Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Honky-Tonk Gap

A speech given by career diplomat Daniel J. Firestein last September explains the correlation in numbers of country-music stations with voting preferences during the last election.

"I then broke the data down even further, producing density figures for each state. Once again, the results were eye-opening. Not only was there a consistent overall correlation between the state's country music radio density and its choice for president, but indeed, there was also a good correlation between density and the winner's margin of victory. In other words, on the whole, Kerry won by the greatest margin in those states in which there were the fewest country music radio stations per capita (e.g., New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, New York; et al). By the same token, Bush won most handily, on the whole, in those states with the greatest number of country stations per capita (e.g., Wyoming, North Dakota, SouthDakota, Montana, Alaska, et al). "

Not just correlation, however, but perhaps also causation:

"An average of about three of the top fifty country hits each year (2000 to 2004) addressed overtly patriotic themes; often, these songs were in the top ten. Among the most prevalent sub-themes here were: 9/11; the sacrifice of American soldiers in the cause of the war on terror and the war in Iraq; love of, and willingness to fight for, the enduring principles for which the United States stands; and the sanctity of the American flag. (In this context, it bears mentioning that many country music stations, including Washington's WMZQ, play the National Anthem daily and convey taped greetings from the troops' in Iraq and Afghanistan regularly; and some of country music's biggest acts, such as the wildly popular duo Brooks and Dunn, feature and honor military personnel at their concerts.)

Perhaps most strikingly, nearly thirty percent of the top fifty songs each year focused directly on religious experience or moral parables, or otherwise featured substantive religious metaphors and language, including explicit references to God, Jesus, the Lord, and the Bible; well over one-third of the top fifty songs in each of these years contained at least a passing reference to the Almighty or to overtly religious terminology."

He concludes:

"So there you have it: Contemporary country music, with its updated sound and greater-than-ever appeal and accessibility to the tens of millions of listeners it reaches daily, has codified and popularized traditional American values such as family, patriotism and religious devotion; crystallized a common, and predominantly rural, identity rooted in these core values that stretches across "red state country" - where the vast majority of country music radio stations are concentrated - from the farms and small towns of Virginia and Florida to those of Arizona and Idaho; and, as a result of the above, reinforced the tendency in recent years of white exurban and rural voters-- the core of the New Country fan base and an important segment of the new Republican base - to vote their conservative values in lieu of their presumed populist/liberal economic interests. And Bush and his team comprehended this dynamic and exploited it masterfully.

And yet, in a larger sense, election 2004 was less about values than it was about identity. Bush's values alone could not have, and did not, propel him to a second term as president. Most Americans, including many red state voters who supported Bush, do not share the president's particular views on homosexuality, abortion, stem cell research, and gun control, among other issues (though most do, in fact, oppose same-sex marriage, per se). Many of Bush's supporters were what I would call "values voters once-removed," voters who, while rejecting some of the actual values in question, nonetheless saw themselves as the kind of people who vote for the more socially conservative candidate ."

And on a related note, did anybody see Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus on Monday night? Whoo-eee, that was some depressing television.

Or maybe that was just Johnny Dowd.

No comments: