A mayoral race in a well-regarded suburb hints at suburban voting patterns for 2024?
Tuesday’s electoral results show in miniature the national Republicans’ weakening grip on the suburbs. Come November, the race will also be a key post-midterms bellwether for both parties. Democrats made big gains in suburbs nationally in 2018 and 2020.
Nowhere else is that more apparent than Carmel. Slowly, this city has become more diverse and seen an influx of younger, more moderate voters who flock here for its award-winning school system, public art, affordability and culture (it’s home to a $126 million concert hall drawing national acts like the singer and songwriter Jason Isbell, and boasts more than 138 roundabouts, more than any other city in the U.S.). Students of the public school system speak 65 languages from 55 countries. Though many of its communities are gated, it’s not been walled-off from social change: Black Lives Matter marches snaked down the Monon Trail in Carmel amid $1 million townhouses and an upscale steakhouse in the summer of 2020…
Now, the Indiana Democratic Party is eyeing Carmel as a potential pickup this November. Mike Schmuhl, Pete Buttigieg’s former campaign manager and the state party chairman, is targeting this suburb in hopes of flipping it blue.
“The city has changed a lot,” Schmuhl said over lunch today at Fat Dan’s Chicago Deli in Carmel. “This used to be a rock-ribbed, Republican, conservative area but the Republican Party has changed a lot, too. So what you have up in Carmel is a lot of development, a lot of families, educated voters, hard working people, and the Democratic Party’s values appeal to those people.”
As someone who studies suburbs, four things I would note about Carmel that are relevant for this story:
- It is regularly named a Best Place to Live in Money’s list.
- It is right outside the combined Indianapolis-Marion County unigov arrangement. While that move was intended to help the city capture some suburban growth, Carmel sits right outs Marion County in neighboring Hamilton County.
- The population growth since 1960 has been astounding as it had just less than 1,500 residents in the 1960 Census. The suburb has had more than 25% population growth every decade since then and now has just under 100,000 residents.
- It has plenty of white-collar jobs due to corporate headquarters and offices.
Carmel exemplifies complex suburbia where larger suburbs can be more diverse, have more economic activity, and experience rapid growth and change. This can include changing political patterns at the state and national level but within communities where many do not vote in local elections.
The number of suburbs – or communities overall – that look like Carmel is small. At the same time, these larger suburbs have a higher status ad get more attention. As the political parties continue to fight over suburban voters, pundits will continue to look to growing and changing suburbs to see which ways the winds are blowing.