PUBLISHED May 20, 2019, at 6:00 AM

Where Democrats And Republicans Live In Your City

Republicans and Democrats tend not to live side-by-side, even when they live in the same city.

We’ve heard it over and over: Democratic candidates win cities. Researchers have tracked the way Democrats have dominated in cities since the ’90s. Politicians bring up America’s deep-blue cities constantly, including in stump speeches and in every debate over the Electoral College. Even FiveThirtyEight couldn’t resist joining in: In December, Galen Druke and I showed how America’s cities and tightly packed suburbs shifted toward Democrats in the most recent midterm election. The more densely populated the place, the more Democratic the voters.

But just because Republicans aren’t winning in cities doesn’t mean that no Republicans live there. Much has been made of the country’s urban-rural political divide, but almost every Democratic city has Republican enclaves, especially when you think about cities as more than just their downtowns. It’s a sign of our polarized times that these Republicans aren’t evenly distributed across the city, of course. But it’s also a sign of how centuries of American history have shaped and continue to shape where we live — and who our neighbors are.

But before we get to the sociology, let’s dig in to the geography. What did the political landscape of the city1Includes only urbanized areas with a population of 250,000 or more, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. closest to you look like in 2016?

The political geography of large metropolitan areas
Each precinct’s two-party margin in the 2016 presidential election
Maps are derived from an open-source database and may contain labeling errors. To report a mistake, go to
If a precinct was not completely within the boundaries of an urban area, we counted a percentage of its votes equivalent to the percentage of the precinct’s land area that was inside the urban area.
FiveThirtyEightSOURCES: Decision Desk HQ, U.S. Census Bureau, Map tiles by Stamen Design (CC By 3.0), Map data by OpenStreetMap contributors

You may notice that the map includes areas that you don’t consider urban. Take it up with the Census Bureau. The agency defines urbanized areas based on population density and how the land is used, and it has been adapting that definition for over 100 years as Americans’ settlement patterns have changed. Part of that process has been accounting for growing levels of urban sprawl and the increasing fuzziness of the lines between suburban and rural areas.

When you expand the definition of urban areas beyond their downtown areas, cities start to look less Democratic and less densely populated. In more than half of the country’s 153 biggest urban areas, Democrats got between 40 and 60 percent of the 2016 two-party vote share2Democrats got more than 60 percent of the two-party vote in about a third of these urban areas, and got less than 40 percent in about 10 percent. — the share of votes that went to one of the two major parties, ignoring third-party votes and write-in candidates. Many of those urban areas aren’t small, tightly packed areas like Manhattan but sprawling, low-density regions like Phoenix, say, or Jacksonville, Florida.

Across the country, Republicans in urban areas are more likely to be found in the less-centralized, lower-density neighborhoods. “Even if you look within the same census tract or the same ZIP code or the same precinct, and even if you’re in a place like Manhattan, Republicans will search out the less-dense part to live in,” said Steven Webster, a political scientist at Washington University.

That complicates what we tend to hear about Americans’ political segregation, which is often defined in sweeping urban vs. rural terms. Lily Geismer, a professor of political and urban history at Claremont McKenna College, said the old red-blue dichotomy has “actually been replaced by this kind of urban-rural split.” But that way of looking at things isn’t as nuanced as it needs to be, she said. Describing political polarization as urban vs. rural ignores all the forces that tug people apart within urban areas.

To see just how politically segregated America’s urban areas are, we used each city’s 2016 election results to calculate its dissimilarity index3A dissimilarity index measures the share of a given population that would need to relocate in order for that population to be evenly distributed across a larger metro area. — basically, a number that tells us how separated its Republicans and Democrats are from one another, with higher numbers indicating more segregation. This technique is most often used to measure racial segregation, but political scientists have also used it to calculate partisan segregation. (One drawback of this method: A place that votes almost uniformly for one party — Democrat-soaked San Jose, California, for example — will have a low dissimilarity score. But that doesn’t mean Republicans and Democrats live next to each other in these places; it may just mean that the larger region is politically segregated, leaving the whole city as essentially a one-party enclave.) Those calculations generated a ranking of the country’s most politically segregated cities. Here are the top 20:

