The Real Republican Adversary? Population Density

The 2012 election demonstrated what many people could have guessed: rural states voted for Romney while densely populated states voted for Obama.

Many have offered explanations — everything from the presence of top universities in cities, to the prevalence of immigrant and African American populations. Perhaps the Republicans should consider running a Hispanic or African American candidate in 2016; but will that really help? Is identity the issue, or is it more about values?

Or is something more basic at work? Studying election results county by county, a stunning pattern emerges.

Population Density: the Key to Voting Behavior?

Curious about the correlation between population density and voting behavior, I began with analyzing the election results from the least and most dense counties and county equivalents. 98% of the 50 most dense counties voted Obama. 98% of the 50 least dense counties voted for Romney.

This could not be a coincidence. Furthermore, if the most dense places voted overwhelmingly for Obama, and the least dense places voted overwhelmingly for Romney, then there must be a crossover point: a population density above which Americans would switch from voting Republican to voting Democratic.

So I normalized and graphed the data, and there is a clear crossover point.

At about 800 people per square mile, people switch from voting primarily Republican to voting primarily Democratic. Put another way, below 800 people per square mile, there is a 66% chance that you voted Republican. Above 800 people per square mile, there is a 66% chance that you voted Democrat. A 66% preference is a clear, dominant majority.

So are progressive political attitudes a function of population density? And does the trend hold true in both red and blue states?

Red States and Blue States

Separating the results from red states and blue states, we can see that while each has a slight preference for their ultimate candidate of choice, on a local level voting behavior is still directly correlated to population density.

Studying this graph, two important facts are revealed. First, there are very few cities in red states. Second, the few dense cities that do exist in red states voted overwhelmingly democratic.

Atlanta, New Orleans, St. Louis, Dallas, and Indianapolis are all in red states — and they all voted blue. And there are no true “cities” in red states that voted red. The only cities in red states that didn’t vote blue were Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City. And by global standards, they are not really cities — each has population density (about 1,000/sq. mi.) less than suburban Maryland (about 1,500/sq. mi.).

Historically, one can argue that red states have disproportionately affected election results by delivering a material number of electoral votes.

Red states simply run out of population at about 2,000 people per square mile. St. Louis is the only city that exceeds that density in a red state. It voted overwhelmingly Democratic (82.7%). In contrast, blue states contain all of the country’s biggest and densest cities: Washington DC, New York City, San Francisco, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston, etc.

Red States Are Just Underdeveloped Blue States

As cities continue to grow in red states, those cities will become more blue, and ultimately, those states will become more purple, and then blue. The Republican party says it’s about growth and prosperity; the best way to achieve that in red states is through the growth of cities.

If you follow the red state trend lines, you can clearly see that any dense, fast-growing cities that might emerge in red states will be very likely to vote blue. The few that do already exist already vote blue. How would these new cities be different and cause them to vote red?

Red state voters generally prefer low-density housing, prefer to drive cars, and are sensitive to gas prices. Once population density gets to a certain level, behaviors switch: high-density housing is the norm, public transit becomes more common, and gas use (and price sensitivity) drops.

Red state values are simply incompatible with density.

Cities Are the Future

Globally, cities are growing rapidly as people move from rural to urban areas in search of opportunity. By 2030 it’s estimated that cities will grow by 590,000 square miles and add an additional 1.47 billion people.

Only subsidized suburban housing and fuel prices are insulating the United States from this global trend, and even with these artificial bulwarks, there is no good reason to think that America’s future lies in low-density development.

Density is efficient. Density produces maximum economic output. An America that is not built fundamentally on density and efficiency is not competitive or sustainable. And a Republican party that requires America to grow inefficiently will become extinct.

While the Republican party is retooling in the desert, it should carefully consider whether its primary issue is identity politics or whether its platform is simply not compatible with the global urban future. If that’s the case, an Hispanic candidate running on the same old Republican platform will simply not resonate. The Republican party must develop a city-friendly platform to survive.

Cities are the future and we need candidates from both parties that understand that reality.

The next question: why does population density produce these voting behaviors? Is the relationship causal or correlated? Probably both. I’ll explore this in my next post.
Data Source: US Census 2010 (population density by counties); election 2012 results by County.


#1 Joseph Zuccaro on 11.19.12 at 6:21 pm

Interesting analysis, Dave – you’re on to something.  Additionally, the density of cities allows for the economies of scale to deliver amenities -sports arenas, parks, museums – through public funding that people enjoy and want to continue, in addition to valuing social programs that aid the less fortunate/capable.    The challenge is making this sustainable, and history has shown time after time that well intentioned efforts evolve into panem et circenses that eventually bankrupt the civilization. Whether it is in the form of a Republican party or some entity by another name, there may be a need for some faction that tempers the notion that a municipality or civilization “can do it all.”  Everything has a lifecycle, even cities and political movements, and we need to make sure that what we think is a “natural evolution” or “ends” is not merely a peak before an imminent collapse.  Does that make sense?  Peace.

#2 The real Republican adversary? Population density « Later On on 11.19.12 at 3:54 pm

[…] the population density goes above 800/sq mile, watch out, Republicans! Fascinating post pointed out by The Eldest. Rate […]

#3 Dave Troy on 11.19.12 at 8:34 pm

Rome survived the collapse of the Roman Empire. Athens will (again) survive the collapse of Greece. Cities are where humans go to create value. The basic point I’m making is that the drive towards cities is inexorable; building a voting bloc on the opposing premise was temporarily viable but ultimately doomed.

#4 Paul Williams on 11.19.12 at 9:03 pm

Fascinating analysis. Your comment about “subsidized suburban housing” is going to turn some heads. I don’t think many people in the suburbs think of their lifestyle as one that is being subsidized. Most will be shocked to see the actual numbers. Your analysis also raises the obvious possibility that people are simply voting in their own self interest. If I live 20 miles from the nearest library, court house or public park, I’m less likely to be interested in paying for something I’ll never use. If I live in the city and it’s within walking distance and a million other people are chipping in then I’m more likely to vote for it.

#5 Dave Troy on 11.19.12 at 9:11 pm

Yes, I do think it’s basically an expression of self interest; folks in cities are more likely to see the value of government than those in rural areas.

And yes, suburban housing has most surely been subsidized; indirectly, by local tax policies which rely on continuous growth to pay their current bills (see: pyramid scheme), and directly by monetary policy that fueled the housing suburban construction boom. We’ve already seen the latter subsidy break down. When the infrastructure bills come due for low-density areas, (water infrastructure replacement, etc) and when growth slows or stops, the suburban subsidy will come to an end. We’re already seeing some of this shift starting to happen in Ohio.

#6 Wally Pinkard on 11.19.12 at 5:39 pm

Cities also often show first hand just how bad, corrupt, and inefficient government can be. I think that certain aspects of the Republican Platform can work with cities.

#7 Dave Troy on 11.19.12 at 5:48 pm

For the most part that’s a recent peculiarity of American cities. The period of intense civic neglect from roughly 1965-present is what has led to the civic problems in American cities. For an example of what the future might hold, New York City politics is, at this point, not nearly as dysfunctional as it once was.

One major problem that happens when one party neglects a significant part of the population, as the Republicans have done, is that there is no true marketplace for ideas in heavily red or blue areas. I’ll be writing more about this.

