NY Times Campaign Stops: Race and the Suburbs

NY Times Campaign Stops

Race and the Suburbs

Lawrence C. Levy, a former political columnist and senior editorial writer for Newsday, is the executive director of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University in New York.

Everybody seems to have an opinion on race and the race, but nobody knows for sure whether Barack Obama’s skin color will hurt or help him in his quest for the presidency. Even the “Bradley Effect” — the theory that a certain number of white voters lie to pollsters when they say they’re supporting a black candidate — has seen its share of defenders and debunkers.

But if the Bradley Effect holds in this election, the place you’re likely to see it the most is home to the voters who matter the most: the suburbs. It’s not that most suburbanites are racist, but rather that they tolerate more manifestations of racial bias than their urban and rural counterparts. What’s more, although minorities (particularly blacks and Hispanics) are moving in greater numbers to the suburbs, these bedroom communities are among the most segregated counties in America.

The problem, according to research by the Brookings Institution, is that minorities moving into the suburbs tend to be lower income families, and they are choosing (or in some cases are forced to for financial reasons) to live in the same communities, creating pockets of poverty in affluent areas. Indeed, a number of recent studies show that the income gap between blacks and whites is greatest in the suburbs.

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