The Republicans’ urban problem


The turnout in Paul Ryan’s Milwaukee – for President Obama

In a post-election interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, said “the president should get credit for achieving record-breaking turnout numbers from urban areas for the most part, and that did win the election for him.” Ryan’s critics noted that President Barack Obama also fared well in states like Iowa, where the urban vote is relatively small. Some even suggested that Ryan’s remarks were a kind of racial code, in which “urban areas” served as a stand-in for black and Latino voters. Yet Ryan’s observation speaks to a deeper truth that should trouble Republicans.

Although rural regions dominate the map of the contiguous United States, an overwhelming majority of Americans live in urban and suburban areas. Democrats have long dominated dense urban cores. But Democrats increasingly dominate dense inner suburbs—as opposed to sprawling outer suburbs, where Republicans still hold their own—as well, and the share of the population concentrated in dense suburban counties is steadily increasing. This is true not only among Latino, black, and Asian voters living in these communities, but of white voters as well…

Rather than fixate on ethnicity, conservatives would do well to think more about urbanity. What is it about life in America’s densest, most productive, and most economically stratified metropolitan areas that persuades voters to back Democrats? When this phenomenon was limited to the populous coastal metropolitan areas, it could reasonably be explained away as a product of regional political polarization. But the leftward trend in urban areas is chipping away at the GOP’s advantage in the South and the Mountain West as well.

Among conservatives, there is a broad post-election consensus that America’s demographic transformation represents a serious challenge for a Republican Party that is disproportionately backed by white Anglos and voters over the age of 65. Thus many on the right have called on congressional Republicans to embrace comprehensive immigration reform as part of a larger effort to woo Latino voters. The pushback has been that Latino voters tend to be less affluent and more likely to rely on anti-poverty programs such as SNAP and Medicaid, and so it is hardly surprising that they are more inclined to support Democrats. What is more striking, however, is that Asian-American voters, a relatively affluent group, favored Obama by 73 percent to 26 percent. One possible explanation is that Asian-Americans are heavily concentrated in dense coastal regions, where they vote much like white Anglos with similar educational profiles and religious beliefs. That is, secular college-educated Asian Americans appear to be about as hostile to the GOP as secular college-educated white Anglos, which is to say very much so…

For much of the postwar era, Republicans flourished in inner suburbs, which were in many cases populated by families that had fled the chaos and disorder of cities plagued by violent crime and scarred by misbegotten urban renewal projects that drained cities of vitality….Yet over the past two decades, violent crime has sharply decreased…Regardless of the underlying explanation for the decline in crime, the politics of law-and-order is no longer salient…

This will have to be the next frontier for conservatives. Liberals have answers for inner suburban voters. They propose raising taxes on the top 2 or 3 percent of households to increase funding for local public schools and infrastructure; to boost salaries for public employees while also expanding their ranks; to offer subsidized insurance coverage to the poor and the middle class; and to subsidize other expenses middle-income families incur in the course of a lifetime….Conservatives will have to explain how and why they can do a better job of delivering high-quality public services more efficiently. They need to demonstrate that they can successfully tackle quality-of-life issues like traffic congestion that are in many regions vitally important economic issues as well….This effort has to be connected to a broader narrative about how to make America’s communities thrive. Until that happens, urban areas will continue to sink the GOP.

The GOP will also continue to sink the GOP. Look at that last paragraph! Most of the folks populating today’s Republican Party will give a very different answer to the questions raised about quality public services. Their answer will be that public services needn’t be improved – just diminished or ended. They would rather put a stop to public education and community services than to innovate with better public education and productive community-improvements.

Think that’s going to win elections?

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One comment

  1. Wolf

    The GOP did have some urban presence in the past,and even controlled some big cities like Indianapolis,and made some gains even in Jersey City,NYC,and LA at one point.In Philadelphia,Pa the party always had some power.Starting with the Neoconservative/Fundamentalist takeover of the GOP in the 90’s.The Republican support in those places collapsed to ZERO.Sophisticated (many former moderate GOP)city voters,the elderly,poor and hard workers are properly not buying what the extreme GOP of today is selling.Based narrowly,and dogmatic; refusing to adapt,or except a moderate,or even traditional conservative wing.Today’s GOP cannot win there or nationally like this.Even if pulling it off.They will govern in dangerous national disunity.

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