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The title of this diary may seem intuitive.  Liberal areas elect liberals.  Liberals like public transit, both for economic and environmental reasons.  Conservative areas don't elect liberals.  Conservatives like public transit less, both for economic and environmental reasons.  However, I decided to actually see how strong the correlation is, and the results are so incredibly strong I wanted to share them anyway.

First, I want to briefly explain my methodology.

Urban Area = The Census-defined urban areas.  However, I combined San Francisco and San Jose because, as a local, I can tell you it is one continuous urban area.  Otherwise, I stuck precisely to the Census definitions.

Democratic Index = I used the Cook PVI of various urban areas, which I mapped out on Dave's Redistricting App as best I could.  This requires using 2008 numbers, which are a bit out of date.  I made adjustments for Chicago (-2%), Phoenix (+3%), Tucson (+3%), and Indianapolis (+3%), due to the weird 2008 results in all four areas due to candidate and campaign effects.  I considered doing the same for Kansas City, St. Louis, and New Orleans, all of which had somewhat weird 2008 results, but decided there wasn't enough evidence.  For example, the New York urban area voted 68% for Obama in 2008.  Since Obama got about 54% of the national vote, its Democratic index is 64.  In an neutral election, that's what the Democrat would get.

Public Transit Index = I used the American Public Transportation Association ridership report, which gives 2013 numbers for almost every urban area with 750,000 or more people.  I used the metric of rides per person per year.  I simply divided the number of unique rides of public transit by the number of people in the area to obtain a number.  Pretty simple.  One thing I will note (that I believe especially affects New York and DC) is that tourists can cause artificially high numbers.  However, I see no way to adequately adjust for this, so I left it be.

I then graphed an easy Excel scatterplot and saw that the numbers lined up closely.  Very closely.  In politics, anything above an r squared of 0.25 is pretty great.  (For those who don't know stats or need a refresher, 0.25 means that the two factors are linked with one another in a positive direction and that 25% of the variation can be explained by this link)  

When I graphed it, I immediately noticed two outliers: New York and Salt Lake City.  Even with this, however, there was an r squared of 0.31.  

That's pretty high.  As you can see, New York's ridership far, far outpaces anything else.  It's the one on the far right.  Salt Lake City is the one on the very bottom; it is by far the most conservative urban area in the country over 750,000 people (although Oklahoma City, another very red one, isn't on this chart because there wasn't data).  Eliminating these two outliers, both of which I believe are unique cases (NYC has tons of tourists that use the subway and is far denser than anywhere else, and Salt Lake City has thousands of people who would be Democrats if not for their religion to an extent not true anywhere else in the country), the graph looks like this:

Now that's some serious correlation.  So, in summary, if you want to know how liberal or conservative an area is and know nothing about politics, just look at its public transportation ridership.

What's Missing: Unfortunately, the APTA excludes 6 populous urban areas from its results: Las Vegas, Tidewater, Oklahoma City, Richmond, Jacksonville, and the Research Triangle.  DRA also doesn't have results for Portland, Providence, or Honolulu.  Therefore, only 43 of the 52 areas I wanted to use are here.  I still think the results are strong.

Briefly, here are the 5 outliers:

New York City: As I said, it's just different than anywhere else in the country.  Denser, the most tourists, incredible subway system.

Salt Lake City: I hadn't though about this until now, but I think Utah would be just like Colorado politically if it weren't Mormon.  Salt Lake City is already as blue as Denver, but the suburbs would be swingy like Denver's if they weren't full of Mormons.  St. George would still be red, like Colorado Springs, and the northern Wasatch Front would probably be purple or light red like Fort Collins/Greeley.  Everywhere else essentially has too few people to matter.  The people in Utah are no different from those in Colorado except for their religion.

Detroit: Detroit has a very low public transit rate.  Of the 43, it comes in 41st.  However, it's a pretty blue area.  My guess is that the racial divide in the area stopped construction of commuter rail during the 1960s or 1970s, and the lack of money in Detroit means they can't fund an adequate bus system.

Hartford: Hartford is far bluer than it should be, demographically speaking.  It's probably due to being in New England, although Boston wasn't an outlier.

