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The Democratic City of the Future
A new Democratic majority is emerging uniting city and suburb against still Republican rural areas according to authors John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira.
It has been common to think of cities as places where Democrats win elections, and suburbs and rural areas as the basis for Republican victories. Race has been a key factor in this. Black folks live in cities; white folks in suburbs, at least in the northern parts of the country. Democrats became the party of blacks through support for civil rights especially in the 1960’s. The Republican Party, starting with Barry Goldwater who voted against civil rights legislation, has in various ways opposed those programs and policies helpful to black people and thus gained the support of whites. Contestation between Democratic cities and the Republican suburbs has characterized politics since the 1960’s. Rural areas and suburbs have combined to elect Republican presidents such as Richard Nixon, George Bush, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush.
If a new analysis of demographic and voting patterns is correct, Republicans are going to be left in the future with only rural areas which are declining in population. The city will be a Democratic city but will now also include its surrounding suburban areas. The voting patterns of people living in suburbs in most major metropolitan areas around the country are changing. These metropolitan areas will be electing Democratic presidents in the future, according to John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira in their book “The Emerging Democratic Majority”, if that party is capable of fielding the candidates and engaging in the campaigns that appeal to this new Democratic realignment of voters.
Race continues to be a factor, but in a different way. One of the new voting groups identified by these authors as living in the suburbs and becoming more Democratic is professionals, including all those now working in the information and service economy. Those professionals have gone to school, perhaps one of the major universities usually located in these changing metropolitan communities. It occurred to me reading this book that perhaps the inclusiveness promoted in university settings over the last three decades has had an important effect. The new professionals living in the suburbs affirm values of openness and diversity and reject blatant racist appeals in politics. They vote for Democratic candidates to promote racial tolerance and equal opportunity. If this analysis is correct then George W. Bush has recently helped push professionals to the Democratic Party by his lack of support for affirmative action in Michigan.
These professionals support the notion of a regulated capitalism to protect the quality of air and water, the consumer against unfair or unhealthy business practices, and the safety of workers in the workplace. They are in this way unlike “managers” who still support the notion promoted by the Republican Party that the best government is the least government which means that corporations can do whatever they want. These authors suggest that if George W. Bush had honestly told the American people what his policies would be on the environment, consumer safety, and health care, he would never have been elected.
The authors focus on three other groups of voters in their analysis: women, minorities, and the white working class. Though the white working class turned against the Democrats because of race and to Reagan in the 1980’s, during the 1990’s they have returned to support Democratic candidates by significant majorities. In Seattle’s King County Gore won the working class vote by a percentage of 50-42; in Multnomah County of Portland, Oregon that vote went to Gore 71-24 percent. The white working class in the advancing metropolitan areas tends to vote similar to professionals and the difference between male and female voters in these areas is declining.
Women represent a major shift in social life in the last decades which has created a central issue raised by the religious right. It is not just a matter of abortion rights, the religious right promotes a view of the role of women in family and society that is against the growing and prevailing understandings of the great majority of both men and women in society today. The fact that the Republican Party has aligned itself with the religious right means that it increasingly will lose its ability to successfully appeal to this majority of the culture. The book describes several elections where the Republicans fielded right wing candidates which the voters rejected.
And minorities themselves vote Democratic by very large percentages, and are growing as a percentage of the population. Not only blacks, but Hispanics are increasingly voting Democratic because of political blunders by Republicans (in California Republicans have alienated the growing Hispanic vote so completely that Democrats can expect to dominate the political culture there for a long time). And Asian-Americans are increasing their numbers in the country and tend to vote Democratic. Chinese-Americans, the largest Asian minority, backed Al Gore over George W. Bush by 64-21 percent.
The authors conclude that: “It is fair to assume that if Democrats can consistently take professionals by about 10 percent, working women by about 20 percent, keep 75 percent of the minority vote, and get close to an even split of white working-class voters, they will have achieved a new Democratic majority.”
Historically, Republicans were the party of the North and Midwest, Democrats the party of the South. Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition put together the South with growing cities in the North, Midwest and Far West. In the 1980s Reagan Republicans captured the South as it turned against the Democrats for support of civil rights for blacks (as had been forecast by Lyndon Johnson), the Sunbelt and southern California, along with its traditional constituencies in the Midwest. The new emerging Democratic majority includes the Northeast, the upper Midwest over to Minnesota, the Pacific Northwest, and, significantly, the whole state of California. These states represent a block of 260 electoral votes out of the gate, just ten short of the number needed to win the presidential election. Other states, such as Florida, are becoming more and more Democratic as well, as they are influenced by growing postindustrial metropolitan areas.
