The president’s perception of the suburbs seems pretty much shaped by someone who grew up in an affluent community outside of a major city when many of the country’s growing suburbs were home to White middle-class and upper-class families. These communities were often built for White Americans hoping to escape inner cities as they rapidly became more diverse as Black Americans from the South and immigrants from the Caribbean and Latin America sought better jobs.
Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, and author of “In the Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America,” previously told Smithsonian Magazine:
Segregation in every metropolitan area was imposed by racially explicit federal, state and local policy, without which private actions of prejudice or discrimination would not have been very effective. And if we understand that our segregation is a governmentally sponsored system, which of course we’d call de jure segregation, only then can we begin to remedy it.
But despite their history, the suburbs are not what they used to be.
Suburban poverty is rising — and with concentrated poverty growing faster in American suburbs, more low-income people live in the suburbs than urban centers, according to Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Cities, and the author of “The New Urban Crisis.”
He wrote about the two major demographic changes reshaping suburbs in 2019 for Bloomberg CityLab:
- The suburbanization of immigration. According to the Brookings Institution, more than half of all immigrants live in the suburbs — a reversal of the migration patterns of the early-20th century when most immigrants moved from their native countries to inner-city neighborhoods.
- The racial and ethnic transformation of suburbia. The suburbs of major cities with large Black populations like Atlanta and D.C. have grown significantly, as the Black middle class has grown and has pursued the suburban lifestyle, and as low-income Black residents have been pushed out of gentrifying cities.
Trump’s tweet acknowledges that suburbs are now home to more low-income residents, but he seems to be underplaying just how many — and may be unaware that many of these Americans vote.
This ignorance may also help explain why Trump is faring poorly with suburban voters — a demographic he barely won in the 2016 presidential election. He received 49 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 45 percent. While the president speaks to suburban voters as if they are mostly White women raising children while their husbands work, many suburban voters come from groups with worldviews that differ greatly from those espoused by those in MAGA world. These voters are looking for someone with plans to address inequality between Black and White families, police violence against Black people in the suburbs and other issues that are of high priority to voters of color. As a result, Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, appears to be outperforming the president with these voters.
But even many of the White voters who backed Trump in 2016 have expressed increased discomfort with the president’s overt race-baiting and stances on major cultural issues like police brutality. Most Americans — including significant percentages within voting blocs that Trump previously won — disapprove of how Trump has responded to matters of racism sweeping the country.
Appealing to the cultural anxieties of his base was effective in securing the White House for Trump in 2016. But with a country that is looking for a leader to offer solutions to the country’s major culture wars, as well as the economic crisis and health pandemic that are both disproportionately harming people of color, Trump may discover that some groups he won were never as solidly in his base as he may have believed and as a result, are on track to vote against him this November.