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Metropolitan Majority: The Survey

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issue brief

Metropolitan Majority: The Survey

September 14, 2021
Urban PolicyCrimeEducationHousingOther

The Manhattan Institute, together with Echelon Insights, surveyed adults in 20 metropolitan areas with the largest numerical population growth from 2010 to 2019, in order to understand their priorities, concerns, and opinions on key policy issues.  Respondents have a broad array of ideologies, ethnicities, and living patterns. But on many important local issues, a diverse, multiethnic majority coalition emerges. The three priorities that appear for this Metropolitan Majority—prosperity, public safety, and education—are the mirror image of their concerns: costs, crime, and classrooms.

The costs of housing and homelessness are the leading concerns across the 20 fastest-growing metros in America. Nearly two in three respondents are concerned about these issues, with a plurality “extremely concerned.” Similarly, when asked to rate the affordability of housing and the cost of living in their metro area, a sizable plurality rated it “poor.” In fact, a quarter of respondents said that housing affordability was “very poor” (Figure 1). These are also the most important factors they cited in choosing where to live. It is not surprising, then, that most people support reforms that would increase the amount of affordable housing.

Full Results Available: PDF iconTopline, PDF iconCrosstabsPDF iconMSA Crosstabs

Figure 1

Six out of ten say that crime is increasing in their area—including a majority of all racial and ethnic groups. Among those who live in urban cores but who express an interest in moving to a less dense area, crime rates are a top-three motivator. More than two in five respondents also see a lack of police presence as a problem in their area. Community policing and other reforms that would empower police are broadly supported.

Few say that local schools are doing a good job, and most support school choice and charters. Additionally, just over half of those in America’s fastest-growing metros are wary of critical race theory (CRT) in school curriculum.

Still, slightly more than half of respondents think that things in their metro are generally headed in the right direction, with roughly two in three agreeing in Boston, Dallas–Fort Worth, and Tampa metros. Similarly, many say that the quality of life in their metro area is good or very good (46%), and somewhat smaller shares say so about local economic conditions and the quality of public schools. But there is little sign of enthusiasm behind these votes of confidence: more than a third still chose “average” across these categories. Public safety, the quality of roads and bridges, and public transportation receive similarly tepid ratings (Figure 2). Though Americans in the fastest-growing metro areas are generally happy with their city’s quality of life, they worry about the costs to live there.

The spread of Covid-19 infections also remains a concern for some 60% of respondents, but nearly equal shares are worried about traffic, public safety and crime rates, and high taxes.

In all, nearly a third said that their local area is on the wrong track, and another 17% are unsure. Minneapolis and Seattle have the highest shares believing that their city is on the wrong track, with some 48% and 46% saying so, respectively. On quality of life, responses varied considerably by metro. Coastal areas such as Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle were all more likely to have local respondents rating their quality of life as poor, while residents of Sunbelt and Mountain West hubs such as Tampa, Orlando, Charlotte, and Denver were much more likely to have a positive outlook.

Responses often crossed typical party lines, including on issues such as school choice and curriculum, housing reform and homelessness, police presence, and the recruitment of law enforcement. Parents were especially likely to transcend partisanship; for example, two in three parents expressed concerns with CRT in public school curriculum. Ethnicities and races also did not fall into neat partisan divides, such as on homelessness (with 76% of black parents expressing concern) or in supporting a stronger local police presence (and only 10% of Asian adults wanting fewer police in their area).

Figure 2

Housing and Community

Housing affordability was top of mind for respondents across metros, but especially so in Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, and Austin, which received very low marks (Figure 3). Feelings are especially intense in San Francisco and Seattle, where half rate affordability as “very poor.” By contrast, Texas cities received high marks: the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex, Houston, and San Antonio ranked as especially affordable in our survey. Not surprisingly, the survey shows a similar split on cost of living, with coastal hubs ranking poorly and Texas, as well as Tampa, holding up well. Across metros, the cost of housing is especially concerning for black parents.

