It's hard to find a subject that the modal American – poorly informed about most things and not terribly interested in becoming less poorly informed – does not think is useless. Math? Who needs it! A calculator can do anything I need to know! Literature? Oh my god who cares about Dickens, it isn't 1860 and I don't live in England. History? What does it matter what happened in 1700, I just want to get to work on time lol! But of all subjects you won't find one Americans are worse at than geography. Don't get me wrong, we're bad at the other ones too. But Americans don't even understand much about the geography of their own country let alone the rest of the world. And while not everything in the world can be tied to the current election cycle and Donald Trump, fundamental ignorance of American population geography underlies the inability of a lot of people to understand what is about to happen in November.

Not everyone likes trivia as much as I do, but give this a shot. And feel free to ask your friends and coworkers to give it a shot, too. As of 2015, what are the 10 most populous cities in the United States? How about the 10 biggest metro areas (which would include the adjacent suburbs of major cities)? What percentage of the U.S. population lives in the two biggest states?

Take a minute.

Everyone can spit out the three biggest cities in order: New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. After that things get dicey for most people. They throw out the most recognizable cities: Boston, Washington, Miami, San Francisco. Maybe cities well known and presumed "major" because they have professional sports: Seattle, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Dallas, and so on. In reality, the top five is rounded out by Philadelphia and Houston. But numbers six through ten would probably shock your friends: Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose. Oh, and #11? Austin. Austin, Texas. How many people do you think realize that San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the US? That San Jose and San Diego are bigger than Boston, Miami, Washington, and so on? That Austin frickin' Texas is knocking on the door of the 10th largest city in the country?

Looking at Metro areas, do your friends believe that places like Kansas City, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Memphis, Nashville, and New Orleans are not even in the top twenty?

And now, the fact I resort to most often when I want to tell people something they'll refuse to believe. The two largest states, California and Texas, now hold 20.75% of the US population. One out of every five people in this country lives in those two states. In those states, the population overwhelmingly lives in megacities like the SF Bay Area, San Diego, Los Angeles, the DFW "Metroplex", Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, Houston, and so on. If we round out the top five states (adding NY, FL, and distant fifth place Illinois) 37.5% of the entire population lives in those five states. And of course those states have heavily urbanized populations as well.

So. Who cares, right?

Very few Americans who are neither demographers or real estate investors understand the staggering rate of growth in America's urban populations in the past twenty years. Some of today's fastest-growing cities – Austin, Denver, Portland, Phoenix, Las Vegas, anyplace in Florida, etc. – are adding something on the order of 100 new residents every day for years on end. As is the case in most developed countries around the world, America is becoming a country of very, very big cities surrounded by vast expanses of empty countryside with little to recommend it as a place to live. Small cities and towns have been emptying out steadily since the 1980s, when agriculture and manufacturing began to decline in earnest as components of the nation's economy. The Youngstown, Ohios and Muncie, Indianas across the country no longer had a compelling way to attract people. Everyone who could leave did so. What remains – and if you're a Midwesterner like me you already know this story by heart – are the people who are too old, too poor, or too foolish to get out.

So when you visit areas where Donald Trump is popular – pick any postindustrial war zone across Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, or the upper Midwest – you find a population of shockingly limited worldview who can say with perfect sincerity that they don't know anyone who's voting for Hillary Clinton. The people of Altoona, PA naturally believe that only election rigging could produce a Trump defeat because locally his popularity is off the charts and, crucially, they have no concept of how tiny and unrepresentative of the population of their state and the country a place like Altoona is in 2016. To live in such a place is to fail to understand that very little of America, population-wise, looks like that anymore.

Living in Peoria for three years I often had to endure conversations with locals (many of whom, believe it or not, had never been farther than an hour or two away in any direction) who complained as all "downstate" Illinoisans do of the dominance of Chicagoland in state politics. And I would have to point out that there are 13 million people in Illinois. About 150,000 of them live in Peoria. The Chicago metro area has 9.8 million. Three quarters, conservatively, of the state lives in Cook or the collar counties. Of course it dominates state politics. Of course "downstate" is pushed aside in most decisions. Nobody lives there. And people who live outside of the major urban centers that increasingly dominate our landscape simply do not understand the math of modern population geography. They think that because most of the country looks rural or small-urban in terms of area, that makes them a political majority. But in reality we are a nation of vast, effectively empty spaces around megacities which dominate representative institutions with sheer numbers.

This is a mistake even – or especially – journalists make. The myth of "real America", small town America, or whatever they choose to call it overlooks the reality that when people who live in such places complain that they are ignored or marginalized it is usually because they are ignored and marginalized. And there is cold, hard math that explains why. The more we lead people to believe that rural America is Real America, the more we feed the insistence that the majority of us are living in small towns or rural cities under 100,000 people. We're not. We're at a point at which almost all of us live in a major city or its immediate suburbs, and that percentage grows every day. Ignorance of the world outside their immediate surroundings makes it natural that your average old white Trump supporter in Rustville believes that he or she is part of a Silent Majority that simply isn't.

