After a week of election postmortems, one thing is clear: Mitt Romney’s failure to understand America’s changing demographics led to his undoing. But there was another killer: Geography. Deep blue cities and their inner suburbs came out for Barack Obama, pulling the president through in battleground states like Colorado, Ohio, Virginia, and Florida. And they put him so far ahead in places like Wisconsin, Nevada, and Pennsylvania that Romney never really had a chance (not to mention his home base of Suffolk County, Massachusetts, which went 78 percent for the president).
Of course, this isn’t a new phenomenon. In 2008, Obama took cities even more convincingly, allowing him to win North Carolina and Indiana as well. But America is only growing more urban, with cities that had been losing population since the 1960s finally starting to swell again. Eventually, fast-growing blue cities like San Antonio, Houston, and Austin could bring even the GOP stronghold of Texas within the Democrats’ reach. In the long term, the stakes are high: Republicans could be relegated to permanent minority party status.
“One of two things will eventually happen,” says Columbia University professor Ester Fuchs, who’s served as an advisor to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Either [the GOP] will change from the inside and transform, because it will lose its ability to create a majority coalition over time. Or, if the Republican Party doesn’t recognize the demographic shifts, they will disappear as one of the major parties.”
This isn’t just concerning if you’re a Republican. One-party rule doesn’t make for a healthy democracy, and neither does a stark ideological divide between cities and the sparsely populated lands around them (even in states Romney won, like Missouri, cities are marooned in a sea of red). So the question becomes: Can Republicans start to contest urban areas again?
Yes, but they’ll need to get over their cultural aversion to the metropolis—even if it means losing a few of the places they’ve relied on in the past.