#8 The Problem With the Republican Party | SNS Post on 11.19.12 at 6:45 pm

[…] The Real Republican Adversary? Population Density […]

#9 Martin Unterholzner on 11.20.12 at 3:11 pm

Actually this is an interesting analysis. Surely, voters in cities have different concerns than people in low-density-areas. You mentioned already the most important ones.

Still, I believe that the implications and the “pubblicity” that you mention in favour increasing the density, is too superficial.

Obviously, it is true that density is efficient. But it is efficient if you assume that the circumstances don’t change. This is actually the mistake that politicians make all the time all over the world: they do not look beyond the current circumstances.

Your arguments favouring the increase of density based on today’s circumstances are similar to policitian’s arguments favouring fossil energy (because “renewables are too costly”, “don’t deliver enough energy”, etc.).

For this reason, I pose the one provoking question:

If we had a perfect (safe, clean and cheap) logistic concept, would cities exist?

Some questions and observations about potential changes that we might get in the near future:
What are the reasons, why high-density-living is more efficient?
Why and in what way is the suburban life-style subsidized?
What would happen if we really had 100% renewables together with an innovative logistic concept that works well in suburban environment? More concretely, I want to mention the current drawbacks of mobility based on cars: they pollute and are dangerous.
With 100% renewables and powerful batteries they would not pollute anymore (if the Americans don’t invent these batteries, the Germans or the Chinese will do it). Germany produces almost 30% of its required energy with renewables.
Google driverless cars made more than 300,000 miles (so far without accidents). This would make cars safe. Sebastian Thrun, the leader of the project up to some months ago, predicted that the technology is ready to be used in 10 to 15 years. Google already initiated one revolution… they have the know-how and the resources to push through.

The trend to move to cities is new, actually very new. It started with the industrial revolution after humans living for thousands of years in rural environments.
As technology of the past centuries brought us to the cities, technology of the 21st and 22nd century could bring us back to the rural environment, still offering every convenience and advantage of the cities.

#10 Dave Troy on 11.20.12 at 3:23 pm

I could (and may) write several posts in reply to this. But for now:

1) Cities provide face-to-face interaction which is key for ideation and creativity in the knowledge-based economy that much of the world is moving towards; it’s also helpful for manufacturing and trade.

2) A “perfect logistic” mode would have to collapse both distance and energy cost. Distance costs time, energy costs money (and environmental externalities). A low-density distribution of people with solar driverless cars still has to overcome travel time in order to interact with other people. And I think people generally will be increasingly unwilling to pay the costs associated with travel time.

Overall I think technology will enable people to stay connected while they are away from dense areas, but low-density living offers no clear long-term advantage at scale and as such seems unsustainable.

There is clear evidence that cities are economic engines and that density produces maximum economic output. Jane Jacobs’ “Economy of Cities” is one study of many.

#11 slrdc on 11.20.12 at 3:23 pm

I don’t understand the coloring or placement of the state dots on your main graph. Why is IL shown as having 0 population density (should be 231) and voting 41% for Obama?

#12 Dave Troy on 11.20.12 at 3:25 pm

The range represented in that section is from 0 to 50, and the highest density county in that range happens to be in Illinois. The labels on those curves are samples of the highest density places in those ranges.

#13 Greg on 11.21.12 at 11:22 am

It makes sense to me that if any entity puts something of value in the middle of a densely populated area, it will garner more public support than if it is out in the exurbs. This in turn will attract more of these things of value. People in a city will likely vote to fund an arts center for example. Once funded they will then likely vote for continued funding or at least vote in reaction to any threat of its demise. In a dense area you also get the sense that you will be paying for these things along with all the other people around you. It seems like it won’t cost you as much since it is shared with so many others. When you move out to the farmland this feeling shifts to the thought that you and maybe 10 other people will be paying for it.

#14 mlewyn on 11.24.12 at 9:30 pm

Correlation does not imply causation. Just because dense areas voted Democratic does not mean density is a causal factor. In particular, central cities tend to be more racially diverse, and their white electorates are more likely to be single and (I suspect) younger and have postgraduate degrees. Since nonwhites and highly educated young singles are more likely to be Democrats, the differences you identify are at least partially due to factors unrelated to density.

#15 davetroy on 11.25.12 at 7:20 pm

Yes, of course. However, there are specific lines of inquiry that can be pursued which can help prove some level of causality. I’ll be writing more about those ideas soon.

Quoting Edward Tufte:

1. Empirically observed covariation is a necessary but not sufficient condition for causality.
2. Correlation is not causation but it sure is a hint.

If you have a simpler, single variable to propose, please do so. Diversity is a big factor, to be sure, and it co-occurs with density.

It’s obviously possible to build extremely complex models to explain voting behaviors; I’m looking for the simplest possible explanations.

#16 Justin Antos on 11.26.12 at 12:57 pm

This is great stuff, thanks for the good work! I agree that while this is not a huge model controlling for everything, anytime you find a strong univariate correlation, it can be the sign of something deeper.

On the first chart – how did you derive the two lines? Can you show the scatter plot with dots for all counties, and the r-squared on the relationship between density and voting?

#17 Kevin_Kelly on 11.26.12 at 7:39 pm

Dave, I had recently asked Richard Florida (The Creative Class guy) if there were any red cities in the US and today he referred me to your posting. It’s a very thorough answer. Thanks greatly.

The second question I asked Florida and will ask you is, is this a worldwide phenom?

Are there any places in the world where the cities are more conservative than the surrounding areas?

Final phrasing: Can one usefully
described a city as “an area of dense population more progressive
than its surrounding areas.”?

#18 davetroy on 11.26.12 at 7:55 pm

Kevin, first it’s great to hear from you. I’m a big fan of your work.

I have certainly wondered the same thing, and as an amateur analyst, I don’t think I can offer a meaningful answer yet.

My impression is that this is a worldwide phenomenon, and the fact that much of the rest of the developed world is concentrated in cities (as in Europe, for example) has meant that much of the rest of the world has identified most strongly with Progressive American political candidates.

However, to really draw a meaningful conclusion, I think you’d need to also consider the historical trends as well. Were people in cities always more progressive? I think you can find evidence on both sides. Union organizers, yes; robber barons, less so.

Greg Grandin’s book “Fordlandia” mentions how Henry Ford basically invented the suburb as a way to keep his own unions from organizing; if everyone lives in a box a prescribed distance from everyone else and uses their Model T to get to work, there’s less of a chance of them getting together on Thursday nights to organize — and more chance they’ll be interested in defending what’s theirs against their neighbor.

I think brain science (anterior cingulate cortex vs. amygdala) and social network theory (see Nick Christakis, James Fowler, Duncan Watts) can help establish a causal relationship between density and progressive attitudes, and I’ll be writing more about that in my next post.

Long term, I think really understanding this phenomenon well can help lead to possible avenues for unwinding some of the world’s most intractable problems, and I find that prospect endlessly compelling.

#19 Isaac Rabinovitch on 11.26.12 at 8:54 pm

This is darn interesting. Does anybody else see a parallel with the social and economic changes leading up to the Civil War? The southern states got stuck on the Jefferson-Jackson model of Americans as self-sufficient agriculturalists long after the northern states moved to a model of industrial development. So the northern economy was dependent on capitalism and immigrant labor, while the southern economy was dependent on large land holdings and slave labor. The resulting growth in the northern economy destroyed the south’s ability to dominate federal politics, causing them to throw a very violent snit.