El Paso: El Paso is in Texas, which lags in public transportation across the board (San Antonio is 21st, Austin is 22nd, El Paso is 25th, Houston is 30th, and the Metroplex is 33rd).  The racial demographics are also different; it's the only majority-Hispanic urban area over 750,000 people.

A Couple Fun Lists

Top 10, with scores: New York 220, DC 100, Bay Area 97, Boston 94, Chicago 74, Seattle 66, Philadelphia 65, Los Angeles (surprisingly high given all the crap they get for having no public transit) 51, Baltimore 48, Salt Lake City 43.  These tend to be among the 10 largest, with Seattle, Baltimore, and Salt Lake City all better than they should be and the Sun Belt areas all off the list when they should be on it.

Bottom 10, with scores: Birmingham 4, Indianapolis 7, Detroit 8, Memphis 10, Kansas City 11, Nashville 11, Tampa Bay 12, Cincinnati 13, Inland Empire 13, Columbus 14.  

Abnormally Low, Given Population: Miami, Metroplex, Houston, Detroit, Phoenix, Tampa Bay, Inland Empire, Indianapolis, Birmingham

Abnormally High, Given Population: Bay Area, DC, Seattle, Boston, Portland, Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, Buffalo, Hartford, Honolulu  

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (18+ / 0-)

    21, CA-18 (home), CA-13 (school)
    politicohen.com
    Idiosyncratic, pro-establishment. Liberal, not progressive. For the poor, the children, the planet, and the rule of law.
    UC Berkeley; I think I'm in the conservative half of this city.

    by jncca on Wed Mar 12, 2014 at 02:33:53 PM PDT

  •  The L you say! n/t (5+ / 0-)

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Wed Mar 12, 2014 at 02:52:11 PM PDT

  •  NYC's an outlier, all right: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sfbob, MichaelNY

    You'd have to be crazy to want to drive in Manhattan. One of the few things I agree with Bloomberg: there should be extra fees for driving in Manhattan at least during peak hours. Twenty or thirty bucks a day seems about right: and that's just to enter the city.

    Oh, and I lived there for twenty years. Love the city. Hate the traffic.

    English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

    by Youffraita on Wed Mar 12, 2014 at 03:17:09 PM PDT

    •  I've driven in Manhattan for years (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, James Allen

      I take the subway too, and cabs, and walk. The only thing I refuse to do is bike, that just causes accidents and should be kept to the bike trails in Central Park.

      Driving in Manhattan is really not difficult. You can go 100 blocks in like 5 minutes if you hit the lights right. And it's actually easier to park in Manhattan than in Boston or Philly. Manhattan is set up much better for driving than cities like Boston and DC.

      20 or 30 bucks to drive in the city is absurd, not everyone can afford to live in Manhattan like you can, but people still like to enter the city. There's already enough tolls (highest in the country by far) at the bridges and tunnels. People think Manhattan is full of rich people now, add in a $20-30 entrance fee and you've basically told every middle and low income person "stay the heck away."

      •  Back in 1980, during that year's subway strike (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Captain Sham, JeffW, MichaelNY

        I rode my three-speed (yes, those things still existed back then) from Jackson Heights to lower Manhattan and back on days when it wasn't raining. It was a slog for me at the time; with the improvement in my bike skills and the addition of many more gears I'd probably be able to accomplish it much faster now even though I was in my 20's then and I'm now in my 60's.  From that point on until I left New York in the fall I'd regularly bike over the Queensboro Bridge and into Central Park on weekends; I'd sometimes even go elsewhere in Manhattan. There were no such things as bike lanes back then (except temporarily, during the strike itself). Heck, I didn't even wear a helmet in those days and yet I felt reasonably safe. All that's necessary is that you pay attention to your surroundings.

        One thing that Manhattan has over San Francisco (where I've been commuting by bike regularly for the past 15 years--WITH a helmet on) is that there are no street-level railroad rights-of-way. That all by itself makes Manhattan just a bit safer than bike-friendly SF.

