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July 11, 2008

Richard Florida

Density and Politics

« Hmmm ... | Main | Lights Out »

(Image from the Boston Globe )

Density makes places more Democratic. That's the conclusion from this map and the accompanying Boston Globe article (via Planetizen) by Robert David Sullivan:

The accompanying map shows where the electorate has grown the most over the past half-century - counties that in 2004 cast at least 10,000 votes and at least double the votes cast in the 1960 race between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. In just about every major metropolitan area, Democrats are strongest in the center and Republicans fare best farther out, but the patterns depend on how long ago the suburbs began to grow.

In the oldest metropolitan areas, there are outlying counties that were solidly Republican in the 1960s and 1970s, but have trended Democratic as development has cooled down. (They include Barnstable County in Massachusetts. Southern New Hampshire, past its peak rate of growth, is heading in the same direction.) This phenomenon has had a significant impact on presidential elections. When California was one of the fastest-growing states, it was reliably Republican, but it became safely Democratic in the 1990s, when its population growth rate fell sharply ...

Sprawl has kept Republicans competitive at the national level, but the "frontier vote" may be reaching its limit. The rising price of gasoline and a soft housing market (made worse by the foreclosure crisis) have had more people questioning the value of long commutes and mansion-sized houses.


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I considered doing my master's thesis on this, and I found it surprising that there's not much out there on this phenomenon.

It suggests there's an incentive for Republicans (and likely right-wing parties everywhere) to encourage sprawl-type development.


Chicken or egg? Ian, is it that more sprawl produces more Republicans, or, I think more likely, Republicans tend to be attracted to the new developments of sprawl? It makes me think of Bishop and his work on our self-segregating by ideology, lifestyle, etc.

Whitney Gunderson

I think Republicans are attracted to sprawl. Short of redistricting, there's not much a politican can do to influence the ideology of a certain place. They more or less blow with the wind. Arizona is one of the reddest states in the country right now, and the population density of Phoenix, the largest city, has gone from 230.6 people per square mile in 1990 to 223.1 in 2000. Not a large decrease, but when the population increase of Phoenix from 1990 - 2000 is considered (growth of more than 335,000), sprawl in Phoenix becomes, uhhh, "significant."

Michael Wells

Works in the Northwest. The area West of Portland is Washington County, definitely suburban, high tech since the late 1980's, trending Democratic. It's the First Congressional district and a headache for Republicans who have long held the seat was competitive, but have lost it to a string of candidates since the mid-1970's. The area south of Portland, increasingly suburban and shown here as Bush country, is the 5th district which has likewise trended Democratic and will probably elect its second D representative in a row. In both cases it's because the Republicans have moved far Right of the districts' centerist majorities, rather than love for Democrats per se.

I would venture that the same thing is true of the Seattle suburbs, although I don't have the same personal knowledge.

Interesting to see the California Kerry/Democratic movement spread into Silicon Valley and suburbs far North and South of San Francisco, and Northeast to Sacramento.

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