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Warning Label on Darwin Sows Division in Suburbia
While in many metropolitan areas inner urban neighborhoods are reliably more liberal and rural areas reliably more conservative, fast-growing suburban or exurban places, with their promise of large numbers of votes and unformed affiliations, have become a coveted demographic for politicians on both sides.
In the 2004 presidential election, 97 of the 100 fastest-growing counties voted for George W. Bush. On the other hand, slightly older suburbs, such as Fairfax County, voted Democratic for the first time since 1964.
Exactly what shapes the political character of a suburb is a matter of debate.
In Cobb, County Board of Commissioners Chairman Sam Olens said the controversies over social issues do not reflect typical values held there, but he said that for household logistics, the county "tilts conservative."
"A lot of us moved here because of the low taxes, low crime and great education," he said. "We're all sick and tired of paying too much in taxes."
Robert E. Lang, who studies growth and demographics at Virginia Tech, says that people generally select a place to live based on practical reasons -- proximity to work, prices, size and so on. But politically, there appears to be a little bit of "self-selection going on," he said. "People like to move to places where they know the people will think like they do."
Cobb is solidly Republican -- 62 percent of voters cast ballots for Bush in 2004 -- but there is enough political diversity to create strong and sometimes unexpected conflicts.
After the anti-gay resolution was passed, the board chairman's daughter held a news conference to say she is a lesbian -- and to denounce the measure. And the current county chairman, Olens, who is in the position of having to defend the commission prayers for invoking Jesus, is Jewish.
He defended the prayers by saying that leaders from all the local houses of worship are invited to offer the invocation.
"My preference would be a nonsectarian prayer," he said. "But it's not my place to tell a minister how he should lead us in prayer."
While Cobb County is home to Kennesaw State University, a major facility for Lockheed Martin Corp. and numerous high-tech businesses, a substantial number of residents appear to have profound doubts about the scientific establishment's embrace of evolution, which the National Academy of Sciences describes as "the central unifying concept of biology."
Wes McCoy, a teacher at North Cobb High School who has surveyed classes for a doctoral dissertation on teaching evolution, estimates that a third of students there are uncomfortable with the subject.