This is from an excellent new article on Matt Yglesias' substack. I know all this stuff by dint of my profession but I suspect a lot of you don't.
"A huge share of the electorate is in “the suburbs,” which I think everyone knows. It should also be pretty clear if you’ve ever been anywhere in the United States that there is a world of difference between the suburbs of San Francisco and the suburbs of Toledo.
But the basic facts bear mentioning. Fully 6% of the American population lives in the New York City metropolitan statistical area, which is genuinely a lot. But if you add up the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas, they together add up to only about 42% of the population. The 50th-largest metro area is Birmingham, Alabama and number 51 is Rochester, New York. I’ve never been to Birmingham, but Rochester is nice (the weather was good when I visited). It’s home to a good university, I had an excellent dinner at a well-regarded local restaurant, and it was cool to see the graves of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass at the Mount Hope Cemetery. But it’s not a very big city, and the suburbs of Rochester (which contain 80% of the metro area’s population) are a world away from the inner-ring suburbs of the giant metropolises.
The point is most people live in communities that are smaller than the Rochester metro area. Either they’re in rural areas, a smaller metro, or a community like Kerrville, TX (where I spent much of the summer) that’s so far out on the exurban fringe of San Antonio that it doesn’t qualify for membership in the MSA.
In practical terms:
The Philadelphia and Pittsburgh MSAs combine to contain less than 50% of Pennsylvania’s population.
The Milwaukee and Madison MSAs combine to contain less than 50% of Wisconsin’s population.
The Detroit and Ann Arbor MSAs combine to contain less than 50% of Michigan’s population.
Interestingly, the “new” swing states of Georgia and Arizona are more urbanized, with the giant Atlanta and Phoenix metro areas each comprising a majority of their respective state’s population. So it’s not like nobody lives in giant metro areas or they don’t matter. That said, a lot of work in media and progressive politics is done by New Yorkers who snobbishly disdain D.C., which — whatever its flaws — is a substantially bigger, more urban, and more cosmopolitan place than Phoenix.
The point is that when we talk about decisive suburban voters, we’re likely talking about the suburbs of Grand Rapids or Kenosha."