Do urban voters get short shrift in Congress?

A growing rural-urban divide in the US has led to the political underrepresentation of people living in cities, a new book argues.
urban voters in line at polling place

The geographic distribution of Democrats and Republicans has turned political campaigns into high-stakes battles in which the parties pit urban against rural interests, research finds.

Political scientist Jonathan Rodden argues that ever since President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s, the Democratic Party has evolved to become an almost exclusively urban party.

The geographic concentration of Democrats in cities has led to a systemic underrepresentation in Congress such that even if local district maps were drawn without regard for partisanship, their seat share would still fall short of their vote share, says Rodden, a professor of political science in the Stanford University School of Humanities and Sciences and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Rodden is also the founder and director of the Spatial Social Science Lab at Stanford.

Rodden’s analysis—which included a geo-spatial, statistical deep dive into election and Census data from the 19th century to the present—appears in his new book, Why Cities Lose: The Deep Roots of the Urban-Rural Political Divide (Basic Books, 2019).

Here, Rodden explains how the urban-rural divide emerged in contemporary US politics and offers three potential solutions:

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