“Blue surge in [suburban] Georgia” quote

I talked earlier this week with Patrik Jonsson of the Christian Science Monitor about the primary race in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District in the Atlanta suburbs. Here is part of the story published on Wednesday:

In part seen as a referendum on President Trump, Ossoff’s out-of-the-blue campaign also offers a mirror on how changing suburban values are coming to a head in unexpected ways.

In the past decade especially, Atlanta suburbs like Cobb, Dekalb, and Fulton, parts of which make up the Sixth, have become younger, more diverse, more place-focused, and more urbane than their dad’s suburbs. A values shift toward walkability and sustainability is creating opportunities for moderates like Ossoff who respect suburban traditions while also seeking not to exclude people by race or wealth…

The new suburban appeal resonates not just for younger Americans in search of authentic experiences, but older ones as well, ranging from empty nesters who want a more urban lifestyle without having to move to the city to Gen X divorcees who are trying to juggle jobs, social lives, and two households without being stuck in Atlanta traffic all day.

“The suburbs are not just composed of wealthy conservatives, even though such communities do exist,” says Brian Miller, a Wheaton College, Ill., sociologist who studies the suburbs. The difference is that “there are now a variety of populations with a variety of concerns.” That means “local and national elections may [now] depend on reaching voters in middle suburbs who might go either way depending on the candidates, economic conditions [and] quality of life concerns.”

I’ll add a bit more since this touches on one areas of my research: from the outside, suburbs may look all the same. The physical pieces may be similar (different configurations of subdivisions, roads, big box stores and fast food establishments, etc.) and there are presumed to be similar values (middle-class homeowners who fiercely protect local interests such as property values). Yet, if you spend time in suburban areas, you find that communities can differ quite a bit even if they all fit under the umbrella term “suburb.” Depending on the demographics of particular communities (and suburbs are increasingly non-white as well as have more poor residents) as well as unique histories (which are influenced by the date of founding, distance from the big city, and actions of past and current leaders), suburbs can be quite different and have their own character.

So trying to understand voting patterns in suburbs can be complicated. Suburbs closer to big cities tend to lean Democratic and those at the metropolitan edges lean Republican. In the middle, voters can be swayed and are less predictable – indeed, they may be the real swing states for politicians to fight over. This map of the primary results in the New York Times supports these earlier findings: there are different clusters of support for the various candidates throughout the suburban district.

Kaine as VP could bring in needed suburban voters

VP nominee Tim Kaine is a former big city mayor who has successfully attracted voters in metropolitan areas:

As the former mayor of Richmond, Kaine is the first (relatively) big-city mayor on either party’s national ticket since Democrats nominated Hubert Humphrey, the mayor of Minneapolis in the 1940s, as their presidential candidate in 1968.

In that sense, Kaine’s selection symbolizes the Democrats’ growing reliance on—and dominance of—metropolitan America. Democrats now control the mayor’s office in 23 of the 26 largest cities. The party’s presidential coalition is rooted in the cities and most populous inner suburbs. In 2012, Obama won 86 of the nation’s 100 largest counties, amassing a total advantage over Mitt Romney in them of nearly 12 million votes, according to calculations by the Pew Research Center. That allowed Obama to win comfortably, even though Romney won more than three-fourths of all the nation’s counties; the 100 largest counties alone provided nearly half of the president’s total votes…

“By the time he ran for governor in 2005, Kaine had his model and it made sense for a Richmond mayor to run this way: He ran as a polished, well-educated suburban/urban candidate,” said Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. Sabato moderated a televised debate between Kaine and Kilgore and remembers being “stunned” at the contrast in styles. “Kilgore was the favorite and he was supposed to win,” Sabato recalled. “But he came across as the southwest Virginian he had once been. He had the southwest Virginia twang; he was not particularly polished. Kaine was so dominant it was almost embarrassing at times; I felt as the moderator I almost had to stop [the fight].”…

Clinton and Kaine will be counting on this same pattern of strong metropolitan showings to offset what could be a stampede toward Trump in non-urban areas far beyond Virginia. The same equation is key to the Democrats’ hopes in other competitive Sunbelt states like Colorado, North Carolina, Nevada, and Florida, as well as familiar Rustbelt battlegrounds like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Iowa. “The Virginia model,” says Sabato, “is now the national Democratic model.”

Recent presidential cycles have had Democrats solidly winning cities, Republicans solidly winning rural areas, and the two parties fighting over suburban voters (Republicans winning the exurbs, Democrats winning inner-ring suburbs). Both their efforts thus far – Trump on law and order and Clinton on making the country fairer for the working and middle class – could be viewed as efforts to appeal to these middle suburbanites. What exactly do suburbanites want these days from candidates? Good jobs and schools? Safety? Access to the American Dream? The outcome of this election may just hinge on who is best able to move beyond their reliable geographic bases and court suburbanites.

