How the exurbs helped decide the US 2020 election

 Joe Biden’s gains in low-density, semi-rural residential communities is a story of spatial realignment, and also of political realignment among classes, ethnicities and religions.

Among the surprises of the 2020 US presidential election was its unusual geography. Donald Trump, though defeated, added more than 11 million votes to his 2016 total. Many of these new votes were racked up in communities dominated by the multiracial working class: the Rio Grande, Miami-Dade, the Bronx, Philadelphia, Detroit and Milwaukee. Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s victory was secured in part by driving up his support among older white voters, not only in the suburbs and military outposts, but in the staunchly Republican “exurbs”. The exurbs are at the threshold between the suburbs and the properly rural: low-density, semi-rural residential communities on the farthest periphery of metropolitan centres.

This complicates a cliché of US political commentary. The US is politically segregated. Democrats tend to live close together, within walking distance of amenities, while Republicans live farther apart, reaching church and family by car. Place is political. We experience class through place: this street, this school, this factory. Place organises capital and labour, production and consumption, conflict and competition, infrastructure and lifestyle, taxes and laws.

If Republicans prefer suburbs, this is not just the old story of “white flight”, first prompted by the jacqueries of 1968: they are also in flight from city administrations that tax to pay for services they don’t want or use, and indeed from any tincture of “socialism”. It is also flight from blight, where production takes place, and the poor live. Yet, as with Trump’s surprising gains among non-white voters, and in counties with the highest rates of joblessness and Covid-19 infection, Biden’s gain in the exurbs is a story of spatial realignment, and thus, also, of political realignment among classes, ethnicities and religions.

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[see also: US election 2020: What Donald Trump misunderstands about American suburbia]

For several decades, the growth of exurbia was powered by the globalisation of manufacturing, and the decline of old rural economies based on extraction. In their place, new economies emerged based on real estate and amenities offered to affluent employees of service industries.

Exurban residents are typically white, middle-class homeowners who commute to work. The exurbs offer a version of natural beauty that can be consumed as a form of class distinction, contrasted with urban “ugliness”. They are wealthy, but – in part owing to their anti socialist impetus – have comparatively few services. This lack of infrastructure in the exurbs, Tristram Hunt explained, was successfully exploited by Republicans who worked hard to build civic networks through churches and conservative societies.  The fantasy life of exurbia is perhaps a version of the increasingly common idea of “exit”.

Geographer Jeffrey Osgood argues that exurban migration is culturally informed by the Jeffersonian idea of a nation of small farmers spread throughout the countryside, a counterpower to Washington. Jeffersonian republicanism has been a frequent motif of conservative resistance to the liberal state in American politics, particularly during the struggle over segregation.

Currently, the urban theorist Mike Davis points out, 34 million Americans …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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