Now things get interesting — and complicated. An excellent map by Chris Howard
Longtime readers will know of my absolute loathing for the surprisingly enduring Red State/Blue State meme. It's a dangerously simplistic way of looking at what's a much more varied body politic.
Enter this map from Chris Howard, which not only divides votes in the last election by county and shades them on a spectrum of red and blue to represent margin of victory, but also shades denser counties darker, showing clusters of support. It's one of the best representations of the actual political divides out there, especially the urban/rural divide.
There's been a lot of talk over the role of urban voters in securing Obama's re-election. Emily Badger, writing for The Atlantic Cities site, posits that the same density shown on the map "requires a different kind of politics."
Perhaps, but it's worth noting here that one of the biggest on-the-ground political fights in cities, especially ostensibly leftists strongholds, is over density itself.
From the Bay Area to D.C., the battles continue, especially as plenty of planners diagnose a multitude of restrictions on density as a major reason why many desirable urban areas have costs-of-living that make it difficult for the working class to scrape by.
There's an error in thinking of political idelogies as running neatly along a spectrum. They're more like galaxies, with diverse systems of thought coalescing around a common core, especially when a bigger enemy is around. Populations that may vote the same way in national elections regularly engage in brutal fights over whether tall buildings are allowed in their neck of the woods.
In this case, density advocates place a higher priority on the need for more affordable housing and a form of infrastructure they see as more sustainable, while seeing communities as flexible entities that can accommodate changing populations. They tend to place more trust in numbers and urban planning types to shape future growth.
Neighborhood activists, meanwhile, see established local character and the ability to veto developments that might change it as more important than increasing the housing stock, perceiving community identity as more fragile than their opponents. They tend to trust local activists and small "d" democracy over planners and studies.
This fight can get extremely nasty once disagreements about centralization, visceral feelings of territory and class divides enter the mix.
Back in 2010, I wrote at length about Asheville's version of this struggle, and the pattern repeats itself in other liberal havens too. Ostensibly, the progressives on either side value both affordable housing and neighborhood character.
But in reality cities can have large amounts of new development of the type density advocates want or they can have every new building finely tuned to fit in with the existing neighborhood. They can not have both, so this fight rages on.
If the aftermath of 2012's political battles shows a growing urban electorate shaped by the perspective of density, and if shifting political realignments put those voters up for grabs, expect this war to gain national prominence.