Ironically, this is is the social revolution that led to the creation of the Republican party. For a long tie, it was the party of business, with both conservative and liberal wings. Then in the 60s the social liberalism of the Democratic party disaffected southern Democrats. (LBJ famously remarked that he was destroying his own party’s southern wing when he signed the Civil Rights Act.) The GOP moved to the right to accommodate these “Dixiecrats”, a strategy that is now backfiring on them.

#20 NoBigGovDuh on 11.27.12 at 1:46 am

Hoover was actually planning a southern strategy long before this. Remember the democrats had a long hard road to get the racists out of the party. Look at the 1924 convention.

#21 NoBigGovDuh on 11.27.12 at 1:51 am

Living close to others make you see the value of public services, social policy and planning.

#22 NoBigGovDuh on 11.27.12 at 2:00 am

That depends on how you define progressive. It is a general term that can mean many things. Gay rights, gun control, support for stem cell research, etc. It is better to look at individual issues.

#23 Dave Troy on 11.27.12 at 2:41 pm

Yes, I think this is definitely a big part of this phenomenon.

#24 banjoonmyknee on 11.27.12 at 4:05 pm

It makes sense. In very low population density areas, you have your own well water, your own septic tank, probably take your own garbage to the dump, and maybe rely on utilities for electricity and natural gas or oil. Other than maybe needing your street paved (maybe), you really don’t need much in the way of government services.

#25 Chris Warren on 11.27.12 at 4:34 pm

And yet Vermont, with a population density of less than 70/mi^2 was one of the most overwhelmingly democratic states this past election (and has been historically as well). Clearly there’s some way for democrats to engage low-density areas…

#26 davetroy on 11.27.12 at 4:44 pm

You’re quite right, Chris. Other areas which are more blue than their density would indicate include Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon and New Mexico. I am looking to study those areas in more detail to see if I can get a better sense of what makes them the way they are.
Conversely, I haven’t found any obvious places that are high density, and more red than you’d expect — so if it’s true that Democrats have found a way to engage in low-density places, it doesn’t appear to be true that Republicans are engaging well in high-density places.

#27 Jym Dyer on 11.27.12 at 4:53 pm

≎ Before we go too far with this, remember that it’s not a binary urban/rural situation (nor does a simple binary liberal/conservative map to two parties). Suburban sprawl is a huge part of this as well, and historically this has been a “malleable middle,” the swing vote of undecideds that make or break an election.

The general strategy for a national campaign is to boil things down to the frontrunners and then focus on the suburban swing voters. At this point the candidates start sounding more like each other, since they’ve doing focus groups on the same population of swing voters.

When the election is over, we then try to explain it usually with simplistic binaries (e.g. blue and red). When Clinton won over the suburban swing vote, they were typified as “soccer moms.” When the same demographic went for Shrub, it was supposedly because they drive SUVs and wanted an oilman. Palin’s incessant comments about “hockey moms” was a failed attempt to replicate Clinton’s success.

What happened this time? I dunno, but look at the track record of after-the-fact explanations that impute this or that political agenda to a demographic that’s basically not committed to much of anything.

#28 It’s the Population Density, Stupid! | Skeptical Bob on 11.27.12 at 4:56 pm

[…] the whole blog posting here, by Dave Troy, called “The Real Republican Adversary: Population Density.” Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted […]

#29 davetroy on 11.27.12 at 5:05 pm

I’m inclined to agree, Jym. However, I’d suggest that the Republican party needs to embrace population density and diversity more than it has in the past in order to have a long-term competitive platform. I don’t think you can use density as a predictive model in the next election, but it is interesting that this particular election fell so clearly across a rural/urban divide.

#30 Nicholas Layton on 11.27.12 at 8:10 pm

I thought this was already known to be obviously true… Most of the states that vote republican are covered with farms or deserts. The few farm states that vote democrat (like Illinois) do so because of one or two large cities that vote democrat (like Chicago) and over shadow the rest of the state’s low population density.

#31 Marshall Crutchfield on 11.27.12 at 8:10 pm

If you are looking for the simplest possible explanation you are not looking for the correct explanation. Density is not the causation. For you to prove that you must prove that a rural areas do not vote on racial issues – which they do (See the black belt in the South for example). Density is not the cause.

#32 best painter in los gatos... on 11.27.12 at 8:49 pm

density has ZERO to do with it… well maybe intellectual density does; more “dense”…. more ignorance.

#33 Tom Locker on 11.27.12 at 9:17 pm

If you think corrupt city government is a recent phenomenon, you haven read much history.

#34 amber gray on 11.27.12 at 9:31 pm

Rural culture also survived the fall of the Roman Empire.

#35 Echoes of Prohibition « Gillies on 11.27.12 at 9:43 pm

[…] Dave Troy (via Guy Kawasaki): Curious about the correlation between population density and voting behavior, I began with analyzing the election results from the least and most dense counties and county equivalents. 98% of the 50 most dense counties voted Obama. 98% of the 50 least dense counties voted for Romney. […]

#36 amber gray on 11.27.12 at 10:14 pm

Troy reached well beyond available evidence to suggest causation based on one set of data then leaped well beyond political analysis to make sweeping suggestions about what is best for human culture in general by an undefined, apparently subjective standard. His plea for urban culture seems myopic in that he fails to address living conditions in any one of the world’s 50 most densely populated cities (listed below). I challenge him to live on the streets of Manilla’s most densely populated neighborhood for a month then see if he comes back singing the same tune.

Manila, Bogor, Titagarh, Baranagar, Serampore, Pateros, Delhi, South Dumdum, Kamarhati, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Mandaluyong, Levallois-Perret, Neapoli, Caloocan, Chennai, Vincennes, Sukabumi, Saint-Mandé, Le Pré-Saint-Gervais, Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, Malabon, Mumbai, Jaigaon, Navotas, Montrouge, Banupur, Bally, Balurghat, Mislata, Pasay, Kallithea, Paris, San Juan, Nea Smyrni, Pasig, Howrah, Dhaka, Union City, L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, Makati, Naihati, Saint-Gilles, Macau, Cairo, Beirut, Allahabad, Panihati, Malé,

#37 davetroy on 11.27.12 at 10:22 pm

Amber, I really have not made any statements about causation here. I’m am remarking on a strong correlation, and yes, I am conveying some personal opinions about what would work best in the context of the US.

I have visited and studied some very dense places (Rocinha) and while I agree that they don’t exactly appeal to our standards as being attractive living environments, I generally subscribe to Stewart Brand’s analysis, which is that dense urban environments are engines for wealth creation and entrepreneurship. Overall this agrees with Jane Jacobs’ analysis in “The Economies of Cities.”

I do think there are some lines of inquiry that could prove causality between density and progressive attitudes in the context of developed Western nations, and I’ll be writing more about that.

But instead of bashing my theories, what are yours? Are you suggesting that low-density car-based environments are better in some way? If so, how?

#38 amber gray on 11.27.12 at 10:47 pm

“After the Civil War, most white Southerners opposed Radical
Reconstruction and the Republican Party’s support of black civil and
political rights.”

“The Exodus of 1879 refers to the mass movement of African Americans from states along the Mississippi River to Kansas in the late nineteenth century, and was the first general migration of blacks following the Civil War”

In 1920, Illinois had 892 black farmers, and African-Americans owned 14 percent of the nation’s farmland. Now they hold less than one percent. The same pressure to consolidate that has reduced the ranks of farmers for the past century is making any turnaround unlikely, demographers say. The number of black farmers in Illinois, currently less than one in 1,000, appears destined to eventually hit zero. “This is the oldest occupation in history for black people, and it’s going to be the first to go extinct,” said John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association. “We are an endangered species.”

