Many Americans are in the muddled political middle of the suburbs

A CNN digital vice president describes how the American suburbs defy easy categorization:

Most Americans are neither coastal elites nor inhabitants of flyover country (both objectionable tropes on their face). Most Americans live in the suburbs, a geographic term the US government is curiously loath to define. But suburbanites are not; a survey by an economist at Trulia, the online real-estate site, finds that 53% of Americans say they live in one. The suburbs mirror US demographic trends; minorities represent 35% of suburban residents, and in 2010, the share of blacks in large metro areas living in the suburbs surpassed 51%, meaning the majority of black Americans are suburbanites, according to Brookings.

Political scientists talk about the rural-urban divide as the defining issue of the 20th century, but the suburbs in America defy this simple categorization. Some areas exhibit the same traits of cities, where neighbors don’t know each others’ names, let alone their politics. Schools in urban areas are more segregated than ever, some worse than before Brown vs. Board of Education. Suburbs, in contrast, have created more diverse spaces, from schools to soccer leagues to the local Olive Garden…

But America does not live on Facebook, even if it sometimes feels that way. Americans live in places that care about jobs and schools and taxes. Issues such as health care and anti-corruption efforts seem to matter to suburban voters more than immigration. Brookings also reports the suburbs are growing faster than urban areas, partly because of the lack of affordable housing in cities, making them younger, more diverse. Their outlook — and values — feel increasingly cosmopolitan.

The implication at the end of this is that suburbanites are a reasonable lot who just want good things for themselves and their communities. But, although they are a majority of Americans, they are stuck between polarized far-right/left groups that dominate the conversations.

Is this true? My quick answer is yes and no. Indeed, American suburbs are quite different from the stereotype of white nuclear families living in the 1950s mass-produced housing. The demographic changes have been impressive. At the same time, the suburbs are not an ideal landscape where residents always want the best for others: they are often marked by limited interactions and relationships, hoarding of resources, and exclusion.

There is little doubt that the suburbs are the battleground for American politics right now. But which way they will lean, which parties and candidates will be able to appeal to them, and how they will continue to change remains to be seen.

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