The biggest urban problem is that all the major American cities are run by Democrats?

American cities face a host of problems but one common claim from conservatives is that the biggest issue is that all of them are run by Democrats:

The rapid growth of urban areas, increased population density, and a massive influx of immigrants—accompanying the explosion of manufacturing and commerce during the Gilded Age—hastened the rise of municipal political machines (such as Tammany Hall in New York City), official corruption, labor unrest, and the demographic diversity that continues to this day. Even though Americans’ standard of living generally improved during industrialization (people moved to the cities for a reason), the Progressive movement was in significant part a response to America’s nascent urban problems.

Progressivism is a legacy that endures, as we know, and for good or ill, urbanization has profoundly affected the American experience. Members of ethnic minorities disproportionately reside in U.S. cities, and their local governments are disproportionately (in fact more or less exclusively) in the hands of the Democratic Party. Cities expend substantial taxpayer resources to try to address poverty, crime, air pollution, congestion, substandard housing, homelessness, and the education of non-English speaking students, all of which are not as prevalent in suburban and rural areas.

Cities tend to have large numbers of unionized public employees, high (and rising) taxes and debt (including unfunded pension liabilities), and intrusive regulations. For a variety of reasons, urban residents favor liberal policies—and elect liberals to office—to a greater degree than suburban and rural voters. Some major American cities, such as Detroit, have become dysfunctional fiefdoms, forced into bankruptcy…

Cities present different challenges than they did a century ago, but the current problems are no less dire. Costly and ineffective public education systems, massively under-funded public employee pension plans, law-enforcement failures, high taxes, and uncontrolled spending imperil the security and solvency of America’s cities. Unless these problems are promptly addressed by responsible state reforms, more urban residents will face the tragic plight of Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, and San Bernardino.

Two quick thoughts:

  1. It would be interesting to see a recent example where more conservative policies helped a large city. Perhaps it is simply hard to find a case from today with most big cities having Democrat mayors. Is the historical record kinder? I recently read about “Big Bill” Thompson who was the last Republican mayor of Chicago, leaving office in 1931. He had all sorts of problems and Wikipedia sums up: “He ranks among the most unethical mayors in American history.” Maybe we could look to Rudy Giuliani in New York City who is often credited for helping reduce crime in the city (due to applying broken windows theory) and for strong leadership after the September 11th attacks. But, some of his legacy has been questioned as crime rates dropped in numerous other major cities and such policies may have come at a cost. All together, it is easy for one party to blame the other but why not have a discussion of exactly how Republicans have actually helped cities in recent years?
  2. Cities are complex places which is why they started drawing so much attention from social scientists and others in the 1800s. Having a change in political party of leadership won’t automatically solve issues: how do we tackle neighborhoods that have now been poor for several generations? How about income inequality? Development and economic opportunities throughout big cities and not just in wealthy areas? The presence and activity of gangs? Providing affordable housing? Avoiding police brutality? Maintaining and upgrading critical infrastructure? Again, it is easy to blame one party but these are not easy issues to address – there is a level of complexity that would prove difficult for a mayor of any party.

Democratic McMansion in Maryland

A newly renovated home in Maryland may just be a Democratic McMansion:

If you are a Democratic politician getting wined and dined in D.C., chances are you’ve spent an evening or two at the Norton Manor, a faux-Old European estate in Potomac, Maryland that arrived seemingly out of nowhere last year. After a six-year renovation, the extravagant Neoclassical McMansion on nine acres, owned by the Indian-American technology entrepreneur Frank Islam and his philanthropist wife Debbie Driesman, is now fêting guests like Vice President Joe Biden and the Afghan ambassador. Apparently all you have to do to get well-connected politicians at your dinner table is build a pastiche of a Gilded Age mansion, an 18th-century French chateau, and (of course!) the gardens of Versailles in a rich suburb of D.C. Fittingly, the couple says they built Norton Manor as a tribute to the American dream. The Washington Post recently profiled the house, unloading a slew of facts about the place. Here now, 10 of the most interesting details:…

10. This couple prefers Democrats. Just this year, they’ve hosted a dinner for Vice President Biden, a fundraiser for Senator Al Franken, and an event for Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, among other important left-leaning politicos…

6. $1.5M was spent on landscaping, and now there are 1,600 boxwoods, 11,000 outdoor lights, several artificial streams, waterfalls, and stone bridges. Also, there’s a backyard teahouse with a koi pond and a reflecting pool…

2. The house was built by GTM Architects, and decorated by DC interior designer Skip Sroka, who is known for his methods for hiding electronic appliances (so as to not detract from faux-Old European flourishes). He spent three years decorating this “American palace,” as he called it in the Washington Post.