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  • CA is about 13% of that 20.75%, and is deep, dark navy blue. The trick is getting the people in TX to realize that California more than cancels out whatever influence Texas has at the federal level.

    Definitely going to share this on FB. Excellent post, Ed.

  • "The trick is getting the people in TX to realize that California more than cancels out whatever influence Texas has at the federal level."

    And what action do you expect them to take once they come to this realization?

  • And a side note about Milwaukee – there's not really that much farmland anymore between the Chicago north suburbs and the Milwaukee south suburbs. There's still some, but eventually it will be one big metropolis curving around the lake into three states (and note that I knew people who commuted from Michigan to Chicago because the train does go all the way through there!).

  • Geesh. I LIVE in Austin, TX and I had no idea that we were the 11th largest city in the country. Would certainly explain why our traffic has gotten exponentially worse over the past 15 years that I've lived here.

    I'm from Sturgis, MI (I dare you to find it on a map) and I have friends who still live there. I've had many conversations with people who have spent their lives living in rural Michigan/Indiana who exemplify exactly what this article is referencing.

  • I live in Columbus Ohio, which is actually a larger city than Cleveland and Cincinnati.

    This surprises a lot of people, I think because we don't have much in the way of professional sports.

  • Someone should have explained this to the UK before the Silent Majority there won the Brexit vote.

    Peoria doesn't have to be the representation of "Real America" these days because everyone lives in cities or Texas and California account for 20% of the total population. But if everyone in Peoria votes and nobody in San Diego votes, then the geography of demographics doesn't mean anything when it comes to who is going to win. In other words, these vast urban centers of population are allowing themselves to take over a new interpretation on the mantle of Silent Majority. They *are* the majority, but they are vastly silent when it comes to elections.

    This further engenders the people of Peoria to feel like any changes to the status quo is ripping them off. They've competed with these large urban centers and won. They're only now losing that grip as the numbers continue to edge them out. Urban turnout is abysmal compared to rural America. It's allowed for an outsized influence from those areas. That encourages their rural Silent Majority mindset. They haven't been part of the actual majority for a long time, but getting city denizens to vote in truly representative fashion to the same turnout percentages as the Peorias of the nation has been impossible.

    Population geography and voter turnout are two completely different animals and until those come into line, then the "nobodies" in between all the populated areas will still have an over-sized influence.

  • When I try to explain to my New England friends that most of the US has air conditioning, and central air at that, they dismiss me as making it up or misinformed, if they don't get into a bitter argument with me instead. Even after providing report after report proving my point, it's unfathomable that their immediate surroundings aren't representative of the rest of the country on such a fundamental topic.

    It seems like a stupid thing to argue about, but it's a stark reminder that most people haven't really *lived* anywhere but where they group up, no matter how much they might travel, and don't have a concept of what the country is really like, as you get further away from home, whether you're from a big city or a tiny speck on the map.

  • I grew up in Austin, and I could have told you back in the late 1990s that three of the top 10 cities by population were in Texas: Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. Austin coming in at 11 does not surprise me in the least. But then, I've grown up with an interest in metro populations and especially as they relate to state electoral votes. Also, I'm an atypical American in that I can find places like Sturgis, MI, Bahrain, and London on a map with minimal assistance in most cases…..

  • My personal preference is to look at MSAs. My home of Long Beach, CA is 37th on the list of largest cities. But only true urban planner geeks know where the City of LA ends and where any of the other 87(!) incorporated cities inside the County of Los Angeles begin.

  • The tragedy is that our slave-owning, plantation-owning founding fathers couldn't wrap their heads around a system of government that represented people, as opposed to land.

    Everything in American government is skewed to letting the "land" have an outsized political voice.

  • @Major Kong: Let's hear it for the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the few NHL teams as consistently crappy in recent years as my own Edmonton Oilers.

    @Kaz: Yes, turnout in the UK was higher in Leave supporting areas. Some numbers and charts:

    But even in the UK, the trend towards the megacity is clear. In economic and population terms, the UK consists of London, and Everywhere Else. The population of London in 1991 was 6.5 million; now it's 9 million, and projected to rise to 13 million by 2050. If we include nearby cities such as Oxford, Cambridge, and Brighton which are effectively satellites of London, it's an entity of about 20 million people.

    However, the UK simply isn't big enough to contain more than one megacity. So the rest of England and Wales were left behind, and their 40 million or so residents largely voted Leave. (Scotland and Northern Ireland are special cases in political and geographical terms, and both voted Remain.)

