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Friday, May 2, 2014 01:00 pm

Dense voters

 Emily Badger, who covers urban policies for the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, flagged for her readers a recent Wall Street Journal article about how once-Republican inner-ring suburbs of our big cities are turning Democratic. The results, she writes, suggest a larger relationship between population density and politics.


In the 2012 election…Dems overwhelmingly have a lock on the kinds of places where people live close together, Republicans on the kinds of places where people are more spread out. In 2012 Barack Obama won 49 of the 50 densest counties in the U.S., and Mitt Romney 49 percent of the 50 least dense. That trend holds steady even beyond the extremes of the density spectrum.


This also suggests that there might be a tipping point somewhere in between the poles of crowded Manhattan and rural Montana, a density below which people are more likely to vote Republican, and above which they're more likely to vote Democratic. That would be the point around which a previously red county -- say, an older suburb -- might become dense enough as to lean blue in an election. Looking back at 2012 election results by county, software developer Dave Troy has suggested that this might occur around a density of about 800 people per square mile.


This all might be news to readers of the Wall Street Journal, but not to readers of this paper. Last December, in a column titled Crowdsourcing presidential choice, I offered the example of one of Chicago’s inner-ring suburbs, Oak Park, to make that very point.

Badger concludes by asking,  


But why exactly are population density and politics linked in this way? Are Democrats more likely to self-select for denser places and Republicans for less-dense ones? Or does density itself create policy concerns -- like the need for mass transit, affordable housing, and anti-poverty programs -- that are more naturally addressed by Democrats?


No mystery there. As I noted in December, the politics of city dwellers is indeed rooted somehow in the experience of living in cities.


Interdependence – of people, organizations and systems – is the very essence of cities and the more time one spends in them the plainer it becomes that every class is dependent on the others. City life schools a person in tolerance. If city people tend to reject confrontational politics it’s because they see every day its costs; every outing is a lesson in the virtues of compromise.
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