The 2012 election demonstrated what many people could have guessed: rural states voted for Romney while densely populated states voted for Obama.
Many have offered explanations — everything from the presence of top universities in cities, to the prevalence of immigrant and African American populations. Perhaps the Republicans should consider running a Hispanic or African American candidate in 2016; but will that really help? Is identity the issue, or is it more about values?
Or is something more basic at work? Studying election results county by county, a stunning pattern emerges.
Population Density: the Key to Voting Behavior?
Curious about the correlation between population density and voting behavior, I began with analyzing the election results from the least and most dense counties and county equivalents. 98% of the 50 most dense counties voted Obama. 98% of the 50 least dense counties voted for Romney.
This could not be a coincidence. Furthermore, if the most dense places voted overwhelmingly for Obama, and the least dense places voted overwhelmingly for Romney, then there must be a crossover point: a population density above which Americans would switch from voting Republican to voting Democratic.
So I normalized and graphed the data, and there is a clear crossover point.
At about 800 people per square mile, people switch from voting primarily Republican to voting primarily Democratic. Put another way, below 800 people per square mile, there is a 66% chance that you voted Republican. Above 800 people per square mile, there is a 66% chance that you voted Democrat. A 66% preference is a clear, dominant majority.
So are progressive political attitudes a function of population density? And does the trend hold true in both red and blue states?
Red States and Blue States
Separating the results from red states and blue states, we can see that while each has a slight preference for their ultimate candidate of choice, on a local level voting behavior is still directly correlated to population density.
Studying this graph, two important facts are revealed. First, there are very few cities in red states. Second, the few dense cities that do exist in red states voted overwhelmingly democratic.
Atlanta, New Orleans, St. Louis, Dallas, and Indianapolis are all in red states — and they all voted blue. And there are no true “cities” in red states that voted red. The only cities in red states that didn’t vote blue were Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City. And by global standards, they are not really cities — each has population density (about 1,000/sq. mi.) less than suburban Maryland (about 1,500/sq. mi.).
Historically, one can argue that red states have disproportionately affected election results by delivering a material number of electoral votes.
Red states simply run out of population at about 2,000 people per square mile. St. Louis is the only city that exceeds that density in a red state. It voted overwhelmingly Democratic (82.7%). In contrast, blue states contain all of the country’s biggest and densest cities: Washington DC, New York City, San Francisco, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston, etc.
Red States Are Just Underdeveloped Blue States
As cities continue to grow in red states, those cities will become more blue, and ultimately, those states will become more purple, and then blue. The Republican party says it’s about growth and prosperity; the best way to achieve that in red states is through the growth of cities.
If you follow the red state trend lines, you can clearly see that any dense, fast-growing cities that might emerge in red states will be very likely to vote blue. The few that do already exist already vote blue. How would these new cities be different and cause them to vote red?
Red state voters generally prefer low-density housing, prefer to drive cars, and are sensitive to gas prices. Once population density gets to a certain level, behaviors switch: high-density housing is the norm, public transit becomes more common, and gas use (and price sensitivity) drops.
Red state values are simply incompatible with density.
Cities Are the Future
Globally, cities are growing rapidly as people move from rural to urban areas in search of opportunity. By 2030 it’s estimated that cities will grow by 590,000 square miles and add an additional 1.47 billion people.
Only subsidized suburban housing and fuel prices are insulating the United States from this global trend, and even with these artificial bulwarks, there is no good reason to think that America’s future lies in low-density development.
Density is efficient. Density produces maximum economic output. An America that is not built fundamentally on density and efficiency is not competitive or sustainable. And a Republican party that requires America to grow inefficiently will become extinct.
While the Republican party is retooling in the desert, it should carefully consider whether its primary issue is identity politics or whether its platform is simply not compatible with the global urban future. If that’s the case, an Hispanic candidate running on the same old Republican platform will simply not resonate. The Republican party must develop a city-friendly platform to survive.
Cities are the future and we need candidates from both parties that understand that reality.
The next question: why does population density produce these voting behaviors? Is the relationship causal or correlated? Probably both. I’ll explore this in my next post. Data Source: US Census 2010 (population density by counties); Politico.com election 2012 results by County.
There’s been an explosion of interest in new “startup accelerators,” incubation, coworking, startup funding, and new-manufacturing efforts in Baltimore in the last few months; unfortunately this appears to say less about Baltimore than it does about the growth in interest in these efforts worldwide.