The most politically polarized cities in the U.S.
Two-party vote margin for urban areas with the highest partisan segregation
FiveThirtyEightSOURCES: Decision Desk HQ, U.S. Census Bureau

And here’s where the city closest to you ranks among the country’s most populous urban areas in terms of their partisan dissimilarity index:

How divided are the largest U.S. cities?
Urban areas ranked by 2016 partisan segregation and GOP vote share
Urban area GOP vote share
Partisan segregation
1Jackson, Mississippi39.9%0.63
2New Orleans41.6%0.58
3Baton Rouge, Louisiana49.7%0.56
4Birmingham, Alabama45.5%0.56
5Shreveport, Louisiana44.4%0.56
6Greater Memphis area, Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas36.4%0.55
7Greater Columbus area, Georgia and Alabama39.1%0.52
8Mobile, Alabama48.2%0.51
9Montgomery, Alabama41.8%0.50
10Greater New York City area33.3%0.47
11Lafayette, Louisiana63.9%0.47
12Greater Augusta area, Georgia and South Carolina49.7%0.45
13Savannah, Georgia36.5%0.45
16Columbia, South Carolina46.1%0.42
17Greater Chicago area29.6%0.40
18Richmond, Virginia38.8%0.39
22Little Rock, Arkansas43.6%0.38
23Greater St. Louis area42.9%0.38
24Greater Philadelphia area32.7%0.36
25Greensboro, North Carolina31.4%0.36
26Winston-Salem, North Carolina44.1%0.36
27Greater Chattanooga area, Tennessee and Georgia58.1%0.36
29Greater Charlotte area, North Carolina and South Carolina40.3%0.36
30Greater Washington, D.C., area23.1%0.36
31Nashville-Davidson, Tennessee46.4%0.35
33Greater Cincinnati area53.3%0.34
34Greater Los Angeles area27.4%0.34
35Trenton, New Jersey33.8%0.34
36Flint, Michigan40.1%0.34
37Virginia Beach, Virginia42.1%0.33
38Asheville, North Carolina42.3%0.33
39Bakersfield, California55.0%0.32
40Greater Dallas area47.2%0.32
41Austin, Texas32.8%0.32
42Eugene, Oregon31.4%0.31
43Portland, Oregon30.4%0.31
44Greater Springfield area, Massachusetts37.3%0.31
46Jacksonville, Florida54.2%0.30
47Tallahassee, Florida32.7%0.30
48Greater Louisville area, Kentucky and Indiana46.4%0.30
49Fayetteville, North Carolina36.8%0.30
50Huntsville, Alabama54.8%0.29
51Greenville, South Carolina63.7%0.29
52Reading, Pennsylvania45.8%0.29
53Dayton, Ohio53.6%0.29
54Greater Boston area32.2%0.29
55Fresno, California45.1%0.29
57Columbus, Ohio38.0%0.29
58Ann Arbor, Michigan21.9%0.29
59Buffalo, New York44.2%0.29
60Greater Salt Lake City area43.8%0.28
61Greater San Francisco area13.4%0.28
62Grand Rapids, Michigan49.9%0.28
63New Haven, Connecticut40.9%0.28
64Indio-Cathedral City, California40.6%0.28
65San Antonio43.2%0.28
66Greater Pensacola area, Florida and Alabama60.7%0.28
67Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area36.4%0.28
68Durham, North Carolina15.4%0.28
69Tulsa, Oklahoma62.2%0.28
70Charleston-North Charleston, South Carolina50.5%0.28
71Sacramento, California40.3%0.28
73Greater Kansas City area, Missouri and Kansas44.3%0.27
74Riverside-San Bernardino, California38.4%0.27
75Lubbock, Texas67.2%0.27
76Lancaster-Palmdale, California40.2%0.26
77Greater Toledo area, Ohio and Michigan42.0%0.26
78Orlando, Florida39.3%0.26