  • I was a Navy brat who went to high school in San Diego, but college on the east coast. My first spring, I went on a road trip with my roommates to Orlando for Spring Break. We drove for what seemed like a bazillion hours, straight down I-95. We drove all night and stopped in the morning at some diner just off the interstate in somewheresville, Georgia. As we stumbled in, the waitress pointed at me and said, "I can't serve her 'cause she doesn't speak English." That was puzzling; I am Whitey McWhiteperson of mostly-northern-European descent. I asked why she thought I didn't speak English and she pointed to my shirt–I had on an old San Diego Farmers Market (a high-school job) t-shirt. I said, "San Diego?" She said, "I don't care what you call it, I don't speak foreign." I said, "San Diego is in the United States; it's a city in California." She didn't appreciate my attitude; I was astounded she'd never heard of San Diego.

  • I remember a housemate at university (Berkeley) who was gobsmacked that I'd been to Disneyland and not Disneyworld. The idea that I'd actually been born in and lived my entire life in California simply didn't register; California was a place people moved to, not somewhere people were from.

    One of the things about growing up here is that you keep meeting people who have moved here from somewhere else and keep complaining about how different it is.

  • Jon is right! "When I try to explain to my New England friends that most of the US has air conditioning, and central air at that, they dismiss me as making it up or misinformed, if they don't get into a bitter argument with me instead…."

    I'm from New England, and from an upper middle class family and grew up in an upper-middle class town. No-one had central air conditioning. Usually it'd be a window unit in the parent's bedroom at most. I thought AC was for, well, old people.
    Nowadays it's a bit different at least in the Cities, where there are so, so many condo-lofts being built or renovated or converted or whatnot. Those come with AC. But, if I'm going out to an older house in the suburbs, or a triple-decker in Dorchester, I wouldn't expect it.

  • "Living in Peoria for three years I often had to endure conversations with locals (many of whom, believe it or not, had never been farther than an hour or two away in any direction)"

    I generally agree with the larger point of your post regarding the provincialism and isolation of small town and post-industrial America, and the ideological bubble that this isolation breeds, but this little passage strikes me as ridiculous hyperbole. I spend 18+ years in a town that makes Peoria look positively cosmopolitan, and I don't think I ever met a single person who fit this description. Sure, on average they probably haven't seen as much of the country or the world as the average city dweller, but no need to embellish your conversations with the locals to bolster what is an otherwise solid argument.

  • To be fair, my wife had been outside of Ohio exactly once prior to meeting me.

    As a divorced mother of two she never had the funds nor the opportunity to travel.

  • @Major Kong: I'm from Edmonton originally. Haven't lived there for 25 years and I'm in the UK now. But while you can take the boy out of Edmonton… :-)

  • @Leslee Easily, but that's only because I grew up a little ways south of the Michigan border in the Middlebury/Shipshewana area. :)

  • I was born in Indiana and I still live here (in the San Fran of the Midwest), but I'm eternally grateful to my parents for taking me on vacations to places like Yellowstone by car. Holy shit, did that show a younger version of myself how much open space we have. The Great Plains are such a snoozefest.

  • Shane in SLC says:

    Anyone here read Emma Donoghue's book Room, or see the excellent movie starring Brie Larson? I only saw the movie, but this post reminded me of the difficulty the boy—raised by a mother held captive for 5 years in a garden shed—has understanding the concept of a World that exists outside of Room. Seems like a grim but apt analogy for what Ed is talking about…

  • I can believe the "not moving far from home" phenomenon. A friend of mine took a teaching job at a Christian college just north of Wheeling, West Virginia. She volunteers with a youth choir and wanted to take the group to some visiting gospel singing group in Wheeling (about 20 minutes away)…many of "her" kids had never been to Wheeling. The Pittsburgh Zoo is 45 minutes away and practically zero of "her" kids had ever been there, either–not even on a school field trip.

    I'm a Navy brat and an AF vet; my entire life was spent on the move until I retired. It always astounds me when I meet people who haven't travelled far from home.

  • Alaska's actually the biggest state. And who cares. An oil fiefdom with Trumist serfs.

    The butthurt in November is gonna be a sadist's dream.

  • Hello? You're talking about geography? Alaska is the largest state! More than twice as large as Texas! Although Texans don't believe that.

  • Skepticalist says:

    My little county in southwestern upstate NY began losing population in the 1960s. All our old Lutherans are dying off or left for whiter pastures years ago, some still answering the call. Lake Wobegon could have been our sister city. It looks like those pastures have become part of urban metro areas that are described here,

    You'd think that with the great migration of our Lutherans for Phoenix and Florida, the area would now be more democratic. Nope. Things are ever backward over here.

    By the way, I have been to both Disneyland and Disney World.

    I need help.

  • @Mo: don't be so sure. Giuliani (you know, the mayor of New York on 9/11) who's stumping for Trump just announced that the USA had never had any terrorist attacks until President Obama: You know there are many know-nothings out there who ate that up with a spoon and never stopped to think, "Wait a minute, this guy was mayor *on 9/11*, and just who was president then?"