#39 davetroy on 11.27.12 at 10:57 pm

Amber, I’ve studied and written about the 15th Amendment extensively ( and understand full well the original association between the Republican party and African Americans. What point are you trying to make here exactly?
Are you suggesting that because the Democratic party was once racist that it is now? Are you suggesting that because the Republicans aligned themselves with African Americans that they did not also design and execute a racially divisive Southern Strategy in the late 20th century?

#40 Nexcerpt on 11.28.12 at 12:12 am

Along with assumptions about causation, comments so far appear silent on the ~sequence~ of causation. Perhaps it is not that citizens who resided in sparse communities subsequently decided to vote red, but rather that citizens who voted red subsequently decided to reside in sparse communities.

Demographic changes in the 1960s and 1970s caused massive out-migration from cities toward suburban sprawl, and from suburban sprawl toward rural areas. To be rude about it, whites fled as non-whites arrived: thus, a great many… ummm… “conservatives” (to be nice about it) moved to the countryside. The trend has slowed in recent decades, but it has not reversed.

Of course, that could not explain ~most~ of the conservative bias in sparsely settled areas (often going back generations), but it could explain ~some~ of it.

#41 KLM on 11.28.12 at 12:46 am

Those factors seem to true of all cities. When population is dense, you get these differences for these reasons, population density is a useful shorthand to indicate all those individual factors when predicting or explaining voting results.

#42 KLM on 11.28.12 at 12:48 am

Until you get old, and dependent on Social Security and Medical Care, and various county transportation services for the elderly and disabled if your kids moved away.

#43 Patherick on 11.28.12 at 12:50 am

It is easy to forget how long-lived cities are. London has been there for two millennia, while the culture in the surrounding rural has evolved from villages surrounded by woodlands through medieval agriculture through enclosures to modern farming, and the entire industrial revolution has taken place. There are buildings in European cities which have been in existence longer than most countries have been in existence. There has to be a reason for this.

#44 amber gray on 11.28.12 at 12:54 am

Liberal environmentalists have at times been accused of racism, even as they appoint themselves heros and rescuers of “less fortunate” members of other ethic groups. You commit that error when you deign to define wealth creation by your own terms (not to mention you let your slip show when you delete a post describing the Democrat party’s role in creating the densely populated ethnic enclaves you identified as correlating to Democrat voting blocks.)

You may define wealth creation as the accumulation of capital, but you do so over our dead bodies, as was stated in the one post you deleted that cited an *Illinois* Black farmer’s coalition leader’s statement that “we are an endangered species.”

Wealth, before centralist authoritarians defined it as increasing numbers of artifacts held by humans, and increased numbers of money units, was defined by some as diverse relationships with the natural world. Your urban culture instead gives us patented genetically modified monocrops, from which your liberal leaders promise to rescue us, yet again, by more carefully regulating the patents.

David, we don’t want your wealth. Entrepreneurship may sound like salvation to believers, but not all of us believe in your god of money, or any other god for that matter. Some of us are just humble animals who care to live out our lives in more diverse company than those who surround themselves primarily with other humans and human constructs. You seem to advance a hero complex as a lofty goal, and some of us, we just don’t want you — as a class of supposed intellectuals — to be our hero. Our heroes are the sunrise, and the natural world that begat us.

#45 archerb on 11.28.12 at 1:03 am

BINGO!!! If you look at your typical NY’er, you’ll see that this is the case. NY’ers depend on government to get them to and from work via public transportation. They depend on government to pick up the trash, plough the streets, regulate parking, regulate what businesses are located where, what a landlord can charge for rent, what a landlord must provide and most importantly, regulate what their neighbours are allowed to do. For example, no one wants their neighbours firing a weapon in Manhattan. NY’ers depend on someone else to maintain their stoves, hallways, carpets and climate control systems, and they have to do it by law. It’s no surprise that a NY’er is happy with government regulation as the city would not survive without it.

But to someone in the country or a less densely populated area, these regulations are not only not necessary, they are impossible to enforce. Public transportation doesn’t work in the country. Daily trash pickup is not an option.

However, where Republicans can win is with states’ rights. Cities can continue to have strict government regulations while rural areas could still have lax ones. There is nothing in the Republican platform that would restrict a local government from regulating what a landlord must provide a tenant. So voting Republican will not take anything away from urban areas, but it will guarantee the freedoms to those who chose to live more independently.

#46 KittyP on 11.28.12 at 3:04 am

As an urban city dweller, rather than density, per se, I would venture that the correlation has more to do with urban culture. We are surrounded by diversity which fosters more of a “Live and Let Live” philosophy, there simply isn’t enough time to judge others. I’m surrounded by LGBTs in a rainbow melting pot of diverse lifestyles and interests and I love it. Its what IMHO makes America great.

The GOP has done much to alienate these urban progressive, moderate and independent voters with their right-wing policies and embracing of Tea Party values. I would label myself a social liberal and fiscal conservative. I am not an Obama fan, but considering the alternative there was no other choice. If the GOP wants to gain traction with urban voters, they need to lay off their Guns, Gays and God platform, They need to stop gay bashing, support immigration reform, let women make their own healthcare decisions, stop wasting taxpayer money on political witch hunts and nonsensical bills (like Ryan’s HR212 bestowing personhood rights to an embryo) – basically, focus on the economy, foreign policy, i.e., real issues.

#47 davetroy on 11.28.12 at 9:28 am

Amber, I don’t know who you are or what your agenda is, but I haven’t deleted any posts or comments. And I love nature (and the environment) too. You’ll also find that my views are decidedly centrist and that I am beholden to no “liberal leaders.” Please, stop.

#48 Brian on 11.28.12 at 11:25 am

Great work. One quibble: you say that western cities like Salt Lake City have very low population density (about 1000/sqmi) and thus don’t really qualify as cities, excluding them from your hypothesis. However, the data you’re working off is down to the county level, whereas many western population centers reside within a much larger county that includes countryside.

For example, Boise, Idaho actually has a population density of over 3,000 per square mile. It comprises 52% of the population of Ada County, while sitting on only 6% of the county’s land. Romney won Ada County 54-42, but Obama won Boise City 53-42.*

For Oklahoma City, I found precinct-level data but with no familiarity of the area I can’t easily know which precincts are located where. However in perusing the raw data I saw a cluster of precincts in Oklahoma County (which comprises most of urban Oklahoma City) with decent Obama wins.

I was not able to find precinct-level data for Utah, which is a shame because I’d love to see the effect of the Mormon “x-factor”. I do know that Salt Lake County is much larger than Salt Lake City, and that Salt Lake County is not majority Mormon.

* Actually, that Obama total is for the part of Ada County that’s in the ID-2 district, which contains the whole Boise city grid but not the neighboring “West Boise” or Meridian areas that are classic low-density suburban/rural countryside. That’s the most granularity I could get from the Idaho SoS website but it should suffice.

#49 davetroy on 11.28.12 at 11:31 am

Valid points, Brian. I think it might be possible to get a better sense of the trend with some higher resolution data; as you point out finding precinct level data can be a challenge, and so far I have found no nationwide source for that kind of data.
I think the main point is this: Most low-density places voted red. All high density places voted blue; some low density places also voted blue. I think if you assume that density is generally increasing and that the parties do not significantly alter their platform positions, that points to a bluer country over time.

