The Polish presidential election produced the expected result, a solid 7-point win for Bronoslaw Komorowski of the pro-free market Civic Platform party over Jaroslaw Kaczynski of the Christian Democratic Law and Justice Party. What’s more interesting is the geography of the voting and what it tells us about the relationship between voting, ideas, and culture.
Here’s the map, by Polish district, of yesterday’s results.
Note how Kaczynski leads in almost all districts in the east and the center of the nation, while Komorowski leads almost everywhere in the west and the north. The few exceptions in the center of the country are the big cities of Warsaw and Lodz—the free-market candidate won those handily.
Now look at this map, which superimposes the current map of Poland on the map of the Polish territories in 1864, when Poland was split up between Germany (Prussia), Russia, and the Austrian Empire.
Note how the 2010 election results mirror the 1864 boundaries almost precisely. If you are a Pole and live in a part of Poland that was ruled by Prussia in 1864, you almost certainly live in an area carried by Komorowski. If you live in one of the parts ruled by Russia or Austria, you almost certainly live in an area carried by Kaczynski, unless you live in a large city (over 100,000 people—those are the orange dots in the sea of blue).
The early analysis has focused on this difference between the city and country, and it’s true that the pro-market candidate carried the cities while the more protectionist candidate carried the country (scroll down to the bottom of the link to find the breakdown of the vote by city, county, and size of community). But this masks the very real cultural difference between the two halves of the nation. Here’s the city-country breakdown in one of the regions bordering Germany, heavily carried by Komorowski. Note that there is no difference between city and country here.
Now look at the difference in a far-eastern province bordering the Ukraine and Belarus. Here there is a huge difference between city and country. But even with that difference, Jaczynski carries municipalities of every size. Clearly, culture matters.
What to make of all this? Voting in the here and now seems to be governed by the to-and-fro between parties arguing about current events. But these arguments are mediated by habits of the mind and cultural patterns that live in people for decades or centuries. How you view things today is often heavily influenced by how your grandfathers or great-great-grandmothers viewed things in the past.
Poland is not unique in the long-standing geographic divisions inherent to their politics. In America, the division between the North and the South extends back to the early days of the revolution. Vermont and Alabama, for example, have voted for different presidential candidates in all but four elections since Alabama was admitted into the union (excluding the Reconstruction elections of 1868 and 1872, when most Alabama whites were disenfranchised), agreeing only in the transition periods in the 1970s and 80s when the South moved to the GOP and the old Yankee Northern heartlands moved to the Democrats.
But culture can change. The Poles who live in the cities in the center and east clearly want a market economy that is tied to the West. Perhaps many of these Poles are emigrees from the western portions, but more likely they have been educated by their experiences since 1989 to want more freedom, both politically and economically. A similar pattern has emerged in the Czech Republic, where bustling Prague is the bastion of the right-wing parties TOP-09 and ODS.
Americans should keep this in mind as they view the current debates about the course of American life. The political decisions we make now will be heavily influenced by our past experiences. But if we choose to move clearly in the direction of greater government involvement in the economy, much like the Polish city-dwellers who have personally benefited from the freedom unleashed since 1989, we can expect that Americans who associate their benefits or harms with those changes will have their voting patterns altered. And such changes can last for a very, very long time.