One of the narratives that’s been defining how analysts look at this year’s unprecedented presidential race is the voice of the voters who have been left behind. Numerous profiles and pundits have dissected the beliefs, frustration, and political leanings of the working class voter—particularly for blue collar white men in Rust Belt areas—and explaining just how important a factor they’ll be in the Electoral College calculus (pretty big, according to recent polls).
Left unsettled in the wake of a few decades of rapid economic shifts, these areas of the country rightfully deserve the attention they’re getting, as well as meaningful policy solutions.
But considering that 62 percent of Americans live in cities, a number that’s only projected to rise, it’s also worth examining how the presidential candidates, and parties they represent, have vastly different visions of how to improve the urban condition. Changing or introducing new policies for our cities will actually have an effect on more citizens (and with some on the right complaining that Obama administration policies are threatening to "urbanize" other parts of the country, it's important to understand what they believe should be changed).
With both the Republican and Democratic platform ratified and ready for election season, here’s an examination of three key urban issues as viewed from both sides of the aisle. Gridlock and the realities of Washington mean these utopian visions will likely stay that way; wishful thinking of a policy wonk's perfect world. But when shifts in funding can have outsize impacts, it’s important to see the big vision behind even the smallest shift.
Mass Transit and Biking
For straphangers and cyclists, it’s hard to understate just how different transportation policy could be in Clinton and Trump administrations. At a time when mass transit ridership is up and aging systems across the country are straining to keep up with demand without falling apart, the Republican solution is to double down on the automobile. The platform proposes phasing out and eventually cutting all federal funds for transit, walking, and biking programs, a stance that, as many pro-transit writers have noted, would "wreck havoc" on alternative forms of transportation.
Republicans also aren’t shy about slashing funding: the platform calls out the Obama administration for replacing "civil engineering with social engineering" and trying to "coerce people out of their cars" with the "ill-named" Livability Initiative (an administration plan to help support multimodal transportation in rural areas).
The most impactful part of the Republican platform would be shifting how the Highway Trust Fund, a multi-billion dollar source of federal support for transportation, would be spent. In short, it would live up to its name; the significant portion of the fund that’s used to support mass transit, bike-share programs, sidewalks, recreational trails, landscaping, and historical renovations would be channeled back into building roads, leaving local governments to foot the bill for everything else.
The Democratic platform goes in the opposite direction; while the Republicans proudly calls out how Eisenhower built the Interstate system, Clinton claims to want to make an equal or greater investment in nationwide infrastructure. In addition to promising additional funds for mass transit, rail, and biking—specifically calling out cities—the Dems want to create a National Infrastructure Bank to fund new investments in roadways, bridges, and other projects. Part of this spending increase would be paid for by raising the gasoline tax, a rate that hasn’t been increased in more than 20 years (which Republicans staunchly oppose changing).
The party’s bitter divisions over issues such as gun violence find a bit of an analogy in their approaches to fighting crime (the severity of which has been a subject of debate, as evidenced by Trump's acceptance speech). The Democratic view, shaped by the influence of the Black Lives Matters movement, calls for rebuilding "the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve"—supporting independent investigations of shootings that involve police, investing in more body cameras for officers, as well as de-escalation training and the creation of national guidelines for the use of force.
The Republicans, seeking to "make it clear in word and actions that all lives matters," have a traditionally law-and-order platform that calls for putting more support behind the police, calling out the Obama administration for "politicized second-guessing," a "lack of respect," and an unprecedented "campaign of harassment against police forces around the country."
Despite the deep philosophical differences on their views of policing, both parties could be said to have a loose agreement when it comes to reforming mandatory minimum sentences (though the Democrats are more aggressive) and fighting the opioid abuse epidemic. The similarities end there. Both have different takes on the war in drugs; the Democrats call for an increased focus on treatment and prevention, while the Republicans believe the current discrepancies in drug laws (such legalized marijuana in some states) will lead to "problematic consequences."
Affordable housing is one of the central issues confounding cities across the country, and the solution to the issue reads like a litmus test on the each party’s view of the role of government. Everybody loves increased homeownership rates, but each proposes a different road to reach to this laudable goal.
The Republicans (who, of course, happened to have nominated a real estate developer) believe that regulations and rules are holding back the free market from finding a solution. Under the banner of responsible homeownership and rental opportunities, their 2016 platform wants to free builders from burdensome regulations—the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulations threatens to "socially engineer every community in the country."
Democrats, on the other hand, believe policy can bolster and build upon the nation’s shrinking stock of affordable homes and apartments. VP candidate Tim Kaine has spent year advocating for fair housing reform, leading the Architect’s Newspaper to ask if he makes Hillary the "urbanism" candidate. Substantially increased funding for the National Housing Trust Fund (which will create millions of new units and millions of jobs in the process), and a boost the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and other programs will help current homeowners keep their homes, and fight the effects of displacement and the scourge of homelessness.