The electorate becomes urban — will the Republican Party adapt?
If you look at any electoral map, it is clear that Democrats dominate in urban, walkable places. Republicans dominate in the countryside and do well in outlying suburbs — especially in the Red states.
The problem for Republicans is that the electorate is increasingly urban. Young people want to live in walkable, urban places, and they see elected officials ignoring their concerns. Millennials are aligning themselves with growing urban minorites — African Americans, hispanics, and Asian-Americans — who identify strongly with the Democratic Party.
That is one reason why the Millennials voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama — 60 percent to 36 percent, while participating in greater numbers. This marks the second presidential election running that Millennials came out in huge numbers for the Democratic candidate. This generation may continue to vote Democratic for their entire lives — especially if Republicans don't change their positions to address the concerns of urban voters. The Republicans greatest strength, by contrast, is among aging whites — a heavily suburban and rural demographic group — and this doesn't bode well for the party.
The two demographic fists — youth and minorities — are devastating enough. Yet there's a "third fist" that many Republicans probably won't see. That's the market trend toward walkable urbanism that will dominate real estate development for the next generation — steadily boosting the pro-urban constituency.
Although not much was said in this election about transportation and sustainability, these issues contributed to Obama's reelection and will become stronger factors in the years to come. Michael Bloomberg's endorsement of Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy — emphasizing the importance of climate change — is a harbinger of things to come.
Young, urban voters believe in global warming. Many of them have chosen a lifestyle with a smaller carbon footprint, and the government often undermines this option. They want transportation choice — the ability to walk, bicycle, use mass transit and have easy access to the things they need. Yet the government continues to subsidize and favor automobile-focused mobility and sprawl.
The Millennial outlook has aligned well with the federal government's efforts with the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. This program has brought together the US Department of Transportation (DOT), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to promote transportation reform and smart growth in a series of popular — yet relatively cost-effective — competitive grants. It's the first time DOT, HUD, and EPA have worked together in such a way.
Republican legislatures around the country made the tactical mistake this year of passing voter ID laws — some of which were struck down at least temporarily by the courts — that make it more difficult for those without driver's licenses to vote. Young, urban voters increasingly don't acquire driver's licenses, so these laws represent a challenge to their vote.
A bipartisan effort is needed to reform transportation. MAP-21, the recent two-year transportation reauthorization, retains the decades-long split of 80 percent of highway trust fund money for highways and 20 percent for mass transit — despite declining vehicle miles traveled and increasing transit ridership. Funds for alternative transportation such as walking and bicycling — strongly favored by by young, urban voters — were slashed.
The Republican House majority may continue to stonewall — there is no other word for it — a more urban-friendly and climate-friendly transportation policy. But the party risks losing the next generation of voters and positioning themselves as long-term also-rans. How long can Republicans afford landslide losses in the youth vote while at the same time conceding the growing non-white vote?
One way for Republicans to avoid that fate is to participate fully in building a more sustainable, urban-friendly, transportation system. This will require a new mindset. But speaking as an advocate of this reform, the door is always open.
Robert Steuteville is editor of Better! Cities & Towns.
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