  • In "Thinking Fast and Slow," Daniel Kahneman writes about a cognitive blindspot people have that he calls "What You See Is All There Is." He points out that people are very good at taking whatever information is available to them and constructing a narrative model that fits that information.

    What they are not very good at doing is thinking, before they create this narrative, about all the information they do not have.

  • Skepticalist says:

    Trump must have this partial Isaac Asimov quote in a frame in the tower:

    "Democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge"

    It's American as it gets.

  • Swellsman – very good point! I realized years ago that between personal experience and voluminous reading, I was building a model of the world in my imagination. It was like a jigsaw puzzle – every new piece fit somewhere.

    It seems that some people do it differently – every new piece has to be consistent with the previous pieces,

  • Swellsman – very good point! I realized years ago that between personal experience and voluminous reading, I was building a model of the world in my imagination. It was like a jigsaw puzzle – every new piece fit somewhere.

    It seems that some people do it differently – every new piece has to be consistent with the previous pieces, or it gets rejected. The model gets more and more internally consistent and more and more disjunct from external reality, until the individual is living in the map, not the territory.

  • Los Angeles county and Cook County have 16,000,000 residents between them. Five per cent of the country lives in two counties

  • schmitt trigger says:

    The lack of most Americans about geographical knowledge of their own country, has forced NM authorities to emblazon the state's license plates with New Mexico USA.

    Otherwise people may think that they are from a different country you know, which are bringing drugs, they are bringing crime. They are rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

  • Bitter Scribe says:

    Gerrymandering can take care of urban populations for a while–from what I understand, Austin is mercilessly sliced and diced into congressional districts designed to disenfranchise its voters. But it can't work forever.

  • I met a gang member on the Southside of Chicago. He had never seen Lake Michigan. I may have stolen that story from Barack Obama, but you get idea.

  • Though I don't like your harsh imagery of "effectively empty" non-metro places (one word: food!), I completely share your impatience with cliched commentators stuck on the "real America!" My state of Kentucky is perhaps the best micro-example. White, wood frame houses an acre from their nearest neighbor are used as a cautionary picture to warn the state's leaders not to get "too ahead" of the folk here. Yet artsy Louisville (900,000 metro population), well-traveled Lexington (300,000) and the educated Cincinnati suburbs (250,000) are the real Kentucky. If they can be made to realize it! In that quest, I am sharing this!

  • I get how people who live far away from minorities don't know much about them, but I saw a bunch of Trump supporters in suburban Detroit talk about Sharia law in Dearborn and Hamtramck, both Detroit suburbs. This is ridiculous. I've been to both of those places several times, and anybody in southeast Michigan can visit them in less than a half hour. How can you stay ignorant of things right under your nose? Because if you live in metro Detroit and don't know much about Arabs, you are incurious mess.

  • I couldn't find the 2015 data, but I grabbed the 2014 data from the Census bureau web site. It turns out that half of all Americans live in the top 46 metropolitan statistical areas. One quarter live in the top 11.

    Some of the median areas with half of everyone living somewhere larger and half living somewhere smaller, are centered on: Birmingham, AL; Buffalo, NY; Rochester, NY; Grand Rapids, MI; Tucson, AZ; Tulsa, OK; Fresno, CA. That is, the odds are 50:50 that you live somewhere either larger or smaller than one of those. Those might not be the biggest cities around, but they are not small town America. (OK, maybe Fresno, but only because of all the Fresno jokes. More seriously, because Fresno is still an agricultural center.)

    The top quartile includes the places one might expect: NY, LA, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, DC, Miami, Atlanta, Boston and SF. The only surprise there is Philadelphia, since only a few Americans realize that Philly still exists given its lack of media coverage.

    The small town America thing has an interesting history though. If you look at the transformation in the US between the 1876 centennial exposition and 1920, it is rather amazing. The nation went from a farm nation to a 50:50 city nation. The automobile had replaced the horse. There were flying machines, talking machines, electric lights and radios. The "wild west" was becoming mythologized. Manufacturing had seen efficiency improvements of two or three orders of magnitude. The dynamo had replaced the steam engine. And, all of this had happened in living memory.

    Henry Ford created a museum dedicated to the way people lived before he started selling his cars. Walt Disney built an empire on nostalgia that made the baby boomers' 1950s thing look lame. There has always been a strain of American thought that considered the country somehow purer and more real than the city. Even the French had it. Look at Rousseau. There was probably even some truth in this since cities were traditionally population sinks while the country was where everyone was born. Of course, this attitude has had some pernicious effects, like the glorification of the suburbs which combined the worst of the city and the country, and, of course, a lot of archaic political attitudes.