#50 prhom on 11.28.12 at 2:35 pm

This makes perfect sense as a way to keep both people living in the city and rural areas equally happy, but there is simply no interest in seeing this happen. It would be interesting to see how federal spending is distributed among the various counties. I’ll bet you’d see a similar trend where densely populated counties receive more federal money per capita than the less populated counties. Why wouldn’t the densely populated areas keep voting for the candidate that will give them greater benefits?

#51 davetroy on 11.28.12 at 3:22 pm

It is a popular, facile thing to assume that people voted blue because they “received gifts,” but the fact is that most red states take more from the Federal government than they contribute in taxes. No sane person in a blue state is going to say, “Gee, I get free stuff, therefore I’ll vote democratic.” That’s just not what is going through anyone’s head. If the Republican party continues to espouse that fantasy, it will be unable to ever become relevant again.

#52 Denry on 11.28.12 at 5:31 pm

This article is stupid.

#53 What Republicans Are Really Up Against: Population Density « Smart City Memphis on 11.28.12 at 5:37 pm

[…] plotted the county-level election results against population density (see the graph below). His conclusion was striking: “98% of the 50 most dense counties voted Obama. 98% of the 50 least dense counties voted for […]

#54 davetroy on 11.28.12 at 6:30 pm

Brilliant commentary, sir.

#55 Brian on 11.28.12 at 7:12 pm

I agree with your main points. Again, great work!

#56 amber gray on 11.28.12 at 8:56 pm

dave when talk about “no sane person” and deign to explain with ersatz authority what’s “just not going through anyone’s head” you are way off the scholarly track. Such hasty generalizations and totalistic beliefs undermine your credibility, regardless the otherwise interesting data research you might contribute to national discourse. We’ll give you a job on the widget-punching line, but I don’t see you as front office material.

#57 amber gray on 11.28.12 at 8:59 pm

I’m not eager to reconstruct the post, but there was no “preview” mode in the disqus configuration you use and I verified the post was there… gimme a few hours and maybe I’ll replace the details about how the Democrat party erased 50 years of it’s own racist history that contributed to the urban conditions you represent as the penultimate human accomplishment.

#58 amber gray on 11.28.12 at 9:01 pm

OH! Here’s that post.

I’m suggesting Demorcrats as a party pushed people into cities and now both the “progressive” left and the far left (if there’s a difference) fail to recognize how their ideologies contributed to the destruction of rural life

#59 Hunter Barrington on 11.28.12 at 9:17 pm

that’s interesting. Most sociologists I’ve talked to look at suburbanization as a destructive force for cities. Do you truly mean rural life or did you mean suburban? I haven’t thought much about destruction of rural communities because of cities, I have a slightly hard time buying it but could be convinced with data

#60 Hunter Barrington on 11.28.12 at 9:21 pm

I like the idea of the Republican party reforming itself to be relevant to city life. Personally, I’ve long felt that I’d love to vote Republican for some of the values that it espouses (family, personal responsibility, fiscal conservatism) but have not been able to get behind the lack of social responsibility and progressivism which I personally came to value after moving from rural PA to Baltimore MD. The city definitely opened my eyes to those ideas and I saw myself swing politically as I started valuing new things.

#61 Hunter Barrington on 11.28.12 at 9:22 pm

As an aside I vote independent at the moment.

#62 adam on 11.29.12 at 1:10 pm

Those who dwell among high density populations are exposed to and interact with a greater diversity of people. Those who dwell in rural areas are more likely to interact with fewer people who are mostly similar to themselves.

Being exposed to different people/cultures/value systems leads to being comfortable with them. Being comfortable with them leads to caring about them. As evidenced by the Republican platform, they’re not a very tolerant or open-minded group. Mostly they seem intent on boxing others into living in their ideal, “traditional” America. This will appeal to like-minded people. This will not appeal to open-minded people. This, I’m sure, is part of it.

#63 Hunter Barrington on 11.29.12 at 1:26 pm

This might be your inroad to understanding what it is about population density leads to bluer voting. Outliers [as I’m sure you know] are a great way for understanding the trend. Pretty cool, I’m excited to see what you find there

#64 Greg on 11.29.12 at 2:53 pm

I think that much of the divide in this country and around the world is the “entitlement” mentality that is not just the younger generations but throughout the population. You have a large portion of the population living in rural areas that have always depended on the local community instead of federal support and don’t want to see their ability to do so limited or frowned upon. Next time put in some actual funding numbers per red/blue state before making a statement like that. The 50/50 split truly comes down (imo) to the people’s desire to provide for themselves or looking for a hand-out.

#65 Greg on 11.29.12 at 3:01 pm

One more example of self-resonsibility and being prepared for that portion of your life. I don’t know what generation you are in but the younger generations are quite aware (I even got a Social Security letter stating this as fact) that these services will not be available in the current form by that time.

#66 davetroy on 11.29.12 at 3:11 pm

Many red states are taking more dollars than they give back. The myth that people in rural areas are independent and people in cities are on the dole is a seductive narrative; it’s also false.

Most folks agree that people should be self-sufficient and that “entitlements” are bad. So if you eliminated all of them entirely, you’d be talking about maybe $75 Billion annually (and creating a huge national unmet legitimate social need in the process). That’s less than the $100 Billion that corporations receive in subsidies annually. And far less than the $170 billion we’re spending each year on two wars.

So eliminating all federal entitlement programs would have precious little overall effect on the budget and would affect people in red states perhaps moreso than anywhere else. Red state infrastructure requires federal subsidy to function.

Bottom line is that entitlement mentality is unfortunate and should be managed downward. But it’s not a significant problem for the nation as a whole compared to all the other costs we’ve heaped onto the debt.

#67 Greg on 11.29.12 at 3:26 pm

There is quite a bit missing from those numbers considering the significant increase in the national debt (9T to 15T) over the last 4 years.

#68 davetroy on 11.29.12 at 3:30 pm

Sure, but it seems unlikely to me that red states contributed any more federal tax revenue in that time or that entitlement spending increased at a rate significantly higher than our other ridiculous spending habits. If you have facts to cite, cite them.

#69 Greg on 11.29.12 at 3:35 pm

Not enough time for fact finding really, just enough time on during lunch to read an article I thought would be interesting but turns out to be a complete waste of time. Got to get back to work…

#70 davetroy on 11.29.12 at 3:45 pm

See Fallacy #3.

#71 on 11.30.12 at 8:14 pm

Contrary to the notion that “density is more efficient, density is the future”, look at John B. Calhoun’s research on rat behavior in dense habitats. Most likely we are going to see density-spurred collapse, possibly within the next 20 years. Also look at Putnam’s research on diversity (another problem we are creating). What will a super-dense, super-diverse society look like? We’ll never know, because it will fall apart before it reaches that point.

#72 on 11.30.12 at 8:17 pm

By the way since the current state of affairs is definitely not sustainable–our debt is not sustainable, our lifestyles are not sustainable, our resource consumption is not sustainable, and all of these problems are amplified by population density–I am all for the Republican party failing. What is needed to replace it is probably a new populist party that is isolationist and protectionist (exactly the policies needed to restore balance to an out-of-scale society).

#73 on 11.30.12 at 8:21 pm

Apparently it’s also easy to forget how many cities didn’t survive. Perhaps you’ve heard of survivor bias? Try googling it.

