Density is Destiny: Voting Records Mirror Proximity to Neighbors

Urban densities tend to encourage more liberal, tolerant values. Living among diverse neighbors can reduce fear and resentment, as everyday interactions break down stereotypes and misconceptions of ‘the other.’

April 20, 2017, 1:00 PM PDT

By Todd Litman


Polling Place

Joe Hall / Flickr

Neeraj Bhatia, founder of The Open Workshop and assistant professor at the California College of the Arts, introduces an article titled "Environment as Politics":

One lesson of the U.S. presidential election is that we should forget about red and blue states, North and South, coastal coffeeshops and heartland diners. The geographic divide in American politics is closer to home. If you want to predict how someone will vote, ask, How near are your neighbors?

In the recent U.S. election, 49 of the 50 highest density counties voted for Hillary Clinton, and 48 of the 50 lowest density counties chose Donald Trump (nearly the same split as for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney four years earlier).

There are reasons for this that go beyond identity politics. Urban density has social and economic advantages that make cities attractive to liberals and that also condition liberal values over time. Living among diverse neighbors can reduce fear and resentment, as everyday interactions break down stereotypes and misconceptions of ‘the other.’ (Which is not to ignore that cities have their own problems with racial and economic segregation.

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