  • Death Panel Truck says:

    The lack of most Americans about geographical knowledge of their own country, has forced NM authorities to emblazon the state's license plates with New Mexico USA.

    I can understand why they had to do that. I lived in southwest Idaho in the late 1990s. I remember a story about a man who drove up from NM to visit some friends. They went to a pizza joint in either Nampa or Caldwell, I can't remember which. When they came out after dinner, they found a note on the windshield of the man's car reading: "Welcome to Idaho. Now please leave." New Mexicans probably got fed up with shit like that.

  • dat worker doe says:

    now we just need to get rid of the Senate, where one Wyomingan's vote counts the same as 65 Californians' votes.

    Worst legislature ever.

  • I'm originally from Tulare, California. I have known several people there who have never travelled outside of Tulare County. They are 3 hours from the beach, 3.5 from LA and 3.5 from SF but feel no need to visit any of these places. These are Trump voters and they don't know any people who aren't.

    Thank Goddess I live in Berkeley now.

  • Bessemer Mucho says:

    @Death Panel Truck–this might not have been aimed at the
    'Mexico' in 'New Mexico'. I have heard similar anecdotes told about other states in the Pacific Northwest–any out-of-state license tag seems to cause some people to express resentment against outsiders moving in.

  • My intellectually challenged relatives love to play card games and board games at gatherings. I long ago conceived the sadistic way of humiliating them, by providing a map of Europe without the names of countries and challenging them to fill it in. Or to draw a map of the U.S. with all the states correctly positioned, something Al Franken will do on cue. Family fun! Maybe I could dumb the game down enough to tempt them but still bring home the point. Identify the continents?

  • My father was stationed in Mountain Home, Idaho in 1980 for a year's TDY. Longest year of our lives. The land was very pretty, if cold (winter hit around September and lasted until July, it seemed like), but the people? Even in 1980, the anti-gummint types were all over the place, along with the 12-year-old Mormon polygamous wives, the gun-nuts, and the meth "entrepreneurs". All of them considered themselves "GAWD's own people". Made San Diego in 1981 look like paradise on Earth by comparison. Okay, that didn't come out quite right–San Diego in the 1980s was a very pleasant place. The weather was nice, the people were nice, and the religious wackos were not the majority of the population.

  • My friend sent me a link to this blog. I'll just quickly add some of what I noted about population.

    As for populations of cities and metropolitan areas, it's very arbitrary the way they divide things. I view the San Francisco Bay Area as the fourth or fifth biggest. I've lived there and in Atlanta, and the San Francisco Bay Area definitely felt bigger.

    Since that guy is citing Wikipedia, I'll cite it too:

    "The combined statistical area of the region is the second-largest in California (after the Greater Los Angeles area), the fifth-largest in the United States, and the 43rd-largest urban area in the world."

    He's using a five-county statistical region instead of a nine-county statistical region.

    If you type "San Francisco Bay Area population" into Google though, it spits out "7 million people."

    In fact, it might even be bigger than that, depending on what you count [part of chart converted to text]:

    San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area: 4,656,132
    San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area: 1,976,836
    Stockton-Lodi, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area: 726,106
    Santa Rosa, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area: 502,146
    Vallejo-Fairfield, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area: 436,092
    Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area: 274,146
    Napa, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area: 142,456

    San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA Combined Statistical Area: 8,713,914

    If you drive from San Jose to San Francisco, there is no open space whatsoever, so that clearly should be considered one metro area. San Jose, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Santa Clara, Palo Alto, etc. are Silicon Valley and they run right up against South San Francisco, Oakland, Marin County, etc. So I don't see why they would count as two areas for these purposes.

    Some of the others are a little more debatable. Santa Cruz and Napa, etc. But I think you'd have to say the area is at least 7 million or so.

    That makes it about the fourth largest metro area in the country, which is consistent with what it feels like if you go there. It just goes on and on.

    But I drove through Washington, DC yesterday and when I paused to pick up a sandwich at Chick Fil A, there was a guy outside panhandling for a few bucks to help his dad get a motel room. Right nearby there was a guy holding a sign on the median. This was maybe 20 miles south of Fredericksburg, and it indicated that NoVa (Northern Virginia) sprawl has made its way that far. That gentrification is pricing out the normal people who were living there. The Washington DC area thus is now massive and you can argue that that area should be larger than it's been drawn. And you can also make a decent case (and you know this if you've flown over the area) that the Washington DC and Baltimore areas have grown together enough that they should count as one area.

