In the spotlight

Voting in a Pandemic: COVID-19 and Primary Turnout in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

By Kevin Morris and Peter Miller | The year of 2020 was one marked by disruption and upheaval as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The United States proceeded with scheduled elections during the pandemic, forcing voters to reconsider whether and how they would be involved in the contests. We take advantage of a natural experiment to assess how COVID and the substantial reduction in polling places affected turnout in Milwaukee during the April presidential primary election relative to a set of voters largely unaffected by closed polling places. Unlike previous cases of polling place consolidation in the literature, the episode in Milwaukee was brought about by a natural disaster at the last minute before an election rather than an administrative decision made well in advance of election day. Read More
  • A Note from the Editors

    June 18, 2020

    We have all been rocked by the murder of George Floyd. Transformational change to policing in cities throughout the world has been demanded for decades, but the racism, excessive force, and unaccountable behavior have persisted alongside discriminatory practices in other areas of urban life - work, housing, health, education - that have long denied life and livelihoods to Black and Indigenous people of color. This time must be different. As we know better than most, truly transformational change is not achieved without a real understanding of the problem or potential solutions. Our community of urban scholars has long been engaged in the work needed to make clear how these issues harm our society, and most especially people of color. From time to time, we will highlight research from UAR to help your efforts to push our knowledge forward and make this time different. Read More
  • By Timothy Weaver (University at Albany, SUNY) | In recent years, scholars and pundits alike have proclaimed the emergence of an urban-rural divide that now marks “America’s political faultline.” With this observation comes the apparently uncontroversial argument that, over the course of the past few decades, cities have become increasingly liberal in contrast to the deepening conservatism in the countryside. This observation seems to be confirmed by Chris Tausanovitch and Christopher Warshaw who developed a ranking of American cities according to the policy preferences of their residents. They find that almost all cities over 250,000 are on the liberal side of the liberal-conservative spectrum, with San Francisco, Washington D.C., Seattle, Detroit, and New York City all being among the top ten “most liberal” cities in the U.S. In a related move, Clarence Stone has recently argued that the developmental “urban regimes” he famously wrote about in the 1980s, have been replaced by an “urban governing order” in which the distribution of power “more fluid.” This opens to door for new actors—potentially from historically marginalized populations—to push for more progressive policies. Read More
  • By Edith J. Barrett (University of Connecticut) | The Covid-19 pandemic, the resulting economic recession, and the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 have made ever clearer the gross inequalities in urban America. They highlighted the disparities in social and material well-being and drew further attention to the missing voices of underrepresented groups in urban policy decisions. Especially overlooked in urban policy are the needs of low-income urban teenagers. Teenagers are the most frequent users of public spaces, and in fact, public spaces may be the only areas youth can claim for themselves. Read More
  • UAR Co-Editor Yue Zhang recently participated in a webinar organized by the Asian Institute, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. The event presents a panel of experts from India, the United States, Canada, and Europe to discuss the State of the Cities Report: India, which was released in March, 2021. Read More
  • By Pierre Filion (University of Waterloo), Laura A. Reese (Michigan State University), and Gary Sands (Wayne State University) | The story of Amazon’s aborted attempt to locate part of its second headquarters in Long Island City, New York is well known. To briefly recap, in 2017, Amazon announced an open competition for the site of a second headquarters representing perhaps the largest single economic development opportunity in history. The company offered the winning city a $5 billion investment and the creation of up to 50,000 well-paid new jobs. Two locations were selected in November, 2018 – Long Island City and Northern Virginia. Each location would see half of the total promised investment and half of the jobs. New York’s incentive package, valued at $3 billion, included the cost of public improvements as well as performance-based grants. On February 14, 2019, however, Amazon announced that it was canceling plans for this major investment in New York City. The company indicated that they were unwilling to proceed with the project in the face of grass roots and political opposition. Read More
  • About six years ago, Urban Affairs Review started publishing a different cover photo for each issue, usually taken by one of the editors, editorial board members, or friends of the journal. The photos are taken in an urban setting and usually depict public art, crowds, architecture, or public transit. In mid-2020, we started to publish photos that portrayed current events in cities across the United States, specifically COVID-19, the protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, and the November election. Read More
