The heart of Bethesda is less than 2 miles from the boundaries of the District of Columbia. So it's not surprising that many people interested in politics live in this Washington suburb. In addition to its location, Bethesda's economic prosperity (major government-related companies, such as Lockheed Martin, are located here) attracts residents who are likely to be politically active. Bethesda's median family income was $168,385 in 2007, according to the Census Bureau.
Laguna Niguel, Calif.
Even before it became famous on the television show The O.C., Orange County was known as the wealthier, more conservative sister to Los Angeles. While the median family income in Orange County is $81,260, Laguna Niguel is even more upscale, with a median family income of $108,647. The town is also well educated for its region, with 62 percent of residents ages 25 and older holding bachelor's degrees, compared with just over a third for all of Orange County. Orange County is a rare Republican bastion in Southern California. Laguna Niguel is represented by a Republican in the House, and it narrowly went for John McCain last November.
This small city in the mountains of western North Carolina is known for its free-spirited population. In 2006, PETA awarded Asheville the title of most vegetarian-friendly small city. But it's not a uniformly liberal bastion: Asheville's Buncombe County is eclectic when it comes to politics. The county went for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 and Obama in 2008. Asheville is also a college town, home to the University of North Carolina-Asheville. That juxtaposition—a hippie college town in an area that often votes Republican—gives Asheville an unusual intellectual atmosphere that seems to be good for political junkies.
Walnut Creek, Calif.
The San Francisco Bay area is perhaps the most liberal metropolitan area in the country. Suburban Contra Costa County fits that mold: Only 26 percent of its registered voters are Republicans, according to the California State Board of Elections. But Walnut Creek, a city of more than 60,000, is more evenly divided between the major parties. According to the most recent statistics, there are 18,942 Democrats registered in the town and 13,848 Republicans.
If, as political scientists have found, tight-knit communities produce more interest in politics, Reston, Va., is a prime example. Located 20 miles outside of Washington, Reston is a planned community with a neighborly spirit. It stands out in Northern Virginia for its green pathways, European-style town plazas for commercial districts, and a neighborhood association that provides public services.
San Ramon, Calif.
San Ramon is another city in the San Francisco Bay area's Contra Costa County. Like Walnut Creek, San Ramon has a more competitive balance between Republicans and Democrats than much of the rest of the area. According to the most recent voter registration statistics, there are 13,317 Democrats and 11,016 Republicans in San Ramon.
Mission Viejo, Calif.
Mission Viejo is a larger neighbor of Laguna Niguel in Orange County. The two cities border each other and have similar demographics, including high incomes. Mission Viejo stands out as a particularly healthy community and is well suited for political involvement. A 2007 ranking of violent crime statistics by CQ Press found it to be the safest city in America.