Dinosaurs voted for Obama in the South

A lot of the pieces on land that I live pay close attention to the history of a place in order to tell the story of its present. Paul told us about the century and a half history of the J.T. Slocomb Factory to talk about how he and his hometown have changed in more recent years. Aaron similarly dug into Dayton’s industrial past to consider its present decline. And Melody poignantly wrote about the way her own past lives on in “the men and memories of Route 10.”

In a different gesture, I recently posted a map from NPR that shows what the U.S. looks like from the perspective of money spent in presidential campaigns. Unsurprisingly, it’s a pretty distorted, funny-looking America composed solely of so-called swing states. Campaign money creates, in effect, a different nation.

Combining these historical and political dimensions, this NPR story explains voting patterns in the South through geological history–really, really long history.

The story, about a study by Craig McClain, looks at how the North American coastline during the Cretaceous–the era when T-Rex, Triceratops, and Velociraptor roamed the earth–determined voting patterns in the 2008 election. Basically, plankton that lived in the ocean along Cretaceous coastlines eventually turned into really rich soil in the middle of states like Georgia and Alabama. That led to higher cotton production in the 19th century in those places, and so higher populations of enslaved African-Americans. Those demographics are still in play, so a swath of predominantly black counties across the South that largely mirrors the Cretaceous coastline went for Obama in 08, even as the places around them that were inland or out at sea during the dinosaur age went overwhelmingly for McCain.

Our present-day voting patterns, that is, depend on a centuries-old national history itself determined by geological changes over hundreds of millions of years. The very ground we walk on encodes a social and geological history stretching back for practically unimaginable lengths of time, and that encoded history is still intensely vibrant and effective today. Just don’t tell the election boards in the South–I don’t want any dinosaurs arrested for voter fraud.