#74 RandomIdeas on 12.03.12 at 3:20 am

Is it possible that those low-density blues are places that people tend to retire to after having lived in the city for years, and thus they take with them city voting patterns? What’s the relative age of those low-density blues as compared to the low-density reds? Contrariwise, it might be something professional. Maybe farming makes you red but other low-density work makes you blue?

#75 Patrick Nelson on 12.06.12 at 12:42 pm

Mr. Troy: The District of Columbia is not contained within a blue state. It is an entity all its own. It is abutted on one side by Blue Maryland and the other by Red Virginia. We are a federal district that has very little allegiance to either the State or the Commonwealth that surrounds us. But you are correct that DC has influenced the Commonwealth of Virginia’s DC suburbs to turn purple and put two Democrats in the Senate and return President Obama to the White House

#76 jm on 12.06.12 at 9:33 pm

and Paris. The horror.

#77 novenator on 12.07.12 at 10:34 pm

Outstanding analysis

#78 jhertzli on 12.08.12 at 9:59 pm

How does voting behavior correlate with birth rates?

#79 jhertzli on 12.08.12 at 10:01 pm

Does this mean the tendency of people in dense areas to vote for giving money away to people in thinly-populated areas is simply irrational? Could there be a contagious crowd-based disease that causes the right type of brain damage?

#80 Glenn Stephens on 12.10.12 at 11:00 am

It is nice to read an online article and responses that aren’t idiotic. Thanks all.

#81 Stephen Cataldo on 02.23.13 at 3:38 am

I think a lot of liberals in cities believe that farmers on country roads should still get postal service, roads built by shared state taxes and telephones (to use an old example) at the same price and maybe even direct farm-subsidies if they are actual family farms, knowing that this isn’t reciprocated: liberals are nice, not irrational. The city’s willingness to subsidize rural life may start being in more short supply as politics get uglier. Some of it has to do with voting systems rigged to favor less populated areas, too.

A lot of the debate has topsy-turvy aspect: are lawyers, Wall Street or Hollywood contributing things you really need? Are farmers? The pay is often upside-down compared to the reality of “contribution” between rural and urban. But you can’t open that can of worms without also saying that Romney’s work outsourcing jobs to China was worth far less than one migrant strawberry picker’s, in terms of real contribution. The lower-income 47% and the countryside “contribute” in reality, but are subsidized in purely financial terms.

#82 Stephen Cataldo on 02.23.13 at 3:59 am

I largely agree but think people are missing part of the causality: people who want to live in rainbow melting pots (=Democrats) move to cities; people who want to live among their own kind in a safe-feeling place (=Republicans) don’t. Cities invite liberals as well as the experience inducing liberalism.

#83 Stephen Cataldo on 02.23.13 at 4:05 am

Cities have to have more government than rural areas. The need for government is one of those “lesser evil” problems. People who live in cities see that the answer to corrupt government is hard work to clean it up, you can’t imagine “drowning government in a bath tub” from a city. There are certain *conservative* ideas that are very much needed in cities, it’s sad that the Republican party barely holds those values today (respect for hard work that involves creating real value, community-building, fiscal discipline). Neither single-party governments nor current Republicans are good for cities.

#84 Stephen Cataldo on 02.23.13 at 4:11 am

Those problems may be amplified by population, but they are all reduced (somewhat) by population density. Spreading people out greatly increases resource use.

#85 Joshua Conner on 07.06.13 at 7:26 pm

“The only cities in red states that didn’t vote blue were Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City.”

I feel like Phoenix, AZ also fits this characterization – it’s actually the reason AZ is a red state.

#86 kache68 on 07.08.13 at 3:32 pm

Let’s take an example Greg. Idaho is one of the most Red states in the union and receives back $1.26 from the federal government for every dollar paid in taxes. Without that “welfare” from Blue states Idaho would have a living standard comparable to Nigeria.

South central Idaho is home of the nation’s second largest reclamation project. 15 years ago 70% the farm land was irrigated with gravity, 30% with sprinklers. A federal program (Scott’s Pond Project) changed that figure to 98% sprinkler in 15 years of interest free loans (reducing the 20 year payout for systems by half). The increase in crop production per acre was over 20%, fertilizer costs were slashed since sprinklers do not wash the fertilizer into the Columbia basin, and there was a 20% increase in acreage now farmed. And not a single hearty, rugged, individualist farmer did it with a good old fashioned capitalist bank loan, they did it all with the taxes paid in Rhode Island, Delaware, etc.

#87 AtlanticMM on 08.21.13 at 1:41 pm

Mmm, not quite. You have to take a hard look at the fairly dense suburbs that butt right up to the cities. Dallas voted democratic but Collin County, 900+ density, right above Dallas, is easily Republican. I expect this is true of the “suburbs” near many large cities.
If you break that down further and removle the rural edges and concentrate on the major “cities” in that county, you see densities of 3000+ in those cities those cities are easily Republican.
And if you look within the city at certain areas (often wealthy), you will see the same thing. Highland Park, surrounded by Dallas, 3000+ density, pure Republican.
While cities may be growing (besides the ones crumbling like Detroit), I see a lot of growing in the cities/suburbs outside these big cities. Not uncommon anymore are businesses locating in these places due to lower costs and closer to they types of folks they need to employ. Teleworking and flex commute times are not uncommon. These burbs are also starting to build mix-usage and density housing. North of Dallas you can rent/buy condos within shopping/office districts to get some of the goodness of city life yet still have good schools, flexible car travel when needed, etc. While you can walk to the store, restaraunts, movies, parks and dentists if you want to.
So, I think as you may see city growth, you will also see density growth in the closer suburbs and you will see the magical crossover point rise along with it as these area will remain largely republican. And as now, you will see any number of exceptions if you look at major areas within cities and suburbs close to cities that are currently well above the magic crossover point.

#88 AtlanticMM on 08.21.13 at 1:50 pm

You are pigeonholing Republicans. Remember, there are only two parties. There is a large swath of folks that fit a category of fiscally coservative but socially liberal, a number I have seen pegged as high as 65% of the country. Many who are Republican hardly allign with any aspect presented by the TEA party side. Very different from the centrist side. Mostly what you are hearing is the loud voice of the right fringe.
With the country in dire fiscal straits right now, you are going to have people grimace and vote for a TEA party candidate over a Democrat even if they support gay marriage and are pro-life and support more gun control in some manner.
Remember too, there is a whole swath of the country that lies between urban and rural, and I expect that swath is very much in that fiscally conservative, socially liberal category if you pressed them.

#89 AtlanticMM on 08.21.13 at 1:58 pm

There really is nothing in the view of personal responsibilty, fiscal conservatism, etc. that clashes with city life in theory. I too am in your boat, as are a lot of people these days – we want efficient, fiscal policies and programs yet we are embarassed by social side of things sometimes. What are folks like us supposed to do? You vote independent, good for you. I tend to vote Republican because 1) I think cleaning up the fiscal mess HAS to be the first step and 2) I think (hope) the TEA party is gonna fizzle soon and become fairly irrelevant again. I hope.

