Why does Greene remain such a backward county? In the 13 years I’ve lived here as a full-time resident, I have seen almost no progress on any front. Quite the contrary, in fact—Greene continues to rank in the lower reaches of New York’s 62 counties by almost any important measure. And Greene continues to vote for candidates who are unlikely to help change the situation, and did so once again in the 2012 election.

Let’s take a moment to look at Greene’s status within New York State. In population, it ranks 51st. In the percentage of its residents who have graduated high school, it ranks 50th. In terms of health care outcomes, it ranks 52nd. The practical consequences of these rankings mean that Greene is not a good place to earn a living, not a good place to start a business and not a good place to grow old. There are few jobs of any kind, and almost no good-paying jobs. There is a substandard communications infrastructure, and a serious lack of true broadband service. It’s necessary to drive long distances, both to earn a decent living and to avail oneself of decent shopping. Nor are medical services readily available, even though Greene has among the highest percentages in the state of citizens who are 65 or older (this, despite the fact the county is not a healthy place for them to live).

You’d think that Greene would want to move up in the state, and in the world. But every time an election rolls around, Greene votes against change. For example, the county re-elected Pete Lopez to the state legislature, based mainly on the fact that he is a nice guy, and drives all over creation to attend every inconsequential gathering and say hello. It doesn’t matter that Lopez hasn’t managed to achieve any significant improvements for the county—in fact, that’s probably a point in his favor. Similarly, Greene voted the newly “moderate” Chris Gibson back into office, even though Gibson is likely to undercut the safety net of Social Security and Medicare that so many Greene residents—very definitely part of Romney’s scorned 47%—depend on. On the other hand, Greene voted against Cecilia Tkaczyk for state senate, because she is progressive enough to actually want to do something about the quality of life in this area (there is a chance Tkaczyk may still pull out a victory, despite Greene’s opposition).

And of course, Greene voted for Romney/Ryan.

Greene County fits the mold so memorably described in Thomas Frank’s classic book, What’s the Matter with Kansas?, in which the machinations by which ordinary people are led to vote against their own self-interests are laid bare. Greene votes from a base of ignorance and gullibility, over and over again. The county’s voters are its own worst enemy.

Next time: Corruption and Apathy

Sources: ProximityOne; Population Health Institute, University of Wisconsin