Pew Survey: Liberals Want Walkability, Conservatives Want a Big Lawn

Image: Pew Research Center
Image: Pew Research Center

Americans are increasingly sorted along ideological lines. There is less diversity of opinion among the people we associate with, in the media we consume, and even where we want to live. That’s according to a new report from Pew Research Center studying political polarization in the United States.

Image: Pew Research Center
Image: Pew Research Center

Perhaps most interestingly, the report found stark differences in preference for city versus rural living among people from different sides of the political aisle. People identified as the most consistently liberal were far more likely to say they prefer living in walkable place, while the most conservative people overwhelmingly said they preferred to live in a rural area or a small town.

The dynamic reinforces Nate Silver’s observation after the 2012 elections: “if a place has sidewalks, it votes Democratic. Otherwise, it votes Republican.”

Among those who identified as most conservative, 75 percent reported they’d prefer to live in a place where “the houses are larger and farther apart, but schools, stores and restaurants are several miles away.” Only 22 percent said they’re prefer to live in a place where “the houses are smaller and closer to each other, but schools, stores and restaurants are within walking distance.”

The situation was reversed for the most liberal class of respondents. Among this group, 77 percent said they preferred a smaller house, closer to neighborhood amenities. Only 22 percent would opt for the larger, more isolated house, Pew found. The proportions were roughly reversed for conservatives.

Americans overall were roughly evenly split, with 49 percent saying they’re prefer the bigger, more remote house, and 48 percent saying they’d prefer the walkable community. Interestingly, both classes of respondents — conservatives and liberals — showed little love for the suburbs. Just 21 percent of liberals and 20 percent of conservatives said they would prefer living in the suburbs.

Among the factors that were important to liberals and conservatives in choosing a place to live, there were some consistencies and some inconsistencies. Both liberals and conservatives rated living near extended family and strong schools highly. But access to museums and theaters was particularly important to consistently liberal respondents: 73 percent said these amenities were important to them, compared to just 23 percent of consistent conservatives. Liberals were also more likely than conservatives to say it was important to live in a community with a mix of people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds.

  • Carl S

    I think it worked out this way because the more rural areas raise people that are more conservative and the more urban areas raise people that are more liberal, not because they moved to locations that are more sutable to them.

  • Fred

    This does not surprise me in the least. The current definition of Conservative has skewed Libertarian. Libertarians want to live in bubbles and only see and interact with those of a certain ilk. The bigger the lawn, the less likely an undesirable is to come knocking on their door. They don’t care about museums and such, because again, possibility of undesirable interaction is quite high. Live in a house with a big lawn so you have to interact with no one. Get into your car to drive to church, interacting with no one along the way. Praise Jesus with all like minded people, then car back home. Having close neighbors and walking places does not allow that single-minded lifestyle. Heaven forbid having to interact with minimum wage scraping by minority!

  • Zmapper

    Do you have evidence for any of your unfounded, untrue statements?

  • Fred

    Those are my experiences, observations and opinions and are purely empirical. I don’t have any objective data to back them up. You are free to subjectively disagree.

  • Zmapper

    In other words, your statements are entirely made up by yourself. Is a correct observation?

  • Fred

    I can’t figure out where you are going with this.

  • Larry Littlefield

    All the more reason to eliminate federal transportation spending. You pay for yours, we’ll pay for ours, and we’ll cut out the middle man in Washington. The gas tax revenues can be used to pay off the debt from all the oil wars and protection of oil shipping routes.

    In the meantime, “suburbs” constitute perhaps half of the U.S. housing stock, if you count newer cities built just like them. But only around 20 percent of people want to live in them, regardless of their politics. Note that small towns used to be walkable. What happens when the existing owners of these housing units all want to sell?

    While 24 percent want to live in cities, how many housing units are in cities that are still economically, socially, and fiscally viable after the urban decline era? No wonder the cost of housing in those that are is going through the roof.

  • J3553G

    In my experience there are plenty of people who identify as libertarian and are also urban-oriented. They value culture, diversity and walkability and also understand better than most that suburban sprawl is more subsidized than the urban poor. “Conservatives” on the other hand is just becoming shorthand for Republicans who, as the new study illustrates, are increasingly becoming the party of low-density voters.

