Skip to comments.The schism in U.S. politics begins at home (long article)
Posted on 04/08/2004 5:06:01 AM PDT by Arrowhead1952
Growing gaps found from county to county in presidential race
By Bill Bishop
Sunday, April 4, 2004
The assumption since the 2000 election has been that the United States is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Nationally, this is still true.
At the local level, however, that 50-50 split disappears. In its place is a country so out of balance, so politically divided, that there is little competition in presidential contests between the parties in most U.S. counties, according to an Austin American-Statesman study of election returns since 1948.
American democracy is based on the continuous exchange of differing points of view. Today, most Americans live in communities that are becoming more politically homogenous and, in effect, diminish dissenting views. And that grouping of like-minded people is feeding the nation's increasingly rancorous and partisan politics.
By the end of the dead-even 2000 presidential election, American communities were more lopsidedly Republican or Democratic than at any time in the past half-century. The fastest-growing kind of segregation in the United States isn't racial. It is the segregation between Republicans and Democrats.
The political division found by the Statesman and its statistical consultant, Robert Cushing, is a change from the recent past. From the end of World War II until the mid-1970s, U.S. counties became more and more politically mixed, based on presidential voting. Through the 1950s and '60s, Americans were more likely to live in a community with an even mixture of Republicans and Democrats.
In 1976, when Democrat Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford by only two percentage points, 26.8 percent of American voters lived in counties with landslide presidential election results, where one party had 60 percent or more of the vote.
Twenty-four years and six presidential elections later, when George Bush and Al Gore were virtually tied nationally, 45.3 percent of voters lived in a landslide county. And now the nation enters a new election year divided both ideologically and geographically in ways few can remember.
Political and racial segregation are moving in opposite directions. John Logan at the Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research calculated the change in segregation between blacks and whites from 1980 to 2000 in the nation's more than 3,100 counties. Even though the country remains deeply divided by race, U.S. counties on average became more integrated racially over those 20 years.
Politically, however, the nation rapidly divided. Using the same demographic calculation that measures geographic racial disparity, and substituting Republican and Democrat for black and white, political segregation in U.S. counties grew by 47 percent from 1976 to 2000.
The result is that voters on average are less likely today to live in a community that has an even mix of Republican and Democratic voters than at any time since World War II. They are less likely to live near someone with a different political point of view and are more likely to live in a political atmosphere either overwhelmingly Republican or Democratic.
"I don't think we are at a really dangerous stage," said Cass Sunstein, a professor of law at the University of Chicago and an author of books exploring issues facing democracy, "but if it's a case that people really are pretty rigidly Republican or Democratic and that's widespread, that's not healthy. Our democracy is supposed to be one where people learn from one another and listen."
Sunstein's concern is rooted in more than 300 social science experiments over the past 40 years that have found a striking phenomenon that occurs when like-minded people cluster: They tend to become more extreme in their thinking. They polarize.
This research would predict that the increasing physical segregation of voters in the United States would result in a more polarized and partisan political culture. And that is exactly what is happening.
The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press late last year examined public opinion polls back to 1987 and found that the United States "remains a country that is almost evenly divided politically yet further apart than ever in its political values."
In mid-March, the Gallup poll found that while 91 percent of Republicans approve of the incumbent, President Bush, only 17 percent of Democrats feel likewise. The gap between Republican and Democratic support for an incumbent 74 percentage points is the largest Gallup has ever observed at this point in a presidential election year.
Highly partisan presidential politics isn't the only sign of political segregation. As counties become more politically pure, they push their representatives in state legislatures and Congress to more extreme positions. Legislative compromise becomes almost impossible. Meanwhile, election campaigns become less interested in convincing a dwindling number of undecided voters and more concerned with whipping up the enthusiasm of their most partisan backers.
Democrats and Republicans joke these days that they can't understand each other, that they feel as though the parties exist on different planets.
It's no joke. They do.
Thinking in clusters
There is nothing new in saying people enjoy being around people like themselves. The Prophet Amos asked, "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" And Pauline Kael, the movie critic, was stunned with Richard Nixon's victory in the 1972 Republican landslide. "I don't know a single person who voted for him!" said the well-cloistered writer.
"Do like-minded people tend to cluster together, and to talk mostly with others who share their inclinations?" asked social psychologist David Myers in an e-mail. "You bet they we do. Most of us need only look at our friends and the people we've been talking with during the last couple of days to observe likes talking with likes."
What nobody realized until now is that the American electorate was sorting itself into these like-minded clusters on a national scale.
The United States has undergone a vast social shift since the 1970s, a rapid-fire change in where we live, what we think and how we vote. This country-wide sorting of people and ideas is the unexamined backstage story of the nation's increasingly rancorous politics.
To understand the nation here at the beginning of an unfathomably bitter presidential campaign, it helps to toss out most of what we think we know about American politics.
Thirty years ago, the Washington Post's top political reporter, David Broder, wrote a book titled "The Party's Over." Broder, like most political scientists, noticed that people had grown tired of the two major political parties.
