Why Suburbia Will Decide the Future
Welcome to the future of American politics. The US population is changing in major ways that will likely alter the balance in politics and economics to the advantage of Republican-leaning red states, as well as suburbs and exurbs across the country.
Recent census numbers spell out several critical shifts in the US population. These were evident before the pandemic but they have also been accelerated by it. Some regions are clearly ascendant, and others are fading. As the population shifts towards states in the south and the intermountain west, the political order will follow, as these places are set to gain more congressional seats and electoral-college votes for presidential elections.
The biggest population losses over the past year took place in three key states: New York, California and Illinois. Meanwhile, Florida, Texas, Arizona and South Carolina had the greatest gains. Virtually all the states with the highest economic growth, the fastest job growth and the highest fertility rates tend to lean to the GOP. These also tend to be more culturally conservative states.
The other major shift transcends state boundaries: America is becoming increasingly suburbanised. Suburbs account for about 90 per cent of all growth in the US’s metropolitan areas since 2010. Between 2010 and 2020, the suburbs and exurbs of the major metropolitan areas gained two million net domestic migrants, while the urban core counties lost 2.7million people.
We have seen an accelerated and marked decline in urban-core populations over the past two years, driven by the rise of online work, rising crime and worsening public health. There has also been a shift, particularly since the pandemic, to less congested, less regulated and less taxed places. Surprisingly, this even includes rural areas. The same goes for businesses, where investment in corporate real estate is moving away from dense urban areas.
These shifts in population are continuing to rewrite the political map. In 1960, New York accounted for 45 electoral votes while Texas had 24 and Florida 10. In 2024, New York will be down to just 28, while Texas will get 40 and Florida will get 30. California, the one great blue-tilted megastate, still leads all other states with 54 votes in 2024, but this is down by one vote since 2020, due to below-average population growth.
The other big winners will be the suburbs, home to at least 40 per cent of all House seats. The political future will be particularly determined by the faster-growing suburbs of cities like Dallas, Houston, Austin, Phoenix, Nashville, Orlando and Tampa. But the suburban trend applies to blue states as well, with suburban growth easily outstripping the core urban counties in places like Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area, New York and Washington, DC.
Most analysts agree that whichever party appeals most to suburban and exurban voters will be in the driving seat. For now, these demographic trends seem likely to help the GOP more than the Democrats.
Yet things are far from certain. Both the suburbs and red states are rapidly diversifying. And they are attracting more millennials, who are generally seen as holding more socially progressive views. The fact that the millennial generation is the largest in American history has led some analysts to prematurely proclaim that ‘progressives control the future’. You could see signs of this in the strong vote this week against abortion restrictions in Kansas. This was largely propelled by voters in Johnson County, a popular place for young families located across the river from the core of Kansas City, Missouri.
These results suggest suburban politics are fundamentally competitive. In 2018, the last Midterm elections, Democrats performed far better in the suburbs than in 2014, benefiting from a widespread disgust among suburbanites with Donald Trump’s behaviour and the increasing stridency of some of his supporters. In 2020, the so-called Democratic flip zone moved further out towards the exurbs. Joe Biden was able to win not just the big city cores, which are reliably Democratic, but also the suburbs. By one analysis, Biden won 51 per cent of the suburban vote, up from the 47 per cent that Hillary Clinton won four years earlier.
Read the rest of this piece at Spiked.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.
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