  • Jesse

    I love how both liberals and conservatives claim to dislike the suburbs but only the liberals seem to understand what a suburb is.

  • C Monroe

    I think it really has to do with density that leads to people being liberal or conservative, usually.

  • Larry Littlefield

    A suburb was an attempt of the best of both worlds. You have to look at it from the point of view of the time. The suburbs were expected to have the job market, range of goods and services, and cultural amenities of a city, but with more green, more civic spirit, and a more responsive local government rather than public employee unions and political machines, as in a small town.

    In the latter sense, the suburbs were “progressive.” Your own car rather than dependence on the monopoly business interests/unions and their transit. Your own home rather than a landlord who could jack up your rent at any time. Decent schools and involved parents, rather than time servers. A decent place for solid middle class folks, where they aren’t just a bunch of serfs abused by the rich and the political types.

    Of course it didn’t always work out that way, for a variety of reasons. The banks and the sellers of overpriced homes took the place of the landlords. The oil companies, auto companies and OPEC took the place of the traction interests. The political machines morphed Republican and took over places like Nassau County. And suburbs have fewer of the urban benefits the later they were built — precisely because the houses are larger and further apart.

  • valar84

    Conservatives tend to live in rural areas, liberals in urban areas, and if you ask people, they tend to say that they would like to live in a place that looks pretty much like the place they live in currently. That is especially true when people have roots in a place and have invested a lot of their money to live there, for example buying a house there.

    I’d be very interested to see the results after breaking down where people actually reside currently. I think we’d see that Liberals residing in urban areas would have strong inclinations for urban areas… and so would conservatives residing in urban areas I think. It’s just that most conservatives currently live in small towns and rural areas, or rather that the culture that permeates many small towns and rural areas in the US is a very conservative culture. So the preferences of urban conservatives get submerged by the preferences of the much more numerous small-town and rural conservatives.

  • Or conversely, folks who end up living in areas with big lawns, remote from cultural activities, tend to develop more conservative views as the “takers” are safely out of sight over the hills. And vice versa: folks who live in the city become more liberal as they become more aware of the many kinds of government spending that impacts them.

  • Richo

    What exactly are you basing that claim on?

  • StepUpAndSaySomething

    And the White House has a huge front lawn and doesn’t even allow pedestrians near it’s front fence.

  • andrelot

    I wonder to which extend the words used on the survey carry strong political connotations on themselves, thereby self-fulfilling the selection bias on the respondents.

    Putting it other way: these days “rural”, “(inner) city”, “small town” are anything but merely descriptions of the built-up environment. Within culture at large, and with the help of many political messengers out there, these nouns have become associated with certain values, attitudes, behaviors or preferences.

    So if people associate the term ‘rural’ with non-college educated, pro-gun, religious classifications, it is likely that people who see these attributes as positive when coupled together will just say they would like to live there (or the opposite for those who don’t).

    To some extent, these associations that have nothing to do with the built environment itself might well play into the way people answer to these surveys.

  • Outcast Searcher

    Earth to liberals:

    If you want a walkable community:

    1). Earn a decent living.

    2). Move to a walkable community.

    It’s not that complex, and doesn’t rely on stealing other people’s money for your personal pet projects, including political correctness.

  • Outcast Searcher

    I like how as usual, with NO factual information at all, ignorant liberals assume that conservatives are the source of all the US problems.

  • Outcast Searcher

    Hint: Fact free whining doesn’t score well with conservatives who are, say, carrying the country around on their backs with the taxes they pay by running a business and providing jobs — while being ridiculed and attacked (for more taxes) by the left (while they whine about a lack of jobs, of course).

  • CJQ

    I guess that’s why so much blue state (donor state) dollars from NY, Mass, and CA flow to red states like Miss, and AK.

  • Oregon Mamacita

    The questions are framed so poorly, IMHO. Once we talk about the trade offs (do you mind paying 40% of your income to rent a small place near a coffee shop and bars) then you would find liberals saying “that stinks!” As for the rural residents, ask the about safe routes to school and sidewalks & they will support those.
    I am a bike- riding lefty who disdains the New Urbanists as unskilled social engineers- jacks of all trades- masters of none. Maybe we don’t all fit in these little boxes.

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