  • By Dale Thomson (University of Michigan-Dearborn) | Retired business executives donated $70 million to the City of Kalamazoo to help it respond to increasing fiscal stress. Four foundations purchased a 178-acre industrial site along Pittsburgh’s riverfront to redevelop as a mixed-use site with high sustainability standards. In Detroit, a riverfront park is being redeveloped with a $50 million donation from a local foundation. These stories suggest that, in the age of fiscal austerity, philanthropy is playing an increasingly prominent role in helping cities provide core services and promote community and economic development (CED). Read More
  • By Katy Hansen (Duke University), Shadi Eskaf (UNC-Chapel Hill), and Megan Mullin (Duke University) | Many elected officials expect to be punished at the ballot box for increasing taxes and fees. At a recent city council meeting in Westminster, Colorado, one council member acknowledged potential retaliation for supporting a 10% water rate increase, telling a constituent, “I have to do what I think is best for the long term health of my city […] and if it costs me my job on council […], that is a consequence I’m willing to pay.” Both scholars and policy practitioners consider the fear of electoral punishment to be an important explanation for local decision making about public services. Read More
  • By Rachel Moskowitz (Trinity College) | With American cities’ socio-economic cleavages and ethnic diversity growing, policy making on urban public school issues has become ever more complex. For instance, what happens when the majority of voters are of a different racial group than a majority of the students in a city? One of the primary responsibilities of municipal government is the provision of public goods for its residents. Public education is one of the most substantial of these public goods. Decisions about education are often controversial; local education policy and politics are hotly contested and the outcomes can dramatically impact the lives of metropolitan residents. Read More
  • By Zack Taylor (University of Western Toronto), Jan Doering (McGill University), and Dan Silver (University of Toronto) | Sociologists and geographers have long placed space and place at the center of their analyses. They have shown that people’s identities and attitudes are inflected by their social and physical contexts—who their neighbors are and what kind of place they live in—although they have not always extended this to politics. Studies of urban politics, on the other hand, have focused on individual characteristics such as race and gender rather than space or place. In their important study of exit polls in American big-city elections, Trounstine and Hajnal (2014) find that race overwhelms all other factors. Elections in large American cities are predominantly contests between cohesive groups defined by race. Read More
  • The Urban and Local Politics section of the American Political Science Association invites nominations for its 2021 awards. The following will be awarded at the 2021 Annual Meeting Read More
  • By Jack Lucas (University of Calgary) | Incumbent candidates who seek re-election in Canadian cities almost always win: in many cities, incumbent re-election rates approach or exceed 90 percent. These stratospheric re-election rates are often interpreted as a sign of serious unfairness in Canadian municipal elections. Reforms ranging from stricter campaign finance rules to term limits to political parties have been suggested as possible solutions to the unfairness of incumbent electoral success. Read More
  • The Urban Affairs Review (UAR) editorial team is pleased to welcome the following people to our editorial board beginning in January 2021. We are grateful for their willingness to take on this important role and look forward to working with each of them over the next two years. Read More
  • By Kevin Morris (NYU) | Many of the negative effects of mass incarceration on neighborhoods have been well documented by scholars in recent years. The incarceration of community members has been shown to cause negative health outcomes, to disrupt labor markets, and to make residents less trustful of their local government. Residents who live in neighborhoods touched by mass incarceration exhibit symptoms of trauma and are more likely to suffer from anxiety than others. One aspect of incarceration’s effects on neighborhoods, however, remains less studied: felony disenfranchisement, or the suspension of voting rights. Nearly everywhere in the United States, the political rights of individuals convicted of felony offenses are severely curtailed. This project shows that the disenfranchisement of community members has serious impacts on neighborhood turnout in local elections. Read More
  • By Michael W. Sances (Temple University) | V.O. Key famously wrote, “Unless mass views have some place in the shaping of policy, all the talk about democracy is nonsense.” While formally democratic, governed as they are by elected representatives, whether local governments meet Key’s standard of democratic responsiveness is unclear. In recent years, several scholars have found correlations between the policy outputs of large cities and the views of their publics, with more liberal cities producing more liberal policies. Yet these patterns could emerge even if cities were not democratically responsive. Additionally, local government is much more than large cities; yet we know little about how the thousands of smaller municipal, township, and special district governments represent their voters. In a recent article in Urban Affairs Review, I find evidence that local governments are indeed responsive in some areas, but not at all responsive in others. Read More
