Why Urban-Suburban Coalitions Are Integral to More Competitive Elections

In Place Matters, authors Peter Drier, John Mollenkopf, and Todd Swanstorm argue that political isolation is due to both Republican efforts to create gaps between the interests of urban and suburban citizens, consequently creating competition between these areas. This resulted in greater voter turnout in suburbs, which ultimately led to apathy towards city needs on the part of politicians of both parties. The authors propose the formation of inner suburb/outer suburb coalitions which will re-shape congressional districts thus creating more diverse and competitive elections. This would also provide common ground between urban and suburban citizens regarding working-/middle-class issues. This coalition is possible only with the support of all politicians, and the redrawing of current congressional districts.

During the Depression and New Deal, cities were the center of all activity and life, and people were “mobilized” to vote. However, over the years, there was a “rising rate of non-citizenship” and “demobilization of potential voters.” (235) This was probably due to the Republican effort over the next several years to form a “base in the electoral college,” since it was currently inundated with Democrats (since it is the tendency of cities to vote Democrat). To achieve this goal, Republicans used “subtractive politics” to emphasize “class and racial divide between suburbs and central cities.” (236) They focused on rural districts which were mainly white and Protestant, and took advantage of and accentuated “resentment over paying federal taxes for programs that benefited urban constituencies.” (236) In turn, urban and suburban areas were in competition with each other on all of these issues, seeing no common ground.

Between the 1960s and 1990s, representation by the House of Representatives in “central-city districts” fell, and in turn, suburban representation increased due to their efforts. (236) Additionally, suburbs provide the majority of campaign donations (234), as do corporations which tend to be based in these areas. Therefore, the interest of both national and state candidates (in both parties) transferred to these suburban citizens. (235)

The problem with cities, say the authors, is that there is a “negative relationship between population density and voter turnout.” (242) This is probably due to the non-citizenship of many residents as mentioned earlier, but also because “general elections in these areas are so predominantly Democratic that they are rarely contested.” (242) Voters do not turn out because they see no reason to do so. This is the end result of the competition created between urban and suburban districts by politicians themselves.

The authors argue for “urban-suburban coalitions” as a solution to the all the problems of voter turnout, but mainly the urban-suburban gaps in resources and economy. Politicians do not realize that suburb “populations differ by race, ethnicity, class, and political outlook.” (245) Many suburban citizens have ties to the city by employment, family, cultural interests, etc. In fact, the “share of a suburban congressional district’s workers who have city jobs is significantly correlated with the rate at which the district votes for DemocratsâÂ?¦” (245) Their interests are based more on working- and middle-class points of view because their populations are diverse, not primarily white and rich. “Even outer-ring suburban voters ultimately have an interest in more equitable regional policies.” (29)

The way to forge these urban-suburban coalitions is by “moving some of the heavily Democratic precincts over the suburban congressional districts..” making “all districts more competitive and help[ing] forge central city-inner suburb political coalitions.” (245) Most voters in cities do not turn out, whether Republican or Democrat, because these elections are practically “predetermined.” Those who do vote are usually Democrat, and there is as a result, an abundance of Democratic votes, often far more than needed to win the candidate’s election. These Democratic votes are in a sense “wasted,” and “if these voters were transferred to suburban districts, they would have made the races in these areas a dead heat.” (242) Therefore, “expanding central-city districts to include more suburban voters would result in more competitive races in both central cities and suburbs.” (242)

If the previously stated were to occur, politicians would be forced to be aware of issues facing all groups. Their districts would encompass the entire scope of social and economic issues ranging from those of the very poor, to those of the middle-class, to those of the wealthy. They would be unable to classify a district as purely a suburb or central city, and therefore unable to ignore or become apathetic to either point of view. And if the ultimate goal is to be re-elected, politicians will be forced to not only be aware of issues facing their districts, but address them head-on in order to please their constituencies. This simple change would bring about a whole new awareness and action on the part of all people – a greater practice of the democratic principle of representation for all.

In conclusion, the authors argue that political isolation is in fact the fault of politicians emphasizing and creating gaps between urban and suburban citizens and issues. This resulted in a shift of attention by all politicians towards suburban voters, since they consequently give greater voter turnout and campaign contributions. The authors propose the formation of inner suburb/outer suburb coalitions by redrawing congressional districts to include chunks of both central cities and suburbs. This would create more competitive elections, and politicians would be forced to be acknowledge and address issues ranging a greater scope of the population, thereby lessening the social and economic disparities between populations.

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