Will Young Republicans Change the Narrative About Conservatives and Cities?

Republicans under 30 like cities more than Democrats over 30. Is the urban/rural divide becoming less politicized? Image by Tony Dutzik using data from ##http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/12/ideal-community-type/##Pew Research Center##
Republicans under 30 like cities more than Democrats over 30. Is the urban/rural divide becoming less politicized? Image by Tony Dutzik using data from ##http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/12/ideal-community-type/##Pew Research Center##

Last week, the Pew Research Center came out with a massive poll on political polarization in the United States. As Angie reported here, one of the main conclusions was that there is a stark divide between liberals and conservatives when it comes to the type of community in which they want to live. Conservative Americans, by and large, prefer living in spread-out rural areas and small towns, while liberals tend to prefer cities.

None of that is too surprising. But the Pew data tell another story, too: young Americans — both Democrat and Republican — are far more likely to express a desire to live in cities than older Americans.

When asked, “If you could live anywhere in the United States that you wanted to, would you prefer a city, a suburban area, a small town or a rural area?”, 38 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they preferred to live in a city, as opposed to just 23 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds and even smaller proportions of older Americans.

The difference in preference for city living by age group is especially vivid among young Republicans. About one third of 18- to 29-year-old Republicans and Republican “leaners” expressed the desire to live in a city, as opposed to no more than 13 percent of any other Republican age group. In fact, Republicans under 30 are more likely to want to live in a city than Democrats over the age of 30.

There has, of course, been a lot of talk about the degree to which the transportation and housing preferences of the Millennial generation diverge from those of older Americans. We already know that they drive less than previous generations and have expressed a strong willingness to seek out communities with a variety of transportation options.

While there’s a limited amount that we can learn from the Pew survey about changes in trends among young people, given the lack of comparable survey data from previous years, the data do raise some intriguing possibilities.

The first is that that the forces leading young people to seek out city living may be bipartisan and broad-based. If cities are appealing to young people of a variety of political and cultural preferences, one might expect the recent drive toward city living to be more durable than if it were being driven mainly by a single demographic group or cultural “tribe.”

Second, the data raise the possibility that, at a time when partisan divisions seem to be growing ever wider, the stark partisan divide over community preferences may be eroding. That would be something to celebrate. The dramatic changes we need to make in transportation and other national policies to support the development of sustainable and resilient cities are only possible if the pattern of political polarization described so powerfully by the Pew data can be broken. By speaking up for the importance of cities within the Republican Party and bringing their own policy ideas to the table, young, urban conservatives could play an important role in making that happen.

The Pew survey can’t tell us whether today’s young people will carry their attitudes toward city living with them as they age. Still, the data raise the tantalizing prospect that opinions about cities could be transformed by the rising Millennial generation from a point of political conflict to one of cross-partisan consensus — a development that would have a lasting and positive effect on the transportation debate.

Tony Dutzik is senior policy analyst with the Frontier Group, a think tank working on issues of the environment and democracy.

29 thoughts on Will Young Republicans Change the Narrative About Conservatives and Cities?

  1. It’s very important to note that “urban” of course doesn’t necessarily mean “crowded.” As energy grows inexorably more expensive, property value will continue to increase with density (to a certain point). Property and wealth-minded Republican individuals will undoubtedly grow to the see the benefit of public policies that recognize the importance of walkable, bikeable infrastructure supported by robust transit.

  2. interesting about the 30-49 group. usually an individual’s most productive earning years

    Can’t imagine why they might resent paying for other people’s crappy schools, unaffordable mortgages, and less transportation mobility options for growing a family

  3. One thing to note is that rural areas tend to be over represented in the USA. They may have less people, but, as Al Gore can attest, having the most votes does not mean winning the election.

  4. Someone needs to inform those not already conditioned like ameobas by Rush Limbaugh, etc, that the bicycle is the ultimate libertarian vehicle.

    You barely put wear and tear and occupy space on the government-provided road, let alone the government provided transit system.

    You avoid foreign entanglements by using your own power, not imported oil.

