Mid-Century Politics in the Little Rock Subway 4State News MO AR KS OK

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For our printed November issue, we asked local experts to look into the crystal ball to predict what life will be like in the Little Rock metro area in 2050.

Those who study American political history think a lot about times of realignment – those times when big and lasting changes occur in our partisan patterns. In the two centuries that we have had mass political parties in the United States, such changes occur every two generations until new demographic issues or forces come into play and lead to the next political realignment. While the rise of independents means such changes are no longer as visible as they once were, the Obama / Trump era has clearly produced a new period of realignment.

The key force lately has been demographic: relatively optimistic (sub) urban versus rural voters agitated about their economic future and the potential loss of respect for their way of life. This division between urban enclaves and the countryside is of course reinforced by other socio-economic markers, such as race, education and religiosity. In this regard, the realignment of the last decade has parallels with another realignment: that of 1896 in which burgeoning American cities rejected and overtaken an economic populism led by William Jennings Bryan who also tried to cling to an American past that was quickly, but not quietly, fading.

What does all of this have to do with Little Rock? As the only urban enclave in Arkansas that has a significantly higher percentage of people of color, higher education rates, and slightly lower levels of religiosity than surrounding areas, it’s clear where Little Rock is heading. politically. Assuming representative democracy continues to exist (and, ultimately, I’m optimistic on this front despite the threats to it that are very real), by 2050 we should expect Little Rock , a city where almost every constituency voted for Joe Biden last November, to remain a decidedly democratic and relatively progressive city. Indeed, expectations regarding Little Rock’s socio-economic patterns suggest that Little Rock will only become a more navy island in a rural state, joined by the core of North Little Rock.

The key question is what is happening to the areas surrounding Little Rock and North Little Rock, both in Pulaski County and the surrounding counties. When one leaves work in Little Rock or North Little Rock and returns home, the driver quickly moves from urban to peri-urban areas, almost entirely skipping the types of suburbs that have turned politics in a democratic direction elsewhere in the South. and the Midwest. If these areas – such as the communities south on I-30 to Benton and north on I-40 to Conway – become more densely populated and more clearly suburban, we can expect them to be. become more racially and ethnically diverse and more progressive in their political attitudes and voting patterns in response to a Trumpist Republican Party. If they remain separate exurbs from the towns in the heart of a central Arkansas donut, one can expect voters who live there to behave more like their rural, mostly white compatriots.

Whether these locations are more suburban or exurban has major ramifications for the political power of central Arkansas as a region, particularly as opposed to the rapidly growing and more inherently unified corridor of northwest Arkansas. The I-49 corridor is already becoming a somewhat indistinguishable suburban area as one travels south from Bella Vista through Fayetteville. Most importantly, the individual communities along this rapidly growing corridor are working together for the common interests of the region. As a result, there is no doubt that the region’s political and economic power will grow over the next three decades. The big question is whether northwest Arkansas is overwhelming a divided metropolitan area of ​​Little Rock or – through the rise of shared regionalism in an ideologically unified central Arkansas – the two regions are fighting for a draw. comes out on issues such as legislative spending on transportation projects and higher education institutions.

Another expectation for the middle of this century is for people in leadership positions in local government. The history of leadership in Little Rock through most of its history has been fairly uniform: white, straight, and male. Only a handful of the city’s mayors have deviated from this model. This is destined to change over the next few decades as we will see more people of color, more women, and more gay citizens occupy the most visible leadership roles in the community both at City Hall and as representative. the city to the State Capitol. Due to demographic change and political empowerment, those who fought for a seat at the table will increasingly be likely to set the agenda for these conversations.

Many of the issues that dominate political debates will remain those of decades spent in Little Rock: education, crime, and traditional infrastructure issues like roads. However, equitable access to new forms of infrastructure – broadband access and what is increasingly referred to as “human infrastructure” (the early childhood workforce and nursing care) qualified for the elderly) – will inevitably struggle for airtime with these traditional problems. More importantly, policies and practices promising to tackle climate change will be central by 2050. Local governments that cannot find answers to this existential challenge will be rejected by an increasingly “green” electorate.

Finally, much of politics and government will be played out online. The pandemic moment has, in many ways, been a preview of what’s to come. Information sources will be almost entirely digital, meetings will be held online, and citizens will communicate with their representatives primarily electronically rather than in person. As digital tools become more and more innovative (indeed, we can only imagine how advancements in tools like virtual reality will transform social interactions online), it will reshape the way we interact with our fellow citizens. and how candidates relate to voters and how mandate holders connect to voters. The great fear, of course, is that as politics becomes more and more depersonalized, it also dehumanizes itself, leading to polarization and outright wickedness across the lines of difference. This is the great fear concerning politics in the middle of the century.

Jay Barth is Emeritus Professor of ME and Ima Graves Peace Policy at Hendrix College.

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