Urban America and The 2012 Election

11.15.12 | Urban enthusiasts were cranky during this election season. Urban America is driving economic growth, they said. Most of the population lives in metro areas, they said. So why isn’t either candidate talking about cities? Urban problems (mass transit, crime, crumbling infrastructure, homelessness) as well as the potential of urban areas to drive U.S. economic growth were mostly absent from the campaign trail this time around. And Romney even threated to eliminate the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development if elected.

But the post election debrief has, thankfully, been very different. Pundits and pollsters have examined and reexamined their maps and data and find that cities, and, to be more specific, voters who live in cities — young people and communities of color — mattered very much in this election.

BRR Network’s own Manuel Pastor and PolicyLink’s Angela Glover Blackwell have been arguing for some time that the country’s shift to a majority minority population requires a new policy agenda.  In many of our country’s metro areas this demographic shift has already taken place, and politicians need to sharpen policy agendas to focus on helping young people of color reach their full potential and ensure they contribute to the new economy.

Pastor and colleague Jared Sanchez released an online mapping tool before the election with data showing that to win, candidates need to take advantage of newly naturalized citizens, a group they find is around 3.6 % of the voting-age citizen population.

“While this number may seem small,” they write in a press release, “the margin of victory in the 2004 election – the last time an incumbent was up for reelection – was only 2.6 percent in Nevada, a state where 5.1 percent of the voting age citizen population now consists of recently naturalized immigrants, meaning in the tightly contested 2012 Presidential election, this group will be critical. Indeed, new citizens are located in many key areas across the nation that may be considered to ‘swing’ the electoral outcome.”

They turned out to be right. Obama lost the white vote and still won the election, with support from people of color, young people, urban dwellers, labor and more, winning in almost all of the swing states. The numbers show Obama won among Latinos by unprecedented margins and new research from Pew shows the Hispanic voting block is likely to double in size within a generation.

In a piece entitled “Can You See It Now?” at the Huffington Post last week Glover Blackwell and Pastor argue that we’ve seen a glimpse of the future – no more will national politicians be able to win elections without the support of the youth and urban communities of color. As they see it, these changing demographics present an opportunity for the country, and urban America:

For the president, this means developing a policy agenda that truly seeks to prepare this new demographic generation to contribute to our economic future. This will mean bigger investments in education but also bolder investments in transit and workforce development systems that can link less advantaged workers with emerging opportunities in a reshaping economy

Pastor has also argued that successful immigrant integration is key to regional growth overall. (See more from BRR on this issue here.)

But there was another set of good news for urban enthusiasts as we watched the votes come in on election night, and that was in local ballot initiatives.

Despite the continued economic woes, and what will likely continue to be political gridlock in D.C., voters across the country took problems into their own hands. Towns, cities and states approved tax increases and ballot measures to fund city infrastructure, education, fair living wage ordinances for local workers and more. If Washington can’t help us, these states and metro regions seem to be saying, we’ll do it ourselves. A few examples:

Over at the Brookings Institution Bruce Katz and Mark Muro say the new Obama administration should find inspiration in these examples. Federal policy should, they say, follow the lead of these locales and adopt focused initiatives that support regional empowerment.  Read more at Brookings.

Photo/ Mrs. Gemstone

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