Two quick thoughts:

1. This is definitely a mansion, not a McMansion. Given the costs, 40,000 square feet, and the extra features, this is beyond normal McMansion territory. Indeed, I suspect a normal McMansion would definitely not be up to par for hosting important politicians.

2. I thought McMansions were for conservatives? The headline may be playing around with these stereotypes by suggesting that Democrats with money also live in and visit such homes. Going further, I would guess the homes of wealthy Republicans and Democrats may not differ all that much.

2014 Democrats echo 2012 Republicans in arguing political polls are skewed

Apparently, this is a strategy common to both political parties: when the poll numbers aren’t in your favor on the national stage, argue that the numbers are flawed.

The [Democratic] party is stoking skepticism in the final stretch of the midterm campaign, providing a mirror image of conservative complaints in 2012 about “skewed” polls in the presidential race between President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.

Democrats who do not want their party faithful to lose hope — particularly in a midterm election that will be largely decided on voter turnout — are taking aim at the pollsters, arguing that they are underestimating the party’s chances in November.

At the center of the storm, just as he was in 2012, is Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com…

This year, Democrats have been upset with Silver’s predictions that Republicans are likely to retake the Senate. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) mocked Silver at a fundraising luncheon in Seattle that was also addressed by Vice President Biden, according to a White House pool report on Thursday.

“Pollsters and polling have sort of elbowed their way to the table in terms of coverage,” Berkovitz said. “Pollsters have become high profile: They are showing up on cable TV all the time.”

This phenomenon, in turn, has led to greatly increased media coverage of the differences between polling analyses. In recent days, a public spat played out between Silver and the Princeton Election Consortium’s Sam Wang, which in turn elicited headlines such as The Daily Beast’s “Why is Nate Silver so afraid of Sam Wang?”

There are lots of good questions to ask about political polls, including looking at their sampling, the questions they ask, and how they make their projections. Yet, that doesn’t automatically mean that everything has been manipulated to lead to a certain outcome.

One way around this? Try to aggregate among various polls and projections. RealClearPolitics has a variety of polls in many races for the 2014 elections. Aggregation also helps get around the issue of celebrity where people like Nate Silver build careers on being right – until they are wrong.

At the most basic level, the argument about flawed polls is probably about turning out the base to vote. If some people won’t vote because they think their vote won’t overturn the majority, then you have to find ways to convince them that their vote still matters.

Examining the claim that “conservatives prefer suburban McMansions while liberals like urban enclaves”

The new report from Pew on political polarization reaffirms there is an urban/suburban divide in the electorate:

With disquieting predictability, 10,013 adults — respondents in the largest survey the Pew Research Center has ever conducted on political attitudes — answered according to their ideology. Seventy-seven percent of “consistently liberal” adults went with what sounded like the urban milieu: the dense neighborhood, the compact home, the “walkability.” Fully seventy-five percent of “consistently conservative” adults went with the polar opposite.

“It is an enduring stereotype – conservatives prefer suburban McMansions while liberals like urban enclaves – but one that is grounded in reality,” Pew concluded in the report released today.

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 5.41.50 PM

This is corroborated by other data: Democrats are centered in cities, Republicans in exurbs and more rural areas, and the parties fight over suburban votes.

Two interesting points from the tables above:

1. The first question describing more spread out areas versus cities is a double- or triple-barreled question that supposedly contrasts more suburban versus more urban areas. Maybe. Take the larger or smaller house part of the question. Plenty of wealthier urban residents own single-family homes or large condos or apartments – but these neighborhoods aren’t going to be as sprawling as many urban neighborhoods. But, even there, you would get some big differences between denser cities – the Northeast, Midwest, San Francisco – versus more sprawling city neighborhoods in places like Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, and other Sunbelt locations.

2. In the second chart, the real difference between conservatives and liberals is not that they have different opinions about suburbs: that holds relatively steady at around 20%. The bigger differences are between preferring cities versus small towns or rural areas. I’ve seen enough other data about small towns on surveys to think that there is quite a bit of overlap between suburbs and small towns. In other words, they are not mutually exclusive categories. Even some rural areas might still be suburbs, depending on their location within a metropolitan region or their proximity from the big city.

All together then, the suggestion that it is suburban McMansions versus cities is a bit misleading. Adding the label McMansion gets the point across about larger houses but it also adds a pejorative element to the mix.

More sprawl = more Republicans

Richard Florida summarizes research that shows cities with more sprawl have more Republicans:

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.