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Cities: The Key To Turning Red States Blue

by: countrycat

Mon Dec 03, 2012 at 09:43:48 AM CST

Much post-election commentary has focused on the GOP's demographic problem - particularly with Hispanic/Latino voters.  But Dave Troy pinpoints another trouble spot in a fascinating post at his blog: cities.  Troy cites population density as a top indicator of voting patterns and concludes that "red states are just underdeveloped blue states."

Curious about the correlation between population density and voting behavior, I began with analyzing the election results from the least and most dense counties and county equivalents. 98% of the 50 most dense counties voted Obama. 98% of the 50 least dense counties voted for Romney.

Troy examined the data and found the "crossover point." It's at approximately 800 people per square mile:

At about 800 people per square mile, people switch from voting primarily Republican to voting primarily Democratic. Put another way, below 800 people per square mile, there is a 66% chance that you voted Republican. Above 800 people per square mile, there is a 66% chance that you voted Democrat. A 66% preference is a clear, dominant majority.

Another, more complex chart that doesn't lend itself to being downsized (so please check it out at his blog), points out the main difference between the "blue" and "red" states.  The latter have very few cities, but the cities that are in those states tend to skew Democratic.  Examples include:

  • Boise, Idaho
  • Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Indianopolis, IN

And, closer to home.... Birmingham - where the GOP candidates were decimated last month.

The Atlantic Cities touched on Troy's article and reminded us that John Judas predicted this almost a decade ago.  In his book, The Emerging Democratic Majority, Judas wrote that new Democratic strongholds would be based on what what some observers call "the creative class" and the white working class:  (p143)

... it does lie in the new workforce of postindustrial America and in the fast-growing metropolitan areas where they live and work.  The key for Democratis will be in synthesizing Greenberg and Penn, - in discovering a strategy that retains support among the white working class, but also builds support among college-educated professionals and others in America's burgeoning ideopolises.  To do that, they don't have to choose between a populist politics and a politics that emphasizes the "quality of life."  They can do both, as Clinton began to demonstrate in 1996, but as Gore failed to do in 2000, largely because of factors that had nothing to do with the appeal of his politics.  The Democrats' future, and the promise of its new majority, lies in the rough synthesis represented by this progressive centrism.

In her book "Carry Me Home," a history of the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham, Diane McWhorter made much the same point the importance of educated citizens.  She wrote about the decline of Bull Connor and his savage tactics, noting that the tipping point in Birmingham happened when large numbers of more educated residents were drawn to the city by UAB, hospitals, financial services, etc.  Many of these people supported civil rights, but even those who weren't totally sympathetic to the the protestors were not willing to live in a city torn by strife and one with such a terrible national image.

A friend from Birmingham who's very active in the Democratic Party has insisted for years that the only way to put the ADP back in the game is to focus first on the cities: Huntsville, Birmingham, Mobile, & Montgomery. He's tired of the stranglehold that rural legislators have on the state government and wants the more urban county parties to work together to build an alternative.

So what do you think?  Is Alabama just an underdeveloped blue state?  The voting patterns in many of our cities mirror the national results in 2012.

Other formerly solid "red" states are slowly turning purple.  Why not us?   And how will we do it?


countrycat :: Cities: The Key To Turning Red States Blue
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I would argue not just cities, but college towns too. (4.00 / 1)

That, along with the black belt, really needs to be our focus in rebuilding the party.

We can't limit it to the big four along I-65, it has to also look at Tuscaloosa and Auburn, but also Florence, Jacksonville, Troy, Montevallo, and others. There are plenty of organizing opportunities here.

That said, this doesn't paint a full picture. The GOP has a stranglehold on the Alabam suburbs and exburbs right now, not just rural areas. We've got to develop a message that speaks to these folks. Black Democrats have done their job and supported the party in urban areas. The few whites living in those cities proper have largely done the same. We have to at some point also expand the reach of our party to those outside the city limits. That is a difficult and complicated process but there is not a way to victory without it in this state. 

That said, we can't ignore rural Alabama. Yes, Obama won big in the cities and that delivered him his victory, but he also spent plenty of time and money in rural areas (especially in Iowa, North Carolina, and Virginia) because he knew he had to hold down his margins in those locales.

you're right about college towns (0.00 / 0)

and you can look back to some of my previous posts to see my insistence on supporting small towns and rural voters in Alabama.

But I also know that we need to focus first on the places that might give us the highest return on our electoral investment.  Right now - in the short term - that's probably cities and college towns.  But it's a huge mistake to write off the rural areas forever.

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."  - John Kenneth Galbraith

[ Parent ]
Yes, the grand scheme is expansion (4.00 / 1)

However, let's remember at the moment aside from Birmingham and the Black Belt including Montgomery (by default), Alabama is still an anti-progressive state.  

As economically developed as Huntsville is it is still a predominately socially conservative and GOP-leaning city.  That should be a symbol of recognition of the ADP's weakness when it the second-most economically developed city cannot yield a blue county return then there is a lot of work to be done!

