Protests, Elections, and More: 5 Most Political Cities in the U.S.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Some cities in America are the political equivalent of an Iowa corn field. Right around election time, Iowa becomes the political equivalent of a major harvest. But this is a bit of a confusing metaphor, isn’t it? The point is, some cities in the United States are more charged with political activity and vitality than others. Measuring this objectively is rather difficult. You can look at cities with the most influence during an election. They will often draw the most political attention as a result, i.e. ad spending and politicians stopping through for rallies and speeches. However, those states do not always have a specific city, and even if they do, it doesn’t mean Indianola, Iowa is a hotbed of political discussion and activism during the many months, weeks, and years when Hillary Clinton or George W. Bush isn’t passing through.

One measure that’s worth taking into account is political contributions. Those states that have the highest cumulative political donations could possibly suggest highly involved residents with enough of an interest in politics to put their money where their mouth is. In reality, though, even if you narrow down these numbers from top state to top city — which has been done — and cut out PAC donations to look only at individual donations, this may still be a better measure of political involvement and wealth than political involvement alone.

Indeed, the states and cities leading in these breakdowns are often wealthier ones; for example, Los Angeles, where many Hollywood donors are well-known for putting a great deal of money toward Democratic campaigns. Then, there’s the idea of protests and activism, which is a little more direct. Ferguson, for example, has made headlines for weeks because of protests and unrest. But Ferguson wasn’t a particularly political city before protests broke out in response to the police shooting there, and likely will not be afterward — as vital as the protests may have been for drawing attention to a major issue.

In summary, a combination of all these considerations contributed to my breakdown of the most politically charged, active, and involved cities in the U.S. (in no particular order), but if missed one or you disagree, feel free to shoot me an email.

1. Washington, D.C.

The most obvious item to start out with is our nation’s capitol — cliché, but accurate. This could extend to areas nearby; Arlington, Virginia and the like. D.C. barely needs explanation. Not only are the major bodies of government located there for their daily work, but foreign politicians are drawn there as well, not to mention the lobbyists, activists, and business interests that are attracted there in order to champion various causes. What better way to bring attention to issues like AIDS than to stage a die-in on the White House fence? If the goal is to gain awareness, adding the word “White House” to the mix always helps draw eyes.

Many individuals working and living in Washington are employed in some sort of political field, whether it’s non-profits, environmental organizations, law practices, or lobbying groups, so the population tends to be highly educated on politics by necessity. Washington, D.C. also comes first on Open Secret’s Center for Responsive Politics compilation of the greatest campaign contributions by state, with $236,759,324.

It also comes second on the Sunlight Foundation/Azavea list of counties having donated the most money. Their list includes 10 counties that have contributed 30 percent of all individual contributions to campaigns, and Washington, D.C. comes second.

2. Bay Area, California

From San Francisco’s environmentalism and sustainability to Berkeley’s intellectual liberalism to Oakland’s grassroots movements, the Bay area is one of America’s most active, aware, and involved collection of communities. As a state, California is also one of the top contributors in elections, just under D.C. with $188,718,579 total contributions. Unsurprisingly, the county most responsible for much of this is L.A. rather than S.F., where big Hollywood money often flows out of.

Yet money is only a small part of what makes an area politically active. L.A. is a fairly political city when it comes to election time, but the Bay Area has more continual and outspoken signs of engagement, including Occupy Oakland and a long list of Berkley’s protests, from free speech and the Berkley riots to pharmaceutical companies demonstrations to protests in recent days on events in Israel.

3. Tampa, Florida

Tampa, Florida is not only one of the most red cities in the state, it contains 25 percent of the state’s registered Republican voters, according to FiveThirtyEight. What’s more, it plays a key role in deciding the way elections shake out. Often, if Tampa goes one way, it hints at where the state as a whole might tilt. Florida as a whole is a big state in presidential elections, and Tampa is part of the I-4 corridor that has been a major battleground in the last few.

There’s also a fairly diverse community in Tampa. Like much of Florida, a great number are elderly and retired, but there is also a strong Hispanic presence in the area. This makes for a healthy amalgamation of interests and issues: medicaid arguments from conservative voters to anti-violence in Venezuela protests earlier this year.

4. Austin, Texas

Texas in general is a strongly red state. Much as you might see environmental protestors or liberal movements in Oakland or Berkeley, you can expect to see open carry activists and NRA supporters in Texas. But Austin is the left-leaning hiccup in an otherwise highly right-leaning state. That tends to make an area rather self-aware of its own identity and its political viewpoints. Comparisons have a way of making one draw lines in the sand more clearly.

Both Harris and Dallas counties made Sunlight Foundation/Azavea’s list of major campaign contributors, leaving Austin out. This is hardly surprising considering the number of Texas-born Republican politicians who have run for office; the Bush name comes to mind compared to Democratic candidates. There’s also a fair argument to be made that Austin is only as political an antithesis as the rest of the state’s strong political cities demand.

5. New York City, New York

New York City has seen it all. From ACT UP’s historic response to a much ignored AIDS crisis to Occupy (and now Flood) Wall Street to Vietnam and Iraq war protests. Washington, D.C. may be the capital of the country, but New York has historically been a whole other kind of capital — and just as political — only without the White House and Congress.

New York has had a strong political community from the beginning when it was still an artistic mecca of loud voices and movements up through the seventies. Recently, it has progressed to where it is now: a financial center stage on which to march for a never-ending list of causes, and a bright lit stage for the eyes of Americans to see these causes.

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