79Oklahoma City58.9%0.26
80Greater Denver area39.0%0.26
81Boise, Idaho53.1%0.26
82Hartford, Connecticut37.0%0.26
83Akron, Ohio46.0%0.26
84Corpus Christi, Texas49.9%0.26
85Fort Wayne, Indiana56.9%0.26
86Peoria, Illinois50.3%0.26
87Tucson, Arizona38.8%0.25
88Lancaster, Pennsylvania53.8%0.25
89Greater South Bend area, Indiana and Michigan48.3%0.25
90Fort Collins, Colorado44.1%0.25
91Knoxville, Tennessee62.4%0.25
92Victorville-Hesperia, California53.7%0.25
93Harrisburg, Pennsylvania49.8%0.25
94Greater Fayetteville area, Arkansas and Missouri52.8%0.25
95Madison, Wisconsin20.0%0.25
96Rochester, New York41.8%0.24
97San Diego37.9%0.24
98Syracuse, New York39.9%0.24
99Greater Phoenix area50.7%0.23
100Wichita, Kansas57.2%0.23
101Raleigh, North Carolina38.4%0.23
102Antioch, California30.5%0.23
103Kissimmee, Florida31.9%0.23
104Greater Youngstown area, Ohio and Pennsylvania44.8%0.23
105Stockton, California31.4%0.23
106Greater Stamford area, Connecticut and New York39.8%0.23
107Greater El Paso area, Texas and New Mexico26.5%0.22
108Greater Allentown area, Pennsylvania and New Jersey47.6%0.22
109Denton-Lewisville, Texas57.1%0.22
110Greater Poughkeepsie area, New York and New Jersey48.0%0.22
111Albany-Schenectady, New York39.5%0.22
112Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida49.2%0.22
113Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky44.3%0.22
114Albuquerque, New Mexico40.7%0.22
115Oxnard, California30.8%0.22
116Greater Las Vegas area43.3%0.21
117Greater Providence area, Rhode Island and Massachusetts41.2%0.21
118Rockford, Illinois47.6%0.21
119McAllen, Texas30.0%0.21
120Greater Omaha area, Nebraska and Iowa53.9%0.20
121Lansing, Michigan33.1%0.20
122Lakeland, Florida64.1%0.20
123Laredo, Texas23.2%0.19
124Greater Worcester area, Massachusetts and Connecticut39.8%0.19
125Des Moines, Iowa42.4%0.19
126Ogden-Layton, Utah65.7%0.19
127Port St. Lucie, Florida54.2%0.18
128Greater Reno area, Nevada and California47.3%0.18
129Greater Round Lake Beach area, Illinois and Wisconsin49.3%0.18
130Provo-Orem, Utah77.4%0.18
131Springfield, Missouri62.1%0.18
132Spokane, Washington51.1%0.18
133Canton, Ohio55.2%0.18
134Colorado Springs, Colorado59.6%0.17
135Modesto, California46.2%0.16
136San Jose, California20.9%0.15
137Lincoln, Nebraska46.8%0.15
138Palm Coast-Daytona Beach-Port Orange, Florida56.2%0.15
139Cape Coral, Florida58.6%0.15
140Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida55.5%0.14
141Greater Davenport area, Iowa and Illinois44.0%0.14
142Scranton, Pennsylvania49.2%0.14
143Anchorage, Alaska52.5%0.14
144Concord, California29.7%0.14
145Conroe-The Woodlands, Texas70.0%0.13
146Mission Viejo-Lake Forest-San Clemente, California51.8%0.13
147Santa Clarita, California48.1%0.13
148Santa Rosa, California24.0%0.12
149Palm Bay-Melbourne, Florida58.7%0.12
150Greater Myrtle Beach area, South Carolina and North Carolina69.2%0.12
151City of Honolulu33.0%0.12
152Bonita Springs, Florida63.8%0.12
153Murrieta-Temecula-Menifee, California59.8%0.10
FiveThirtyEightSOURCES: Decision Desk HQ, U.S. Census Bureau

