7 Surprisingly Liberal U.S. Cities In Places You Wouldn't Expect

According to a curious study out of MIT and the University of California in Los Angeles last August, there are a lot of cities in America that are much more liberal than one would think. The data collected (which was summarized in a report by The Economist that same month) shows a surprising number of cities that tend to align with more Democratic than Republican ideology in regions of the United States that traditionally vote red.

While the study's top liberal cities included a few conventional left-wing picks (San Francisco was No. 1, with Washington, D.C.; Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; and New York trailing closely behind), there were also a few unexpected surprises, including Houston, Texas; Raleigh North Carolina, and seven more named in this list.

Dallas, Texas: More Liberal Than You Thought

There are a lot of things that come to mind when someone mentions Texas. Big hair, bigger belt buckles, and über-conservative politicians and policy. It’s probably surprising then that, according to that same report by MIT’s Chris Warshaw and the University of California Los Angeles’ Chris Tausanovitch, most large cities in Texas tend to land left of center. And Dallas doesn’t just run Democratic — a poll conducted by the University of Texas at Austin determined that the entire county is actually the fourth most liberal in the entire state.

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Cincinnati, Ohio: Secretly Democratic In A Surprising Way

The city of Cincinnati has a pretty tepid history when it comes to equality and race relations, which makes the fact that it’s actually liberal all the more surprising. Despite the number of race riots and continuing issues that plague the city (including a recent September 2014 lawsuit by parents of four black high school students, which alleged that the teens had been kicked out of school for flashing “street” signs, while white students who had acted similarly were not questioned or disciplined), many residents within city boundaries align themselves as left-of-center regardless.

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Memphis, Tennessee: Left Of Center Despite Its Tragic Past

Although the majority of Tennesseans tend to lean to the right, the historic city of Memphis, even with its tragic civil rights past, actually sits further to the left than places such as Long Beach, California, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With an even population divide of black and white citizens and startlingly refreshing religious diversity and tolerance, Memphis easily slides into the study’s top 30 most liberal U.S. cities.

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Santa Ana, California: The Democratic Outlier Of Orange County

While the majority of Southern California’s Orange County is largely conservative, it seems that Santa Ana has turned its back on the region’s Republican sway. In recent days, the city legalized the sale of medical marijuana (Santa Ana City Council members held a vendor’s “lottery” on Feb. 5 to allow all businesses a fair shot at a license), hiked utility taxes in order to pay for aging infrastructure, and continues to play host to multiple farmer’s markets and ethnic street food halls.

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Tucson, Arizona: Mesa's Liberal Older Sister

The fact that Tucson made the shortlist isn’t necessarily the surprising part — rather, it’s the fact that it sits so close to the nation’s most conservative city, Mesa, Arizona. With relatively identical population demographics, the only thing separating the two is the average income level (Mesa residents are generally middle class, while Tucson residents tend toward the lower end of the income scale). Less than two hours apart, 2012 presidential election exit polls showed that while Romney easily took most of Mesa’s Maricopa County, the results out of Tucson’s Pima County were almost the exact opposite.

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St. Louis, Missouri: Left-Leaning But Nonetheless Troubled

With all of the commotion and racial tension in Missouri of late, it’s difficult to imagine that the city could actually be among the United States’ top 15 most liberal cities. After the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in August 2014, many were critical of the state’s mishandling of the protests that erupted, accusing both the St. Louis and Ferguson police departments of racism. The situation was only worsened by the October police shooting of another black teen (Vonderrit D. Meyers Jr., 18) in the Shaw neighborhood, causing a violent backlash among the city’s already angry population. In the days since the protests, the police force has been criticized for several other alleged incidents, including a recent lawsuit by Cortez Bufford, who claims that police intentionally shut off a squad car dashcam before violently beating him.

Here’s hoping brighter days and better judgment will prevail in the otherwise beautiful Gateway to the West.

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St. Paul, Minnesota: Midwestern Democrats Breaking The Trend

While the idea of St. Paul, Minn. as a liberal hub isn’t altogether surprising, the state’s second-most populous city has definitely broken with its Midwestern counterparts in that regard (with the exception of places like Wisconsin and Illinois). Falling just within the boundaries of the top 20 most liberal cities, not far behind its neighbor Minneapolis, St. Paul is doing its best to keep up with younger, progressive trends, offering prizes to visitors who relay their vacation summaries on Twitter and requesting certification for a growing number of medical marijuana labs.

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