Hickory, a small industrial city in western North Carolina, lies within the state’s 10th congressional district, one that the Washington Post has called “one of the most Republican in the nation.” Its representative, Congressman Patrick McHenry, proudly boasts that, on family values issues, he is tied for the “most conservative voting record in Congress.”
Last week, Hickory topped another list. Researchers at Smart Growth America named the metro it anchors (Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, population 350,000) the most sprawling in the country (PDF). At the other extreme, the metros topping the list of “most compact” are also some of the country’s true blue strongholds, with New York and San Francisco ranking as the two most “compact metros” in America.
These two sets of metros reflect a more pervasive pattern. In recent decades, America’s politics have exhibited a new trend, where Red America finds its home base in some of the country’s most sprawling places, while Blue America is centered in denser, more compact metros and cities…
Researchers have identified a tipping point of roughly 800 people per square mile where counties shift from Red to Blue, as I noted in the weeks following Barack Obama’s reelection. Princeton historian Kevin Kruse similarly explained this spatial link between a spread-out landscape and Republican political positions to the New Republic. “There are certain things in which the physical nature of a city, the fact the people are piled on top of each other, requires some notion of the public good,” he said. “Conservative ideology works beautifully in the suburbs, because it makes sense spatially.”
While I’m not sure Florida’s correlations that are strong, his arguments are in line with other researchers who have uncovered this pattern in recent decades. But, the data could be even more fine-grained than just comparing metro areas (which have varying degrees of sprawl within them): dense cities are more Democrat, exurbs are more Republican, and the parties are fighting over middle-suburb residents, places that may have been more traditional suburbs but have recently experienced more demographic and economic change.