Divided By Place: The Enduring Geographical Fault Lines of American Politics

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0002-5364-6580
Munis, Brian Kal, Government - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Winter, Nicholas, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Freedman, Paul, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Kirkland, Justin, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines the role of place – symbolically charged spatial units that constitute psychologically meaningful categories – in the American politics. Overall, I argue that place, perhaps the most fundamental basis of group delineation – distinguishing “us over here” from “them over there” – continues to exert considerable sway over a non-trivial portion of the American electorate, campaign advertising, and representational style.

In this dissertation, I develop a rich theoretical account of the political psychological structures of place, detailing the nature of concepts such as place identity and place resentment, as well as specifying the conditions under which these psychological structures matter for politics.
Political media, such as campaign advertising, activate voters’ place identities, thereby increasing the likelihood that voters use place as a heuristic to evaluate candidates and other political objects. I document and explain variation in place-based appeals in political advertising and in Congress members’ social media feeds. Place appeals are common throughout the country and exert significant effects on how voters evaluate candidates. Moreover, politicians appear to use place appeals strategically, with more vulnerable members of Congress developing a more place centered, as opposed to nationalized, representation style.

Regarding voting behavior, I account for how place-based resentments correspond with support for America’s parties, President Trump, and vote choice in the 2018 midterms. In addition, I demonstrate how candidates’ place-based characteristics activate voters’ place identities. Overall, despite the forces of nationalization and partisan polarization that some assume has already resulted in a transcendence of American politics beyond the local and particular, I find that place is a potent political psychological force in contemporary American politics.

Overall, the findings in this dissertation contribute to debates surrounding several important topics in political science, including partisan polarization, nationalization, the urban-rural divide, and representation.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Political geography, place, place-based identity, place resentment, nationalization, polarization, geographic polarization, urban-rural divide, representation, political psychology, political communication
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