In the conservative state of Texas, the largest city that regularly elects a conservative mayor is Fort Worth. Across the nation, it is uncommon for midsize and large cities to elect right-of-center mayors. The notable exception would be New York City, which has elected Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg in recent memory.
Why do conservatives struggle to win elections in big cities? Do conservatives have any policy solutions that appeal to urban dwellers? Do city residents reluctantly turn to conservative candidates to address hard issues like rampant crime or budget crises, or after preferred candidates face personal corruption scandals?
Kevin D. Williamson, roving correspondent of National Review sat down with The Urbane Cowboys Podcast to talk about cities and urban policy. The Urbane Cowboys asked Williamson why conservatives and libertarians struggle to get elected in cities, and if conservative policy is ill-suited for densely-populated cities.
According to Williamson, conservative candidates fail to show enough interest in issues that are important to city residents. For instance, city residents depend on public services like mass transit, to commute to and from work. If conservatives are to appeal to city residents, they must take a pragmatic approach as opposed to a purely ideological one. To be more relevant to city dwellers, conservatives need policy approaches that recognize the reality that taxpayer dollars will be spent on public services like mass transit, infrastructure, and other public goods. Conservatives shouldn’t allow an inclination to privatize public services stymie innovation if privatization is not politically feasible.
Also, Williamson indicated that residents reinforce the differences between mid-to-large size cities and rural communities by where they choose to live. Free people select cities or towns based on their lifestyle choices and career opportunities. Essentially, conservatives tend to prefer smaller, close-knit, communities with more freedom; whereas, liberals tend to favor urban areas with big city amenities. Mobility, while a good thing, enables self-selection of neighbors and surroundings.
The nation is becoming more urban, and cities are becoming the new laboratories of democracy. Conservatives must offer policy solutions that improve public services, empower economic opportunity, and expand personal freedom if they wish to govern outside of rural America. As times change so must policy.
Doug McCullough, Director of Lone Star Policy Institute
Photo credit: Jon Bilous