    And virtually all the money you spend is kept by the local bike shop, rather than going to large corporations with global suppliers, even though the bikes and parts come from outside the U.S.

  5. “The Pew survey can’t tell us whether today’s young people will carry their attitudes toward city living with them as they age.” Nor can it predict that they will or won’t keep their party affiliation. On the other hand, the precipitous decline of the blue bars is kind of depressing.

  6. Not all bikes! Worksman Cycles manufactures bicycles not just in the USA, but in New York City.

    An excerpt from:


    “Worksman Cycles made a conscious decision many years ago to maintain our tradition of manufacturing our bicycles and tricycles right here in the USA. Most of our competitors thought we were just foolish and old fashioned believing we could remain viable in the USA, let alone New York City. It would have been far easier to do what most of our competitors did: close the US factory and simply become an importer.”

  7. If what is happening in cities represents civilization I guess the “democratics” and millennials in general are leading edge.

    Civilization? That depends on your wealth and where you live in the city. As has been said before our cities represent the best of times and the worst of times. Fact is cities can’t live without rural and the cities and rural areas no longer work like they did before the cities/locally and D.C./federally made the rules and started giving away money to individuals and corporations.

    I find many people in Rural areas to be warm and friendly in Public and private and many City people to be domineering and self serving in Public but exceedingly nice privately once you get through their shells. It is ironic, we have some hard nuts and some soft nuts but we are all nuts. Being such we need to recognize we are all in this together.

    It is probably unproductive for every conversation to have a political undertone with requisite labeling and depersonalization. There is already so much “us Vs. them” thinking that it has become Pavlovian on both sides.

    We need to find our commonalities and move to improve life in all its spheres both urban and rural. It will take more than Politics to make that happen. It will take true change so who moves first?

    If one side truly values diversity over the other as I often hear one side referred to as ‘racists or bigots’, then this implies to me that the other side is open to diversity and difference of lifestyle. So why isn’t at least one side non-confrontational? Implying others are uncivilized or ameobas is not productive toward bringing people together. Yet these are some of the least offensive comments you will ever see.

    Political Polarization? We seem to have dug ourselves into a hole so deep now we blindly throw dirt on each other and then think we have done our job.

    We accomplish very little but we work really hard and spend a lot of money doing it. How could we not be successful?

  8. Hmm well if you wanna read into it too much, maybe Republicans are more inclined to have a “traditional” upbringing for kids and move to the suburbs after they get married?

  9. if by traditional you mean space to play, mobility to get to school and activities, and enough disposable income to set aside for their college education, then yes

  10. This is very interesting, and should get further study. All the theories about why Republicans and Democrats choose to live where they do won’t fit with young republicans choosing cities. Some hypothesis I have are are that young republicans want economic opportunity, which they associate with business leaning republicans.
    or maybe freedom and privacy. While older people associate suburbs and rural with privacy younger republicans might associate cities with anonymity. In a city you can do what you want and be less judged by others. Or I think most likely younger people are less likely to let ideology affect where they live.

  11. Cities don’t lend themselves to kids. They don’t have the space, fresh air, and safety they get in the ‘burbs. Being able to walk to a corner store or to work/school (assuming you don’t get mugged or shot) is no substitute for the mobility and choice that the personal car offers in the much-maligned “sprawl” areas. Like it or nor Americans have voted with their feet and moved out of the traditional cities and into the suburbs/exurbs.

  12. Gas tax money for highways gets siphoned off for boondoggle transit projects like light rail and bike lanes. Bike lanes also take away space that used to belong (rightly so) to cars. 99% of the time these bike lanes are empty, save for the occasional Lance Armstrong-wannabe or college kid. “Traffic calming” tends to do just the opposite–people are angry at how slow traffic is moving now due to the reduced car lanes and people drive angrier and nastier because their frustrated! Central planning at its best (worst).

    If urbanites want to build trains, fancy bus lanes, bike lanes, etc. they should pay for it themselves and not try to gouge hardworking suburban/rural taxpayers for their utopian schemes better suited to European nations the size of New Hampshire. And not take away road space from the real transportation choice for 95% of the country–cars.

