Divided Regions: Race, Political Segregation, and the Polarization of Metropolitan America
57 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 18 Aug 2011
Date Written: August 13, 2011
Since the 1980s, the American federal government has devolved a wide array of crucial policy decisions to the state and local levels. With a decrease in federal aid and an increase in the number of tools available to lower tiers of government, scholars of American urban politics have suggested that cooperation among metropolitan municipalities could help address critical local political and policy challenges. Metropolitan political polarization, however, is a serious obstacle to these partnerships, and an issue that remains poorly understood. This project thus seeks to accomplish two key goals. First, I describe and explain variations in metropolitan political polarization, proposing three potential drivers of metropolitan differences: racial composition (including both black and Hispanic demographic variables), income inequality, and institutional configurations. Second, I explore the political and policy consequences of these metropolitan variations, examining the impact of polarization on municipal political composition and mass transportation policy-making. I discover that at the metropolitan level, racial demographics - particularly whether the region has a high concentration of blacks - almost exclusively explain variations in political polarization, with more black metropolises experiencing greater polarization. These divisions, in turn, have a potent effect on local government policy: more polarized regions exhibit more politically extreme municipalities and more fragmented transit policy outcomes. These findings have a disturbing implication: those regions with concentrated pockets of black poverty - places most in need of metropolitan cooperation in the contemporary, heavily localized political climate - are the least able to forge partnerships around shared local policy goals.
Keywords: political polarization, urban politics, political geography, race and ethnic politics
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