Kotkin: election results “the smackdown of the creative class”

Amongst pundits sifting through the election returns, I have only seen Joel Kotkin explore how votes broke down by broad location categories: cities vs. suburbs. Before the election, Kotkin suggested that both parties were fighting over middle-class suburbanites (and the Democrats were losing at this). Afterward, he continues this argument and suggests the creative class and bourgeois bohemians were overwhelmed by the middle-class, suburban vote:

More than anything, this election marked a shift in American class dynamics. In 2008 President Obama managed to win enough middle-class, suburban voters to win an impressive victory. This year, those same voters deserted, rejecting policies more geared to the “creative class” than mainstream America.

A term coined by urban guru Richard Florida, “the creative class” also covers what David Brooks more cunningly calls “bourgeois bohemians”–socially liberal, well-educated, predominately white, upper middle-class voters. They are clustered largely in expensive urban centers, along the coasts, around universities and high-tech regions. To this base, Obama can add the welfare dependents, virtually all African-Americans, and the well-organized legions of public employees…

But the real decider–to use George W. Bush’s unfortunate phrase–remains the much larger, more amorphous middle class. Given the economy of the past two years, the subsequent alienation of this group should pose no mystery. Suburban swing voters didn’t suddenly turn into racists or right-wing cranks. Instead they have seen, correctly, that Obama’s economic policy has to date worked to the advantage of others far more than themselves or their families. Until the Democrats and Obama can prove that they once again can serve the interests of these voters, they will continue to struggle to recapture the optimism so appropriate two years ago.

I would love to see some actual numbers on this. It seems like Richard Florida could post some maps like he has recently been doing on Atlantic.com that would correlate voting patterns with the presence of the creative class.

I wonder if Kotkin would suggest this is a continuation of the older “culture wars” idea (progressives vs. conservatives, religious vs. non-religious, etc.) or a new trend (the creative class vs. middle-class suburbanites).

More broadly, how big will the creative class in America grow to be? Is it possible, or even desirable, that a significant number of Americans become part of the creative class or the bourgeois bohemians?

Suburbs and cities in the 2010 elections

Joel Kotkin argues that suburbs are the primary battleground in the 2010 elections and Democrats are behind because they are trying to push urban strategies:

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.