  13. It’s the way the Founding Founders intended. They knew that a non-vote-weighed system would just allow the cities to ride roughshod over the heartland (as in Europe) so they put in protections to keep us from being an urban-dominated nation no matter how big the cities grew.

  14. If people want bike lanes, I have no problem with that provided that they are paid for with user fees or a tax on bikes, they same ways that roads pay for themselves with a gas tax. Please don’t pick my pocket to support your lifestyle choice. Same with transit. I don’t tax your train ride to pay for my truck, please don’t tax my truck to pay for your train ride.

    Personally I see no benefit in a walkable community. I rather like communities that *aren’t* walkable because needing a car to come to them tends to cut down on the riff-raff. I can get plenty of exercise in my neighborhood, despite the fact that it’s not “walkable” (no corner stores, no sidewalks). If I want to go to the store or a restaurant, I have my truck for that. And there’s more ‘community’ out here than in any dense major city with all its boutique shops, bubble tea locations, and trendy nightclubs, I can assure you.

  15. You have some fundamental assumptions about what things cost which are popular, but wrong. Gas tax is a drop in the bucket when it comes to paying for highways. Trucks do way more damage to a road than smaller vehicles, but aren’t taxed at fair rates. Parking is expensive, but is often given away for free.*

    Even phone lines in rural areas are subsidized by urban subscribers, as mandated by the federal government.

    I really don’t mind that America’s rural areas require money from us productive urban types to survive. What I mind is that the people who are living off my tax dollars are screaming about how their taxes are too high.

    Highways are expensive. Bike lanes are cheap. I’m funding your lifestyle, and you are criticizing mine.

    * But I personally pay $200 non tax deductible a month for a spot to park my car.

  16. Roads don’t pay for themselves with gas tax. The Federal Highway fund is a case-in-point, as in it’s nearly bankrupt because the fee hasn’t kept pace with inflation (even at it’s peak it was only 50% funded by the federal tax). Most State DOT and Highway Depts are in the same boat.

    A small portion of the overall cost of roadways are funded through gas taxes and registration fees. A much larger portion for road-costs comes from sales, property, and income tax. What’s also not included is the externalized costs of driving: i.e. crashes, congestion, pollution, land-use impacts, and the like. Costs that cycling doesn’t generate and transit generates at a small fraction of private autos.

    Also of note, most state & municipal registration fees far outweigh what those drivers will pay in gas taxes, annually, and most cyclists own cars anyway – regardless of ownership, every time we ride we’re offsetting those externalized costs but still pay the taxes that pay for them; read: subsidizing your driving.

    Stop picking MY pocket. If you want to drive to a Red Lobster that’s less than a mile away, if only to cross the 8 lane arterial you live near, pay the full price to live that lifestyle.

    Here’s some back up: http://commuterage.com/2013/10/debunking-the-myth-that-cyclists-dont-pay/

  17. Maybe people are finally realizing that suburban living isn’t all that great. Kids have nothing to do other then drink and have sex. Driving isolates you from other human beings. And white flight (that created many of these suburbs) is pointless now that minorities have enough money to follow you.

    These aren’t Democratic or Republican ideas, they are modern realities. Hopefully kids will learn from their parents mistakes.

  18. The under 30 generation is the first generation which largely grew up with Internet access. They’re able to do many things without physically being there which older generations couldn’t at their age. As a result, they see driving as wasted time preventing them from doing something else. It’s no surprise then they would tend to prefer living arrangements which minimize driving.

    I would really be interested if similar surveys were done 10, 20, 30 years. I’m curious to see if older generations came to this same realization. Granted, the percentages of older generations wishing to live in cities are quite low, but I would find it fascinating if fewer 20 year olds wanted to live in cities 30 years ago than 50 year olds who want to live in cities now.