Mobile County has been a red county by a 54-45 split.  If that isn't a problem for the 2nd most populous county in Alabama then I don't know what is.  

I spent extended periods of time in both Auburn and Tuscaloosa on the UA and AU campuses.  These places are FAR FROM being the Athens or Chapel Hill of Alabama.   Unfortunately, these places are still relicts of old Southern traditions and conduits of the Old Guard/Good Old Boys' networks moreso than modern college life and progressive thoughts.  

Tuscaloosa will likely come around before Auburn due to its higher percentage of racial diversity in the city itself (54% white, 45% black) and the UA campus (10% black and 2% other).  

Auburn is lacking in the racial diversity category compared to most other Alabama cities of its size (75% white), and Auburn University isn't diverse either (less than 2% black and 5% other).  However, until these cultural issues shift then it will be more difficult for particularly Auburn to become more politically competitive than one might think.  I personally found it very embarrassing how socially conservative and devoid of racial diversity Auburn is compared to Tuscaloosa because Auburn is a de facto "Black Belt town" like Opelika.  All one has to do is look at the county level margin of victory in Lee County for the recent presidential election to see as proof of as to why...

A smarter strategy would be to focus on Anniston, Gadsden, Dothan, Troy, and Florence.  These locales have a significant number of working class whites and blacks that could be united with the right type of messaging and community leadership.   Also they possess the "small-town urban" feel that can be used to the ADP's advantage if the county parties can get their acts together. 

"Hypocrites are those whom pick and choose prejudices while giving accolades for their own..."

"It is what it is."  


[ Parent ]
In Mobile Co (4.00 / 3)
the split was more like 50/50 in this last election. Part of the problem down here has been getting Democratic voters to vote for ALL Democrats, based on ideology rather than a cult of personality.

I've got three tools in my arsenal: my voice, my wallet, and my vote.

[ Parent ]
Airbus (4.00 / 1)
Will significantly impact population density in both the city & county of Mobile. The phrase "hoist with his own petard" comes to mind.

I've got three tools in my arsenal: my voice, my wallet, and my vote.

Foxes in the Henhouse (4.00 / 1)
I think it's smart to focus on such a strategy, yet "we" have votes in rural areas for the taking. Steve Jarding and Dave "Mudcat" Saunders write about this in the book title I referenced above. It's not the Republican Lite some of "our" long-serving "leaders" so often try. Instead, it's framing, a little jujitsu politics, and the all important willingness to fight for values.

as I said (4.00 / 1)

in my reply to Bluebearcat...  I'm totally down with working to appeal to rural and small town voters because, well, I am one!

I think the lesson here is to go first for the "low hanging voters" and then let's try to broaden our base.  I don't ever want to see the Democratic Party writing off whole groups of voters in the way that the GOP does.  That's just not what we're about.

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."  - John Kenneth Galbraith

[ Parent ]
The strategy that will work for Alabama's urban areas... (4.00 / 1)
First thing, first!  You guys need to tackle the lack of enthusiasm for progressive candidates and issues in the Birmingham "Over-the-Mountain" suburbs like Homewood, Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, and Hoover.  
Also you guys need to work on taking down the GOP's hold of Shelby County because there are numerous working class and middle class households in this locale that can be wooed if the messaged is tailored right.  This type of messaging can be and should be applied to South Huntsville, Meridianville, and Madison in the Huntsville metro.  The same should be applied to West Mobile, Chickasaw, Saraland, Theodore, Tillmans' Corners, etc. in the Mobile metro area.  
This will at least yield a much closer margin overall in presidential elections.  As a result, this could be translated into more localized races for socially progressive candidates (and issues) that could win.  A positive consequence is the stronger possiblity for a moderate Democrat's chances to win a statewide race.

"Hypocrites are those whom pick and choose prejudices while giving accolades for their own..."

"It is what it is."  


Another aspect (4.00 / 1)

is to field candidates who have local experience.  We've seen well-meaning candidates who have no track record but suddenly decide to run for district or statewide office.

Disaster. They need to work their ways up from local offices--city council, mayor, etc. 


part of the reason for the statewide candidates (4.00 / 1)

suddenly popping up seemingly out of nowhere was the lock the Democrats had on legislative seats for so long.

I heard numerous young or "youngish" people who had strong connections in their communities and who wanted to run for the legislature.  But there were so many long-serving, entrenched people in the leg that were was just no opportunity.  Even in GOP-held seats, more than one would-be challenger was bluntly told by Paul Hubbert that the group wouldn't be supporting them because the GOP incumbent "voted with AEA" so there was no need for a change.

Now, at the time, Hubbert was also quite high up in the Alabama Democratic Party.

Perhaps the best thing to come out of the 2010 electoral disaster was the the field for challengers was opened up.  Our job now is to recruit candidates to challenge every seat and challenge them seriously.

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."  - John Kenneth Galbraith

[ Parent ]



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