Here’s a list of some efforts in this space:
“Accelerate Baltimore” at ETC Baltimore
Accelerator led by Cangialosi and Lane
ETC Baltimore itself (Canton and 33rd street)
Baltimore Node, Hackerspace on North Avenue
Sizeable Spaces, coworking in South Baltimore
Capital Studios, coworking on Central Avenue
Beehive Baltimore, coworking at ETC Baltimore
Accelerator effort being driven by Mike Brenner
Accelerator/cyber/techspace in Harbor East, led by Karl Gumtow
Innovation Alliance effort being led by Newt Fowler
Theater/workspace being discussed by Chris Ashworth/Figure 53
Shared warehouse workspace being discussed by Andy Mangold/Friends of the Web
Baltimore Angels (Cangialosi et al)
Invest Maryland fund (DBED)
TEDCO’s Innovation fund
Abell Foundation fund (tied to Accelerate Baltimore)
Wasabi Ventures fund (investing in city, affiliated with Loyola)
Fabrication Lab at Towson University
Fabrication Lab at CCBC
Fab-lab ideas discussed by John Cutonilli
Highlandtown workspace development led by Ben Walsh
Mike Galiazzo, pushing Local-Made, (head, Regional Manufacturing Institute)
Did you know about all of these things? Amazingly, many of the people leading these efforts don’t. Or if they do, they’ve not actually talked to the people involved. To me, this is a problem.
Why? Because folks attempting to gather support for these efforts don’t have all the facts. They either haven’t sat down and listened to people’s motivations, and they’re flying blind. Or it means that they have been unable to sell other like-minded entrepreneurs on their vision, which probably means their vision is not that compelling. And that’s even worse.
But this is not all that’s wrong.
Two Serious Problems
One: there’s a tremendous amount of duplication of effort represented in the list above. Why duplicate all of that administrative, accounting, legal, and governance overhead? By pooling more of these efforts together, that overhead can be minimized and shared.
Two: we don’t have enough human capital to support all of these different efforts. We simply DON’T. Many seem to think it will somehow materialize, but from where I sit, with possibly the widest-angle view of the landscape here of anyone, I don’t see that flow of new startups or even new individuals that can support all of this. It just doesn’t exist.
Baltimore has an opportunity to become a regional and even international destination for people looking to start or join entrepreneurial enterprises. But for that to happen, we need to have stuff here that can actually become a destination.
And unfortunately, the efforts currently underway are not likely to become that destination because duplicated overhead will keep each effort small and parochial.
However, if more of these efforts pooled their resources and talent – and most importantly identified a BIGGER and more IMPORTANT vision for what it is they are trying to achieve, there would be many positive effects, such as ample governmental and foundation support. And that would be hugely helpful in funneling in the sorely lacking regional and international *human capital* that we so desperately need here!
One Possible Vision
Baltimore has an opportunity to become the hub for digital manufacturing and mass-customization technology on the east coast.
Cangialosi and Lane are already talking about supporting some basic fabrication capabilities at their proposed facility on Key Highway. Gumtow’s effort has placed fab-lab capabilities high on its priorities list. CCBC and Towson have fab-labs, though it’s my understanding they may be underutilized. If you’re going to spend money on fabrication equipment at all, it should be utilized 24×7 in order to maximize the asset.
Something bigger – like taking over the WalMart in Port Covington, or the Meyer Seed Warehouse in Harbor East – could support an accelerator, fab lab, and shared workspace. Thinking a little bit bigger would also have the effect of lowering per-square-foot costs dramatically, and even dramatically altering the real-estate ownership structure.
Baltimore is already home to Under Armour, and at some point in the near future (similar to what happened with Ad.com) it will start throwing off new entrepreneurs with experience in consumer products and manufacturing. Where will they go? Will we keep them here in Baltimore?
Focusing on the intersection of manufacturing and technology is important because it represents the one shot we have at rebuilding even a little bit of a middle class here in Baltimore. Because of that, you’ll find abundant support for such efforts — support that can further reinforce Baltimore’s reputation as an international destination for digital and manufacturing.
The More the Merrier?
I am a fan of placing many, diverse bets rather than making a few large ones. But it’s also important to make strong bets. Unfortunately, Baltimore is right now setting itself up to have many weak positions instead of a smaller number of stronger ones.
I strongly urge the folks leading these efforts to get to know each other and coalesce around a bigger unifying vision that can turn Baltimore into an important regional and international destination for entrepreneurs.
Because without agreeing on a bigger vision, it’s likely that these efforts – each led by well-meaning individuals but with individual motivations – won’t ultimately amount to much, and it would be a shame to waste so much time, effort, and talent.
Thanks to Brian LeGette for his collaboration on some of the ideas underlying this post. Also, everyone on this list is a friend: happy to make introductions and advance the conversation.
I’ve been vocal about the 2011 Mayoral Race in Baltimore. It’s an opportunity to break free of the machine and finally put the city first.
But there’s a sorry timidity in Baltimore politics. Everyone agrees we need change. But too many are resigned to the way things have been, and whose “turn” it is. Who owes who favors. But this is a democracy, you say. Every vote counts, right?
