In America, the dominant geography continues to be suburbia – home to at least 60 percent of the population and probably more than that portion of the electorate. Roughly 220 congressional districts, or more than half the nation’s 435, are predominately suburban, according to a 2005 Congressional Quarterly study. This is likely to only increase in the next decade, as Millennials begin en masse to enter their 30s and move to the periphery.
Nationally, suburban approval for the Democrats has dropped to 39 percent this year, from 48 percent two years ago. Disapproval for President Barack Obama is also high — nearly 48 percent of suburbanites disapprove, compared to only 35 percent of urbanites. Even Obama’s strong support among minority suburbanites, a fast-growing group, has declined substantially.
Kotkin suggests two particular sets of ideas are behind this: suburbanites are not happy with the economic problems and Obama has pushed a more urban agenda (including suggesting that sprawl is not desirable).
Kotkin is on to something about a different political culture in suburbia. Numerous scholars have pointed this out: suburbs are not necessarily Republican but they do have unique concerns including not just keeping their homes but having them increase in values, desiring a more prosperous life for themselves and their children, keeping “threats” at bay, and limiting taxes. It can be tough to sell large changes to suburbanites when they feel that their money or resources are being taken away and used for other people. The political shift in America began in earnest in the 1960s as the growing number of suburbanites began to overwhelm concerns from other areas.
Though Kotkin suggests Obama has a more urban agenda, I think he hardly has strongly pushed for city life or city concerns. Even with the economic crisis, the primary focus has still be on the middle class (and perhaps some on the working class). Obama’s ideas about sprawl are not unusual, particularly among policymakers and academics. Perhaps voters tie Obama himself to the city with his Chicago mansion and seemingly strong ties to Chicago political operators?
But this shift toward the suburbs applies to both political parties: America is a suburban nation. And that suburbia is growing more and more diverse.