Figure 3 


Given the chance to live anywhere, 40% of respondents would move away from their metro area. Responses varied across metros: in Charlotte, 59% would choose to stay; in Seattle, 54% would leave. Cost of living and affordable housing are the leading factors in choosing where to live, followed by crime rates and being near family. For those who say that they would move away, given the chance, costs and crime are their big motivators. Unsurprisingly, jobs are a greater motivator for younger respondents in choosing where to live, while family is more important for those aged 65 and older. Partisan divides also come through, with supporters of the GOP likelier to consider crime rates and Democrats prioritizing inclusivity. In general, whites are also more likely to say that they would move away than minorities.

Slightly more than half say that they would prefer to live in a community where housing and amenities are farther apart, while 39% would rather live in a walkable area (Figure 4). These results echo a recent survey by Pew, which found the same level of support for walkability and a somewhat higher share who prefer auto-centric communities. Interestingly, city dwellers who would prefer living somewhere less dense are more likely to say that crime and affordable housing are top factors. Younger respondents (18–29), Democrats, and black parents were notably more in favor of walkability. Many respondents in our survey (76%) used their own car to get around their city in a typical day, while just 24% report walking, 11% using buses, and 9% riding a subway or metro.


Figure 4

The draw of the suburbs was evident in other parts of our poll, with 38% of respondents saying that if they could live anywhere, they would prefer living in a “suburb near a city.” But the city polls closely behind at nearly 33%, while small towns and rural areas got more than a quarter of the vote. In short, Americans in fast-growing metros are rather neatly divided on the type of area they’d prefer to live in.

When asked about ways to build more housing in their local area, most proposals received sizable support. A total of 68% support expediting and streamlining the approvals process, so that it would be easier to begin building more housing; 66% would allow more housing to be built near transit stops (Figure 5). Similarly, more than half would allow more backyard apartments to be built, although this proposal received twice the level of strong opposition (14%) as the other ideas presented in the survey. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) were the one reform lacking in majority bipartisan support, with Republicans falling below 50% in favor, while all other policy approaches crossed partisan divides. While white college graduates were likelier to support housing reforms including transit-oriented development, the most consistently positive support for increasing housing supply came from parents, especially black parents. Black residents are also more likely than other racial or ethnic groups to support housing near transit stops. In general, city residents are more supportive of housing reform, and frequent users of public transit are likelier to back allowing more housing near transit stops.

Figure 5 


Given the choice between state and local governments making it easier to build more homes and subsidizing more affordable homes, more respondents supported the latter proposition, though many were unsure. Conservatives were more likely to support a deregulatory framing, though they, too, leaned in favor of subsidizing affordable homes.

In this survey, 60% live in detached single-family homes, compared with just 26% in an apartment or condo, and 58% own their homes, while 38% are renters. (Nationwide, 64% of households live in owner-occupied housing, while 36% are renters.) While Hispanic respondents owned and rented in roughly equal proportions, Asian and white respondents were far more likely to report being homeowners than blacks were.

Economy and Jobs

While economic conditions seem generally positive in the fast-growing metros that we surveyed, a majority (53%) said that they are barely able or unable to afford living in their local area. Someone with a high school diploma or less is six times more likely to be unable to afford living in one of these fast-growing cities than a resident with a graduate degree. Those with annual incomes under $75,000 are more likely to struggle with costs across the metros that we surveyed.

While the Dallas–Fort Worth area, Minneapolis, and Tampa received high marks on locals being able to afford the cost of living and still have income to put into savings, New York City and Seattle perform particularly poorly. An astonishing 32% of Seattle respondents say that they are simply not able to afford the cost of living. And these cost-conscious residents were much more likely in our survey to say that they would move away, if given the chance.

