degrees with these polar opposites as the times change.  

I am posting my summary of this book, so this is a longer than normal post, but I think it is an interesting summary of our cultural and political landscape.  One final note about these cultures.  I don't believe that any of our cultures are written in stone, and that they can evolve and change as the times change.  But, here is a pretty interesting fingerprint of the America:

AMERICAN NATIONS:  Colin Woodard – 11 rival cultural centers of North America 2011


  • Founded in Massachusetts 1620
  • Calvinists, Puritans
  • Reform minded public protestants
  • To found a religious utopia on earth
  • Came as families, community oriented
  • Salvation of society, not individuals
  • Believe freedom is more for the community than for the individual
  • Drive to improve the world
  • Social engineering, social justice emphasized
  • Mission to impose their ways on everyone else
  • Turn everyone into a Yankee
  • Faith in government
  • Government is an extension of citizenry
  • Local political control
  • Common good, government to improve people’s lives
  • Intolerant of corruption
  • Protestant work ethic
  • Men judged by hard work and righteousness
  • Frugality, thrift, cleanliness, punctuality
  • Individual self denial
  • Common people, with an aristocracy of the educated
  • Education, literacy valued
  • Rebel against arbitrary authority
  • Environmentally concerned
  • Opposed to military expansionism
  • Lead the Democratic Party

  • Colonized by merchants, missionaries, and woodsmen from New England who arrived by sea and controlled the towns, and by farmers, prospectors, and fur traders from Appalachia who dominate the countryside
  • Yankee faith in good government in the cities
  • Common good
  • Social reform
  • Peace movement
  • Cultural revolution
  • Environmental movement
  • Gay rights movement
  • Reform minded
  • Individual self-exploration
  • Discovery is valued
  • Believe the world can frequently be reinvented
  • Salvation of society not individuals
  • Global information revolution
  • Battles libertarian-corporate agenda of the Far West
  • Oppose military expansionism
  • Lean toward Democratic Party

  • Dutch colony, 1624
  • Global commercial  trading society
  • Private enterprise
  • Free trading
  • Self made men are the elite
  • Materialistic
  • Profitability ethos
  • Speculative ethos
  • Invented modern banking
  • Invented modern corporation
  • Men judged by material achievements
  • Upward mobility
  • Open to immigrants
  • Raucous
  • Multi-cultural, multi-ethnic
  • Haven for heretics, freethinkers, cultural avant guarde
  • Intellectual freedom
  • Internal bickering and negotiation
  • Great universities
  • Freedom of the press
  • Reform minded public protestants
  • Salvation of society, not individuals
  • Opposed to military expansionism
  • Freedom of inquiry
  • Lean toward Democratic Party


  • Founded by Barbados slave lords 1670
  • Modeled on slave states of ancient Greece and Rome
  • Saw enslavement as the natural state of the many
  • Politically polarized on racial grounds today
  • Oligarchy, Radical disparities of wealth and power
  • Desire one party oligarchy with colonial style economy
  • Aristocratic privilege
  • Leisurely pace of life for the aristocracy to develop refinement, culture
  • Subsidize oligarch’s businesses
  • Cut taxes for the wealthy
  • Least democratic of the nations
  • States’ rights
  • Fights federal power
  • Fights taxes on capitalism
  • Fights organized labor
  • Fights environmentalism
  • Fights consumer protectionism
  • Authoritarian society
  • Wants a compliant, low wage workforce
  • Order and obedience are valued
  • The poor existed to support the oligarchs
  • White supremacy, contempt for all “inferior races”
  • Contempt for the middle class
  • Religion important
  • Salvation minded private protestants
  • Support wars
  • Lead Republican Party

  • Founded by the younger sons of southern English gentry
  • Jamestown, John Smith 1607
  • Desire to reproduce the life of the semi-feudal English manors
  • Tobacco plantations, indentured servants, then slave - haves & have-nots
  • Values authority and tradition
  • Personal honor, duels
  • Leisurely pace of life
  • Salvation minded private protestants
  • No towns, schools, local governments
  • Little respect for public participation in politics
  • Little respect for equality
  • Nation in decline, losing power to Midlands neighbors
  • Support wars
  • Lean toward Republican Party

  • Founded in early 18th century by rough, bellicose war ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, Northern England, Scottish Lowlands
  • Came from a condition of near constant war and upheaval
  • Warrior ethic, combative, will fight anyone who tries to lord it over them
  • Extreme individualism
  • Men judged by their toughness and ferocity
  • Aggressive military, support wars
  • Lampooned as rednecks, hillbillies, crackers, white trash
  • Backcountry people, beyond rule of law
  • Opposed to strong, central government controlled by elites
  • Egalitarian
  • Taxes low, schools sparse, government slight
  • Suspicious of aristocrats
  • Suspicious of reformers
  • Opposed to strong labor unions
  • Maximize freedom rather than increase wealth as top priority
  • Clan based
  • Honor based
  • Salvation minded private protestants
  • Lean toward Republican Party


  • Founded by Dutch Quakers
  • Utopian colonies
  • See humans as essentially good
  • Welcome many nations and creeds, immigrants
  • Tolerant
  • Multicultural, multilingual
  • Organized around the middle class
  • Society should be organized to help ordinary people
  • Middle class ethos
  • Thrift, sobriety
  • Neighborliness
  • Skeptical of top down government intervention because they escaped tyrannies in Europe
  • Distrust of big government
  • Reject hierarchical authority
  • Government is an unwelcome intrusion
  • Moderate politics
  • Practical politics
  • The key swing vote in every election
  • Timid and ambivalent
  • Not militaristic, expansionist
  • Moderating force in politics

  • The oldest nation, founded by Spanish missionaries and soldiers, 1560
  • Catholic opponents of Protestantism
  • Overwhelmingly Hispanic
  • Mexicans are the progeny of Spanish and Indian unions
  • Hybrid between Anglo- and Spanish- American
  • Independent
  • Self-sufficient
  • Work centered
  • Adaptable
  • Ruled by oligarchy over the peons
  • Obedient, respectful
  • Self sufficient, independent ranch hands, cowboys
  • Lean toward Democratic Party

  • Environmental barrenness more important than ethnicity
  • Treated as an internal colony to be exploited for natural resources
  • Reviles federal government interference, but demands federal government largesse
  • Run by the corporations exploiting the natural resources
  • Libertarian-corporate agenda
  • Want the federal government to get out, leave us alone, give us money
  • Rarely defies their corporate masters
  • Industrial base grew as a result of WWII and Cold War
  • Hostility to Federal Government
  • Independence of the cowboy ethos
  • Extreme individualism
  • Allies with deep south sometimes
  • Lean toward Republican Party


  • Founded in 1604
  • Mixed society, embraced Indians
  • Cross cultural marriages
  • Tolerant open society
  • Down to earth
  • Egalitarian
  • Consensus driven
  • The most liberal on the continent
  • Multicultural

  • Far northern Canada
  • Environmentalism
  • Limited sense of ownership
  • Sharing society
It is a fascinating book and worth the read if you are interested.