My hero Ron Brownstein discusses Bush's phenomenal performance in fast-growing exurban counties in the Sun Belt and the Midwest. These are good locations for GOP turnout efforts, since not only are they heavily Republican, but many residents only recently moved there and have not registered to vote. (Political scientists tend to dismiss geography as a meaningful concept, but political operatives sure don't).
Exurbia attracts comfortable, but not terrifically upscale, young married couples:
Most analysts agree that the basic sociology of these counties provides the GOP an advantage. The high-growth counties are not especially affluent. The median income is above the national average in 71 of them, but in only about one-fifth are incomes even 50% above the national average. In only 40 of them is the percentage of college graduates higher than the national average.Instead, they are filled with young families, most of them white, many of modest means, willing to trade time for space — accepting longer commutes into urban areas so they can afford homes.
This adds to my skepticism that Bush received a huge boost from voters earning more than $100,000. Such people are more often found in tweedy, long-settled suburbs of major cities, not spanking new subdivisions 90 minutes from downtown. Although these communities probably do hold many people in the medium-education / high-income demographic -- plenty of office parks in exurbia, not many universities or prestigious law firms.
Brownstein also agrees with my long-held belief that voters who live in more distant suburbs tend to be more culturally conservative, in ways that go beyond the usual Bible Belt stereotypes, while voters who like life closer to the city tend to have more cosmopolitan, liberal values:
Adding to the GOP advantage, many of those who relocate to these high-growth counties tend to be more socially conservative and eager to distance their children from urban cultural influences — and, in some cases, from the heavy concentration of minorities and new immigrants in urban areas. Republican messages about lower taxes also find a receptive audience in these edge communities, and some analysts believe Democrats are faced with the perception that they disapprove — at some intrinsic level — of families who abandon the urban centers and flock to developments that pave the distant countryside.
Kerry ran far better in established suburbs such as Oakland County, Michigan and Delaware County, Pennsylvania -- and in my home county of Westchester, New York. Westchester is a good place to observe the trends that have moved inner suburbia closer to the Democrats. A bastion of preppie Republicanism in the 1960s and 1970s, Westchester has now become solidly Democratic, voting 58% for Kerry in the last election. Democrats now hold most offices in the county, which was also the only suburban county to vote for Hillary for Senate. They can credit (and Republicans can blame) an influx of highly educated liberals who have turned Westchester into Marin East (or the Uppermost West Side) as well as many immigrants and middle-class African-Americans. (My home town, run by an Italian-American GOP machine when I was a boy in the 1970s, is now 70% minority and votes 4-to-1 Democratic).
Brownstein questions the theory expounded by John Judis and Ruy Teixeria that exurbia will inevitably turn more Democratic as it fills up. So far, it has only become more Republican, perhaps because of the lack of Democratic voices in such communities. I doubt that many leading Democrats have even thought very much about life in big-box-land.
Demographically, the crucial question is whether exurbia makes Republicans, or only grabs them from older suburbs.
One thing Democrats should do is cease their attacks on "Wal-Mart." I put "Wal-Mart" in quotes to distinguish the concept from the actual store -- which certainly has practices that may deserve question. But when urban intellectuals attack "Wal-Mart" for being tacky, artificial, soulless, and even as too cheap, it only serves to alienate exurban residents from the Democratic Party.