America’s top 20 most liberal-friendly counties

Chris Palko Contributor
Font Size:

All week The Daily Caller has been counting down the 100 counties in America where liberals would be happiest living. Now it’s time for the final installment, the top 20 list (on Monday, we counted down numbers 100-81; Tuesday was 80-61; Wednesday we ran numbers 60-41 and Thursday we listed 40-21).

The criteria are:

  • Percentage of the vote John Kerry and Barack Obama earned
  • Median household income, adjusted for cost of living
  • Percentage of adult population with bachelors degree or higher
  • Percentage of adult population in management/professional jobs
  • Unionization laws (whether right-to-work laws are present)
  • State concealed carry laws
  • State abortion laws, as measured by Americans United for Life
  • Status of same-sex partnerships (whether civil union, same-sex marriage, etc.)
  • Number of Whole Foods in the county
  • Strictness of bans on smoking

In case you missed it, we counted down America’s 100 most conservative-friendly counties the other week.

Here is our feature on the most liberal county and slideshow of the top 20.

20. Orange County, N.C.
Largest city: Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill is best known as the home to the University of North Carolina. Famous for its powerhouse basketball teams, UNC is also one of the best public universities in the country. It and other local universities gave rise to the “Research Triangle,” one of the America’s top tech regions. As befits a university setting, Chapel Hill and surrounding Orange County is quite liberal. Neighboring Carrboro could be the most liberal place in the South: It has an openly gay mayor, boasts of its farmer’s markets and passes toothless resolutions against the Iraq War and Patriot Act as do super-liberal cities like Berkeley, Calif.

19. Hampshire County, Mass.
Largest city: Amherst

The Five Colleges consortium in Hampshire County is a unique higher education experiment. UMass Amherst, Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith have substantially integrated their classes and social organizations, creating a sort of “supercampus” linked by a shuttle system. This was another area in Massachusetts where Scott Brown couldn’t penetrate, the populated parts of the county voted for Martha Coakley.

18. Westchester County, N.Y.
Largest city: Yonkers

Mad Man Don Draper made his home in Ossining, in lush suburban Westchester County. Westchester has a reputation as an affluent suburb of New York, a place Manhattanites move to raise families. Not all of the county is like this; the southern portion contains the cities of Yonkers and Mount Vernon, which have more in common with the Bronx than leafy suburbia (and Ossining itself is home to Sing Sing prison, where Julius and Ethel Rosenberg died). This was the home of Nelson Rockefeller, and it is the spiritual home of the Rockefeller Republican tradition. However, the county now is generally Democratic, giving Obama 63 percent of the vote.

17. Washtenaw County, Mich.
Largest city: Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor is one of America’s premier college towns. The University of Michigan is considered by many to be the best public university in the country. It was a center for the anti-war and counterculture movements of the 1960s. Radical leftist student group SDS formed here. The area is generally prosperous, spawning a growing high-tech industry around the university. It is one of the best educated places in America.

16. Multnomah County, Ore.
Largest city: Portland

Portland is the design model for every left-wing urban strategist (and most urban planners are liberal). Its Urban Growth Boundary creates green belts designed to increase development density (they also increases the price of housing due to lower supply). It is one of the top “microbrewery liberal” cities, a place that despite its idolization of diversity is still about 80 percent white. Like lots of other places in the Pacific Northwest, environmentalism verges upon being a religion. Grist magazine named Portland the second most environmentally friendly city in the world.

15. King County, Wash.
Largest city: Seattle

Seattle has long been a center of the American Left. Scandinavian timber workers and shipbuilders built a large and borderline radical labor movement that precipitated America’s first general strike. Seattle became a household name in the 1990s, providing many of the most popular cultural touchstones of the decade, like Starbucks, grunge music and MicrosoftJim McDermott, the local representative, is one of the most left-wing members of Congress. The King County suburbs are less liberal than the city.

14. City of Alexandria, Va.
Independent city

Old Town Alexandria is one of the oldest commercial districts in America, full of shopfronts and houses dating to colonial times. George Washington would ride up from Mount Vernon to attend church at Christ Church on Cameron Street and Alexandria was once home to one of America’s largest slave markets. Not all of Alexandria is Old Town, there are more people who live in the West End area that is more suburban. The city’s only public high school, TC Williams, was the basis for “Remember the Titans.” Sixty percent of adults here have college degrees, the second-highest figure on this list. It is heavily Democratic like the rest of the interior Washington, D.C., area.

13. Arlington County, Va.
Arlington County has no recognized subdivisions

Arlington is a hybrid city-suburb across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. It can be divided into North Arlington and South Arlington. North Arlington revolves around the Wilson Boulevard corridor with major commercial development in neighborhoods like Clarendon and Ballston. South Arlington’s core is around the Pentagon and the nearby developments of Pentagon City and Crystal City. Arlington is by most measures the best-educated place in America, as an amazing 68 percent of the adult population are college graduates. The Internet sensation “Arlington Rap” satirizes the culture of the area.

12. Santa Cruz County, Calif.
Largest city: Santa Cruz

UC Santa Cruz is in the running for most left-wing college campus. The Pentagon deemed the campus community a physical threat to military recruiters, the only college campus to receive that “honor.” The university is where the Grateful Dead house its archives, noting that Santa Cruz reflected its priorities. The county overall gave Obama 77 percent of the vote, indicative of its hard-left leanings.

11. Chittenden County, Vt.
Largest city: Burlington

Burlington was the first place in Vermont to turn Democrat, this was the only part of the state to vote for Roosevelt or Truman. Home to the University of Vermont, Burlington cultivated a liberal reputation over the course of decades. Bernie Sanders, now a Vermont senator, was elected as the Socialist mayor of Burlington. This is the sort of city that produced jam band Phish and where Ben and Jerry’s model of hippie capitalism took root.