Economic conditions rate especially poorly in Los Angeles (40% saying that it’s poor), with more respondents having a cloudy view of the economy than a sunny one, as is also true in New York City (31%). By contrast, the positive view of Dallas–Fort Worth’s (57% positive) and Austin’s economies (49%) continues to demonstrate the strength of Texas’s growth.

Finding good jobs remains a worry for many in America’s fast-growing metros. Some 44% say that such jobs are hard to find. Parents, especially Hispanic parents, and those earning under $50,000 report worries about finding well-paying jobs. Still, many are at least somewhat satisfied with the opportunity in their area to get ahead by working hard and believe that the local government is at least somewhat supportive of small businesses. As shown in Figure 6, two-thirds say that future job prospects and opportunities are important in deciding whether they want to continue living in their area or to move somewhere else. These prospects are especially important for Hispanics and Asians, as well as parents generally.

Figure 6

Nearly three-quarters of adults in New York City are worried about high taxes, just ahead of San Francisco; in both places, a plurality say that they are extremely concerned. More than two-thirds in Seattle also pointed to taxes as a local woe. By contrast, more people in Las Vegas say that they are not concerned about taxes. Tampa, Orlando, and Houston also receive high marks on their low taxes. High taxes are an especially great concern for Asian residents in our survey, and these worries cross party divides.

Getting to and from jobs is an important part of making cities work, so traffic is naturally a big concern in America’s boomtowns and big cities. Residents in Seattle, Los Angeles, and Austin think that roads appear especially clogged. In Austin, nearly half of respondents say that they are extremely concerned about traffic. A majority of adults in most of the cities we surveyed across America had some concern about road congestion, with the exception of Minneapolis, where there was an even split.

Education

There is significant variation across the country in how respondents rate the quality of their area’s public schools (Figure 7). Las Vegas comes in last among the 20 cities we polled in the quality of schools, with 44% ranking them as poor (and half of those respondents saying that schools were very poor). Los Angeles schools also performed poorly in our survey. By contrast, Austin, Boston, and Orlando schools were given high marks; nearly half rated public classrooms in the Texas capital as good. Across our survey, nonwhite parents and those in households making less than $50,000 annually gave public schools lower ratings.

Figure 7

We found similar results when asking about concern with school curricula, with New Yorkers and Atlantans expressing their worries, in addition to those in Las Vegas. Their concerns are bipartisan, with parents especially worried.

As shown in Figure 8, A sizable, bipartisan majority (71%) support allowing parents to choose which public school they would like to send their children to, regardless of their zip code. Indeed, a plurality of respondents strongly support this proposal. More than half would also support encouraging more charter schools. For both proposals, parents lent their strong support, with those in households making under $50,000 a year especially in favor of school choice.

Figure 8

More than half support removing lessons based on CRT—including concepts such as white privilege and systemic racism—from the public school curriculum, with a plurality strongly supporting this proposal (Figure 9). On this issue, there is a clear partisan divide, with conservatives 78–13 in favor and liberals 46–40 opposed. But parents, regardless of party, are clearly in favor of removing CRT from public school curricula: the 54% support from black parents matches the national average in our survey, and support only rises among Hispanic parents (61%) and white parents (73%).

Figure 9

Public Safety and Quality of Life

Strong, bipartisan majorities believe that crime is increasing in their area—less than one in 10 believes that crime is falling (Figure 10). When asked to rate public safety and crime rates in their areas, Minneapolis and Seattle came under fire from respondents (intensely so, in the midwestern hub), and no metro clearly excelled. When asked how concerned they are with crime in their area, nearly three-quarters of New Yorkers expressed worry about public safety, with similar results in Seattle and San Francisco. Even in cities where residents expressed fewer crime concerns—such as Tampa, Boston, and Phoenix—a plurality still pointed to safety as a problem. Crime worries are bipartisan—and make residents more likely to want to move away.

