A new report by Livability.com calls St. Louis the Number 1 city for liberals. And while as a St. Louis resident and a liberal myself, I like hearing that and would love to believe it, it’s probably not true. [Sigh.] How many times do I have to say this: A Number 1 ranking for St. Louis –in almost any category—is usually the result of statistical malpractice.
The new ranking would be a refreshing change from the much more negative rankings St. Louis typically gets: Similar reports have ranked St. Louis as Number 1 in per capita murders. But that’s an undeserved reputation as well.
Here’s why. The people who do these rankings often don’t understand the political/administrative structure of the St. Louis area. For consistency, they usually create their rankings based on statistics within city limits of the various areas they’re reporting on. Their oft-quoted statistics appear to be correct for what they measure. [Per capita gun violence and murder is very high in “St. Louis.” And “St. Louis” has elected its current Democratic mayor four times, and voted overwhelmingly for President Obama twice.] Unfortunately, the “St. Louis” that they are measuring yields results that are distorted.
What people don’t understand is that those per capita numbers apply only to the City of St. Louis – an area of just 66 square miles. The reporting areas for other cities are much larger: Kansas City—319 square miles; Memphis—315 square miles; Chicago—234 square miles.
Why is St. Louis City so small? Because St. Louis City seceded from St. Louis County in 1876, in “The Great Divorce.” To make the comparison with other areas equitable, you would have to include adjacent St. Louis County, which covers 532 square miles. So, at least for St. Louis, comparing cities’ liberalness or murder rates based on characteristics within city limits is apples-to-oranges.
Basing the liberalism ranking on the larger St. Louis area would likely result in a lower ranking. [In the study, St. Louis ranked above Berkeley, CA!] St. Louis County is not nearly as “liberal” as the City of St. Louis, based on who County residents elect and re-elect to Congress and to the state legislature—mostly Republicans. Admittedly, St. Louis County often can be counted on help Democrats running statewide.. But St. Louis County is not a sure thing as an oasis for liberals, There’s a big, conservative guns-and-religion streak in the more exurban areas of the County. I live in St. Louis County, and I’m bracing myself for the sight of a boatload of Trump signs in the next few weeks before the election. You won’t see that in Berkeley.
Similarly, the per capita murder rate would probably compute lower if it were measured using the wider geographical area. For most of these rankings, the larger, more comparable St. Louis City/County area would probably yield results that are much more reflective of the actual situation in what people think of as “St. Louis.”
The only thing that St. Louis actually ranks #1 for is having its rankings repeatedly exaggerated by skewed statistics.