Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cultural Continuity

Jeff Lacks, a political scientist who teaches at Columbia, writes (via):
If policy were set by state-by-state majorities of those 65 or older, none would allow same-sex marriage. If policy were set by those under 30, only 12 states would not allow-same-sex marriage.
This is a fascinating presentation of an admittedly familiar piece of data -- namely, that support for same-sex marriage is largely a generational issue, and that demographics provide a solid basis for hope that the good guys will win.

But looking at his chart made me think of another familiar piece of data -- one that this study also corroborates.

Here's a map:

And here's another:

One of those is a map of the 12 states whose under-30 population are not in favor of equal marriage rights; the other is a map of the 11 states that seceded to form the Confederacy in 1861 (kicking of the U. S. Civil War). At a glance, can you tell which is which?

If so, good for you -- you remember your U. S. history. But if not, it's not that much of a surprise; no less than nine states are among both the 12 and the 11.

(The answer: the first map, colored in red-state red, is based contemporary attitudes towards equal marriage rights; the second, colored in confederate grey, is of the Confederacy.)

Terribly surprising -- except that it's not, since the cultural continuity in the north-south divide is a commonplace (which dates back to the earliest days of colonial history if David Hackett Fischer is to be believed), one which a quick survey of election maps over a century apart will demonstrate. (Obviously the pattern comes and goes: it's hidden in landslide years, and the Democrat/Republican constituency switch hid it a lot in the intervening century, etc.) If anything, what is surprising is how unsurprising it is: even before I looked at Lacks's list, I guessed there would be a lot of overlap. Because the South is now, as it long has been, the most conservative area of the country. It's just that what causes that manifests itself in support for -- slavery or anti-gay bigotry -- changes.

What's interesting, actually, are the few differences. So here's a third map. In this case, the two states that joined the Confederacy but a majority of whose youngsters support equal marriage rights are in grey; the three states that did not join the Confederacy but whose youngsters do not support equal marriage rights are in red; the states that fall on the conservative sides of both these divides are in (a hopefully neutral) yellow:

So what is up with the five states that aren't in the overlap?

The first thing to note is that two of the three non-confederate anti-equality-youngsters states (hereafter, red states) were not even states at the time of the Civil War: Utah and Oklahoma only joined the union in 1896 and 1907, respectively. So they didn't even have a chance to do so. They are historically conservative areas whose statehood post-dates the war.

The third of the red states is Kentucky. It was one of the four slave states that did not secede; like all of them, it had a mix of Confederate and Union supporters. (The same was true in some of the states that did secede, incidentally, which is why (for example) West Virginia is now a separate state.) Obviously its conservative elements have now won out (in contrast, I suppose, to those in Missouri, Maryland and Delaware, the other three loyal slave states).

As for the two states that have moved (so to speak) in the opposite direction, Florida and Virginia are both states that have been culturally shifting to the north for various reasons, in large part having to do with immigrants to those states from elsewhere in the country (and from without it). While each has its ongoing Confederate regions, these are off-set by more liberal areas elsewhere in those states.

Despite this, however, nine states -- Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia -- show (in this as in so many other areas) the ongoing power of a historically deep conservative culture in the southern (now really better described as south-eastern) region of the country.