Is St. Paul more conservative than Minneapolis?

Southern cities are generally more conservative than northern cities; not much of a surprise there.

The Economist has pored over the data in a new survey of cities and found a few interesting differences within states. Toledo is more conservative than Cleveland, for example. And Colorado Springs (a military community) is more conservative than Denver.

Oh, and Saint Paul is to the right of Minneapolis in more ways than just on a map.

The Economist

To what extent, then, are these local leaders simply following personal whim? Do their policies accurately reflect the politics of their constituents? As it happens, yes, according to a new study to be published in the American Political Science Review this month.

To reach this conclusion, Chris Warshaw of MIT and Chris Tausanovitch from the University of California at Los Angeles analysed large-scale surveys of public opinion on a range of policy areas in over 1,600 towns and cities across the country. The authors created an ideological score for each city based on how locals responded to survey questions on everything from affordable housing to preschool education.

They found that the most ideologically liberal cities end up spending twice per capita as much as the most conservative cities, have higher taxes and less regressive tax systems. Mayor Bloomberg’s soda tax, for example, seemed remarkable nationally, but reflected the rather leftist views of the city’s denizens (New York is the eighth most progressive large city in America; more liberal than Chicago or Baltimore, and slightly less than Detroit).

Overall this ideological ranking also confirms something everyone has known for a long time: most big cities are fairly liberal. There are exceptions, of course. Among cities with more than 250,000 people the most conservative are Mesa, AZ, Oklahoma City, OK, and Virginia Beach, VA. Within the state of Texas, urban centres all tend to be highly conservative. Houston leans slightly to the left, but Austin is an extreme liberal outlier.

The Economist says many of the questions used in the survey dealt with energy, the environment, and conservation, so the extent of the liberal v. conservative split between cities may be more focused on a few issues than a general philosophy.