Density and Democratic Voters: A Correlation Meets a Possible Cause

I’ve never been a big fan of Richard Florida’s work on the ‘creative class’, since I think it underestimates the importance of money in the revitalization of our cities (that is, rent extraction and federal spending have shoveled lots of money to ‘creative’ places). Another problem I’ve had is that I don’t think Florida always disentangles correlation and causality–gay couples might be an indicator of a ‘creative class’ city, but it’s not clear at all that they’re driving the phenomenon. But Florida recently wrote something that does seem to make some sense to me:

As Dave Troy puts it, the key factor in this year’s election is even simpler — it’s all about density. Troy, a founder of several software companies, recently plotted the county-level election results against population density…. His conclusion was striking: “98% of the 50 most dense counties voted Obama. 98% of the 50 least dense counties voted for Romney.”

The graph shows a clear “crossover point” in terms of density where counties turn blue and Democratic, as he explains:

At about 800 people per square mile, people switch from voting primarily Republican to voting primarily Democratic. Put another way, below 800 people per square mile, there is a 66% chance that you voted Republican. Above 800 people per square mile, there is a 66% chance that you voted Democrat.

Admittedly, this doesn’t take into account demographics: cities are often less white and younger, so it’s not clear that density is the driver. But this putative mechanism does seem possible (boldface mine):

After examining a series of electoral maps, Emily Badger also concluded that electoral power is “concentrated in those blue-black patches, one of which strings all the way from southern Connecticut to Washington, D.C. These are the places where people live densely together, where they require policies and an ideology that Republicans lately have not offered.”

I do think there’s something to that: it’s very hard to ignore social problems like poverty in urban areas. It’s also difficult to pretend that infrastructure doesn’t matter–public transit and revitalization efforts are just too conspicuous. These will push people towards Democrats.

I would like to see some good data though.

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