10. Washington, D.C.
Co-terminus with the District of Columbia

When Americans think of Washington, they essentially imagine the National Mall, a series of monuments and museums to visit on a field trip or with a family. While the city revolves around politics, this is a global city. There is a major racial/socioeconomic divide between mostly affluent whites in the Northwest part of the city and poor to working-class blacks (and increasingly Hispanics) in Southeast. D.C.’s near absolute gun ban prompted the landmark Supreme Court case District of Columbia v Heller. Washington is the most Democratic city in America. Obama, who was tailor-made for the D.C. electorate, got 92.5 percent here, his single best jurisdiction in America.

9. San Mateo County, Calif.
Largest city: Daly City

San Mateo County stretches from San Francisco to Silicon Valley. The northern part of the county is essentially an extension of San Francisco, and as urbanized as the big city. Most of the major venture capital firms that fund Silicon Valley are based on Sand Hill Road in the southern edge of the county. The county is also a cosmopolitan mosaic, as the county is about 20 percent Asian and 25 percent Hispanic.

8. Dane County, Wis.
Largest city: Madison

Madison is the birthplace of the Progressive Movement. The “Wisconsin Idea” laid out by professor Richard Ely, committed the University of Wisconsin to using university-approved experts to reform state government. Today, Madison is home to such institutions as The Progressive magazine and the Freedom From Religion foundation, which seeks to fight against religious influence in public life. Unlike many liberal areas, the Madison area has a strong economy and is experiencing growth. Its standard of living is very high.

7. Santa Clara County, Calif.
Largest city: San Jose

Silicon Valley was the greatest boom area of the 1990s. The takeoff of high-tech development is commonly attributed to the formation of Hewlett-Packard in the 1950s, and the technology with which you’re reading this article most likely originates here. San Jose is now the largest city in the Bay Area, with more economic diversity than the rest of Santa Clara County. Silicon Valley was a forerunner in Democratic inroads to the business community, as most tech executives and employees were strong Obama backers. The county is rich and very expensive to live in.

6. Middlesex County, Mass.
Largest city: Lowell

Any notion that all rich people vote Republican can be disproved by looking at Middlesex County. In this area lie the most of the important, high-income Boston suburbs. As Michael Barone noted in his analysis of Scott Brown’s victory, if the wealthy immediate Boston suburbs had decided January’s election, Martha Coakley would have won. Middlesex County narrowly went for Coakley. Cambridge is ultraliberal — 85 percent for Coakley — and suburbs like Newton, Arlington, Lexington and Concord also gave Coakley more than 60 percent.

5. New York County, N.Y.
Co-terminus with the Borough of Manhattan

Manhattan is the most famous, most written about, most exclusive 23 square miles in the United States. Manhattan Island contains many divergent experiences, from Harlem to Wall Street. But in the past two decades, the trend has been towards gentrification. Now, most of the island south of Harlem is a playground for the affluent, what Mayor Michael Bloomberg aptly described as a “luxury city.” Manhattan has the highest percentage of those employed in management/professional jobs outside of the Washington, D.C., area on this list. Obama won 85 percent here.

4. Boulder County, Colo.
Largest city: Boulder

It’s quite an honor to be the best university-based setting for liberals, and the City of Boulder and the University of Colorado take the prize. Boulder gets the award for being on the cutting edge of liberal innovations (it was the first place to pass an anti-discrimination statute based on homosexuality and one of the first places to ban smoking in bars). Boulder also ranks highest because unlike many college towns on this list, the state government isn’t based here, so the liberalism only comes from one, concentrated source. The county is the basis for Jared Polis’s congressional district, one of the few openly gay members of Congress. The county has one of the most comfortable standards of living.

3. Marin County, Calif.
Largest city: San Rafael

Another classic domain for rich liberals is Marin County. The county is to the north of San Francisco, on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. It has the highest concentration of BMWs per capita in America. Environmentalism could be viewed as the county’s religion, as anti-development pressure has kept the county somewhat undeveloped considering its proximity to San Francisco. The elder George Bush once referred to American Taliban member John Walker Lindh (a native of the county) as “some misguided Marin County hot-tubber.”

2. Montgomery County, M.d.
Largest city: Rockville

Most likely, the bureaucrats conservatives despise live in Montgomery County, to the northwest of Washington. This is one of the richest and best-educated corners of America. Most of the development runs along the Wisconsin Avenue/Rockville Pike spine stretching from leafy Chevy Chase to ritzy Bethesda to edge city Rockville. This is a one-party county: Every single elected official in Montgomery County is a Democrat. There are places in the eastern part of the county that aren’t uniformly affluent, but the liberal tilt emanates from all corners.

1. City and County of San Francisco
Co-terminus with the City of San Francisco

Surprise, surprise. Maybe what’s more interesting is how San Francisco came to be what it is today. San Francisco has always been a center of progressive politics. It has a long-standing labor tradition due to its longshoreman heritage and was a wild town from the start. It was the Las Vegas of its day around the turn of the century (until a campaign by William Randolph Hearst shut down its brothels). Its easygoing tolerance made it ripe to become the center of the counterculture in the 1960s, based around the Haight-Ashbury district. Its status as the world’s most famous homosexual center got its impetus from the practice of the Navy during World War II to disembark those dishonorably discharged in San Francisco. What was once a city with large numbers of middle-class Irish and Italian families flipped in the 1960s and ’70s. The common assertion that there are more dogs than children in San Francisco is apocryphal, but it comes close to the truth.