Why Cities Lose: The Deep Roots of the Urban-Rural Political Divide, Jonathan Rodden

Jamie Monogan
Content Type
Journal Article
Political Science Quarterly
Issue Number
Publication Date
Fall 2020
Academy of Political Science
The importance of political geography is likely to see renewed attention amid the redistricting cycle following the 2020 census and the controversies that new constituency maps are likely to bring. Many argue that gerrymandering in the United States is a key cause of electoral polarization and the observation that Democrats often are legislatively underrepresented relative to their aggregate vote shares. Jonathan Rodden convincingly shows that although gerrymandering may be a factor at the margins, the primary cause of these patterns is an urban-rural political divide that causes a political geography problem for Democrats. Rodden makes this case by showing historically how party platforms and constituencies evolved and illustrating the implications for political geography. This historical tracing of the parties speaks to how the battle between Republicans and Democrats came to be a culture war. This starts with the Democrats’ historical position as the party of laborers. Since factories were concentrated in cities, Democratic politicians who wanted to maintain their seats had to adopt positions that were appealing to growing portions of urban populations, taking progressive positions on social issues in addition to representing the interests of laborers. As the economy has shifted, the Democrats’ urban coalition has remained, with Republicans finding appeal in rural and exurban areas. The United States is not alone in this phenomenon. Rodden shows that nations such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia—all of which also conduct single-member plurality elections— have also seen left-of-center parties become urban parties with similar geographic patterns in constituencies.
Elections, Book Review, Political Science, Urban, Rural, Cities
Political Geography
North America, United States of America