Sellers and his colleagues analyze the political characteristics of cities and suburbs across many advanced nations. Sellers’s own chapter covers the U.S., and it includes some eye-opening insights. While most previous research has looked mainly at states and counties, Sellers has developed a detailed data set on the municipalities that make up America’s metro regions. He tracks the political geography of the 1996, 2000 and 2004 elections across twelve U.S. metros with populations of at least 450,000: New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, Seattle, Cincinnati, Fresno, Birmingham, Syracuse, Wichita, and Kalamazoo.
Democrats have a “decisive” advantage in dense, urban localities and poorer, majority-minority suburbs. In the affluent suburbs, Sellers explains, “Republicans enjoy an analogous, if less dramatic” advantage. He notes that “a pervasive divide separates the Republican low density areas of metropolitan peripheries from the Democratic urban centres and minority suburbs.” At the broad metropolitan level, votes follow the same red/blue, rich/poor pattern identified by Larry Bartels and Andrew Gelman at the state level. Sellers found that municipalities with educated and affluent voters tended to vote with their state’s winners – they voted more Republican in red states and more Democratic in blue states.
With these bases locked down, the key political footballs – the new “swing states,” so to speak – are the swelling ranks of economically distressed suburbs, where poverty has been growing and where the economic crisis hit especially hard. There are now more poor people living in America’s suburbs than its center cities, and as a recent Brookings Institution report found, both Republican and Democratic districts have been affected by this reality…
America’s new metropolitan geography is overlaid by one additional factor: voter participation. Turnout levels have ranged between 52 and 62 percent over the past several national elections. Even though Democrats have the clear advantage in raw numbers, Republicans dominate the kinds of communities where people are more likely to actually vote. Turnout, Sellers finds, tends to be higher in GOP strongholds – the more affluent, highly educated suburbs and low-density rural and exurban areas, all places with higher levels of home-ownership.
These economically distressed suburbs, often inner-ring suburbs adjacent to big cities but also more far-flung places that are more working class and not as dependent on white-collar and professional work, may hold more than just the political key to metropolitan regions. While wealthier residents batten down the hatches in nicer suburbs and trendy urban neighborhoods, what happens to the majority of residents who face fewer prospects?