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City Slickers

The growth of urbanized areas could shift some states from red to blue over time.

In political vernacular, “urban” issues have long been code for policies of primary concern to minorities. In coming decades, that stereotype will start to look outdated as Americans of increasing diversity move to the nation’s big cities.

That migration is affecting our politics. Census data from 2010 show Democrats are much more likely to collect electoral-college votes from the most urbanized states. At the same time, the states with the fastest-growing urbanized areas are now more likely to vote Republican. Taken together, the data suggest the growth of urbanized areas across the nation could put more Republican-dominated states in play in the long run.


More voters who tend to cast Democratic ballots are moving to urban areas, while voters who tend to live in exurban and rural areas continue to give Republicans most of their votes. As the years progress, those lines are becoming harder to cross.

The percentage of Americans living in urbanized areas—that is, areas with populations greater than 50,000—has  never been higher. The 2010 census showed 71.2 percent of Americans live in these urban areas, up from 68.3 percent in 2000 and 61.4 percent in 1980. And Democrats do well in the most urbanized states; including the District of Columbia, President Obama won the 10 most urbanized states, ranging from traditionally blue New Jersey and Rhode Island to perpetually purple Florida and Nevada. Republicans managed to win just five of the 25 most urbanized states—Utah, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, and Louisiana.

On the other hand, John McCain won electoral votes in 15 of the 20 least urbanized states, including eight of the bottom 10 (Maine and Vermont were the lone Democratic wins among those rural states).



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