When we envision our national identity, we often think of our flagship cities– New York City, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, Washington D.C., Dallas, etc. There’s little doubt that cities are the centerpiece of our regional distinctions and how we portray our geographic sense of belonging to others. Even though more than half of us now describe where we live as suburbs, we largely still identify with the closest urban area, and often commute there for work.
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The center of gravity of American civilization lies in urban areas, and suburban areas are only a phenomenon that grew out of mass car culture in the last century. Considering urban areas are the anchor of entire regions, it seems odd that the Republican Party almost completely ignores urban areas during campaign season.
Statistically, the numbers are pretty grim for the GOP in nearly every urban area across the United States. In New York City, for instance, there’s almost seven times as many Democrats as there are Republicans. Major cities in deeply red states like Texas, including Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, and Austin, all voted for Obama in 2012. Atlanta, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Birmingham, Tucson, Little Rock, and Charleston are all in the same boat–islands of Democrats in a sea of Republicans. Perhaps this statistic is most alarming for GOP strategists: 98 percent of the 50 most dense counties voted Obama. Nighty-eight percent of the 50 least dense counties voted for Romney.
In fact, areas that become denser tend to start voting Democratic after they pass a certain threshold. Blogger Dave Troy claims that after an area exceeds the 800 people per square mile mark, they’re pretty much a lost cause to the Republican Party (My hometown of Celebration, Florida is pretty close to passing that mark at about 700 people per square mile and growing).
The future of the Republican Party doesn’t look too hot. Young people tend to prefer cities over suburbs, and Millennial migration to urban areas doesn’t bode well for elections in the not-too-distant future. The perceived “conservative culture war” also turns off many economic conservatives in cities who would probably otherwise vote Republican.
“I can’t speak for them, but obviously, most Republican presidential candidates don’t run very hard in cities,” said Nicole Gelinas, a Searle Freedom Trust Fellow at Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, and a contributing editor of City Journal. “Both Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz thought it was perfectly electorally OK to insult New York, for example. It would be wise for GOP candidates to try a bit harder in cities. Long-term, the world is urbanizing, and many suburban residents, too, want their towns to be more walkable and more urban.”
Republican’s lack of popularity can largely be explained by racial demographics. Urban areas are often demographically categorized as “minority-majority,” where non-Hispanic white people are outnumbered by everyone else. It’s pretty well documented that minorities tend to favor the Democratic Party. When Republicans write-off cities, they’re writing off millions of potential non-white voters.
“Republicans view the getting the black vote as a special project,” said Rev. Council Nedd, an Anglican Archbishop and founder of the Project 21 Black Leadership Network “When Ronald Reagan ran for president and re-election he walked into every room with the idea of winning every single vote available by engaging voters directly and honestly. Unfortunately, things have changed in the party, and we saw that when the Romney campaign decided to write-off whole swaths of the electorate.”
Many say campaign spending decisions that pass over urban areas only make the GOP’s urban problem worse. “Obviously, you cannot win votes in an area that you don’t spend money in–this has to change,” said Stacy Washington, also a member of Project 21 and host of the Stacy on the Right Show, broadcast on 97.1 FM News Talk in St. Louis, Missouri. “Democrats live in suburbs as well, and they perform outreach efforts to every voting block. We (Republicans) should do the same.”
Others claim the Republican Party isn’t entirely to blame for their lack of popularity in urban areas. Some of the yawning Republican voter deficit in cities is due to changing demographics that have occurred in recent decades.
“Part of the explanation of urban voting trends is demographic. The middle class voters who previously supported Republicans like Rudy Giuliani have in great part either died or moved out, said Aaron M. Renn a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and a Contributing Editor at City Journal. “Television may still portray archetypal blue collar urbanites like the King of Queens, but increasingly cities are demographically wealthy, educated whites; minorities; and the poor, all of which are structurally Democratic constituencies.”
As America becomes more urban and less white, the odds are stacked against the Republican Party. Gerrymandering, or drawing voting districts in a certain party’s favor can only buy so much time, as demographic trends are pointing to a stronger Democratic Party down the road.
In sum, GOP’s urban problem is quickly becoming an everywhere problem. In the face of a grim future for the Republican Party, perhaps it’s time the party took a good look at itself and made sure that its platform and policies aren’t titled toward certain constituencies at the expense of others. Republicans strategically writing off urban areas during campaigns doesn’t change reality. Cities will continue to be the nexus of our economy and identity. If the GOP chooses to ignore them, it will only galvanize a future of Democratic dominance.
David is the Editor of Bold. He's especially passionate about millennial economic empowerment. A former local news reporter, David is originally from the Little Havana area in Miami, and later became a pioneer resident of the Disney-inspired town of Celebration, Florida. David holds a Master’s in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.