    That area if you count it that way is known as the Baltimore-Washington metro area:–Washington_metropolitan_area

    Which has a population over nine million:

    Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Area (5,860,342)
    Baltimore–Columbia–Towson, MD Metropolitan Area (2,753,149)
    Hagerstown-Martinsburg, MD-WV Metropolitan Area (256,278)
    Chambersburg-Waynesboro, PA Metropolitan Area (151,275)
    Winchester, VA–WV Metropolitan Area (130,907)
    California-Lexington Park, MD Metropolitan Area (108,987)
    Easton, MD Micropolitan Area (38,098)
    Cambridge, MD Micropolitan Area (32,551)

    The total estimated population is 9,331,587, but I suspect that it could be even higher if you drew a bigger circle in Northern Virginia (really the "NoVa" area has seeped well south of "northern" Virginia).

    In terms of feel and import, I suspect that some people would rank Houston over Dallas. But they are similar, I guess. Both are sprawling, but you can basically draw an easier circle around their metro areas. I mean, in the northeast, Baltimore nearly runs into Wilmington, Delaware and then Philadelphia, for chrissake. Those nearly run into New Jersey towns that run into New York City.

    Likewise, how do you demarcate the Miami population area? Wikipedia lists it at 6,012,331 people:

    But South Florida has even more than that, and there are few gaps along the coast.

    Anyway, he is referring to a ranking of "statistical areas" rather than metro areas.

    "They throw out the most recognizable cities: Boston, Washington, Miami, San Francisco."

    And they would be right to do so, because this is how the top 10 metro areas are rounded out:

    4. Washington metropolitan area and Baltimore metropolitan area
    5. Greater San Francisco Bay Area
    6. Boston metropolitan area
    7. Philadelphia metropolitan area
    8. Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex
    9. Miami metropolitan area
    10. Houston metropolitan area

    That seems about right to me. I'd rank Washington and San Francisco as fourth and fifth, depending on how the lines are drawn.

    After that, Boston and Philadelphia are also similar. I think whether Boston, Philadelphia, or Miami is next depends on how the lines are drawn.

    Just after that, Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta (which is ranked 11th in that list), and one of those could move up a notch depending on how the lines for those earlier bleeding metro areas are drawn.

    All of the rest have a smaller feel than those. Detroit, Seattle, Phoenix, Minneapolis, etc. are not in the same ballpark.

    As for Austin, Texas, the city is counted as big because it gets to count all that population for itself. It's all part of one city. There are a bunch of metro areas that are similar but include multiple cities or different ways of drawing the lines. Austin is a cultural center and a significant city, but it is not the 11th most populous city in America by any reasonable measure.

    In that list where it shows up at #11, it is below San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta (which is "39th," even though it hosted the Olympics!), Denver, Seattle, and Baltimore. So that is not most elucidating list.

  • @ dat worker: would you rather have back the old, truly federal system, in which the senators were representatives of state government at the national level?

    I've read proposals that the Senate be adjusted to 2-5 senators and start being weighted by population. But that would take a constitutional amendment, and therefore for all practical purposes be impossible.

  • Good post. I currently live in an even smaller town than Peoria in central Illinois. To follow up, the reactionary part of Illinois showed up to vote in 2014 (in a 33% turnout election) and elected one of their own governor of the state. He and his supporters have nearly bankrupted the state by blocking all attempts to put the state on a solid fiscal footing. We didn't have a budget for all of the last fiscal year. These folks love to blame Chicago for it but actually every year there are just enough reactionary people to block meaningful reform and the taxes increases that must happen so it doesn't happen.

    Now, admittedly, there are 3-4M people who live in the "rest" of Illinois outside of Chicago (or roughly more people than live in any of the smallest 20 states in population such as Iowa, Arkansas, Kansas, or New Mexico) but Chicago is where the vast majority of Illinois folks live so it tends to rule the roost in the state for a good reason.

  • Chicago is kind of a fiscal basket case, so it is easy to blame it for problems. But yes, the downstaters are not innocents either.

  • I posted a few months back about America's "empty quarter", that 10 states (Nebraska, Kansas, South and North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and Idaho) are places that almost nobody lives, and those that do live in those states lives in like three cities (Denver, Salt Lake City, and Las Vegas). Those ten states have a combined population of 20 million people, or less than the population of metro New York City. A full quarter of the population of those states live in Colorado (population 5 mil) and so without Colorado, nine states have a total of 15 million people. California and Texas are both larger in population than those 10 states.

    Ten states are a full 1/5 of the states in the US, and the 20 senators form 1/5 of the Senate. Why should places like Wyoming (population 584,153) get two senators, when it is likely that anyone reading this lives in a county that holds more population?

    The population of urban core cities tend to skew west because of the development of those places after white flight of the 50s. Some places like New York City have seen immigrants replace the flight, but for much of the Rust Belt, the white people fled for the suburbs and no one has replaced them. Consider Dayton, the core of an urban area of about a million people, has a population of about 130,000 people. Columbus has a metro area of about 2 to 2.5 times as big as Dayton, but the city has a population of around 800k to 900k, many times larger than Dayton.

