Picking up a slightly dated copy of USA Today last week made me wonder if I’d been away from Eastern Washington so long a seismic shift in the body politic had occurred in my absence. Spokane Valley, it said, was the No. 1 city for “centrists.”
What the what? Spokane Valley, which has no Democrats running for the Legislature and usually an all-Republican City Council, is centrist?
First let me say that the Valley is probably a fine place to live, regardless if one is right wing, left wing or middle of the bird. I’ve never lived there, but have friends who do, and they speak highly of it. Centrist, however, is not a term I’ve ever heard them use.
Second, rating America’s various municipalities on different qualities is a difficult, if somewhat silly, exercise. The demand for lists has exploded to feed the insatiable hunger of websites that claim to offer news but mainly just regurgitate information glommed from elsewhere. Click here for the six scariest movies, the eight best Beatles songs or 10 sexiest actresses.
USA Today pioneered the ubiquitous use of bullet-pointed lists, but this rating came from Livability.com, a website devoted to rating cities on various qualities. It recently decided to find the top 10 places each for liberals, conservatives and centrists.
It used several factors: recent election results, some polling and preferences for certain products, programs and establishments. After some study – but not much diligence – Livability proclaimed Spokane Valley No. 1 for centrists.
“While elected officials representing Spokane Valley, Wash., lean towards the right of the political spectrum, most residents identify themselves as liberals,” it said. “The result is a well-balanced city where values on both sides are respected. Votes were split nearly even during the last two presidential elections, with Republicans winning by less than 3 percent. Races for governor and the Senate seat have followed the same pattern.”
The respect opposing values receive seems a hard thing to quantify, but voting results aren’t. There, Livability is pretty far off. Mitt Romney got 55 percent of the vote in the Valley in 2012, and GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna got 58 percent. Mike Baumgartner, running for U.S. Senate, only got 51 percent against Maria Cantwell, but his conservative Republican cred was hampered by the fact that he’s from the city of Spokane, which can trump partisan politics in some parts of the Valley. Republican Dino Rossi got 59 percent for Senate in 2010. John McCain got 54 percent in 2008 and Rossi got 54 percent for governor that same year. So no, the votes were not “split nearly even” in most of those races.
It’s not clear what survey Livability found where most residents identified themselves as liberal, but try it the next time you’re with a group of people in the Valley anywhere except a Democratic fundraiser at Sally Jackson’s home. Say “raise your hand if you’re a liberal” and see how many hands go up.
Livability rounded out its ratings with the help of a marketing company that developed a list of products it said are preferred by liberals, conservatives and centrists. Liberals, it concluded, like Subarus; conservatives, Buicks; and centrists, Cadillacs. Liberals shop at REI, conservatives at Sam’s Club and centrists at American Eagle Outfitters. Liberals eat at Qdoba, conservatives at Hardee’s and centrists at Chick-fil-a.
Spokane Valley was pulled squarely into centrist territory because the marketing group said its residents were likely to drive Subarus, eat at Qdoba and shop at REI.
The folks at Livability must not know that the nearest Chick-fil-a to the Valley is in Boise, and there are no Hardee’s anywhere around here. In this part of the country, Hardee’s are called Carl’s Jr. So, obviously, the one Qdoba is going to come out on top.
There’s also no Sam’s Club; this is Costco country. While American Eagle Outfitters probably does OK in the Valley Mall, the REI store in downtown Spokane has been around so long its customer base is likely much larger. Politics aside, it occupies a key niche for outdoor gear while AEO competes with lots of other clothing stores.
As for cars, Subarus probably are more common in the Valley than Buicks or Cadillacs, but that could be less political preference and more fondness for four-wheel-drive to get around in the snow.
So sorry, USA Today. Sorry, Livability. Spokane Valley might be centrist if you put Karl Marx on the left and Attila the Hun on the right, creating a big space in the middle. Otherwise, it’s conservative.
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