Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that Crowdpac, a Silicon Valley startup, determined that Vashon Island is the most liberal place in the country. To be found nowhere near this island of 10,000 people is Seattle, which ranked at 144, and Portland, 239.
There are three key features to Crowdpac's rating method. One: It is based on donations made to candidates in national and state races. Two: A candidate's political ideology is scored on a scale of 1 to 10, with Rand Paul on the extreme right and Bernie Sanders on the extreme left. Three: The data were drawn from municipalities with a population greater than 6,000. If you put those three things together, Vashon Island has a liberal score of 9.9. (A place in Texas named after a breed of cattle, Hereford, which is the "Beef Capital of the World," apparently has the highest concentration of closed minds in America.)
On Wednesday, a post on Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber put in its two cents. It pointed out some flaws in Crowdpac's rating system, the main of which being it separates Vashon from Vashon Island, instead of seeing it as one place. But if the two are united, than the much lower rating of the former will pull the latter down from its high perch. The blogger maintains that the island has much more political diversity than is revealed in Crowdpac's results.
Nevertheless, an island historian quoted in the post, Bruce Haulman, concluded that the Crowdpac's conclusions were consistent with the facts of life on Vashon. He states that before the 1970s, when the island's economy was mostly agricultural, it voted Republican. In the 1980s, when agriculture began to die and the commuter economy arrived, its politics shifted more to the left. In 1990s, the island was gentrified and its LGBT population became noticeable, and with those changes, its politics became solidly progressive.
But the post misses the most important flaw of Crowdpac's rating system: its rating method excludes race. This absence has profound implications. What does it mean that Vashon is 93.61% white, which is much higher than the state as a whole (80%)? That it has almost no black people (0.45%), and only a few Asians (1.56%), a group that has a significant presence in Seattle (almost 14%)? It means just about everything. For reasons tied to history, economics, and real estate values, it is impossible for a place in the US to be very white, very middle class, and very liberal at the same time. (The median household income on Vashon is $60,000.) A very white and middle-class place that even votes for Bernie Sanders is still very conservative. Why? Because in the US, middle-class white people are still rewarded for living with middle-class white people. This reward comes in the form of rising house values. When this reward system gets started and spreads in a new location, we call it gentrification.
If you disagree with this argument, then you must assume that blacks don't like living on pretty little islands, and for reasons unknown (geography? genes?), simply dig it in South Seattle.
I will go as far as to say that that cattle-loving place in Texas is actually more liberal than Vashon. It has greater racial diversity: "69.86% white, 1.76% African American... and Hispanics or Latinos of any race [make up] 61.37% of the population." Politically speaking, it's more impressive for an American community to be racially diverse than for it to be white, middle class, and liberal.