The 10 Most Liberal, Forward-Thinking College Towns In America

7. Providence, RI

Perhaps to some an unusual choice for a list like this, the state of Rhode Island was recently ranked as the 8th most liberal state in the country according to a Gallup poll conducted in 2013.

Providence, Rhode Island is much more of a college town than most people give it credit for; with Brown University, Providence College, Johnson and Wales University, University of Rhode Island-Providence, and three other institutions of higher education all calling this capital city home, it is strange to think that Providence isn’t on more trending college towns lists.

As an enclave for liberalism, Providence is truly progressive, rebranding itself from a title once attached to the city as “Beehive of Industry” now to “Creative Capital,” using this catchy phrase to emphasize the growing arts and education scene in the city.

One of the nation’s most liberal colleges, Brown University, is the city’s second highest employer; the university has a clear impact on the political and economic climate of the city as a whole.

In the Northeast, Providence has become a growing hub for gay and lesbian communities – the rate of homosexual couples is 75% higher than that of other cities in the country.

The city also embraces progressive art to enhance its culture. A notable yearly installation is WaterFire, which is a sculpture by Barnaby Evans that places fire on top of three rivers that flow through Providence. Average nightly attendance at this free, forward-thinking festival is 40,000 people.

6. Portland, OR

How could you count a college town that has the nation’s only vegan strip club not among the most liberal in the entire country?

Well known not only for its intense enthusiasm for microbreweries but also for its unofficial slogan “Keep Portland Weird,” Portland is among the most liberal college towns in the country.

This one was a debatable one to include on the list since Portland may not be considered by everyone to be a college town.

However, when you have a city with over 600 food trucks, a vegan strip club, 10,000+ acres of environmentally conscious public parks, a city that strongly favors Democratic politicians in nearly every election, and 19 colleges and universities, you have to give Portland its due credit as being a powerfully liberal college town.

Free speech is among the most fiercely protected rights in Portland, OR; according to this article in an Oregon-based publication, Oregon law states that free speech must be protected even in the presence of an insult.

Additionally, the city is well-known for having a very progressive tradition embracing nudity – every year, over 10,000 people participate World Naked Bike Ride, an event where people ride bicycles naked.

A hub of progressive entertainment and culture, Portland is among the liberal, perhaps even strange, cities throughout the entire nation.

5. Ann Arbor, MI

a2 bell tower

UM’s Bell Tower: Photo by VasenkaPhotography Via Flickr Creative Commons

Ann Arbor is famously supportive of left-wing politics, liberal politicians, and democratic ideologies. As far back as 1974, Kathy Kozachenko made history as the first openly homosexual person to hold a city’s public office in the entire nation.

Historically, Ann Arbor has been a central point of political activism; in the 1970s, Ann Arbor was famous for being an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement and in the Anti-Vietnam War Movement.

In August 2009, democrats held not only the mayorship, but also all of the seats on the city council.

Ann Arbor’s very own Jeff Irwin was recently rated the most liberal member of Michigan’s House of Representatives, according to Inside Michigan Politics. Jeff Irwin has proposed bans on fracking as well as reversing the ban on same-sex marriage in the city and even repealing penalties for marijuana possession.

Home to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, one of the nation’s most liberal and progressive universities, Ann Arbor is the place to be for young, forward-thinking progressives.

4. Madison, WI

This may come as a shock to those who live outside of Wisconsin, but the University of Wisconsin at Madison is among the most liberal-leaning universities in the entire world.

According to a 2010 article in Wisconsin’s Lakeland Times, 97% of the university’s staff that donated to presidential campaigns pledged to Democratic ones, with only 3% of the donations going to Republican parties.

Also, according to the same article, the flagship university has 25 liberal student groups and only 6 that lean towards more conservative ideologies.

Madison is very proud of presenting fair economic opportunities to its residents, and consistently has one of the lowest unemployment rates of major cities throughout the nation.

Professional cooperative initiatives, including food cooperative and grocery store Willy Street Cooperative as well as housing cooperative Nottingham Housing Cooperative are stationed in the Madison, WI area.

Madison is widely known as one of the most tolerant cities in the midwest for gay and lesbian couples, having been named in Gregory Kompes’ book 50 Fabulous Gay-Friendly Places to Live.

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