Figure 10


More than half say that they have confidence in their police, though support here leans somewhat older and Republican. About 75% want the police presence in their area to grow or remain unchanged. Only 13% of respondents want a smaller police presence than currently exists. There is a clear partisan divide, but the age difference is even more stark: just 3% of senior citizens favor reducing their local police presence, while 21% of young people favor the idea. Concern about a lack of police presence runs higher in Seattle, New York City, Minneapolis, and San Francisco. By contrast, a plurality of adults in Las Vegas and Tampa are unconcerned about a lack of policing in their area. Liberals are far less concerned about policing than conservatives, both in their presence generally (37% of liberals are concerned, versus 52% of conservatives) and in supporting a larger police presence (39%, vs. 70%). Asian respondents expressed more worry than other minority groups (and our national average) about a lack of police (51%) as well as the levels of crime rates in their metro (64%).

Four out of five say that they would support establishing more partnerships between local police and community groups to identify and address community concerns (Figures 11 and 12). Proposals to recruit more police officers with college degrees received strong support. A remarkable 82% of Democrats join 68% of Republicans in support of this policy idea.

Figure 11
 
Figure 12


An astonishing 90% of Seattle adults say that they are concerned about homelessness in their metro. Indeed, in Seattle and San Francisco, most residents say that they are extremely concerned about the problem. A disproportionate share in Atlanta and Austin also expressed deep concerns about homelessness. Nineteen of the 20 metros we surveyed had a majority of adults expressing concerns about the levels of homelessness in their area, with only Tampa falling just under that threshold. These were bipartisan concerns across ethnicities and races, with black residents and parents especially likely to agree.

Empowering police officers to be more responsive to quality-of-life issues, such as graffiti, public urination, and littering, receives bipartisan support from 72% of respondents. Support is especially strong among Asian respondents. More than seven in 10 supported empowering police officers to remove homeless encampments while also offering social services and housing in shelters to the occupants. Support was strong and bipartisan.

Reducing the budget of the police department, on the other hand, was opposed by more than half of respondents, with many strongly against the idea. This is true even when respondents are told that the money saved from a reduction in police officers would be shifted to mental health, housing, and education. Support for what is generally referred to as “defunding the police” was more likely to be found among Democrats, 18- to 29-year-olds, wealthy parents, and black respondents.

Who We Polled

A significant majority of respondents in our poll are Democrats or independents, including 28% who identify as strong Democrats, compared with 24% who are Republicans. Separating out independents with partisan leanings, GOP support rises to 29%, while Democrats capture 50% support. White noncollege adults were likelier to be GOP supporters, while white college graduates were more Democratic. City dwellers were much more Democratic, while the reverse was true for rural areas within the metros that we surveyed.

In looking at ideology, though, respondents appeared far more evenly divided: 28% consider themselves conservative, while 29% say that they are liberal, while even more are moderate (36%).

Our survey represents a diverse cross-section of America’s fastest-growing metros. Nearly 25% of respondents to our survey are Hispanic or Latino, while 14% are black or African-American, and another 10% are Asian and Pacific Islander. Some 20% of respondents make less than $50,000 a year in household income.

Select Cities

Austin

Costs and crime are leading concerns in Austin, even more so than in the other metros surveyed here: for instance, 66% say that the affordability of housing is poor, and 63% are worried about public safety and crime rates; 75% are concerned with the cost of housing, and 50% are extremely worried. Affordable housing is a leading driver (43%) on where locals live. While locals agree that the economy is strong (49%), managing growth is a leading concern, with the 70% concerned about traffic (essentially tied with Los Angeles on that score).

Austinites want solutions to homelessness and believe in the need for responsive policing. Some 66% are concerned about homelessness, and 41% are extremely concerned. More than 75% of Austinites support empowering police officers to remove homeless encampments if the people living there are offered social services and housing in shelters. Compared with the rest of the metros that we polled, Austin has above-average confidence in their police (eight points higher than the national average of the metros that we surveyed), community policing (five-point margin in favor), and support for recruiting well-educated police officers (eight-point margin).