#90 AtlanticMM on 08.21.13 at 2:11 pm

I think Jim has it correct, elections swing on the power middle class planted firmly in the suburbs for reasons that are not likely to change. Instead of sprawling though ,these suburbs seem to be embracing density and mixed use to a point where their is a much dimished need to go into the city for anything – work, shopping, entertainment, even pockets of high density city-like living if you now choose. Best of the city without the worst of the city!
Also, as I said in another post, there is a large part of the population that falls into what I will call “soft Libertarianism” point of view. They are fiscally conservative, they don’t want federal government mandates, they prefer states rights and local mandates, they are to the left on many (most) social issues, etc. This large group is just waiting for a party view that supports it.
To grab these folks, the Republican party is going to need to come left/center on social issues. The moderate part ofthe party I think is fully able and willing to do so. The issue right now is the TEA party, whose success came from a backlash against Obamacare, Pelosi, Ried. Many of us had no choice but to vote for a TEA partier rather than give a full liberal agenda any more clout. Self preservation more than any kind of endorsement excpet on the fiscally conservative issues.
I sit here salivating for a true centrist, common sense Republican party.

#91 AtlanticMM on 08.21.13 at 2:16 pm

Look at the suburbs that surround the cities, the cities within those suburbs and the affluent pockets within the cities. There are lots of areas that are well above your crossover line density that are typcially Repuplican. And the density of these areas is increasing but not close to any party crossover yet.

#92 AtlanticMM on 08.21.13 at 2:24 pm

Not that simple. Take pollution for example. While a dense urban center may produce less pollution overall than a sprawling suburb, the pollution is also denser and has a greater impact on the urban center. On its people and it’s infrastructure. So while you may have reduced resource use, you have increased infrastructure maintenance costs as well as health costs. No free lunches!!

#93 AtlanticMM on 08.21.13 at 2:33 pm

There are again, a huge portion of the poplation in middle-land here. Do not elimnate entitlement programs, but dammit, run them efficiently, something that is not being done with most any government program.
I’m going to postulate that a strong fiscally conservative yet socially left of center platform, something neither party has now, will appeal to a large swatch of urban and suburban dwellers, and even up and coming rurals.

#94 AtlanticMM on 08.21.13 at 2:41 pm

Actually, no, the liberal/progressive thought is that postal services, roads, all infrastructure is paid for progressively based upon income.
Parties often want the same thing, but differ on how to pay for it. Should a highway be build by a private party and become a toll road mostly paid for, equally and fairly, buy the users of that road? A liberal would say no, that is NOT fair. Others will say that is the most fair and efficient way to do things.

#95 KittyP on 08.23.13 at 2:27 pm

“you are going to have people grimace and vote for a TEA party candidate” – Nope, just the opposite is happening, we grimaced and voted Obama. It will happen again and again if the GOP don’t figure it out. The fiscal conservative/ social liberal faction is screaming for a candidate. Just give us one!

#96 AtlanticMM on 08.23.13 at 3:51 pm

McCain was not TEA nor was Mitt. I was talking at the House and Senate level. With a non-fiscal conservative in the white house and a dem majority right now in the Senate, if you view fiscal issues as the number one priority, then it will not matter who is running, the Repub, be he centrist or TEA, is getting my vote. I remember having to hold my breath and try not to puke as I voted for the racist Jesse Helms a few times in NC. Ugh.
Yes, I do agree, a fiscal con and social lib would have wide appeal. A “soft” Libertarian of sorts would clean up.

#97 Candy Darling on 09.04.13 at 8:02 am

Here in the Philly area, the trend you describe is apparent in suburban Bucks County, home of the Toll Brothers McMansion. Building permits issued there in the most recent year available for review were at their lowest levels since 1970. Meanwhile Philadelphia continues to gain population, but in its densest core neighborhoods surrounding Center City, and ridership on its public transit system achieves new record levels each year.

#98 Muawiyah on 09.04.13 at 8:45 am

The correlation is actually MOSQUITO DENSITY

When you take that into account even third-world voting patterns can be accounted for. In part mosquitoes must have still water, so open containers with water may be the prime vector for the Democrat votes.

Still, female mosquitoes require blood to reproduce. The more mammal blood the more mosquitoes. Note that humans don’t have fur so they become a dominant contributor. In more agrarian or rural areas mosquitoes are subject to dramatic levels of depredation.

Democrats seem vaguely aware of the relationship and can be found opposing urban mosquito eradication programs.

#99 MattBracken on 09.04.13 at 9:54 am

“Cities are the future.” Until the day when (not if) the electrical grid collapses, even for a few days, and our cities explode and burn. Read “Alas, Brave New Babylon,” my new short story.

#100 Dave Troy on 09.04.13 at 10:00 am

What you are suggesting is that there is a problem with American infrastructure, not cities specifically. Low-density areas will not be doing well either if this scenario comes to pass.

#101 MattBracken on 09.04.13 at 10:30 am

No question it will be grim, but in rural areas there will be a chance. There will be no chance in our cities if the grid goes down even for one week. They will be on fire, every store looted, every rolling truck attacked.

#102 Dave Troy on 09.04.13 at 10:40 am

OK. I’ll keep that in mind.

#103 Scott Campanaro on 09.04.13 at 5:54 pm

Cities are the apex of a tech pyramid that can be destroyed with $100k of surplus junk… I doubt there will be a city over 25k anywhere in America 10 years from now…

#104 Dave Troy on 09.04.13 at 5:59 pm

But the rest of the world’s cities will be thriving?

#105 Scott Campanaro on 09.04.13 at 9:06 pm

Downsizing everywhere… best societies for larger urban areas: Iceland, India, Canada, America, Argentina… America will be OK but not her Urban centers.. Cities will be consider large at the 25k level… 50K will be a metropolis… IMHO. 😉

#106 Scott Campanaro on 09.04.13 at 9:25 pm

Mr. Troy – I agree with your observations but not with your projections.

I would also point out that Political Parties are coming to the end of their life cycle as most people who ‘do’ things are recognizing the truism that there are only two dogs in this fight Statists Of all Stripes Rs, Ds, Gs, etc and Free Peoples.

Either you acknowledge that you are OK with using force to achieve your ends or you eschew such behavior… using force to defend yourself is ++good… so you should be good at that.

Large Urban centers are huge distortions of reality… and can only be sustained at the expense of people who are, in point of fact, becoming tired of sending tribute shipments of Food, Water and Power with nothing of VALUE for the producers except for the City Consumers to attack them and their life-styles.

There is no ‘state’ power – just power over logistics… and that is all the ‘red’ COUNTIES… ignore States they are a distracting as Parties… Pennsylvania is a case in point. Urban Population will always show as a ‘blue’ state… yet by county the State house and Local politics (outside of Philly, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg) are all ‘red’ state and now more and more Libertarian/Anarcho-Capitalist.

Truly the Center cannot hold.

#107 hcat on 09.06.13 at 12:01 pm

And it’s not because people of color tend to vote blue, despite the fact that they are often social conservatives? And such people tend to concentrate in denser areas? And it’s not because people who live in denser areas are less affluent?

#108 Dave Troy on 09.06.13 at 12:15 pm

Race doesn’t correlate with voting behavior as strongly as population density. And in fact, higher density areas correlate with higher incomes and I have data to prove it. Lower density correlates with lower income.

#109 KittyP on 09.12.13 at 4:26 pm

To your first point, re McCain and Mitt – yes, but their running mates were TEA and so far right that they lost my votes. I was McCain until he picked Palin. I was considering Romney (would have def voted Huntsman) until he tapped Ryan (no way was I allowing that misogynistic, science-denying mess in the White house). Totally agree with your other points. That’s how I felt voting Obama, I think I threw up just a little. I so hate him and pray someday for a candidate I can actually be proud and excited to vote for.