That’s not how things have been. In Baltimore, the fix has always been in. However, last year we started to see the machine creak. Upstart young candidate Bill Ferguson unseated 27-year incumbent George Della. Gregg Bernstein defeated long-time incumbent Pat Jessamy. Cynics would point out that Ferguson was adopted by a clique of developers, or that Jessamy ran a horrible, entitled campaign. But still, this wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
There is other evidence of the decline and fall of the system. Ridiculous and incompetent Belinda Conaway filed a $21M suit against a blogger – which backfired. Now her challenger Nick Mosby has a real shot at upending the ludicrous and long-time Conaway “three bears” platform. And her father Frank appears more ridiculous every day.
I want more for Baltimore. That’s why I’ve supported Otis Rolley in his campaign for mayor. I’m simply tired of business-as-usual in Baltimore.
Specifically, I’m tired of developers being offered tax breaks in exchange for campaign contributions. I’m tired of city contractors being given lucrative no-bid contracts in exchange for campaign contributions. I’m tired of the same old tribe of corrupt, cynical power brokers doing what they have always done.
A vote for Otis is a vote for new blood – and for entirely different people. Don’t kid yourself. When you vote, you’re not voting for policies or a platform. You’re voting for a power structure. You’re voting for a group of people.
Stephanie’s people: out-of-state contractors, developers, city contractors, democratic party operatives, county-based people with interests in the city, friends of her father’s, the Governor, the Governor’s brother, attorneys, KAGRO (the trade group that represents the Korean corner-grocers profiting from Baltimore’s food deserts), casino operators, scrap metal dealers, city employees. These people have either “paid to play” or are actively benefiting from the decline, fall, and eventual ruin of Baltimore – or want to have a finger on exactly how Baltimore is run.
Otis Rolley’s people: real citizens of Baltimore (rich and poor; more individual donations than any other candidate); tech people, urban farming people, entrepreneurs, designers, patrons of the arts, folks from ALL of Baltimore’s neighborhoods.
Catherine Pugh’s people: contacts from her work in Annapolis, aerospace contractors (?), some decent and concerned folks throughout Baltimore, a computer repair shop on Fayette street, Scott Donahoo (used car dealer).
Jody Landers’ people: folks primarily concerned with the property tax issue, strong base in NE Baltimore, realtors, and many individuals associated with real-estate issues and encouraging residency in the city. (Ed. note: this post previously made reference to Live Baltimore, on whose board of directors I serve. There was no intention to associate Live Baltimore with any candidate or agenda.) Not many others.
I like and respect Jody Landers and Catherine Pugh. However, I had hoped that Jody would weigh his chances, drop out of the race, and back Otis. I, and others, asked him to do just that. And I think Catherine Pugh can do more for Baltimore by continuing to serve as a State Senator in Annapolis. She had nothing to lose by running for Mayor.
The conventional wisdom (The Sun, with its one poll and its feeble, lackluster endorsement of Rawlings-Blake) says that the fix is in, and we should just accept our fate.
There is one way that this race can end differently, and that is to turn out votes for Otis Rolley tomorrow.
The same set of jaded old political pundits (Barry Rascovar, Frasier Smith, Matthew Crenson – I’m looking at you) who will tell you that the “race is in the bag” for Stephanie are the same ones who also predict that turnout will be atrociously low on Tuesday.
Wonder why that would be? Maybe folks are tired of being told how to vote, and that races are over before they start.
It’s true. The internet and social media are not the drivers of voting behavior in Baltimore yet. But the Ferguson, Bernstein, Mosby, Ramos, and Rolley candidacies have received a boost from discussion by “networked citizens” that is unprecedented in Baltimore. And that’s something that the Sun’s lone pollster and our 1980’s era political pundits seem incapable of understanding. And the sentiment on Twitter has been overwhelmingly in favor of Otis Rolley (with almost no mention of Sen. Pugh, and few positive comments for the Mayor.)
It’s impossible to predict the outcome of tomorrow’s race. But know this: YOU can change it. You have a voice. Go vote. Get others to vote. Baltimore deserves that.
And beyond tomorrow, there’s another truth: 5th most violent, the 6th dirtiest and the 7th most murderous is no longer good enough for Baltimore.
To all those who say “stay the course,” please get out of the way. Baltimore deserves the best. We’re done waiting.
Check out Tom Loveland’s insider view of this election (and accompanying post). The reality will surprise you.
Otis Rolley delivers this powerful “closing argument” on why you should choose him as your next Mayor.
Otis shows his deep love for Baltimore, and understanding of cities, at TEDxMidAtlantic 2010.
Newly-elected Maryland State Senator Bill Ferguson was recently named to the Baltimore Business Journal‘s Power 20. This week they asked me, as a friend of Bill’s and member of a previous Power 20 cohort, to comment on Bill’s relationship with and use of power.