The metro’s one major bright spot is in education. The quality of schools rates well (nearly half say so), and respondents are less concerned with the quality of schools and curriculum than the national average of metros that we surveyed. Locals are also evenly split on the question of removing CRT lessons from public classrooms, compared with the support seen nationwide.

Bay Area

Cost of living and quality of life are leading concerns for Bay Area residents. Some 66% say that housing affordability is poor or very poor, and 25% give the overall quality of life a poor rating; 79% rate the cost of housing as poor (with a definite majority being extremely concerned). The Bay Area is essentially tied with New York City for the highest share concerned with high taxes (73%), with a plurality (44%) extremely worried. More than 33% are dissatisfied with the opportunity to get ahead by working hard, among the highest rates in the country, though a majority are still hopeful on this account.

Still, there is strong support in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley for housing reforms, more so than in most other fast-growing metros. There is strong support for proposals such as expediting and streamlining the approvals process so that it is easier to begin building more housing (74%), encouraging transit-oriented development (72%), and allowing more backyard apartments to be built (60%). A total of 77% of locals are concerned about homelessness—many extremely so—while nearly 80% of locals support empowering police officers to remove homeless encampments.

Public safety is also a major worry in the Bay Area, with more than 70% worried about crime rates in their area. San Francisco–Oakland–Berkeley residents had the highest share supporting a move to defund the police (46%) among the fastest-growing metros around the country, which is perhaps unsurprising, since the area also has the highest share identifying as very liberal (23%). Yet 62% support a larger police presence than currently exists in their local area. The Bay Area also tops our survey, with 63% supporting recruiting more police officers with college degrees, whom research suggests are less likely to use physical force. And 88% support establishing more partnerships between local police and community groups to identify and address community concerns.

Dallas–Fort Worth

The Metroplex enjoys the best economic conditions among America’s fastest-growing metros. Nearly two-thirds believe that the metro area is generally headed on the right track. Future job prospects also receive high ratings, which contributes to a large share of locals who want to stay in the area (73% say so, the highest share in our survey).

The Dallas–Fort Worth area is simply affordable. It is tied with Minneapolis–St. Paul in the share of locals able to afford the cost of living and still have income to put into savings. The area’s housing affordability earns high marks (36% rating it as good or very good) relative to the rest of the country, as does its cost of living (40%)—on both fronts, the area ranks second, behind only its fellow Texas city San Antonio. Only 18% of locals are concerned about homelessness, the second-lowest level among America’s fastest-growing metros, next to Tampa (17%). In choosing where to live, north Texans value the opportunity to get ahead (12%) more than in other areas that we surveyed, though the cost of living was still ranked number one as a factor (42%).

On matters of crime, the Metroplex had the highest share in this survey saying that crime was decreasing in their area (21%). Two in three locals have confidence in their police. As for education, 71% support school choice, and removing lessons based on CRT received the highest support in Dallas (67%) among America’s 20 fastest-growing cities.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles ranks second among America’s fastest-growing cities in having a poor quality of life, and a plurality (40%) rate the city’s economic conditions as poor, the worst performance among the metros that we surveyed. The City of Angels is also tied with NYC in having the highest share (52%) among those we surveyed in their level of concern with the ability to find well-paying jobs—a similarly high share confirm that good jobs are hard to find. Unsurprisingly, traffic also rates poorly (71%), second-worst in our survey only to Seattle.

Housing and the cost of living are key concerns, too, as in much of the rest of the country. Notably, L.A. residents stand out for their level of support for pro-growth housing reforms, such as the 60% favoring more ADUs and the nearly 66% favoring more housing near transit stops. Locals are also far more likely, though, to favor subsidy as a route to more affordable housing relative to deregulation. A total of 76% of locals are concerned about homelessness, and the same share support empowering police officers to remove homeless encampments if the people living there are offered social services and housing in shelters.

