Could pandemic population shifts help Democrats?

THE PANDEMIC COULD end up being bad news for big coastal cities like Boston, which have enjoyed a decades-long boom as centers of the knowledge economy but whose future now seems less certain given their extraordinarily high cost of living and surge of interest in suburban living. Harvard economist Ed Glaeser unspooled some of that uncertainty on this week’s Codcast

But it could be good news for smaller cities with footholds in the innovation economy — and, politically, it could help Democrats become competitive in more areas.

Those are some of the takeaways from a fascinating column in today’s New York Times by Thomas Edsall. Edsall regularly mines the world of data and current research, connecting the dots to spin out compelling narratives that point to the implications of big trends taking place right in front of our noses.

He cites a recent paper by urbanists Richard Florida and Joel Kotkin that lays out the potential winners in a post-pandemic landscape that sees high-cost big coastal cities take a hit. 

“Any shift away from superstar cities may augur a long-overdue and much-needed geographic recalibration of America’s innovation economy. High-tech industries have come to be massively concentrated — some would say overconcentrated — in coastal elite cities and tech hubs. The San Francisco Bay Area and the Acela Corridor (spanning Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C.) have accounted for about three-quarters of all venture-capital investment in high-tech start-ups,” they write. 

That could ultimately temper the housing cost run-up in places like Boston, but it will come with hits to the city tax base and other challenges. 

Meanwhile, Edsall points to work by Stanford political scientist Jonathan Rodden, whose pre-pandemic research already showed that in-migration to areas tends to result in more Democratic votes while counties seeing an outflow of residents tend to move more Republican. 

For years, political demographers have observed that Democratic voters tend to be hyperconcentrated in urban areas, where their voting power is essentially overkill — delivering huge margins to Democratic candidates. That phenomenon explains why, for example, the share of votes nationally for Democratic House candidates is often greater than the share of seats Democrats hold in the House. 

Rodden thinks the movement out of big cities spurred by the pandemic may have direct implications for that pattern. 

“Democrats have been excessively concentrated in urban centers, which makes it difficult for them to transform their votes into commensurate legislative seats,” he told Edsall. “But as cities lose population, most of the growing suburban counties are either red counties that are trending purple, or purple counties that are trending blue, and very few are overwhelmingly Democratic.”

Glaeser is a big believer in the power — and allure — of face-to-face interaction and he thinks people will end up returning to workplaces “with a vengeance.” But he said the pandemic has certainly helped fuel the idea that such workplaces could be located anywhere that the highly mobile talent driving the innovation economy is interested in living. “They can do that from Austin, Texas. They can do that in Miami,” he said. “There’s no reason why you shouldn’t think that a whole bunch of young startups won’t relocate from Silicon Valley to Vail or from Boston to someplace.” 

If population realignment provides a potential silver lining to the pandemic for Democrats nationally, it may create big challenges for long-booming coastal cities. New York City and Boston, two big winners in the soaring knowledge economy of recent decades, are both poised to elect new mayors this year. The victors may have their work cut out for them. 

MICHAEL JONAS

FROM COMMONWEALTH

The shift is on. The Biden administration’s environmental approval of Vineyard Wind was not a huge surprise, but it nevertheless represented a significant milestone for the state of Massachusetts and the nation as they begin a long-awaited shift to renewable wind energy. “This is the kind of stuff that dreams are made of,” said Kathleen Theoharides, the Baker administration’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs. Read more.

Ready, action. The Senate Ways and Means budget proposal calls for extending the sunset date on the state’s film tax credit by four years, encouraging more spending in Massachusetts, and reducing subsidies for high-priced actors like George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio. The proposal, if it is approved by the full Senate, sets the stage for a high-stakes game of poker between the two branches. Remember, the film tax credit is a high priority of House Speaker Ron Mariano, who prefers the tax credit as it is and only wants to eliminate its current sunset date of January 1, 2023. The House passed Mariano’s proposal unanimously. Get ready to rumble. Read more.