      •  Don't really get the logic of that last sentence (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        MichaelNY

        First, they wouldn't be told to stay the heck away, since anyone could still move in and out through the city's exceptionally dense public transport network, just like now. Secondly, it's especially "middle and low income persons" who would be using public transport anyway.

        •  It's far less expensive (0+ / 0-)

          for a family of four to drive into Manhattan and park for free (which, on the weekends, is quite easy) than to take, for example, New Jersey Transit. And the time savings of driving is enormous. Adding a $20-$30 fee could be cost prohibitive for some of middle and lower income.

  •  Tip: You should change the y-axis to not start @ 0 (0+ / 0-)

    It's an annoying Excel behavior. They always start their plots at 0, regardless of where the data are. Edit the axis scales and you'll get it - the plot will look much better.

    Once you're at it, you might want to add axis labels so readers will know which variable is on what axis.

    As to the data, indeed Seattle is outperforming especially for a metro area with no subway or equivalent (thanks for nothing, previous residents!). But the wingnut minority with the help of NIMBY money politicians from the Eastside suburbs are hard at work trying to destroy greater Seattle's excellent bus system.

  •  Missed (0+ / 0-)

    The fact that Fairfield County CT is dark red and is served by the New Haven line of Metro North. The most heavily traveled commuter train service in the US.

    You best believe it does

    by HangsLeft on Wed Mar 12, 2014 at 05:36:29 PM PDT

  •  30 to 50 % is a pretty poor correlation in my view (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jncca, MichaelNY, Gygaxian

    But the regression coefficient is not a particularly important factor. That said, you might want to plot these on a semilog plot to reduce the effect of NYC and perhaps discern a bit more detail among the cluster to the left of your plot.

    And I wouldn't dismiss SLC because of your feeling that it would be more Democratic if it weren't for the dominant religion. Rather, I think it's an aberration because the Winter Olympics in SLC gave that metro area a mass transit system, including light rail, that likely wouldn't have developed organically due to the region's politics. But, because it's a fairly small metro area and because the Olympics were both a large economic effect and occurred fairly recently, you have a metro area with a mass transit network that still reflects the Olympics more than any cultural tendency innate to the area.

    •  I'm no stats expert. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MichaelNY

      I did what I could.  I don't know anything about semi-log plots but I could send you the raw data if you are interested in fiddling around more.  However, I disagree that within elections, 50% or so is not strong.  It definitely is.  Very few factors have that strong predictability.

      Also, good point on Salt Lake City that may well be true.  I don't know the area.

      21, CA-18 (home), CA-13 (school)
      politicohen.com
      Idiosyncratic, pro-establishment. Liberal, not progressive. For the poor, the children, the planet, and the rule of law.
      UC Berkeley; I think I'm in the conservative half of this city.

      by jncca on Wed Mar 12, 2014 at 10:45:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Agreed on SLC and the metro, and don't forget (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MichaelNY

      That even its liberal population is fairly new; the LGBT community simply didn't exist before the early 90s, and the immigrant communities are even newer than that. It has been Democratic for a while, but less liberal Democrat and more moderate or conservative Dem.

      And even the LGBT Dems in Salt Lake City claim to be "fiscally conservative". Rocky Anderson was the furthest left politician we've had in a long time.

      Leftist Mormon in Utah, Born in Washington State, live in UT-04 (Matheson).

      by Gygaxian on Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 09:45:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Couple things ... (0+ / 0-)

    1.  Thank you.

    2.  Always useful to have links for the key references / such ... such as the APTA score.

    3.  For DC, for example, is the population # Washington, DC, or for the entire Metropolitan Washington area?  Same with NYC.  So much of the transit use in DC is people commuting from the burbs.

    Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

    by A Siegel on Mon Mar 17, 2014 at 05:05:09 AM PDT

    •  Both population and transit use (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel

      are for the whole metro area.

      21, CA-18 (home), CA-13 (school)
      politicohen.com
      Idiosyncratic, pro-establishment. Liberal, not progressive. For the poor, the children, the planet, and the rule of law.
      UC Berkeley; I think I'm in the conservative half of this city.

      by jncca on Mon Mar 17, 2014 at 12:29:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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