Public schools receive a poor grade among more than 75% of locals. While 71% support school choice, charters receive higher opposition in L.A., at 29% relative to the other cities that we surveyed, though more than 50% still stand in support.

Minneapolis–St. Paul

Crime is a leading worry in the Twin Cities, but confidence in the police remains low following the George Floyd riots. Minneapolis–St. Paul ranks at the bottom in public safety and crime rates in our survey, with 46% giving it poor ratings and 25% ranking it very poor. Many are concerned about a lack of police presence (56%) and the level of public safety and crime rates (68%) in their area; nearly 75% believe that crime is increasing in their area, the highest share among the fastest-growing metros in America. But a majority (56%) do not have confidence in the police.

The Twin Cities rank dead last in our survey in the share believing that the metro area is heading in the right direction, while 48% say that it is on the wrong track. But one bright spot is the area’s tie with the DFW area on the ability of locals to afford to live there and still set aside savings (54% agree). Other high marks: the highest share unconcerned about traffic (30%) and believing that there are plenty of good jobs available (59%). Minneapolis also stands out in the number who support making it easier to build more homes to tackle high housing prices, with 40% agreeing.

New York City

The cost of living (39%), affordable housing (35%), and crime rates (31%) are leading concerns for residents of the New York City metro area, much more than in other metros that we surveyed. Other questions we asked on issues such as public safety, housing, and homelessness consistently reflect this higher level of concern in the Big Apple. Locals here are also likelier to rank the quality of life as poor, compared with other metros (26% compared with 18%, respectively).

Among the country’s fastest-growing cities, NYC has the highest share of residents concerned with its high taxes, with nearly three-quarters saying so. Considering the city’s economic woes in the wake of the pandemic of Covid-19, jobs are also a greater concern than in the rest of the metros that we surveyed, by approximately a 10-point margin. The Big Apple also ranks second-lowest in the country in the ability to afford the cost of living and still be able to set aside savings.

New Yorkers had the highest level of concern with their city’s public schools and curriculum. Charter schools remain a popular choice for New Yorkers, second only to Atlanta in the level of support that we see. And some 72% support school choice.

NYC leads the country’s fastest-growing metros in those worried about public safety and crimes rates, with nearly 75% saying so, and comes in second only to Seattle in worrying about a lack of police presence (59%). Community policing is supported by more than 75% of locals. While support for defunding the police is split in the city, it also sees strong opposition (35% saying so).

Seattle

Seattle residents show a deep and widespread discontent with the state of their city. More believe that the city is on the wrong track (46%) than the other way around, coming in second only to Minneapolis on this score in our survey. In fact, if they could live anywhere, a majority in Seattle would move away (54%). Seattleites also report the lowest quality of life among America’s fastest-growing cities.

One reason for this poor showing: housing. The city ranks second-worst in housing affordability, with 69% ranking it poorly, second only to Denver, at 72%. Asked about their level of concern for the issue, three in five report being extremely concerned. The Emerald City also ranks last among the country’s fastest-growing areas in the ability of residents to afford the cost of living and still be able to set aside savings. An astonishing 90% of locals are concerned about homelessness, and 59% extremely so, both the highest among the metros that we surveyed by a notable degree.

Empowering police officers to be more responsive to quality-of-life issues in communities, such as graffiti, public urination, and littering, was broadly supported throughout our survey, but especially so in Seattle, where 79% supported such a move. More than 80% of locals support empowering police officers to remove homeless encampments, with caveats.

The Emerald City ranks poorly in public safety and crime rates (40%), and it leads our survey in the share of locals worried about a lack of police presence (65%) in their area. More than 66% support a larger police presence than currently exists in their local area.

Other concerns of note: Seattle has the highest share of locals worried about traffic (78%) among the fastest-growing metros in America. It also leads our survey in the number feeling as though the city is not supportive of small businesses (41%).

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