  • @the dark avenger, I don't know how often you go back, but when I do I get tortured about "the gays" in "Frisco" as if the entire SF Bay Area is one big Pride Parade 24/7…

  • Dan makes some good points. Back in the 1960s it was commonly accepted that the entire region from Boston (and points north) down to DC was going to be one big slurb that would be called Boswash. It's more or less there.

    The Census clusters population by metropolitan statistical areas and by combined statistical areas which seem to be larger (23M vs 19M for the NYC centered one). They also have micropolitan statistical areas, counties and other divisions. A lot of the big city centered areas are slurbs. The census breaks out Los Angeles and the Riverside-San Bernardino area while anyone driving from one to the other isn't going to notice a city edge.

    Dan also notes the feel of the city. Some cities feel big while others feel smaller even when they have the same population. I think some of this is the extensiveness of the core. Even an automobile city like LA has neighborhood after neighborhood, each its own local core but linked by commercial corridors. As a tourist I've found LA surprisingly walkable with lots of urban stuff to look at. Atlanta, however, seemed to have a very limited core surrounded by relatively few areas of interest. Seattle seems to be in transition. One sign of this was the surprise when they opened a real subway and it filled with riders within weeks.

    I'm not too sure what to make of the less urban feel that some cities have. As I noted, LA is surprisingly urban. I think some of it is how the city is used, how city life is embraced. Some of it is size. In 'The Final Fall', Emmanuel Todd discusses the Soviet Union and its proliferation of cities that topped out at about 500K, just below what he considered critical urban mass to create a real city. There would often be just one bookstore, for example, associated with the one university. There would be just one flagship department store. A larger city would foster a local power center, encourage dissent and undermine the overall centrality of their political and economic system. I think there are some places that fear the same from their cities, and while they can't limit the population as they could in the USSR, they did manage to limit the urban nature.

  • schmitt trigger and Death Panel Truck:

    I am a New Mexico native. Our authorities put the USA on our plates as a kind of tongue-in-cheek joke–every single one of us from here has had to endure requests for passports, questions about whether a passport is needed here, what kind of money do we use, what language do we speak here, are the "Indians" a problem, and on and on and on. It is routine that people do not know that New Mexico is a state. Which is fine with us, really. Back in the dark ages when people still used travelers' checks, I went to a bank in NYC to cash some traveler's checks. The teller stared and stared at my drivers' license and then went to get a supervisor. Who explained that the teller hadn't been sure if she could accept an out-of-country drivers' license.

  • @Brandon — You said that you don't believe people in Peoria have never been more than a couple hours out of town… In my experience, most small town Americans have almost never been outside their own town, let alone outside their state. I spent a year on a long road trip around the country, working on various political campaigns that involved a lot of talking to voters, and mostly in small towns. I lost count of how many people I met who had never been outside their own county. People in a small town only 45 minutes from DC — and none of them had ever been to the capital! People in Arkansas who had never been outside of their county. Even people in small towns in California who had never seen the ocean. My friend I stayed with in NYC — he had grown up in Brooklyn but had never seen the ocean, had never taken the subway to Coney Island.

    Even for city dwellers this is the norm. Unless someone is upper middle class, they will never have enough disposable income to go "out of town." People are more mobile now, but other than the rich, people tend to move to follow jobs or family, and they don't have the money to make detours to "see the country" for its own sake. I spend a lot of time with lower income people in urban areas, and the VAST majority of them have never been outside the city they were born in. They haven't even done "day trips" to see the sights a half hour outside their city.

    Even the upper middle class people I went to high school with, most of them settled down in the exact same suburb. The ones who went to college in another state ended up moving back home, all except me and a couple others who moved to other states. And people who do have the money to travel tend to visit either vacation spots like Cancun, or places like Paris or NYC. People don't take the time to explore the country the way I have (I've been to all 50 states at least 5 times each, and I've driven across the country 20+ times). Even for me, it's hard to wrap my mind around how different each state/region is, so I can't expect people to understand this stuff when they've never left their county.

  • @worksanddays. that's a good point about the urban poor. I recently did some career coaching for low income high school seniors in the Bay Area. The event was held in San Francisco. I worked with a kid who had come in from Hayward (a 25 minute BART ride away). It was his first time in the city. He had lived in Hayward his whole life. He said now that he knew how to do it, he was going to bring his mom into the city, because she'd never done it either.

  • Monkey Business says:

    Consider for a moment that there are about 580k people in the entire state of Montana, and that this is smaller population wise than the thirty largest cities in the country.

    I propose the addition of 25 additional Senators, to be elected exclusively from the 25 largest metropolitan areas. For example: if you live in Illinois and in Cook County, home of Chicago, you vote for three Senators. If you live outside of Cook County, you vote for two.

    When the Founding Fathers came up with our system of representation, they never really considered the concept of a place like New York, Chicago, or LA that exceeds the population of the majority of the states of the union, and indeed drive almost the entirety of politics within their states of origin.