“Bill is a curious, humble, and earnest young man, and he represents a true shift in how power is conferred in this town,” I said. “He didn’t work his way up through the ranks and spend a few years as a city council person, or wait his turn. Bill was able to win because of a shift in political power that’s taking place right now. He derives his power from the people, not from the system.”
Political power is now being conferred through the accumulation of weak and strong ties with citizens, and no longer by top-down power structures, power-brokers, and kingmakers. Don’t get me wrong; those folks still have an impact (they did in Bill Ferguson’s race – they got behind him when it was clear he was onto something), but that impact is waning. And things that were previously unthinkable are now possible.
It may seem like hyperbole to compare the situation in Baltimore to what took place over the last three weeks in Egypt. But it’s an apt comparison.
For decades in both places, people have felt marginalized by a top-down, tone-deaf government that was more interested in its own well-being than that of its citizens. In both places, decades of neglect and mismanagement have led to a serious crisis of confidence.
People are fed up. They’re tired of feeling marginalized, the failed programs, the broken promises, the lack of accountability and the inability to implement imaginative solutions. For 60 years, Baltimore’s population has been in decline, and places in decline have not had the benefit of oversight, dollars, or creative leaders. Instead, corruption (explicit or implicit) festers.
The Perfect Storm
Several factors are emerging all at once:
Young people want to live near their work and are tired of commuting (and they’ll accept a pay cut to do it)
Our roads are full and can no longer be meaningfully expanded due to lack of space and funds
Fuel costs are projected to rise as China’s demand grows exponentially
Online networks are having a meaningful impact on real-world relationships and politics
These factors, combined, have made Baltimore the most important jurisdiction in Maryland – practically overnight. Yet our leadership has not caught up with this reality.
Baltimore’s recent rise to relevance combined with the power of communications networks will create stark shifts in the power structure.
Two Kinds of Leaders
Today we have a choice between two kinds of leaders. We can choose between the leaders that the system hands us, or we can choose to put our faith in new, emerging leaders with whom citizens have a legitimate connection and a voice.
Product of the system
Newcomers, inspired to serve
Disproportionate influence of money
Driven by small donations, connection with people
Ideas come from insiders and developers
Ideas come from anywhere and from study of best practices globally
Power comes from the top-down
Power comes from legitimate engagement with citizens
“Openness” is skin deep, only ‘fauxpenness’
Transparency at every level; data is a strategic driver
Secrecy and private realities drive decisions
One shared view of reality drives all decisions
Treat Symptoms: Problems (poverty, crime) are “mitigated”
Address Root Causes: Focus on wealth creation
Social media is a “one way,” Orwellian broadcast tool
Social Media is a “two-way” engagement tool
Over-Confident that the system knows best
Open to Questioning: People know best
Boomer-centric: top-down, command and control
Gen-Y Centered: Collaborative, flat organizations
People are engaged to placate them
People are legitimately engaged
Fear of reprisal keeps people in line
May the best ideas and people win
Will serve only as long as effective
It is sadly telling that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s much-promoted (Orwellian, broadcast-oriented) Safer City social media campaign follows just one person on Twitter: the Mayor herself. And it has just 78 followers. Why? Because it’s all for show, and no one legitimately cares about a program to mitigate a problem – people actually want to solve it at the root. To hell with a Safer City: give me a city where everyone can earn a living, and I can bet you it’ll be safer.
But our politicians don’t know that, because they have not taken the time to benchmark ourselves against other cities or learn from best practices elsewhere. Baltimore has more cops per capita than any other city. Why is that?
Because we need them. Why do we need them? Because we have a lot of crime. Why do we have a lot of crime? Because we have no middle class. Why do we have no middle class? Because we have not seriously focused on enabling small business formation, which is the number one driver of jobs. Instead we have given tax handouts to fatcat developers so they can build big projects and enrich their cronies.
Yes, clearly the cure is more cops. As the Mayor told the Baltimore Sun’s Justin Fenton, “Maybe we could do without as many officers, but that’s not what the public wants. They want more patrolmen on the street. They want more police in the neighborhood.”
No, Madam Mayor. What the public really wants is for these root cause issues to be addressed. It takes true leadership and understanding to go beyond just treating the symptoms.
Some have called the recent events in Egypt “the Twitter and Facebook revolution.” A few have scoffed at the idea that these tools could spark a revolution and cite eons of revolutionary precedent as proof. But it’s a mistake to dismiss their role.
Online networks are accelerants. They create connections passively where none might otherwise exist. Critical mass for change comes when the density of connections between people reaches a threshold level. Ideas spread between networks instantly. What might have taken 10 years before now takes 1 year.
The Soviet regime could never have survived in the age of networks. Iraq would have collapsed under its own weight if given time and these tools.
And the same repressive structures will fall in Baltimore, for the same reasons.
To quote Gandhi: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”