  • By Victor G. Hugg (University of Illinois at Chicago) | Faced with enduring partisan gridlock and ever-tightening financial constraints, public administrators are increasingly turning to cooperative arrangements with local institutions and organizations to provide public goods and services. Over time, networks of governance have emerged from an assortment of both formal and informal agreements. Recognizing the prevalence of these collaborative efforts, researchers have started to seriously examine these agreement networks in a bid to understand the factors the predict interlocal collaboration. Read More
  • By Donald Vandegrift (College of New Jersey) and Zachary Weyand (College of New Jersey) | Liberal metro areas are known for their staunch defense of cultural and racial diversity. These defenses are often cast in moral terms as a conflict between cosmopolitan desires for openness and insular impulses that seek to preserve cultural homogeneity. A December 2016 opinion piece by the editors of The New York Times (“Proud to Be a Sanctuary City”) offers a typical statement of this view: “The word "sanctuary" as Mr. Trump deploys it -- a place where immigrant criminals run amok, shielded from the long arm of federal law -- is grossly misleading, because cities with "sanctuary" policies cannot obstruct federal enforcement and do not try to. Instead, they do what they can to welcome and support immigrants, including the unauthorized, and choose not to participate in deportation crackdowns they see as unjust, self-defeating and harmful to public safety." Read More
  • By Sarah F. Anzia (University of California, Berkeley) | Local government budgets are in the spotlight. The COVID-19 economic downturn has decimated certain streams of local government revenue. Scrutiny of policing has raised attention to municipal expenditures. It might seem like public employee pensions are disconnected from all of this: they are usually discussed as a state-level issue, and one involving quantities like funding ratios, unfunded liabilities, and investment returns rather than spending. But the reality is that they are very much connected. Spending on public employees’ retirement benefits—including those of public safety employees—is an important part of local government budgets everywhere. And long before 2020, many experts were warning that pension costs were on the rise, forcing changes to how local governments operate. Read More
  • By Sara Hinkley (University of California, Berkeley) and Rachel Weber (University of Illinois at Chicago) | After the Great Recession of 2007-2009, cities across the country were hit by a perfect storm of revenue declines, inadequate federal stimulus monies, and state efforts to displace budget cuts onto local governments. As a result, local governments found themselves making unprecedented cuts to public services and jobs. Libraries and schools were closed, social work caseloads rose exponentially, and even “sacred cows” like police and fire services were put on the chopping block as decision-makers pushed austerity responses. In most parts of the country, those cuts were never restored, even long after population and economic growth recovered. Read More
  • By Sara Meerow (Arizona State University) and Fabian Neuner (Arizona State University | Cities face a variety of hazards, from rising temperatures, to increasingly intense storms, to sea-level rise. Addressing these challenges will require local governments to enact ambitious plans and policies. Historically, such efforts have been framed in terms of sustainability, adaptation, or reducing vulnerability. More recently, resilience has become the buzzword. For example, many cities, such as Boston and Miami, have developed resilience plans and high-profile funding initiatives have purported to build resilience. Read More
  • By J. Ramon Gil-Garcia (University at Albany, SUNY), Theresa A. Pardo (University at Albany, SUNY), and Manuel De Tuya (University at Albany, SUNY) | Megacities, metropolitan areas that concentrate more than 10 million people comprised of one or more cities plus their suburbs (UN 2006), showcase the advantages and richness, as well as the challenges and struggles, of large, diverse, and complex urban settlements. The continuous­­­­ growth of metropolitan areas is creating a myriad of problems whose complexity often outpaces the ability of the city’s government to respond. In such situations, city governments are looking for new and innovative ways to solve problems and provide services. Megalopolises like Mexico City and New York City (NYC), in particular, are working to understand this new complexity and to address it in innovative ways that make it possible to respond to the increasing demand for current services and in many cases, for new kinds of services. In essence, they are looking for ways to make their cities smarter. Read More

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About the Forum

Urban Affairs Review is a peer-reviewed, bi-monthly journal focused on questions of politics, governance, and public policy specifically as they relate to cities and/or their regions. The Urban Affairs Forum is a space for leading thinkers about urban issues to share their research, ideas, and experiences. Visit us for insights on local and regional politics, urban governance, and public policy that are based in the research findings of our diverse community of scholars and practitioners. You can learn more about the Forum here.

 

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