WAGNER: It's a brave new world in the suburbs

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Jennifer WagnerEarlier this year, I wrote for this publication about the rise of a new Hoosier swing voter, women my age who live in the doughnut counties around Indianapolis.

These are the voters who tipped the scales in favor of now-U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly in 2012. They do not obsess over social issues; to the contrary, they tend to be more liberal on issues like same-sex marriage, reproductive choice and gun control. They are educated moderates who pay attention to candidates over party affiliation.

But a recent article by Richard Florida, renowned professor of urban studies and economics, asserts that voters like these tell only part of the story of those who’ve fled cities for suburbs.

In “Welcome to Blueburbia,” Florida breaks down four places Americans now live: big cities, urban suburbs, middle suburbs and exurbs. Then he takes a closer look at the voting trends in each area:

“Size clearly matters, but the key factor is density. When blogger Dave Troy looked at the 2012 election, he found that 98 percent of the 50 densest counties in the United States voted for Obama, while 98 percent of the most sparsely populated counties voted for Romney.

“He even isolated the precise break point: ‘At about 800 people per square mile, people switch from voting primarily Republican to voting primarily Democratic. In other words, below 800 people per square mile, there is a 66-percent chance that you voted Republican. Above 800 people per square mile, there is a 66-percent chance that you voted Democrat.’

“Or, as the economist Justin Wolfers recently put it, ‘If you live near other people, you’re probably a Democrat; if your neighbors are distant, Republican.’”

The premise of Florida’s article is that the suburbs as we once knew them—white families flocking to green lawns, low crime and predictable floor plans—are dead.

An analysis earlier this year found that half of America now lives in 146 counties—out of more than 3,000.

People are returning to cities in search of a different lifestyle. A recent study by Indianapolis Downtown Inc. bears out the new demand.

In the next three years, our city will see an additional 3,500 downtown apartment units come online, increasing the downtown population by roughly 5,300 residents. Yet the study found that growth won’t bring the market to an oversaturation point.

I’ve lived downtown since the early 2000s, back when a handful of residential projects attracted primarily kid-free professionals and empty-nesters.

But we got married, graduated from townhome to house, had two kids, and never once considered leaving the urban environment.

More telling: Last year, my parents, who spent almost three decades in the Meridian Hills home my great-grandparents built in the 1930s, moved to a newer home on the Old Northside. They live five blocks from us and love that they can walk to everything. They used to be moderate Republicans. They now identify as Democrats.

What does all this mean for Indiana politics? Both parties must re-evaluate the way we think about where people live and what swing voters look like and care about.

As Indiana Democrats, the shift likely means we can start talking about issues we’ve traditionally eschewed because we feared alienating a Southern, conservative base that no longer exists.

The new Democratic base is in cities and the areas immediately surrounding them. Rural areas and exurbs are shrinking, and suburban America is no longer code for “rich, white Republican.” It’s a brave new world, and with the right candidates, it’s a world where forward-thinking Democrats can flourish.•


Wagner is a lifelong Indianapolis resident and founding principal of Mass Ave Public Relations, a local public relations and publicity firm. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.


  • Why must we look for a partisan advantage?
    Why not just... ” It’s a brave new world, and with the right candidates, it’s a world where forward-thinking people can flourish.•

Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Good Day I am Mr (Victoria Wright) from United state of America, i stayed in NEW YORK, and i have a broke up business, until i found this company email who help me to gain a loan for business,, and now i want to used this short medium to congratulate the below company for the fast and safe money they loan to me without any form of collateral, i loan 500,000USD from the company to save my business and lots more, i saw their mail on the internet, everyone always give testimony for what they did, so i quickly contacted them and they all did everything for me without stress and my money was sent to my account just 3 days later, i was surprise and i feel so glad, now i have a standard business control agent who help me, now i will advice those who need urgent loan to contact him at the bellow email:zenithfirm12@gmail.com

  2. NOTICE:This is to inform the general public that Vampires are real. My name is James Franklyn.,am an agent of vampire,am here to introduce our new world trend to you,a world of vampire where life get easier,we have made so many persons vampires and have turned them rich,you will be assured long life and prosperity,you shall be made to be very sensitive to mental alertness,stronger and also very fast,you will not be restricted to walking at night only even at the very middle of broad day light you will be made to walk.In case you are wildly oppressed by some unscrupulous persons we can still help you fight them.Your protection is assured immediately you join.Just contact the bellow email if you are interested we are here to attend to you anytime you want us. Contact the bellow email for more details. Email:vampirescreed@hotmail.com Sincerely: James Franklyn.

  3. Bravo! Someone else that is willing to speak the truth! Bravo!_____NBCSN is available in almost 2 MILLION more homes than just a few years ago, but Indycar STILL gets less total viewers than it did just a few years ago when NBC took over Versus. Attendance and ratings cratered with the end of season races (just when the title battle got "interesting" HAH!__________And now...new race in Basilia, where Miles celebrated the "rich history" of Indycar racing there. Rich history? What, 7 events in the 100 years of AOW? Yep, some history. Well, at least its an oval. It's not??? Are you kidding me??? Gosh darn road racin furriners.

  4. PURITY RAY LOAN OFFER........ Have you been denied by your banks,or are you in need of of an urgent loan to pay of your bills we are capable of giving loans @ cheaper rate to interested individuals, student, companies and members of the public in need of finance to settle bills, we do offer considerable loans which you can count on. For more information on our various types of loan,then you will have to contact PURITY RAY LOAN FIRM, to help you achieve your desire LOAN APPLICATION FORM TO BE FILLED BORROWERS INFORMATION * Full name:………………………. * SEX * ……………………………. * Country………………………….. * State:……………………………. * Land:…………………………….. * Occupation:…………………….. * phone number:…………………. * Telephone: ………………………….. * Age:………………………………. * Amount needed as loan:……… * Loan Duration:………………….. * Propose of Loan:……………….. * Annual revenue:………………… * Monthly Income:……………….. * Guarantee:………………………. * Payment: monthly or annually Email.....purityrayloanfirm@gmail.com Thank you and God bless Mr Purity Ray PURITY RAY LOAN FIRM we tend to serve you better

  5. Problem: most of the people responding to this article don't know about this service AT ALL! Why? Lack of awareness. This isn't IndyGo. This is CIRTA: might as well be the mattress company because they are asleep at the wheel - something like 3 directors over the last year? Playing with federal grant money is great! This "region" wants commuter rail service, has spent MILLIONS on Transportation studies yet can't even support a commuter bus line? This is largely for suburban riders to get to downtown - not for "service people to work in our hotels and restaurants" ! Get your head out of your backside!! These are professionals, students etc. that don't want to fight traffic, save some money on parking, gas, stress.... if CIRTA would put their federal money into widely promoting the sevive to Greenwood, Fishers & Carmel instead of finding directors and studies - this would be a successful service. Our family uses(d) it daily for the last several years - but the recent uncertainty & now unreliability due to cuts from Carmel has been a problem. Now, costs us an additional $350/month for gas & parking ( $4200/year) plus vehicle wear, service, environmental impact ... YES - this REGION needs this this type of service in order to keep growing and getting the people it needs to fill skilled positions in downtown Indianapolis. Think outside of your own car !!!