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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Where the Heart Is? A Geographic Analysis of Working-class Cultures in Detroit Neighborhoods, 1953


Have left-wing politics spread from American workplaces to nearby communities where workers live? And, if so, under what conditions did this occur? We examine the class character of neighborhood-level voting in the 1952 presidential election and focus on how concentrations of workers from UAW Local 600, a left-wing union local, representing workers at the Ford River Rouge plant, influenced the result in Detroit, Michigan. Data come from the 1950 U.S. Census, precinct-level voting returns for the city of Detroit, and a 1953 traffic study which contains information on workplace and home locations. A spatial matrix of the census tracts in Detroit permits examination not only of the main effects of workplace on neighborhood, but also the effects of specific groups of workers and their political orientation on adjoining communities. We found, as hypothesized, that high concentrations of Ford Rouge workers in neighborhoods are significantly related to higher proportions of both Democratic and Progressive Party votes. Further, the adjacent communities with high concentrations of Ford Rouge workers influenced neighboring tracts to vote left. We also attempt to ascertain whether this effect is solely due to left-wing workers themselves voting left, or whether Rouge workers were able to exert a meaningful influence on other voters in their communities-- what we call a "context effect," for which we found evidence.

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