The map of the Brexit vote looks so familiar, those tiny clusters that voted to "remain" set against an entire country that disagreed. Sixty percent of voters in the London region wanted to stay in the European Union. In Liverpool, 58 percent did. In Manchester, 60 percent.
The cities chose one future, the rest of England another. And their visions for the nation are diametrically opposed.
Scan the county-level results of any recent presidential election in the U.S., and the identical divide emerges: between urban and non-urban; between people who live where skills pay well and those who've been left behind by a changing economy; between cities disproportionately full of the young, the educated and the multicultural, and rural communities that are aging and largely white; between places accustomed to change and eternally oriented to the future, and those that long for the past.
It is of course an illusion of cartography that one group looks like it vastly outnumbers the other. In reality, in both the U.S. and Britain, as my colleague Dan Balz points out, their numbers are remarkably evenly divided.
Those tiny clusters contain a tremendous number of people — and it is becoming increasingly clear that their values and politics clash with non-urban voters. Felix Salmon writes in Fusion today about the vision of Europe that he's now grieving: "I’m thinking about everything I loved about growing up in London: the food, the culture, the fact that in one teeming, vibrant city you could find the entire world."
The very multiculturalism that he celebrates goes by other names elsewhere in the U.K. (and U.S.): it is the problem, the other, those immigrants. The thing he's describing that has made London the cosmopolitan place it is has also become the scapegoat for many of the country's new challenges. Rural and small-town voters do not want to find the entire world outside their doorstep, especially if that is not what the view looked like 50 years ago.
In one analysis by the Financial Times, the places that heavily voted to leave the E.U. were also those where people are least likely to have a passport. Another referendum-day poll found that that 81 percent of people opting to leave the E.U. believe that multiculturalism is a force for ill in Britain. Among "remain" supporters, 71 percent believe the opposite. Answers on the question of immigration mirror each other just the same.
These views are irreconcilable, and they stem from fundamental differences in the demographics, economics and realities of these two sets of places, beyond just the U.K. We are accustomed to labeling what divides us by party affiliation. But on a deep level, we are truly split between urban and everyone else.