#110 dereklessing on 11.13.13 at 1:22 pm

Hi Dave, just found this via Thomas Edsall’s NYT article. Fantastic graphs and story. Quick questions about New York City in the graph:
-why the light blue line? (NY isn’t in a red state)
-what are the sources for the 4 points? for example, does the point at 20K represent, say, Staten Island, or everywhere in NYC at that density?
-do you think “peak Obama” at 30K is meaningful, or is the variation for NYC over the four points just noise?

#111 Dave Troy on 11.14.13 at 4:00 pm

Hi Derek – To your questions: I grouped the boroughs in NYC together with the shaded box which gave the impression of a light blue line; unintended side-effect.

The points on the far right are the boroughs of NYC, as you guessed. Staten Island leaned Republican, relative to the other boroughs. I’d need to lookup the exact numbers but Staten Island runs opposite to trend and to the rest of the city.

That 30K peak you observe is really just the contrast created by Staten Island. If Staten Island didn’t exist the curve would be more completely linearly proportional.

Full disclosure, I made specific choices about grouping along the horizontal axis to create a clearer trend line; this effectively removes the noise from the graph and reveals the larger pattern. Versions of this graph with a strictly linear horizontal axis reveal more noise (and occasional anomalies) but the larger trend is still quite evident.

#112 Dave Haynie on 02.20.14 at 11:20 am

It’s pretty interesting that the real difference is population density more than just city vs. suburban vs. rural. I suspect that at least part of this is exposure to new ideas. In rural areas, you see very little immigration, it’s pretty much a monoculture, and one of Conservative values. One overriding principle of all successful conservative societies, whether here or in the middle east or the old Soviet Union is that change is generally a bad thing. This leads to the notion that certain ideas are bad as well, and a general distrust of anyone “not like us”, a different race, a different culture, a Yankee, whatever… a potentially dangerous carrier of new ideas.

And new ideas are, in fact, disruptive to a culture that’s dependent on the next generation pretty much doing what the current generation does… you take over Daddy’s farm or the family business, get married to Betty Sue, have 2.4 kids and a dog, etc. New ideas have you leaving Smallville and checking out Metropolis, the big city… and maybe never coming back.

Past a certain population density, you’re in an are where exposure to new ideas is a regular thing. You’re in a place people move to, not just a place people are from. There’s no possibility of monoculture, you meet people from different land, different cultures, different colors, different religions. Kids growing up in such locales just expect this — no fear of “new” or “different”, and no expectation that everyone you know is pretty much just like you.

I can see this illustrated in my home state. I live down in Salem County, NJ, I a town of about 42 square miles and 3,000 something people. A few professionals, but lots of farming and working class families, mostly white, and pretty static population. Very little local culture… big events in town are things like the Scouts annual Oyster Dinner. My sister lives just over an hour away, near Princeton… A very metropolitan town for its size, practically everyone living there came from somewhere else. And there’s a very active cultural component, arts and music events going on every day.

#113 Stin on 02.20.14 at 5:50 pm

Does anyone actually believe that this two-party system is doing our country any good? Seems like we’re getting worse year after year regardless of which party is represented in the white house….smh

#114 zdebman on 05.30.14 at 4:32 pm

So, I think you’ve just debunked the idea that Republicans are the party of the rich.

#115 zdebman on 05.30.14 at 4:44 pm

Got here via The Hidden Brain’s Shankar Vendatum. Interesting data and graphs, good work.

OTOH, the analysis sounds a bit too self-congratulatory. Pretty obvious that rural and urban both are necessary to drive economic and cultural growth and prosperity, just in different ways. One could just as easily make the case that cheap food and natural resources are the enablers that permit cities to exist, as otherwise all of the hipsters checking their iPhones as they get on and off the streetcar between coffee shops would instead be living in the country trying to feed themselves and their families through subsistence farming. Further, part of the reason that the cities are wealthy is that the financial system extracts the value produced in the dense areas to areas and centralizes it in Wall Street.

Low density and high density areas are very different, but the idea that one is noble and the other is full backward rubes just makes you look uninformed, pompous and close-minded.

#116 Dave Troy on 05.30.14 at 4:50 pm

OK. I never said that one was noble and the other was backward. Clearly we need agriculture to support the broader economy; that just doesn’t take very many people to do these days.

#117 Dave Troy on 05.30.14 at 5:35 pm

In a way, yes — the reason why the very richest people (the 0.5%) tend to vote Republican is because they have found that lower income voters in low-density areas have given them a power base through which to push their policies. However, that power base appears to be eroding.

#118 GM52246 on 05.31.14 at 9:49 pm

New York City’s had a couple of major blackouts and a torrential hurricane in the past 10 years, and there was little no looting, and *no* truck attacks. It sounds more like you *want* there to be looting and fires than that there’s any evidence that there will be.

#119 Wanderer on 06.09.14 at 7:37 pm

This density/voting pattern correlation has been clear for several elections. But I didn’t know that there was actually a specific density crossover point. And it’s at a density I would consider pretty low. No wonder Republicans do so poorly in California–there are very few places, even suburbs, where density is below 800 people per square mile. Thanks much for this.

#120 FirmlyRepublican on 10.28.14 at 1:48 am

There seems to be a certain irony that is lost on many, here. Paying for your next meal is not charity. The bread basket of America is called that for a reason – people in our densly populated urban areas would starve without our famers to put food on their tables. The inverse is not true.
Yes, roads in rural US were paid for with tax dollars. But it wasn’t altruistic. It was done to ensure that the economic engine is primed and continues to pump the lifeblood of this global economy. To put it suscintly, if the Big One finally takes Los Angels into its watery grave, America mourns, but does not stop. If the drought that California is under takes out the farms… all of America’s families will suffer.

#121 dlp on 11.05.14 at 10:45 am

Actually, cities tend to attract the highly educated, the intelligently curious, AND the open-minded. I’m not sure if cities “induce” liberalism, but there IS a direct correlation between higher education and left-leaning ideology. Also, when fearful rural or suburban folks move to the city for whatever opportunity they see there, they often find that they can make a “safe-feeling place” there (if not, they just might be somewhat neurotic). 🙂

#122 SGTSOB on 05.31.15 at 1:07 pm

When has the GOP ever been fiscally conservative?

We know they love tax cuts but they can’t seem to stop spending massive amounts of money on the defense industry and on wars. If you want to see when America’s deficit really exploded it was when Republicans pushed the narrative that you can cut taxes and raise revenue.

Of course your average American voter loves the idea because it allows them to have a civilized society along with the most advanced military in the world without paying for it.

#123 JS on 07.02.15 at 5:30 pm

Did you ever complete your post about the possible causes? I can’t find it anywhere, but was interested to learn more.

#124 Nico Enriquez on 10.15.15 at 11:59 am

Gerrymandering and the 2 senators per state (regardless of density) senate are both huge disincentives for the republican party to ever worry about these issues as well…

#125 hcat on 07.22.16 at 12:30 pm

What you’re proposing is a fiscally moderate liberal but socially conservative program.

#126 hcat on 07.22.16 at 12:32 pm

Actually the most successful party would be fiscally liberal and socially conservative.

#127 laika_and_milou on 11.09.16 at 1:15 pm

I think this election proved the opposite. Because of the electoral college, migration from country to city allowed Trump to lose the popular vote and yet win the election.