The Political Ramifications of Dramatic Changes in Suburban America

Democrats like Colin Allred recognize the importance of building a coalition across both race and class lines.

While politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the other members of the so-called “squad” have garnered most of the media attention since the 2018 midterm elections, I have been more interested in newly-elected Democrats like Representative Colin Allred.

In terms of background, Allred was a star football player at Baylor University before dabbling a bit in the NFL. He went on to get a law degree from UC Berkley and worked at HUD during the Obama administration. Prior to running for Congress, Allred worked as a civil rights attorney at a private law firm.

In 2018, Allred ran against Republican Pete Sessions in Texas’s 32nd congressional district, which is rated R+5 by the Cook Political Report, and won by over six points. Sessions was not only a member of the Republican leadership in the House, he was also part of Giuliani’s gang that worked to oust former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. So the election was a major victory for Democrats.

Allred’s win also puts some cracks in much of the conventional wisdom that has developed lately about the electoral strengths and weaknesses of Democrats. On the surface, it looks like Allred is simply another one of those Democrats who won in suburban districts due to the fact that upper class college-educated white voters have been repelled by the Republican embrace of Donald Trump. That might have been true of some of the people who voted for Allred. But the demographics of his district are a bit more complicated than that.

First of all, the racial demographics of the 32nd district are changing rapidly. At this point, whites are actually a minority at just over 42 percent. Twenty-five percent of the district is Hispanic, with 15 percent African American. According to William Frey, that is indicative of what is happening in other suburban areas.

Growing numbers of suburban areas are achieving what might be termed “melting pot” status. In 36 of the 100 largest metropolitan areas, minorities represent at least 35 percent of the suburban population, approximately the same share as the nation. Within these, 16 have majority-minority populations, up from just eight in 2000.

Secondly, the idea that the suburbs are home to only upper-class Americans is changing even more dramatically.

Between 2000 and 2015, the poor population in smaller metropolitan areas grew at double the pace of the urban and rural poor populations, outstripped only by poverty’s growth in the nation’s suburbs. Suburbs in the country’s largest metro areas saw the number of residents living below the poverty line grow by 57 percent between 2000 and 2015. All together, suburbs accounted for nearly half (48 percent) of the total national increase in the poor population over that time period.

While Allred’s district in Texas is home to wealthy people like former President George W. Bush, it also experienced a 56 percent increase in poverty from 2000-2014.

Suburban America was originally created as a result of white flight from urban areas. But this kind of data demonstrates that many of these congressional districts are in the midst of dramatic change. Candidates like Allred have taken that into consideration and realize the necessity of building a coalition across both race and class lines in order to be politically viable.

At this point, Texas Democrats are getting worried about what the nomination of someone like Bernie Sanders will do to their efforts to turn the state blue. So I wanted to see what someone like Colin Allred was doing in preparation for the upcoming primary in that state on Super Tuesday. Here’s what I found:

That is Allred on the far right in the light blue sweater rallying for Biden.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.