Rock Bottom Line || Election Result Gives ‘Cocooning’ a Deeper Meaning

Posted in Blogs, History

December 7, 2016

Is there a soul here on the Rock who isn’t whining about last month’s election results? The “End of the World” wails of despondent Hillary supporters on the South End can be heard all the way to Deception Pass. And the “Shut Up, You Elitist Sore Losers” carping of Trump supporters on the North End disturbs the peace at Scatchet Head. It’s enough to make you afraid to catch the Clinton ferry for fear of bumping into somebody who’ll give you heartburn.

I wanted to understand this phenomenon better, so I decided to apply some basic data-mining techniques, which I learned a long time ago as an economics writer, to the presidential election results on Whidbey Island.

Here’s what you may know already: Hillary Clinton won Island County with 20,960 votes, or about 49 percent to Donald Trump’s 18,465 votes, or about 43 percent. But when I subtracted the totals for Camano Island, which Trump won by more than 1,000 votes, Clinton’s victory on Whidbey was more lopsided; on the Rock, she got about 5,000 votes more than Trump and won by almost nine percentage points.

Anybody who has been around our island for a while has a pretty good sense of our political divide. The South End is deep blue, fades to pastel around Coupeville, turns red in Oak Harbor and glows neon crimson by the time you approach the Deception Pass Bridge. It helps explain why some people in Langley avoid driving north of Greenbank unless absolutely necessary and some people in Oak Harbor prefer to drive the long way around when going to America.

Map of Whidbey Island

When I dug deeper and examined the presidential vote on Whidbey by precinct, I began to see that divide in starker relief, and I understood it better. Although Hillary Clinton walloped Trump on Whidbey overall, she won just 17 of the island’s precincts. Trump won 20 precincts. She won Langley by a whopping 667 votes to just 103 for Trump – more than six-to-one. She won Coupeville 667 votes to Trump’s 370, a margin of about 55 percent.

But in Oak Harbor, our biggest town, Trump got 4,125 votes to Clinton’s 2,991, a margin of more than 72 percent. (He won all but one of Oak Harbor’s six precincts.)

Despite the lopsided Oak Harbor result, Clinton won the Rock overall because her margins in South Whidbey were much greater than Trump’s margins in most of North Whidbey. For instance, the East Harbor/Saratoga Road/Baby Island precinct near Freeland went for Clinton by more than two-to-one, as did the precinct that runs from south of Langley to Clinton.

By contrast, most of the North Whidbey precincts went for Trump by margins of 25 to 40 percent – still sizable but not as overwhelming.

What conclusions do I draw from all this? The traditional political divide on our island was exacerbated by this intense, nasty presidential election. It has also been made worse by the obvious fact, based on these precinct and town totals, that most of us now live in cocoons inhabited mostly by people we agree with. We don’t have political arguments with neighbors over our backyard fences anymore; we just pop champagne corks or hold pity parties with like-minded people.

So, as we all continue to wail or carp, here’s a modest idea. Folks on South Whidbey: turn off MSNBC. Folks on North Whidbey: turn off Fox News. Instead, break out of your cocoons and drive into alien territory.  If you’re from Oak Harbor, go enjoy a latte and a conversation with somebody at Useless Bay Coffee in Langley. If you’re from Clinton, go have a caramel macchiato and a conversation with somebody at Whidbey Coffee on Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor.

Mix it up a little. We’ll all feel better. That’s why the first nations people who were on Whidbey Island for centuries before us went to potlatches to set aside their differences, at least for a while. Can’t we do the same?

Once upon a time, Harry Anderson made an honest living as a reporter, editor, and columnist at the Los Angeles Times. He now lives in central Whidbey where he spends his time gardening and ruminating on things that interest him.


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  1. Thanks for this– a very necessary suggestion! I wonder if Whidbey Life could help host a series of Potlatches, maybe around issues such as Navy use of community airspace. I want to see the chiefs of many “tribes”–or cocoons–in council instead of war paint and placards. Let’s make life on Whidbey what we really need it to be–for all residents. What commonalities can we define together?

  2. Harry,

    You should have added when advising people from Clinton to drive to Oak Harbor, and people from Oak Harbor to drive to Langley, that a nice place to stop off and observe people of diverse views exchanging them, and actually getting along most of the time, is Coupeville!

  3. Harry, Whining is what people do who want attention but not change. Thus, I very much appreciate the data. It makes it feel even worse than it already did. But, attention getting is not my goal, change is. And the changes I hope for have to do with finding ways to come together as a nation, and an island that does not major in bigotry, exclusion, and rudeness. A nation and an island that actually find ways to bridge the very difficult gaps between diverse peoples, all of us. It really is only one nation..

  4. An excellent blog. Call your column “Potlatch with Harry”. I chose not to vilify roughly 50% of the people who voted for the other person. If you look for the good you will find it, and most people are kindhearted at the core. There is none so blind as the one who will not see. I watch CNN, MSNBC, have attended conferences with Rachel Maddow, listen to Fox News, and subscribe to the New Yorker and the Washington Post. By opening my mind and ears to different viewpoints I may have learned something.

  5. Thanks for encouraging people to get to know another’s point of view. I’m one of the few conservatives in Clinton. (We moved here from Kirkland two years ago.)

    When I was younger, I used to be negative toward those who held opposite views than I. But at age 50, I’m interested in hearing another’s views. I hold firmly to many of my beliefs and recognize others do the same. We don’t have to win an argument but can learn to agree to disagree and get along without demonizing each other.

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