This is familiar ground for Bishop, author of the forthcoming book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. In every state, he writes for the Yonder, "Central cities have grown more Democratic and rural and exurban areas have become increasingly Republican. ... Counties voting for George Bush in 2004 averaged 110 people per square mile. John Kerry counties, however, had, on average, 836 people per square mile. A generation ago, there would have been no difference at all."
There are arguments in rural Oregon about whether any of this matters. The newspaper in The Dalles has a good series about how rural development spending has helped its region of rural Oregon. The Baker City Herald concluded (in an editorial headlined "Dollars, Not Symbols") that the Office of Rural Policy never did much anyway — that what rural Oregon really needed was money, not an office in the governor's mansion.
The real story here, however, was discovered by the Eugene Register-Guard. When the legislature cut rural programs and the governor closed his rural policy office it was a reminder to "rural Oregonians that they stand on the other side of an economic, cultural and political divide from those who govern the state, and it sends the message that state leaders aren't interested in closing the gap."
Social issues seem largely responsible for the change, but in Oregon people cite a conflict between rural areas' natural-resource economies and environmental interests generally aligned with Democrats. Bishop's example is Crook County, a timber-industry county that voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976. It gave more than 60 percent of its vote in 2004 to George W. Bush. (Read more)