    Large swaths of the country idolize "Real America" never realizing that "Real America" never actually existed and that the dirty streets of New York are closer to Real America than the main streets in tiny towns.

  • @Monkey Business:

    Where did you get the 580k number from? I have Montana at 1,023,579 in population from the 2014 Census estimate, and the population from the 2010 Census was 990k. Did you mean to write Wyoming?

    As for "Real America" being the rural areas or suburbia, I once mentioned to my wife while our girls were watching Sesame Street that a majority of children in the US probably grow up without a backyard (or an extremely small one), living in crowded cities or apartment buildings in suburbia. Like you said, the "Real America" of bucolic small-town life has never really existed other than in national imagination. The founding fathers lived on estates and plantations, but the vast majority of Americans then lived either in dirty, cramped cities or scraped by trying to farm enough food in the "frontier" to survive. There were even women who were kidnapped by the local Native American tribes who never went back because they found life to be better with them than it was in the colonies.

  • Ya know, too few senators isn't the problem. The founders wanted RI to be on par with Va. in the upper chamber.
    The big problem is gerrymandering come of age. Ohio, a swing state has 14 Repubs in the house and 4 Dems. They have succeeded in minority rule in the house, taking over one chamber of the legislature.
    Heard talk of repealing the 17th amend. and delegating electoral votes by congressional districts? That's all to get minority rule controlling all elective offices.
    Until we get an amendment to stop that it's just a matter of time, unless we want to chuck the whole anachronistic kit and kaboodle.

  • @Dan; when you were counting the Baltimore-Washington area population, you left out Annapolis. If you drew a line straight from Baltimore to Annapolis (known as either Rte 2 or Rte 97), you'd be doing it through completely developed land. Annapolis is the state capitol but a lot of people (including political ones) live further north, around Baltimore, because 1) who the hell wants to live in Annapolis, it's a dirt-hole? and 2) good luck finding a place to live in Annapolis that's not a drug-infested, crime-infested slum.

    You can also draw a line from Annapolis to Washington (also known as Rte 50) and hit nothing but development.

    The Baltimore-Washington-Annapolis area is one big area. I'm here this week moving two kids to two schools. Sample of the 6 am news: one station has a guy whose job it seems to be to drive around during rush hour and report on conditions. Of course, he can only report on the conditions where he is at the moment. Anyway, there was a huge accident on the Baltimore Beltway where it meets I-95, and the driver was saying, "You could try X, but that's not moving either, You could try Y…oh, wait, that's horrible. There's Z…oh my god…." Made me laugh, but only because I wasn't stuck in traffic.

    In short, the population has exploded while the roads have remained at 1940s status. There's no such thing as rush "hour"; it's 4 hours in the morning and 5 hours in the afternoon.

  • As someone whose General Assembly (NC) took it upon itself to decide how my urban county (Wake) should elect its commissioners, I only wish demographics played a larger role in deciding political fate.

    Later today I get to find out whether John Roberts personally approves of voter suppression; he has the power to uphold the racist voter ID this cycle.

    As long as a piece of work like Roberts is at one end of the fulcrum, it doesn't matter how many people live in Wyoming or Montana or Monmouth County, NJ.

  • I ran a program for underprivileged youth in Los Angeles once and I'm all but certain that none of the participants had ever been outside LA. Provincial is rural, but also urban. Poverty means your world borders are not far away.

    "Real America" being white and rural is almost entirely a construct of Republican media bias. Republicans are heavily overrepresented on television and that's their base, so…. that's all that is perceived to exist, if you get your info from TV.

  • Geography was my worst mark in Uni, but I sure learned a lot in that class.

    In this day & age it's a dangerous situation to have long-term geographical illiteracy. Every time it shows up in the media it's as a comic fluff piece – because the problem is now so bad it's absurd.

    If the US ever gets rid of its heavily skewed electoral & Senatorial bias toward mostly-empty states in favour of the radical idea of proportional representation, the GOP dies as a national party. Democrats collude in keeping a CloudCuckooLand election system alive & well because it often benefits them in down-ticket races & they profit from keeping their opposition politically threatening enough to fund-raise & GOTV. .

  • Mama Says wrote:

    "I'm originally from Tulare, California. I have known several people there who have never travelled outside of Tulare County. They are 3 hours from the beach, 3.5 from LA and 3.5 from SF but feel no need to visit any of these places. These are Trump voters and they don't know any people who aren't."

    My wife is from Bakersfield. She grew up with many people who have seldom left Kern County except on vacation, or to travel to other parts of the Central Valley. They are staunchly conservative and deeply uninformed about the rest of the world and much of the U.S., except for those parts where people act and think like them. We visit only because of relatives.

  • dat worker doe says:


    no, I said, "now we just need to get rid of the Senate," and explained why.

    What did you miss?

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