The Dirt Gap: As you know, I've pointed out that the famous red state - blue state voting gap correlates closely with the baby gap (the 19 states with the highest white total fertility voted for Bush), the marriage gap (the 25 states with the highest rate of youngish white women being married voted for Bush), and the housing inflation gap (the 26 states with the least growth in home prices from 1980 to 2004 voted for Bush).
Now, in my article "A Tale of Two States: America's future is either Texas or California," in the Feb. 14th issue of The American Conservative, now available at newsstands, I point out an even more fundamental cause of these three gaps: The Dirt Gap. Briefly, most Red State metropolises are surrounded by almost 360 degrees of dirt, while most Blue State metropolises are partially bordered by water.
This restrained land price growth in Texas reflects a bedrock geographic reality about the metropolises of Texas, and of red states as a whole. Red state cities simply have more land available for suburban and exurban expansion because most of them are inland and thus not hemmed in by water, unlike the typical blue state city, which is on an ocean or a Great Lake.
Let's look at the 50 most populous metropolitan areas in the country. Of the ones in blue states, 73 percent of their population lives in cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, where physical growth is restricted by unbridgeable water, compared to only 19 percent of the population of the biggest red state metropolises, such as Dallas, Atlanta, and Phoenix.
The Law of Supply and Demand controls housing prices. The greater supply of available land for suburban expansion in red metropolises keeps house prices down.
Contrast the Dallas-Fort Worth conurbation, the largest in red America, to San Francisco, culturally the bluest spot on the entire map.
Exurban Dallas-Fort Worth can expand outward around 360 degrees of flat, adequately watered land, easily bulldozed into lots and streets. In sharp divergence, San Francisco sits on a peninsula, with the Pacific Ocean to the west, the San Francisco Bay to the east, and mountain ranges to the north and south. This makes for superb scenery, but also for vastly expensive homes within an hour's commute of downtown San Francisco...
San Francisco therefore fills up with two kinds of people who don't need as much space per paycheck -- singles, most famously gays, and immigrants from countries where families don't expect American-style square footage. Neither is likely to vote Republican. The Chinese in San Francisco might have conservative social views, but, as journalist Arthur Hu has perceptively pointed out, they tend to take their voting cues from their native neighbors, who are more often than not quite liberal.
White heterosexual couples who meet in San Francisco know that if they want to marry and have several children, they are likely to have to leave this adult Disneyland of scenic beauty and superb restaurants and move inland, perhaps as far as the hot, smoggy, and dull Central Valley. The ones who do make this sacrifice to have children are more likely to become Republicans, but the ones who stay will likely vote Democratic.
I fear, though, that despite the explanatory power of the Dirt Gap, the concept will not be widely discussed. The problem is that it's too morally neutral. What people want to hear are explanations for why they are morally superior to their enemies.