Barack Obama dominates the big city vote, Mitt Romney rules the countryside. Only in the suburbs, writes Joel Kotkin, the candidates face off on even ground.
Within the handful of swing states, the presidential election will come down to a handful of swing counties: namely the suburban voters who reside in about the last contested places in American politics.
Even in solid-red states, big cities tilt overwhelmingly toward President Obama and the Democrats, and even in solid-blue ones, the countryside tends to be solidly Republican.
What remains contested are the suburbs, which—despite the breathless talk in recent years of an urban revival—have accounted for 90 percent of metropolitan growth over the past decade.
But as the suburbs have grown—in large part by collecting families priced out of cities or seeking more space or better schools—they’ve shifted from reliably Republican territory to contested turf. Barack Obama won 50 percent of the suburban vote in 2008, a better performance than either Bill Clinton or John Kerry.
Obama’s success resulted from demographic changes sweeping the periphery of most major cities. Long derided by blue-state intellectuals as stultifying breeders of homogeneous white bread, the suburbs increasingly reflect and shape the country’s ethnic diversification. The majority of foreign-born Americans now live in suburbs, and many suburban towns—like Plano, Texas, outside Dallas; Cerritos, south of Los Angeles; and Bellevue, near Seattle—have become more ethnically diverse than their corresponding core cities. Among the metropolitan areas with the highest percentage of suburban minority growth are swing state regions Des Moines, Iowa; Milwaukee; and Allentown and Scranton, Pa.