Baker and Biden team up. The Massachusetts governor joined the president for a bipartisan lovefest over vaccination efforts. Biden praised Baker and some of his fellow governors for putting politics aside and “meeting the moment” when it comes to getting residents vaccinated. It was another sign of Baker’s crossover appeal and a ringing endorsement of his handling of the pandemic, but it probably does nothing to quiet rumors from his right flank that he is a RINO. Read more.

Senate budget. The Senate Ways and Means Committee takes its turn in the budget-making process, unveiling a spending plan generally in line with what the House proposed aside from a few key differences. One would offer a workaround to Congress-imposed limits on the use of state and local tax payments as federal tax deductions. The workaround would save certain business owners significant money and pad the state’s bottom line by $90 million — all at the expense of the federal government. Read more.

GOP challenge a no go. A judge tossed out a legal challenge to the 2020 election results by five losing Republican candidates, who claimed vote-by-mail for any reason violated state election laws. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

The WooSox hold their first baseball game at Worcester’s Polar Park. (GBH)

Joyce Ferriabough Bolling says it’s time to take back the streets in Boston — both from gunfire and serious crime and quality-of-life problems like dirt bike riders racing through Franklin Park and loud parties there keeping nearby residents awake all night. (Boston Herald

Public employees working for South Shore municipalities are overwhelmingly white and do not reflect the diversity of the communities where they work. (Patriot Ledger)

Acting Mayor Kim Janey floats (apologies!) the idea of ferry service to Long Island’s addiction treatment campus as an ongoing battle with the city of Quincy delays efforts to rebuild a bridge to the Boston Harbor outpost. (Boston Globe

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

For the first time in nearly a year, Massachusetts on Tuesday reported no new COVID-related deaths. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

House Republicans are poised to depose Rep. Liz Cheney today from her leadership position n their caucus, a sign of the continued hold Donald Trump has on the party. (Washington Post)

The Israeli-Palestinian clashes are slipping toward all-out war in the worst violence in the region in two decades. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

As yesterday’s deadline passed for candidates to take out nomination papers, Boston took a historic turn with all six major candidates for mayor identifying as people of color. (Boston Globe

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Marijuana business owners urge the Legislature to curb the impact fees they’re required to pay to cities and towns. (Salem News) A Globe editorial urges reform of the system of local payments in which marijuana licensing has become an “insider game.” 

US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh pushed back on the idea that generous unemployment benefits are contributing to a worker shortage in some sectors by discouraging people from seeking jobs. (Boston Herald)

A CNBC survey indicates 57 percent of workers favor mandatory vaccinations in order to return to work.

EDUCATION

With children as young as 12 now eligible for COVID vaccines, school districts are weighing whether to require that eligible students be vaccinated before returning to classrooms this fall. (Boston Globe

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Massachusetts Audubon Society claimed it could heavily log the forest land it is tasked with preserving, in order to participate in a California program that gives Mass Audubon carbon credits for preserving trees, which Mass Audubon can sell to an oil company. The agreement helped Mass Audubon and the California power company, but on balance it hurt the environment if an organization that never intended to log the land gets credit for preserving it. (ProPublica) 

The Standard-Times looks at what the approval of Vineyard Wind means for New Bedford, its port and its fishing community.

Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company puts on hold its controversial plans to build a new power plant in Peabody. (Salem News)

Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren send a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission seeking stricter safety standards at the Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant. (Gloucester Daily Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

After the SJC rules that the police cannot force drunk drivers to submit a blood sample against their will, Rep. Paul Tucker files a bill that would authorize a test with a court warrant, regardless of consent. (Salem News)

A former Springfield police officer is sentenced to two to three years in prison for sexually assaulting a child. (MassLive)

MEDIA

Sally Buzbee of the Associated Press takes over as the first female executive editor of the Washington Post. She replaces Marty Baron. (Washington Post)