What’s the most politically conservative big city in Ohio? Well, not Cleveland, certainly, but maybe Columbus? No — got to be Cincinnati, right?
Wrong. A new study by political scientists at UCLA and MIT concludes that of the 67 American cities with more than 250,000 residents, Toledo is the reddest metropolis in the Buckeye State and No. 27 nationwide.
Among major Midwestern cities, only Indianapolis tops Toledo in the conservatism of its citizens, the study says. Toledo leans more to the right than even Houston and Dallas. Take that, Texas.
The scholars used data from seven extensive surveys of public opinion, done between 2000 and 2011, to construct their liberal-conservative index of cities based on the public-policy preferences that their residents express. Questions dealt with such issues as taxation, public transportation, affordable housing, environmental policy, and smoking in bars.
The study’s findings are likely to surprise some Toledoans (and suburbanites), while providing scientific confirmation of what many longtime residents already knew, or at least believed. But they also raise some obvious questions:
If this city is so conservative, why don’t more Republicans get elected? Why is the local GOP so moribund? For that matter, why does Toledo’s Democratic Party appear so responsive to organized labor to the exclusion of other interests?
Independent D. Michael Collins’ victory in last year’s mayoral election suggests that far from having a robustly competitive two-party system, Toledo sometimes seems to have a no-party system. Whether that’s healthy for the city’s body politic is open to question.
The study concludes that city governments generally do respond to the ideological views of their citizens — that their policies are more political (and perhaps less professional) than previous scholars recognized, and often just as political as those pursued by state and federal officials. More-liberal cities tend to tax more and spend more, but also have more-progressive tax systems that take residents’ ability to pay into greater account.
The study’s identification of the most liberal U.S. cities — San Francisco, Washington, Seattle, Oakland, Boston, Minneapolis, Detroit — won’t startle anyone. The most conservative cities include Mesa (Ariz.), Oklahoma City, Virginia Beach, Colorado Springs, and Jacksonville.
But as always, these terms are relative: According to the study, only a dozen or so of the biggest cities are more conservative than they are liberal. That isn’t surprising: Other polling data suggest that people who identify themselves as liberal are far more likely to express a preference for city-dwelling; conservatives say they would rather live in rural areas, small towns, and suburbs.
Is Toledo’s municipal government as conservative as its residents? Toledoans who don’t like how they answer that question — whether yes or no — might resolve now to improve next time on the pathetic 25-percent voter turnout in last year’s city election.
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