An obvious trend jumps out when you look at the most politically segregated cities: They’re also the cities with some of the highest proportions of black residents. The persistence of racial segregation in American cities continues to define those cities’ politics. “There is still the question of why these things persist now, 51 years after the Fair Housing Act,” said Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, professor of African American studies at Princeton. “Part of the reason is the federal government continues to connect its housing policies to private-sector housing producers. The programs, to the extent that they do exist, are yoked to the private sector, which not only has a history steeped in racial discrimination but has made contemporary practices that are connected to that. This is not ancient history.”

It’s not surprising, then, that when we looked at the country’s largest cities, we found a strong correlation between black-white segregation and political segregation. Since black voters are almost uniformly Democrats, it stands to reason that when many of a city’s black residents live in just a few areas, those areas will be overwhelmingly Democratic, and fewer Democrats will be living next door to Republicans. The same dynamic holds true when you group together all Hispanic and nonwhite voters, though the correlation isn’t as strong. And that’s why, when you chart a city’s racial segregation4Again using a dissimilarity index, but this time looking at how segregated non-Hispanic white residents are from everyone else. All race data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2017 five-year estimates. against its partisan segregation, you can see that as one goes up, the other tends to rise as well:

Racial segregation and partisan segregation go together
Two-party partisan segregation index vs. racial segregation index
Selected urban area
FiveThirtyEightSOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau, Decision Desk HQ

But racial segregation alone can’t explain how polarized our cities are. Even in many cities with relatively few Hispanic and nonwhite residents, we see similar patterns of political segregation, with more Republicans in the less-densely populated outer edges of the urban areas and more Democrats in the tightly packed downtowns. These trends show up even in cities that are over 80 percent white, such as Springfield, Missouri; Boise, Idaho; Spokane, Washington; and Pittsburgh.

Many of the whitest metro areas are also politically segregated
Two-party vote margin for metro areas with the highest share of white residents
FiveThirtyEightSOURCES: Decision Desk HQ, U.S. Census Bureau

Researchers have plenty of theories as to why this happens. The best-known hypothesis comes from “The Big Sort,” a 2008 book co-authored by journalist Bill Bishop that described Americans as choosing to live in homogenous communities according to their how they live and their political preferences. “It’s identity all the way down,” Bishop said. “Places are getting more segregated. It is a function of choice, economy, work, lifestyle. … Lifestyle these days equate[s] to political choice.”

Two political scientists — Washington University’s Webster and Stanford’s Gregory Martin — recently explored the inverse of the “Big Sort” theory by trying to calculate how much partisan polarization was driven by Americans’ decisions about where to move. “Republicans and Democrats, they would like to live around other Republicans and Democrats, but that desire is small compared to more practical things, like the affordability of homes or the quality of schools,” Webster said. Instead, he said, “places shape people” more than people are sorting themselves into places.

Researchers agree that as politics have become more identity-driven and polarized, those factors are exacerbating the country’s geographic polarization. And that geographic polarization may, in turn, be contributing to our political polarization.

Come 2020, all these factors are still going to be in play. Racial segregation isn’t going to magically disappear in the next year. According to a 2018 analysis by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a nonprofit that helps secure more funding for underserved communities, in three out of four neighborhoods subjected to a practice known as “redlining” — in which banks and the federal government made it almost impossible to get a mortgage in African American neighborhoods, reinforcing the practice of housing segregation in those communities — the median income, even today, is still at least 20 percent lower than the median for the larger area. Over half of these neighborhoods are still primarily nonwhite.

Likewise, Americans are unlikely to stop conflating their identity with their politics anytime soon. If anything, the culture wars of the last few years suggest the opposite. So prepare for another deluge of stories saying that urban Republicans are an endangered species come late 2020. But remember it’s not that they’re not there — it’s just that they’re not winning. And they aren’t living next door to many Democrats, either.