America's divorce: Left and Right each get half the country
A map of the coming divorce between Left and Right America.
Has America’s political polarisation reached a point of no return? Jesse Kelly seems to think so. Writing in The Federalist, he proposes to cut the U.S. into two new states: one for the Left, one for the Right.
The middle ground in American politics has been shrinking for decades. Ironically, that’s one of the few things that Left and Right can still agree on. When immigration, gun control or any other major political issue comes up, both sides reflexively retreat to positions that are not just diametrically opposed, but also mutually exclusive. Meaning that the other side is not just wrong, but stupid, dangerous and evil to boot.
“(The American Left and Right) are now the couple screaming at each other all night, every night, as the kids hide in their room,” says Kelly, who identifies firmly with the Right: “The GOP may have the House, Senate, and presidency, but we have completely lost the culture war,” he admits, predicting that his side “will only accept this kind of abuse for so long.”
As with couples, so with countries: divorce may be painful, but it may be the least bad option. Because “(s)ooner or later, the left-wing rage mob will start coming for the careers (and lives) of any normal American who sees things differently (…) This idea of breaking up the country may seem a bit outlandish now, but you won’t think so once real domestic unrest comes to your town.”
Despite the disastrous precedent of the Civil War, Kelly argues that breaking up need not be violent or traumatizing, pointing to Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Divorce in 1993 (1) as a model for a breakup of the (formerly) United States. A breakup into what, exactly?
Helpfully, he’s already figured out the shape of things to come—and provides names for both new countries. “We can and will draw the map and argue over it a million different ways for a million different reasons but draw it we must. I’ve got my own map, and I suspect the final draft would look similar,” Kelly says.
Long story short: the Left gets the north, provisionally called the ‘People’s Republic of Soyland’. The Right gets the south, labeled the ‘Federalist States of America’.
The new south (a.k.a. the FSA) includes almost all of the old Confederacy (Virginia has been abandoned to the northerners) but also a lot of extra states, all the way up to Wyoming. The new north (PRS for short) also includes all of the West Coast and is granted overland access to left-leaning territory back east (i.e. a large part of the Midwest, and the Northeast) via a corridor consisting of the (arguably more right- than left-wing) Dakotas and Montana.
Kelly, a Marine Corps combat veteran and former congressional candidate in Arizona, is not the first to sense that America’s ideological differences have a geographic component.
Linking territory to ideology has an even older pedigree. The principle that finally settled the religious wars that had destroyed Germany in the 16th century was called Cuius regio, eius religio: ‘Whose realm, his religion’. Meaning that the dominant religion in each of the many states into which Germany was divided back then was decided by the ruler of each state. If you didn’t like it, you could move.
Is America moving in that direction? Jesse Kelly hopes so, and sees signs others are hopping aboard his train of thought: “Just last week, a group of lawmakers in South Carolina introduced a bill that would allow the state to secede if the federal government starts seizing guns.”
Interesting historical parallel: South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union back in December 1860.
Strange Maps #898
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(1) Divorced, but still living together: the Czech Republic and Slovakia are now both full members of the European Union.
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Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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