WASHINGTON, D.C. - Oh, you folks think you're so different out there, do you? All these seminars and conferences about the Old West and the New West, the changing West, the future of the West, the culture of the West, even the sovereignty of the West. From the intellectuals in the universities to the anti-intellectuals in the wise-use movement, you fellas seem to think you're in another country.
Well, take a
look at the election results. You know how you
Pretty much like Americans, that's how.
Americans with a Western twang, perhaps, but Americans
Granted, a quick look at the
electoral map might inspire the conclusion that, politically
speaking, there are two Americas. The larger part is split asunder,
almost like Pakistan. One half takes up the nation's entire
northeastern quadrant except for a little blob in the middle which
is Indiana. The other half takes up the entire Western sliver, with
a bit of a dogleg poking eastward. That's Democratic
Below that northeastern quadrant, and
in the 800 or so miles between it and the Western sliver, is
Republican America. Yes, there are a few Democratic outposts in the
areas of Republican hegemony, and vice versa, but the map does seem
to indicate a country beset, or blessed, by
Maps can be deceiving. The exit
polls show that Bob Dole and other Republicans won most of the
South and the Rocky Mountain West mostly because those two parts of
the country have more of the kind of folks who voted Republican no
matter where they lived.
To illustrate: Dole won
in Colorado and Montana largely because he got the votes of most
middle-income and upper-middle income white Protestants. But he got
those votes in the Northeast, too. The difference is that white
Protestants (of all income levels) dominate Utah, Idaho, Montana
and even Colorado far more than they do Ohio and Illinois, or for
that matter Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada, where Clinton
Maybe the best strategy for Democratic
activists in the Rockies, then, would be to convince a lot more
Catholics (53 percent for Clinton, 38 percent for Dole), Jews (79
percent for Clinton, 16 percent for Dole) or people of no religion
at all (54 percent for Clinton, 34 percent for Dole) to move into
the area. Even better, attract a bunch of black folks, 84 percent
of whom voted Democratic.
You're just like the
rest of us in another important respect: Fewer of you voted than in
1992, or in 1988, or, in the case of Montana, ever. By the only
meaningful standard - percentage of voting-age population - turnout
fell in all 50 states, according to the Committee for the Study of
the American Electorate. For the most part, voter turnout in the
Western states was higher than elsewhere, but lower than it used to
Now, the more difficult question is - who
were those non-voters who came to the polls in 1992 but stayed home
this month? Any answer here can be no better than educated
conjecture, but the most educated conjecturer in this regard,
Curtis Gans of the aforementioned committee, conjectures that they
were "likely to be some combination of the young and the poor," two
groups who were far more likely to vote Democratic this
Had they voted, would Clinton had carried
Colorado and Montana, would Democrats have held the House seat in
Montana and taken the Senate seat in Colorado? Maybe, maybe and
probably not, but that's not the point. The point is that much the
same could be said of Maine and New Hampshire, where turnout fell
and Democrats lost close races.
But, I hear you
say, is not the West uniquely torn between those who would extract
natural resources for profit and those who would preserve nature?
Maybe. In the first place, the cleavage is not unique to the West;
similar arguments rage in New England, the West Coast and parts of
the Midwest. And while the two sides are most vocal and
occasionally violent in the Rockies, their stand-off does not
necessarily determine elections.
True it is that
throughout the region, Gans tells us, the folks who favored
Clinton's "policies on land use and natural resources' voted
overwhelmingly for him, while those who opposed those policies
voted Republican. But in most states, the balance was held by those
who had no strong opinion one way or another. They went Republican
by comfortable margins.
As ever, the winners are
the guys who appeal to the middle.
polls also demonstrate that even on this important regional
concern, Western opinion is not monolithic. In the two biggest
states - Arizona and Colorado - a healthy plurality favors
Clinton's policies. This helps explain why the president won
Arizona and came close in Colorado.
smaller states, the anti-Clinton faction has the plurality, though
only in Utah, where many are no doubt smarting over the designation
of the Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument, did a majority
oppose the president's Western land-use
Still, to demonstrate that Westerners
did not vote solely as Westerners does not justify the conclusion
that many of them did not vote partly as Westerners, and it would
be absurd to deny that in much of the West the middle-of-the-road
voter has turned against the political faction which would protect
nature through government and law. The evidence is not confined to
federal elections. Only two of the nine Rocky Mountain states have
Democratic governors, and Republicans dominate most of the state
legislatures. The "War on the West" sentiment was not as powerful
this year as it was in 1994, but neither has it gone
This raises the intriguing question of
what happened to all those newcomers, the refugees from California
who escaped crime and traffic to luxuriate midst the mountains and
the streams. Don't they love nature?
many of them also love low taxes, a balanced budget and Republican
social values. Furthermore, to be blunt about it, some of them
moved to get away from their fellow citizens of darker hue. This is
not an attitude which inspires voting
Before the environmentalists among
you get too gloomy, though, here are two comforting thoughts.
First, the election results nationwide mean that there will be few
if any sweeping initiatives out of this Congress. Crusades are
Second, perhaps middle-of-the-road
Westerners have not turned against the environment so much as they
have turned against environmentalists. To no small extent, American
political attitudes are reflections of tribal loyalty. If I may be
permitted some outrageous stereotyping, when it comes to natural
resources, the battle pits the tribe which drinks white wine and
listens to folk music against the tribe which drinks domestic beer
out of cans and listens to country songs.
martini drinker who favors opera and Charlie Parker (rarely at the
same time), I speak here with complete objectivity, and in that
spirit recommend that people anxious to preserve nature consider
changing the way they strut their stuff. Too many people dislike
their tribal folkways, and by extension some of their
And don't dismiss that idea of
seducing a greater variety of the citizenry to relocate to your
region, especially to the smaller cities and towns where the charm
does not quite compensate for the homogeneity. In addition to the
political impact, this could do wonders for the over-all ambience -
the music, the food, the language.
The rural and
small-town West is already wonderful, what with nature's bounty,
friendly folks and a civilized pace of life. But think how much
better it would be if you could also hear some funky blues and get
a good cheese blintz.
Margolis writes about the West and capitol politics from a safe
distance - Vermont.