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The Political Order of the City: Neighborhoods and Voting in Toronto, 1997-2014

Sun, August 13, 8:30 to 10:10am, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Level 5, 516A

Abstract

This paper presents a new, spatially-informed framework for the study of urban politics and applies this framework to mayoral voting in Toronto through an innovative, mixed-method analysis of neighborhoods, political cleavages, and electoral campaigning. The paper explores and demonstrates the enduring importance of space and place in shaping political behavior. Principal component analysis of neighborhood-level mayoral candidate support across six elections reveals that around 80% of voting behavior is explained by only two dimensions that are highly correlated with compositional and contextual neighborhood characteristics. Using Census and business data, we specify these dimensions as spatially-articulated political cleavages that dominate broad, contiguous areas of similar neighborhoods throughout the city. Specifically, these cleavages pit (1) progressive downtown neighborhoods against conservative neighborhoods outside of the urban core, (2) conservative establishment neighborhoods against conservative but marginalized neighborhoods. In addition to identifying these dimensions and locating them in space, the paper uses qualitative campaign data to show how candidates differentially activate these cleavages across elections. The result is a unique longitudinal study of neighborhood-scale electoral behavior that demonstrates the enduring utility of ecological analysis to understand social phenomena. Our analysis suggests that aggregate political behavior cannot be reduced to commonly-invoked predictors of urban voting, such as ethnicity or class. Rather, place matters: political choice is systematically patterned by historically persistent social, economic, institutional, and physical contexts. We conclude with a discussion of the study’s implications for urban political and social theory, as well as the transferability of the method to other urban and national contexts.

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