Demographer Joel Kotkin proposes that there is a burgeoning split in American life: politics may be heading left, while the American people are moving to the right. Kotkin explains:
In an election year in which the top likely candidates come from New York, big cities arguably dominate American politics more than at any time since New Deal. The dynamics of urban politics, which are characterized by high levels of inequality and racial tensions—may be pushing Democrats ever further to the left and Republicans toward the inchoate resentment of Donald Trump.
Yet if politics are now being dominated by big cities along the coasts, the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data suggests that when it comes to their own lives, Americans are moving increasingly elsewhere, largely to generally Republican-leaning suburbs and Sunbelt states. In other words, politics and power are headed one way, demographics the other.
The Obama administration has not been sympathetic to the suburbs. Indeed, President Obama's first HUD secretary proclaimed the suburbs "over," and the second secretary has tried to make them be more like urban areas by taking in more minorities. Meanwhile, Governor Jerry Brown's water use regulations in California may make more suburban growth difficult if not impossible.
People like suburbs and are moving to them. Core counties are losing population but suburbs and exurbs are gaining. This is a demographic trend with political significance:
Primarily Republican-leaning areas may be losing their political power for now, but their demographic growth is relentless. Like the suburbs, the sprawling Sunbelt metros were widely predicted by urban pundits to be heading toward an inevitable extinction.
Yet the 2015 census data shows something quite different: Virtually every fast-growing metro region in the country is located far from the Eastern Seaboard, and increasingly outside of California. Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta and Phoenix each gained more people last year than either New York or Los Angeles, which are three to four times larger.
Among America’s 53 largest metropolitan areas, nine of the 10 fastest-growing ones are in the Sunbelt: Austin, Orlando, Raleigh, Houston, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Dallas-Fort Worth, Nashville and Tampa-St. Petersburg. The only outlier is Denver, which has become a destination for people and companies fleeing higher priced areas, particularly the West Coast.
New York is the biggest loser but Chicago and Los Angeles are also losers. This sounds as if the emigres from cities are painting the suburbs blue. Kotkin suggests another trend:
This divergence between power and population sets the stage for future political conflicts, particularly given likely Democratic Party electoral gains this year. Attempts to crack down on suburban housing and resource industries, notably fossil fuels, seems likely to hit hardest many places that are growing quickly, and which generally lean to the GOP.
It could well be, as some progressives have forecast for over a decade, that the movement of New Yorkers and Californians, combined with the growth of minorities, in places like Texas and Arizona will paint these places Democratic blue. This seems reasonable, but what happens when Washington adopts policies that clearly hurt the new suburban homeowners, and the industries that have sparked Sunbelt growth?
The new Texans and Arizonans may well be more socially liberal than the current denizens, but one has to wonder if they would like to see the prospect of better professional opportunities and affordable homes squelched by Washington’s urban-centric elite.
This could turn out to be a bad election for those middle American aspirations, but over time progressive triumphalism could engender a grassroots rebellion capable of overturning the 2016 election results in shockingly fast fashion.
This will have little effect in November and we must not underestimate the tendency of progressives to vote for candidates with an ideological appeal but whose policies will have a bad outcome. Progressives are still by and large loyal to President Obama, despite the stagnant economy he has delivered. But Kotkin nevertheless has an intriguing idea.
Essay Question: Is there merit in Kotkin's theory or is it wistful thinking for conservatives?