Voters were splitting their tickets, as party loyalty "seriously eroded," Broder wrote. Americans had lost the "habit of partisanship." Younger voters increasingly thought of themselves as independents because they no longer saw a difference between Republicans and Democrats. Members of Congress regularly crossed party lines to support bills introduced by their opponents.
Parties were dead. Voters were independent. Parties and politics lacked ideological fervor or consistency.
What Broder couldn't have known then was that voters were beginning to change the way they thought about politics and parties. The 1970s were a turning point.
What Broder also didn't realize what nobody knew until now is that the mid-1970s was also the time, according to Cushing's analysis, that Republicans and Democrats mixed most thoroughly. If the democratic ideal is to have integrated communities, where people with different beliefs and of different parties must confront one another and get along, 1976 was the high point of post-war democracy.
Then the nation changed.
Since the early and mid-1970s, the American political scene shifted almost completely from the independent-minded, ticket-splitting, non-partisan landscape Broder documented:
Voters have grown more partisan.
Party loyalties rebounded in the 1980s and by the 1990s partisanship among American voters their propensity to identify themselves in polls as either Republican or Democrat had increased to levels not seen since at least the 1950s. Since 1980, party loyalty has increased to levels "unsurpassed over any comparable time span since the turn of the last century," writes Princeton University political scientist Larry Bartels.
Voters have become less independent.
The percentage of true independent voters peaked in 1978 and has declined since. Meanwhile, the percentage of people who see important differences between the parties went from 46 percent in 1972 to 66 percent in 2000.
The parties have become more ideological.
The percentage of conservatives who call themselves Democrats and liberals who call themselves Republican has been declining since 1972. The two parties once were a stew of conflicting ideologies mixtures that included northern liberal Republicans and conservative rural Democrats. Now they are growing more ideologically pure.
Congress compromises less often.
Despite the rancor caused by war and the civil rights movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were fewer strict party-line votes in those years than at any time since World War II. Since then, the number of times a majority of Republicans in Congress has voted opposite a majority of Democrats has steadily increased.
The percentage of these party-line votes in the 1990s was higher than for any 10-year period since 1950 and the parties "differ more on issues now than at any time since the early days of the New Deal," wrote Colby College political scientist Mark Brewer.
Voters cast more straight party tickets.
In the 2000 and 2002 elections, ticket splitting where voters cast ballots for both Republicans and Democrats "declined to the lowest levels in over 30 years," according to University of Missouri-St. Louis political scientist David Kimball.
By the beginning of this century, compromise had disappeared from the House of Representatives. Voters were becoming staunch supporters of parties they increasingly saw as ideologically distinct. Democrats had more liberal voting records. Republicans were more conservative.
Thirty years after Broder predicted the end of party and partisanship, Roger Davidson in the Congressional Quarterly Almanac wrote that the country is "in the midst of the most partisan era since Reconstruction."
Beneath these national measures of increasing partisanship, however, there was another trend developing, as communities shifted and strengthened their political allegiances. At the local level, voters were grouping in like-minded communities. Counties were becoming either more Democratic or more Republican each election.
At the microlevel of society families gathered to make decisions about where and how to live. The discussions at these kitchen table summits weren't overtly political, but decisions about schools and neighbors and lifestyle all had political results. In deciding where and how to live, the country was segregating by political preference.
The Reagan line
Until 1980, Williamson County was mostly Democratic. But in every other presidential election from the end of World War II until Ronald Reagan first won the presidency, the parties were competitive.
Williamson County flipped in 1980, voting for Republican Ronald Reagan. It hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential nominee since. Since 1980, the Republican margin in Williamson has only increased, until in 2000, in a presidential election that was dead even nationally, 71 percent of Williamson County's voters cast Republican ballots.
Los Angeles County, Calif., is the anti-Williamson. This huge county was Republican from 1948 through the end of the Administration of President Reagan, in 1988. The only blip was a vote for Johnson in the 1964 landslide election. The elections were close, however. The 1960 Kennedy/Nixon contest was a toss-up in Los Angeles County, just as in the rest of the country.
But since Los Angeles tipped Democratic in 1988, the county has grown more and more Democratic. In the 50-50 election of 2000, 66 percent of the voters in Los Angeles County were for Al Gore.
Los Angeles and Williamson counties are traveling in opposite political directions, and they are moving fast. Their radically different political trajectories aren't aberrant. If anything, Williamson and Los Angeles counties are typical of what's happening in thousands of U.S. counties.
Counties tip to one party or another, staying with that party election after election and then the counties lean further. Republican counties, on average, are becoming more Republican. Democratic counties are becoming more Democratic, according to the Statesman's analysis of more than 50 years of presidential voting results.
Before counties tipped and became persistent supporters of a single party in presidential elections, their residents voted close to 50-50.
Once these counties tipped, however, their average voting majorities became extreme. And the longer these counties stayed with a single party, the larger those majorities grew.
There aren't just a few counties that have tipped Democratic or Republican. Most American voters live in counties with presidential party preferences that haven't changed in a generation, according to Cushing's analysis. And the majorities in those counties are growing.
Sixty percent of Republican voters live in counties that have voted for the Republican presidential candidate in every election since 1980. Sixty percent of the Democratic voters live in counties that have voted for the Democratic candidate in every election since 1988.