If the political culture of city and suburb is realigning in support of Democratic politics it means that Democrats will have an advantage in national elections. And it may also mean that it will be increasingly possible for metropolitan areas to more easily address metropolitan issues effectively. There may be more interest in the work of metropolitan planning and policy agencies on transportation, land use, and environmental concerns, along with economic development. In these areas, for example, everyone knows from their own experience that government must play an appropriate role in the ongoing life of the city, integrating the various technological infrastructures that make life possible in the city. The Republican party, now captured by anti-government extremists, does not seriously provide the ideas or context for being able to address metropolitan issues.
But the nation will continue to be divided between city and rural areas. It is in rural America where people are more open to have politicians appeal to religion in public and personal life. It is there where there is such strong anti-government sentiment, in spite of the fact that without massive federal funding farmers would not be able to make an adequate income. It is in rural areas that the religious right and anti-gun control zealots have their primary followings. The traditional “city-country” cultural division is becoming politically defined in ever more sharper ways, the Republican country over against the Democratic city.
A sign of that division is seen in a proposal now being put forward to create a new state composed the eastern rural sections of Oregon and Washington. Both states have their primary metropolitan areas on the west coast separated from their eastern territories by the Cascade Mountains. Though not taken seriously, the proposal indicates the perceived cultural division between the rural and city areas. Folks in the eastern sections do not feel their interests are being adequately addressed by the state political process.
An even more extreme position is being taken by a group of libertarians who on their website are trying to recruit 20,000 persons who would be willing to move to the state of Wyoming and take over the political process there in order to dramatically reduce the role of government. These are folks who do not apparently want to live in the city under the government that is needed in the city to manage the intricacies of urban life.
The anti-government attitude of rural Americans means they are not able to elect politicians who promote appropriate government involvement in rural economic development. In Norway, to take one example, government establishes policies for where corporations can locate manufacturing facilities; the policies promote locations of new industries in rural areas. Rural cities and towns are able to thrive. In this country majorities of rural Americans vote for politicians who do not believe in giving government a role in managing economic behavior. The result has been decline of rural America. In the meantime it survives based on agricultural welfare programs.
Rural Americans elect politicians based on negatives, they are against government, against protection and wise management of air and water, against the city, against the open culture of modernity. The Republican Party has been aligning itself with this negative attitude. Republican candidates tend to express themselves with fear and anger, and many continue to use race scare tactics to get elected. Such tactics no longer work in the city. Hopefully, the authors of The Emerging Democratic Majority are right since otherwise it will be very bad for the city as well as for the countryside.
I would hope, too, that the Democratic Party would not give up on rural America. There are many exceptions to my general analysis above. North Dakota, a rural state with declining population that is placed in the Republican camp for presidential elections, now has two Democratic senators both of whom are providing important leadership in the Senate on federal budget priorities and economic development. If there is one thing that could be done by rural Americans to enter the mainstream of contemporary political culture it would be to explicitly reject the influence of the religious right. The fact that Republican candidates appeal to this culturally hysterical rhetoric in rural America may be a major factor in its decline and isolation from the metropolitan areas of the country. Rural Americans deserve better than Republican anti-government candidates who get elected through the negativity of the religious right.
On the local level the religious right cannot have undue influence unless they hide their positions (a strategy they have tried to use). People reject their excesses. But on the national level the religious right, led by television preachers, has been able to have a vast influence beyond its numbers. This is due to the extreme patriotism of religious right proponents since they believe the United States is a Christian country destined to lead the world. On the national level the religious right augments the Republican position for a strong military. Conservative columnist George Will in a recent column in an almost giddy manner wrote how much he appreciated the events of the 1960s, especially the anti-Vietnam war movement, because they were responsible for the conservative backlash which has been carrying Republican candidates ever since. Despite the fact that based on local issues the Democrats will have an emerging majority over the next decade, it is true that in foreign policy and national security the situation is not so clear.
The one person most helped by the 9/11 attacks is George W. Bush. His job approval rating before the attacks was only 50 percent, a historical low for a president in his first year. One man, Osama bin Laden, has changed the context of American national politics and encouraged the American people to rally around their president. Bush has used this extraordinary opportunity to continue to push for very conservative Republican domestic proposals, he even believes that the schools of America should teach the creation science advocated by the religious right. At this time he is using his popularity to push for a war with Iraq despite the fact that he has been unable to articulate a compelling case for the war among the American or European people. How that war goes will be a big factor in the coming presidential election in 2004.
It is true that keeping war at the top of the public agenda means that George W. Bush is able to avoid full debate about his domestic policies and programs. If such debate characterizes the 2004 election, it is clear according to the analysis of Judis and Teixeira, candidates of the Democratic Party will have the advantage.
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