  19. Except you don’t have the choice to not own a car or not get a driver’s license in the suburbs. And with today’s traffic-clogged roads, you’re not even getting the promised freedom cars supposedly give. True freedom is getting around under your own power, not having to make car payments, pay for gas, or pay for car repairs.

    Mugged or shot? It’s not the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s any more. Most major cities stopped being crime-infested hell-holes a generation ago despite what you see on the evening news. You sound like some of my relatives who live in NJ. The last time they were in NYC was when Reagan was President. They base their opinions of the city on those outdated views.

  20. Gas taxes are considerably more than a drop in the bucket when it comes to paying for highways. State+federal gas taxes, plus fees on truckers, tolls etc…probably get to 50% of spending on highways.

    Otherwise good points.

    Local roads aren’t paid for by users at all, so letting cyclists or pedestrians use them instead isn’t at all a problem.

  21. Traffic jams in the suburbs will be a thing of the past once self-driving cars come around in a few years. I think that they will allow people to ‘have their cake and eat it too’ (a big detached house in the suburbs with easy access to the city if need be, no need for public transit or biking as a form of transportation), and life in the suburbs will continue to be as attractive as ever as a result.

    Americans are not and never will be “returning to the cities” en masse. The only exceptions are outliers like NYC, Boston, DC, SF, Chicago, and maybe Seattle, all of which have sufficient structural advantages and “historical gravity” to allow them to continue to be attractive. Rust belt cities like Pittsburgh, Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, etc are still losing population and show no signs of housing shortages. Nor are the historic downtowns of Denver, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, etc. bursting at the seams with urban pioneers. The so called “back to the cities” phenomenon is overwrought and mainly a niche thing happening in some neighborhoods in a few trendy cities (see above). When Buffalo, Philadelphia, and downtown Richmond are suffering from housing shortages and sky-high rents due to gentrification maybe then I’d admit this is a national phenomenon.

  22. You’re forgetting one thing-us city aren’t going to roll out the welcome mat to allow those self-driving cars into our cities any more than we will for human driven cars. The only way you can have your cake and eat it too is if cities continue to allow themselves to be destroyed with highways running through them just to allow people to live 50 miles from where they work. Without highways, traffic jams or not, it will take 2 or 3 hours each way to do that commute on local streets.

    If you want to have your cake and eat it too, buy a house in a suburb with good connecting train service to cities with work. That’s the only arrangement which works well for everyone. I couldn’t care less if someone loves living in a suburb being dependent on a car. It only becomes a problem for me if they insist on adding to the road congestion in my city by driving in.

    Incidentally, it’s no surprise some of the cities you mentioned aren’t having a revival. Dallas and Houston for example aren’t places urban pioneers would gravitate towards. They’re basically office parks connected by highways. Same thing with any other city mostly built after WWII, or which was radically altered to cater to automobiles after WWII. The attraction of the cities people are moving to is precisely the fact that they’re largely retained their historical, pre-automobile layout.

  23. Having lived in places ranging from an unincorporated speck by the road to a major city, I can offer a simple and maybe simplistic explanation: Democrat or Republican, a city is a more interesting and enjoyable place to spend your twenties than a rural community, small town, or suburb. Especially today’s eviscerated countrysides and towns or the sprawling, car-dependent, franchised mallscapes that most of our suburbs have become.

    If my surmise is correct, it has little predictive power. Personally, I expect the millennials to decamp to the burbs in their multitudes as their bairns approach school age, with young Republicans leading the charge.

    Still, this survey might offer a glimmer of hopiness. We are already seeing that young people overwhelmingly have no use for the racial and gender attitudes that so many of us greybeards still cling to. The numbers are so lopsided that I have to think they include many young conservatives. If some of those warrior sprats of the Right can be persuaded as well that cities are worth saving and even treasuring and growing, then the Republican Party might yet regain its sanity. It would be a good thing for the country if both major parties were at least a little sane, even if it remains the case that only one has any courage.

    A sane Republican Party that demonstrably did not hate cities could even break the generations-long one-party dominion in my home town, a regime that has been disastrous for the city (I am far from the only Chicago Democrat who would say that).

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