Three of every five voters live in counties where children have been born, graduated from high school and gone off to college without ever experiencing a local change in presidential party preference.
The two parties do, indeed, occupy two different worlds.
Why are these political divisions being created? How is it happening? Are people moving to places to live among like-minded neighbors? Or are the parties changing to reflect the ideological contours that exist already in the nation?
Nobody knows the answers to these questions. There probably isn't a single answer, but a constellation of forces that have together divided the country.
The effects of this segregation and clustering, however, are easier to predict and to see.
"If you don't have anyone in your network of associates who thinks the least bit different from you, then it's pretty easy to grow confident in the correctness of your views," said University of Maryland political demographer James Gimpel.
"There is no opportunity in those counties or neighborhoods for dissonance to arise. And so by keeping dissonance out, you wind up gravitating toward a more extreme political position. This is one explanation for the increase in ideology you see not only in the public, but in Congress."
The rancor of the presidential campaign is blamed on the personality of the candidates, the barbarity of political consultants and on the demands of political contributors. The one cause of this civic bitterness that has not been fingered is the one that should be most obvious, the one that is manifest in our communities.
Over the past 30 years, Americans have created their own communities of political solidarity and ideological insulation. One by one and place by place, we have constructed a great divide, boundaries of partisanship as plain as a map and as powerful as belief.
Sixty percent of Republican voters live in communities that haven't voted for a Democratic candidate since Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980.
(Most U.S. voters live in communities that haven't changed their presidential party choice in a generation.)
The Great Divide
Periodically during this election year, the Austin American-Statesman will explore the reasons for the nation's increasingly bitter political culture. Next, the paper will show how the increasing tendency of people to cluster in politically like-minded communities is fueling political partisanship.
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Rigidity, not healthy??? Democracy is supposed to listen???
Where does she get this crap from.
Professor, let me remind you that we don't live in a democracy. The founding fathers were deathly afraid of a democracy, that is why they created a republic.
Then the author of the article really makes me gag with the following remark:
"If the democratic ideal is to have integrated communities, where people with different beliefs and of different parties must confront one another and get along, 1976 was the high point of post-war democracy."
Again, we do not live in a democracy. And why do we have to "get along?"
"As counties become more politically pure, they push their representatives in state legislatures and Congress to more extreme positions. Legislative compromise becomes almost impossible."
And there is something wrong with gridlock!!!!
"Why are these political divisions being created? How is it happening? Are people moving to places to live among like-minded neighbors? Or are the parties changing to reflect the ideological contours that exist already in the nation?
Nobody knows the answers to these questions. There probably isn't a single answer,"
Oh, yes there is one single answer: it is the fight between the communist/socialist, baby killers and the lovers of liberty and life.
Fortunately, the lovers of liberty and life are beginning to win, that is why we are now 50/50.
The tide is changing and the lovers of liberty and life will be in the majority soon, much to the chagrin of the "professors" and "journalists" as quoted above.
One possible solution would be a Constitutional amendment requiring states to divide their districts in a strict rectangular geometric grid with roughly equal populations in each rectangular district. Each district would represent a fixed percentage of each state's population.
This would not eliminate gerrymandering but it would make it a hell of a lot more difficult.
I wonder what the political map would look like then.
That comment just about made me spew my coffee this morning. This is just more babble from a left wing liberal professor.
He is a statist leftwinger of the most dangerous type, and a major strategist for the Democratic Party.
And it is the rantings of left wing liberal professors that will ultimately drive this country into a second civil war, I'm afraid.
Anyone who just glances at the red/blue map of the last presidential election can tell you that the only places democrats are competitive on a national basis is in large metropolitan areas. If one could erase whatever the single largest city is in any state, the dems would never win another national election. Actually it's worse than that really. If you were to factor out the 4 largest metro areas in the country, the vote totals wouldn't even be close.
This is a very important point. Most all the libs live inside city limits of large cities, and tend to never get news from anything but ABS, CBS, NBS, CNN MSBNS, etc. They actually believe everything the media say.
Here is one question I have for you. How can any Christian go to church on Sunday and vote for a democrat on Tuesday?
The hate you are talking about here is nothing compared to the hate of the left for conservatives. Just listen to the likes of Algore, hillary, kerry, dashale, kennedy, etc. They can stand on any stage in any city, scream at the top of their lungs and take jabs at Bush or any of his staff. The national media will cover for them every time.
One Republican can say one negative thing about a liberal official, and the entire media jumps on their case. What do you think happened to Dr. Rice during the 9/11 commission hearings? Do you think if that had been a black, female democrat and the Republicans had attacked her that the media would have give them a pass? Not just no, but hell no.
If you really want to see hate on a website, go to the DU site. If you are offended by four letter words, forget that site. Another anti Bush site is the MoveOn.org which is funded by the Bush hating Soros. He, michale moore and most of the hollywierd crowd has the market cornered on hate. Just listen their rants. Also, in case you missed it, there was a right for choice march in DC this weekend. Did you see any of the signs the so called women's rights marchers were carrying? Abort Bush, and the like. Talk about hate, there was so much hate at that rally the devil must be proud today.